The Santa Fe Trail Rut Site is located 9 miles west of Dodge City on U.S. Highway 400. It is the longest and best preserved section of the Santa Fe Trail. Boot Hill Museum owns and administers this site which offers a broad view of the surrounding countryside. With the exception of some modern infrastructure around the site visitors can get a real sense of what travelers on the Trail would have seen.
The site has never been plowed, which leaves the ruts plainly visible. The site is near the halfway point of the 780-mile trail and is on the main branch of the trail. From 1821 until the 1870s traders crossed this area with wagons loaded with trade goods pulled by oxen.
In the mid-1950s, area citizens worked to make this rut site a National monument. At the time, Kansas had no National Parks or monuments and people were determined to make this the first.
In 1959, the Department of Interior denied a request to make the site a monument because there was a “large and deep irrigation ditch” which looped back and forth across the trail ruts destroying the integrity of the site. That irrigation ditch is the Soule Canal.
This set back did not stop efforts to make the rut site a monument. Advocates of a monument argued from the ground the Canal was nearly invisible and, being built in the 1880s not long after the discontinuance of the Trail, the Canal was a historic feature of the site as well.
In the early 1960s the Jaycees, which operated Boot Hill Museum, took on this quest as a project. At one time, there were plans to place a museum building and an observation tower at the site, but these plans never came to fruition.
In 1966 the federal government placed the Santa Fe Trail rut site on the National Register of Historic Places. Boot Hill Museum purchased the rut site in 1969. In 1992, the National Park Service certified the Santa Fe Trail rut site.
Over the years, the National Park Service and Boot Hill Museum have made improvements to the site including building of kiosks, foot bridges and walking trails. Signage has recently been updated and improved. The Boot Hill Museum Santa Fe Trail rut site, 9 miles west of Dodge City, is open every day during daylight hours and is free to the public.
The Kansas Highway Department has provided ample turnout and parking area for easy access.
Map and artwork are courtesy of the Santa Fe Trail Association.