Educational Travel: California Trail Center Elko Nevada

Yes, you can still travel with your kids after back-to-school…just make it educational! In the following weeks, we’ll be highlighting historical and educational pit stops to explore with your school-aged kids.

The California Trail Center Elko Nevada a gem along I-80. Housed in a beautiful building just off the interstate; don’t pass it, as you won’t see another turn off to return to it for another 16 miles. This impressive museum takes visitors along the entire path of the California Trail, through a circular building that ‘starts’ in Independence, Missouri and ends in the Sacramento Valley of California. The trail itself crossing the path of this site just outside of Elko, and wagons as well as Native American wigwams are erected outside overlooking the basin.

California Trail Center

Interactive exhibits for kids abound in the center, from small wagon replicas with wooden blocks representing supplies that kids can ‘pack’ themselves to light-up, multi-sensory maps of the various overland trails with pros and cons for each. Young kids will enjoy dressing up in period clothing (with explanations for the various articles of clothing and even a full-length mirror on-hand) and older kids will be fascinated by a well-done film about the ill-fated Donner Party. In many locations throughout the center, audio tours go into more depth, and actual quotes pulled from journals and letters give the American pioneers a voice.

California Trail Center

Perhaps most delightful about the California Trail Center is the number of docents strolling throughout the museum, ready to answer questions and offer stories related to the history of the era. Docents wear period clothing and act as living history lessons as they exhibit settler-era rifle fire and how to cook over a buffalo-chip fire (just two examples).

We actually missed the turn-off (hence the warning above!) and returned 16 miles to visit the museum, and felt it was well worth the set-back to our travel schedule. For more Western pioneering history pit stops, check out our reviews additional I-80 pioneering museums, such as Donner Memorial State Park and Emigrant Trail Museum and of Sutter’s Fort, California.

Date last visited:

June 2013

Distance from the interstate:

Right off I-80

Admission cost:



None. There is a grassy area that would work for a picnic, however.

Hours of operation:

Wednesday through Sunday, 9 am to  5 pm


From I-80, take Exit  292 nine miles from Elko (look for signs).