North Platte River

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North Platte
North Platte River Northgate Canyon Canoers.jpg
Canoers on the North Platte River near the Colorado - Wyoming border in Northgate Canyon
North Platte basin map.png
North Platte River watershed and course
Country United States
State Colorado, Wyoming, Nebraska
Cities Walden, CO, Casper, WY, Laramie, WY, Scottsbluff, NE, Oshkosh, NE, North Platte, NE
Physical characteristics
SourceConfluence of Grizzly and Little Grizzly Creeks in Colorado
  location Jackson County, Colorado
  coordinates 40°33′01″N106°23′35″W / 40.550331°N 106.392975°W / 40.550331; -106.392975 [1]
  elevation8,060 ft (2,460 m)
Mouth Platte River
Lincoln County, Nebraska
41°06′56″N100°41′15″W / 41.115573°N 100.687637°W / 41.115573; -100.687637 Coordinates: 41°06′56″N100°41′15″W / 41.115573°N 100.687637°W / 41.115573; -100.687637 [1]
2,762 ft (842 m)
Length716 mi (1,152 km)
Basin size30,900 sq mi (80,000 km2) [2]
  location Lisco, NE [3]
  average1,355 cu ft/s (38.4 m3/s) [3]
  minimum63.1 cu ft/s (1.79 m3/s)
  maximum20,100 cu ft/s (570 m3/s)
Basin features
  left Sweetwater River
  right Medicine Bow River, Laramie River

The North Platte River is a major tributary of the Platte River and is approximately 716 miles (1,152 km) long, counting its many curves. [4] In a straight line, it travels about 550 miles (890 km), along its course through the U.S. states of Colorado, Wyoming, and Nebraska.


The head of the river is essentially all of Jackson County, Colorado, whose boundaries are the continental divide on the west and south and the mountain drainage peaks on the east—the north boundary is the state of Wyoming border. The rugged Rocky Mountains surrounding Jackson County have at least twelve peaks over 11,000 feet (3,400 m) in height. From Jackson County the river flows north about 200 miles (320 km) out of the Routt National Forest and North Park (Colorado basin) near what is now Walden, Colorado, to Casper, Wyoming. Shortly after passing Casper, the river turns to the east-southeast and flows about 350 miles (560 km) to the city of North Platte, Nebraska.

The North Platte and South Platte River join to form the Platte River in western Nebraska near the city of North Platte, Nebraska. The Platte River flows to the Missouri River, which joins the Mississippi River to flow to the Gulf of Mexico. The river provides the major avenue of drainage for northern Colorado, eastern Wyoming and western Nebraska. It is only navigable over most of its length at high water by canoes, kayaks and rubber rafts.

History as a trail west

California, Mormon, Oregon and Bozeman Trails along North Platte River Bozeman01.png
California, Mormon, Oregon and Bozeman Trails along North Platte River
External images
Searchtool.svg National Trail Map
Searchtool.svg National Parks Oregon Trail Map
Searchtool.svg National Parks California Trail Map
Searchtool.svg Proposed Oregon, California, Mormon, Pony Express Trail Map

The North Platte River drainage has been an important westward route in the westward expansion of the United States. To get the two essentials, water and grass for the traveler's animals the emigration trails nearly always followed river valleys across the North American continent. These trails extended from the Missouri River, Platte River and North Platte River across Nebraska and parts of Wyoming and on to its confluence with the Sweetwater River (Wyoming). About 50 miles (80 km) beyond what is now Casper, Wyoming the main emigration trails left the North Platte valley and followed the Sweetwater River valley and other river valleys going further west. [5]

