top of page

Preservation Organizations to Seek Designation of the Bozeman Trail as a National Historic Trail


Contact: Mike Penfold, Dave McKee and JoAnne Puckett

Banner, Wyo., and Billings, Mt., December 2020

The Fort Phil Kearny/Bozeman Trail Association and Our Montana, non-profit organizations, are planning to ask the Montana and Wyoming Congressional delegations for legislation directing the Secretary of Interior to undertake a feasibility study leading to designation of the historic Bozeman Trail as a National Historic Trail.

The Bozeman Trail was established in 1863 as a 535-mile “shortcut” from the Oregon Trail on the North Platte River near Casper, Wyoming to the gold fields around Virginia City, Montana Territory.  The Bozeman Trail route crosses private, state, and federally managed public lands in eight counties in Montana and five counties in Wyoming.  The U.S. military established Forts Reno and Phil Kearny in Wyoming and F.C. Smith in Montana along the Trail resulting in conflict, commonly called “Red Clouds War”,  with Indian Tribes resulting in numerous skirmishes and three major battles including the Fetterman battle in 1866, and the Wagon Box, and Hay Field fights in 1867.  

If a feasibility study is authorized, the Department of Interior will conduct full public participation with public meetings and a formal comment period for the project.  Factors to be analyzed include management cost on public lands, potential visitation, and community desirability for the designation.

“Our organizations want to stress that National designation of the Bozeman Trail will not impact landowners who have historic trail segments on their property.  The legislation we propose would not provide funding for land acquisitions or result in any other encumbrances on private landowners. Our intent is to direct visitors to Auto Tour opportunities on existing public roads along the trial corridor as well as to museums and historic sites for educational opportunities about the Trail in addition to local, state, and tribal history” says Dave McKee, Fort Phil Kearny/Bozeman Trail Association.

“Before formally making a request to the congressional delegations, our organizations will undertake an outreach effort to garner clear understanding of the proposal, provide information, answer questions, and identify opportunities.  We will contact the Montana and Wyoming congressional delegations, county commissioners, state and local governments, federal land management agencies, museums, historic preservation organizations, and Indian Tribes to provide information and discuss the proposal” says Mike Penfold, Our Montana. 

Penfold and McKee believe that obtaining National Historic Trail status “is a win-win proposal that can preserve our history and increase visitation to local, state, and federal historic sites and museums, directly benefiting local economies.” The process for requesting a study and subsequent National Historic Trail designation is found in the National Trails System Act, Public Law 90-543 (dated October 2, 1968) as amended.


You can contact the Trail Committee at to offer support, ask questions, provide comments, or request a visit with committee member.    

bottom of page