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Trails and Roads
Trails and Roads

Auto Trails Discussed on California Highways

The following pages provide information about some of the more prominent named trails and roads in California:


The De Anza Trail is a National Historic Trail that runs from Arizona to the San Francisco Bay area. This page provides information on the trail, its history, and routing.

El Camino Real

The El Camino Real (The Kings Road) was the original state highway. This page provides the legislative definition of the route and the history of the route.

Other Significant Auto Trail Pages

The following sites also provide good information on trails related to California:

S Varners American RoadsS. Varner's American Roads site has a page devoted to Auto Trails. Most important, it includes a list of North American Auto Trails.This site is devoted to the old roads--the marked trails that existed in the 1910s-1920s, before road numbering came into wide usage.

trvolcanic.pngVolcanic Legacy Scenic Byway All American Road. This is a 500 mile journey from volcano to volcano. The southern end of the byway begins at California's Lake Almanor, just miles from the active geothermal features at Lassen Volcanic National Park. The northern end of the byway is capped by Crater Lake National Park in Oregon where mysteries of the earth's interior are studied.

Lincoln Highway SignLincoln Highway: The Lincoln Highway was the first transcontinental road for automobiles in the United States, dedicated in 1913. It winds its way over 3,000 miles between New York City and San Francisco. In California, it ran along US 50 and portions of US 40.

Pikes Peak Ocean to Ocean Highway SignPikes Peak Ocean to Ocean Highway. This is one of the early transcontinental highways of the named trail era (about 1910-1926). The course of the highway was from New York through Philadelphia, Washington, Baltimore, Cumberland, Wheeling, Columbus, Dayton, Indianapolis, Springfield, Ill., Hannibal, Mo., St. Joseph, Belleville, Kans., Colorado Springs, Glenwood Springs, Salt Lake City, Reno, Sacramento and Oakland to San Francisco (and in a later version, to Los Angeles). Principle highways in California were US 40, US 50, US 99, and Route 89. Maps can be found here.

Old Spanish Trail Sign Old Spanish Trail: The National Park Service also has a site dedicated to the Old Spanish Trail, as the Old Spanish Trail Association.

National Old Trails RoadNational Old Trails Road Sign National Old Trails Road: The National Old Trails Road had been officially proposed in 1912 as a transcontinental highway stretching from the southwestern U.S. to the Eastern Seaboard along such old routes as the Santa Fe Trail and the National Road.  The Automobile Club of Southern California embraced the National Old Trails Road for the long-distance motor vehicle travel options it would make possible. The club, in collaboration with the National Old Trails Road Association, saw the posting of signs along at least part of that route as a key means of enabling motorists to better find their way to expositions taking place in California (San Francisco, San Diego) in the 1915 timeframe. The first sign was placed at the Auto Club headquarters in Los Angeles in August 1914. The sign-posting crew, directed by the club’s road department, then made its way steadily eastward along the route.  The final sign in that effort was placed more than a year later on September 3, 1915, in Kansas City, Missouri. More Information: National Old Trails Road Page.
(Source: Transportation History, "The Start of an Ambitious Sign-Posting Effort for the National Old Trails Road", 8/20/2020)


Trail Names and the "Southern Cause"

On the more infamous side, there was an attempt to create an auto trail in "honor" of Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederacy. The attempt failed, but good details on the history may be found on this page from Living Gold Press . Within California, monuments were placed along US 80 and US 99. All have since been relocated, and all ostensibly were not remembering Davis for his Confederacy role (this was common for such efforts as a nod to acceptability while still conveying a different message). In California, the monuments along this trail were as follows:
(Source: Living Gold Press, Los Angeles Times, 7/8/2020)

The Davis Highway was created in response to the Lincoln Highway by the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC). After the Lincoln Highway was announced in 1912, the UDC decided to create a Jefferson Davis Highway across Southern states to commemorate the "lost cause" (which often was a euphemism for a much more insidious cause). They cobbled together local roads and placed some monuments. On the monuments, however, they made the claim that Davis was the father of Transcontinental Highways because as secretary of War in 1853, Davis “surveyed for military use three routes across the United States. They claim these were for highways, bue the reality is that the surveys were for possible transcontinental railway paths — a Northern, a Central and two Southern Pacific surveys — plus a fifth survey up the West Coast. This latter survey was the justification for extending the route N from San Diego up US 99 to the Canadian border. But as usual, this was an after the fact, retro-justification for what they did.

Lee Highway Sign Dixie Overland Highway Sign Bankhead Highway Sign Reflecting the trends of the 1910s and 1920s, there were other highways named to commemorate the "Southern Cause". These include the Robert E. Lee Highway, the Dixie Overland Highway, and the Bankhead Highway (for John Hollis Bankhead, an Alabama politician and Confederate war hero). The move to highway numbers in the late 1920s allowed these names to fade into obscurity.

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