The trail route along the North Platte River was first written about by Wilson Price Hunt of the Astor Expedition who was traveling back to the Missouri River from the newly established Fort Astoria on the Columbia River in 1811. The lack of American trappers and settlers in the contested Oregon Territory resulted in this early discovery being unused and nearly forgotten. Jedediah Smith and several trappers in 1823 rediscovered the route and the trail along the Platte, North Platte and Sweetwater Rivers became a major trail to the fur trader’s summer time Rocky Mountain Rendezvous. Mule trains carrying in trading supplies for the mountain men and fur trappers were some of the first to use the trail in 1824. The fur traders on their return trip carried the traded furs back east at the end of the summer trading season. This fur trade route continued to be used to about 1840. By about 1832 the trail along the Platte, North Platte, and Sweetwater Rivers had been improved by the fur traders to a rough wagon trail from the Missouri River to the Green River in Wyoming where most of the Rocky Mountain Rendezvous occurred. Following the fur traders, the major emigration trails established along the north and south banks of the North Platte River were the Oregon (1843–1869), California (1843–1869), Mormon (1847–1869) and the Bozeman (1863–68) Trails. The trails north of the North Platte River originally crossed the North Platte near Fort Laramie to join the original Oregon and California Trail Route on the south side. In 1850 Child's Route (Child's Cutoff) [6] extended the north side trail to what is now Casper, Wyoming. The rugged territory from Fort Laramie, Wyoming to Casper meant that the trails often deviated from the river to find an easier path and relied on streams draining into the North Platte for water. [7]

River description

Up in central north Colorado rests North Park (Colorado basin), a valley ringed by 12,000 feet (3,700 m) mountains. The headwaters of the river is essentially all of Jackson County, Colorado whose boundaries are the continental divide on the west and south and the mountain drainage peaks on the east—the north boundary is the state of Wyoming boundary. The rugged Rocky Mountains Continental Divide surrounding Jackson County have at least twelve peaks over 11,000 feet (3,400 m) in height. These peaks include on the west: Mount Zirkel 12,180 feet (3,710 m), Lost ranger Peak 11,932 feet (3,637 m) and Mount Ethel 11,924 feet (3,634 m); on the south: Sheep Mountain 11,819 feet (3,602 m) and Parkview Mountain 12,296 feet (3,748 m)—whose waters on the south or east side drain into the North Platte River drainage. On the east are: Mount Nimbus 12,706 feet (3,873 m), Mount Cumulus 12,725 feet (3,879 m), Howard Mountain 12,810 feet (3,900 m), Mount Cirrus 12,797 feet (3,901 m), Mount Richthofen 12,940 feet (3,940 m), Lead Mountain 12,537 feet (3,821 m),North Diamond Peak 11,852 feet (3,612 m) and Clark Peak 12,951 feet (3,947 m) whose eastern slope waters drain into the North Platte River. [8]

Dry stream channel on the North Platte River in Goshen County, Wyoming during May 2002 drought conditions. NorthPlatteRiverMay2002.jpg
Dry stream channel on the North Platte River in Goshen County, Wyoming during May 2002 drought conditions.
Seminoe Dam and reservoir from the air SeminoeDam.jpeg
Seminoe Dam and reservoir from the air
The Trappers Route Special Recreation Management Area is located north of Casper, Wyoming along the North Platte River. Trappers Route Special Recreation Management Area, North Platte River.jpg
The Trappers Route Special Recreation Management Area is located north of Casper, Wyoming along the North Platte River.
Pathfinder Dam on the North Platte River Pathfinder Dam - Wyoming.jpg
Pathfinder Dam on the North Platte River

In Jackson county the North Platte is joined by several other small streams draining the mountains around the county. Some of these creeks are: Arapaho Creek, Colorado Creek, East Branch Illinois River, Jack Creek, Jewell Lake Trib., Grizzly Creek, Little Grizzly Creek, Norris Creek, North Fork of North Platte River, Rock Creek (Little Willow Ck), South Fork Canadian River, South Fork Michigan River, Willow Creek and in Wyoming the Encampment River. [9] All these streams are draining the snow melt form the mountains surrounding Jackson County. The North Platte River flows northward from Colorado into Wyoming through the popular rafting site – Northgate Canyon [10] which is along the western side of the Medicine Bow Mountains.

In Colorado and Wyoming, the river is narrower and much swifter flowing than it is in Nebraska, where it becomes a slow flowing, shallow braided stream. The upper reaches of the river in the Rockies in Colorado and Wyoming are popular for recreation rafting and fly fishing on the river and its many tributaries for rainbow trout and other sport fish. In western Nebraska, the banks and riverbed of the North Platte provide a green oasis amid an otherwise semi-arid region of North America.

The river has been dammed several times to form several reservoirs along its course. On the north end of the Park range it is joined by the Medicine Bow River in the Seminoe Reservoir formed by Seminoe Dam, further downstream is the Kortes Reservoir. [11] Still further downstream about 50 miles (80 km) above Casper the North Platte is joined by the Sweetwater River to form the Pathfinder Reservoir. [5] Northeast of the Pathfinder Reservoir it passes through the Alcova [12] and Gray Reef [13] reservoirs before it hits Casper. Casper was established about 1860 east of the former site of Fort Caspar, which was built about 1859 during the mass migration along the Oregon, California, Mormon and Bozeman trails. [14] Near what is now Casper was the location of several ferries that offered passage across the North Platte River during the summer "Trail season" starting about 1847. In 1847, during the first Mormon emigration, Brigham Young leading the Mormon settlers to Salt Lake City, Utah established a ferry near present-day Casper known as the Mormon Ferry. [15] The next year the ferry was moved a few miles down river. Soon competing ferries were built. In 1859, Louis Guinard built a toll bridge across the North Platte and a trading post near the original ferry's locations. [16] Before reaching Casper the river turns and flows northeast between the Granite Mountains to the west and the Laramie Mountains to the east.

The North Platte emerges from the mountains near Casper, where it turns and flows east-southeast, along the northern edge of the Laramie Mountains onto the Great Plains. The North Platte flows east-southeast across the plains of eastern Wyoming, past the town of Douglas, Wyoming and through Glendo and Guernsey Reservoirs. [17] It then flows past the Fort Laramie National Historic Site (the former site of Fort Laramie), where it is joined by the Laramie River. The North Platte is joined by Horse Creek flowing in from Wyoming near the Wyoming-Nebraska border as its last significant addition. It crosses into western Nebraska, flowing east-southeast between the cities of Scottsbluff, Nebraska and Gering, Nebraska. In Keith County, Nebraska, the Kingsley Dam forms Lake C.W. McConaughy, the largest reservoir in Nebraska and a significant irrigation and recreation facility for the region. Kingsley Dam, constructed in 1935 to 1941, is located on the east side of Lake McConaughy in central Keith County, Nebraska, and is the second largest hydraulic fill dam in the world. [18] East of the Kingsley dam the North Platte River flows nearly parallel to the South Platte River. In many places they are separated by only about 5 mi (8 km) for a stretch of about 50 mi (80 km) before they join to form the Platte River just east of the city of North Platte, Nebraska.

The wagon trails following the south side of the Platte/North Platte River ferried or waded in low water years across the South Platte River in several places to stay on the south side of the North Platte River where the trails were located. Those who later went on to Denver, Colorado followed the South Platte River trail into Colorado. Historically, the North Platte River used to be up to a mile wide (1.6 km) in many places as evidenced by the old streambed and written records. Today, by the time the North Platte reaches Paxton, Nebraska it is much smaller due to the extensive water taken from it for irrigation.

See also

Related Research Articles

Oregon Trail Historic route to and through the American Old West

The Oregon Trail was a 2,170-mile (3,490 km) east-west, large-wheeled wagon route and emigrant trail in the United States that connected the Missouri River to valleys in Oregon. The eastern part of the Oregon Trail spanned part of what is now the state of Kansas and nearly all of what are now the states of Nebraska and Wyoming. The western half of the trail spanned most of the current states of Idaho and Oregon.

South Platte River

The South Platte River is one of the two principal tributaries of the Platte River. Flowing through the U.S. states of Colorado and Nebraska, it is itself a major river of the American Midwest and the American Southwest/Mountain West. Its drainage basin includes much of the eastern flank of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado, much of the populated region known as the Colorado Front Range and Eastern Plains, and a portion of southeastern Wyoming in the vicinity of the city of Cheyenne. It joins the North Platte River in western Nebraska to form the Platte, which then flows across Nebraska to the Missouri. The river serves as the principal source of water for eastern Colorado. In its valley along the foothills in Colorado, it has permitted agriculture in an area of the Colorado Piedmont and Great Plains that is otherwise arid.

Platte River River in Nebraska, United States

The Platte River is a major river in the State of Nebraska. It is about 310 mi (500 km) long; measured to its farthest source via its tributary, the North Platte River, it flows for over 1,050 miles (1,690 km). The Platte River is a tributary of the Missouri River, which itself is a tributary of the Mississippi River which flows to the Gulf of Mexico. The Platte over most of its length is a broad, shallow, meandering stream with a sandy bottom and many islands—a braided stream.

Mormon Trail

The Mormon Trail is the 1,300-mile (2,100 km) long route from Illinois to Utah that members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints traveled for 3 months. Today, the Mormon Trail is a part of the United States National Trails System, known as the Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail.

Green River (Colorado River tributary)

The Green River, located in the western United States, is the chief tributary of the Colorado River. The watershed of the river, known as the Green River Basin, covers parts of Wyoming, Utah, and Colorado. The Green River is 730 miles (1,170 km) long, beginning in the Wind River Mountains of Wyoming and flowing through Wyoming and Utah for most of its course, except for 40 miles (64 km) into western Colorado. Much of the route is through the Colorado Plateau and through some of the most spectacular canyons in the United States. It is only slightly smaller than the Colorado when the two rivers merge, but typically carries a larger load of silt. The average yearly mean flow of the river at Green River, Utah is 6,121 cubic feet (173.3 m3) per second.

Laramie Mountains

The Laramie Mountains are a range of moderately high peaks on the eastern edge of the Rocky Mountains in the U.S states of Wyoming and Colorado. The range is the northernmost extension of the line of the ranges along the eastern side of the Rockies, and in particular of the higher peaks of the Front Range directly to the south. North of the range, the gap between the Laramie range and the Bighorn Mountains provided the route for historical trails, such as the Oregon Trail, the Mormon Trail, and the Pony Express.

Sweetwater River (Wyoming)

The Sweetwater River is a 238-mile (383 km) long tributary of the North Platte River, in the U.S. state of Wyoming. As a part of the Mississippi River system, its waters eventually reach the Gulf of Mexico.

Laramie River

The Laramie River is a tributary of the North Platte River, approximately 280 miles (450 km) long, in the U.S. states of Colorado and Wyoming. The river was named for Jacques La Ramie, a fur trapper who visited the area in the early 19th century. Laramie County, Wyoming, the city of Laramie, and other geographical entities in the region have "Laramie" in their names.

Fort Caspar United States historic place

Fort Caspar was a military post of the United States Army in present-day Wyoming, named after 2nd Lieutenant Caspar Collins, a U.S. Army officer who was killed in the 1865 Battle of the Platte Bridge Station against the Lakota and Cheyenne. Founded in 1859 along the banks of the North Platte River as a trading post and toll bridge on the Oregon Trail, the post was later taken over by the Army and named Platte Bridge Station to protect emigrants and the telegraph line against raids from Lakota and Cheyenne in the ongoing wars between those nations and the United States. The site of the fort, near the intersection of 13th Street and Wyoming Boulevard in Casper, Wyoming, is listed in the National Register of Historic Places and is now owned and operated by the City of Casper as the Fort Caspar Museum and Historic Site.

Cherokee Trail

The Cherokee Trail was a historic overland trail through the present-day U.S. states of Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado, and Wyoming that was used from the late 1840s up through the early 1890s. The route was established in 1849 by a wagon train headed to the gold fields in California. Among the members of the expedition were a group of Cherokee. When the train formed in Indian Territory, Lewis Evans of Evansville, Arkansas, was elected Captain. Thus, this expedition is sometimes written as the Evans/Cherokee Train. In 1850 four wagon trains turned west on the Laramie Plains, along Wyoming's southern border to Fort Bridger.

Lodgepole Creek

Lodgepole Creek is a tributary of the South Platte River, approximately 278 miles (447 km) long, in the U.S. states of Wyoming, Nebraska and Colorado. Lodgepole Creek drains a basin in the interior of a low plateau which lies between the South Platte Basin and the North Platte Basin in the southeastern corner of Wyoming, the southern edge of the Nebraska Panhandle and several small portions of northeastern Colorado. As its name implies, Lodgepole Creek is a very small stream; for nearly all of its length it flows through the semiarid High Plains. The Lodgepole Creek Valley has been a major transportation route for over 100 years; the line of the original transcontinental railroad, the Lincoln Highway/U.S. Highway 30 and Interstate 80 all run along the stream for much of its length.

Cheyenne County was a county of the extralegal United States Territory of Jefferson that existed from November 28, 1859, until February 28, 1861.

Emigrant Trail in Wyoming

The path followed by the Oregon Trail, California Trail and Mormon Trail spans 400 miles (640 km) through the U.S. state of Wyoming. The trail entered from Nebraska on the eastern border of the state near the present day town of Torrington and exited on the western border near the towns of Cokeville and Afton. An estimated 350,000 to 400,000 settlers traveled on the trail through Wyoming between 1841 and 1868. All three trails follow the same path through most of the state. The Mormon Trail splits at Fort Bridger and enters Utah, while the Oregon and California Trails continue to Idaho.

Great Platte River Road

The Great Platte River Road was a major overland travel corridor approximately following the course of the Platte River in present-day Nebraska and Wyoming that was shared by several popular emigrant trails during the 19th century, including the Trapper's Trail, the Oregon Trail, the Mormon Trail, the California Trail, the Pony Express route, and the military road connecting Fort Leavenworth and Fort Laramie. The road, which extended nearly 800 miles (1,300 km) from the Second Fort Kearny to Fort Laramie, was utilized primarily from 1841 to 1866. In modern times it is often regarded as a sort of superhighway of its era, and has been referred to as "the grand corridor of America's westward expansion".

Trappers Trail Historical trail or road

The Trapper's Trail or Trappers' Trail is a north-south path along the eastern base of the Rocky Mountains that links the Great Platte River Road at Fort Laramie and the Santa Fe Trail at Bent's Old Fort. Along this path there were a number of trading posts, also called trading forts.

The Overland Trail was a stagecoach and wagon trail in the American West during the 19th century. While portions of the route had been used by explorers and trappers since the 1820s, the Overland Trail was most heavily used in the 1860s as a route alternative to the Oregon, California, and Mormon trails through central Wyoming. The Overland Trail was famously used by the Overland Stage Company owned by Ben Holladay to run mail and passengers to Salt Lake City, Utah, via stagecoaches in the early 1860s. Starting from Atchison, Kansas, the trail descended into Colorado before looping back up to southern Wyoming and rejoining the Oregon Trail at Fort Bridger. The stage line operated until 1869 when the completion of the First Transcontinental Railroad eliminated the need for mail service via Thais' stagecoach.

Route of the Oregon Trail

The historic 2,170-mile (3,490 km) Oregon Trail connected various towns along the Missouri River to Oregon's Willamette Valley. It was used during the 19th century by Great Plains pioneers who were seeking fertile land in the West and North.

The Battle of Platte Bridge, also called the Battle of Platte Bridge Station, on July 26, 1865 was the culmination of a summer offensive by the Lakota Sioux and Cheyenne Indians against the United States army. In May and June the Indians raided army outposts and stagecoach stations over a wide swath of Wyoming and Montana. In July, they assembled a large army, estimated by Cheyenne warrior George Bent to number 3,000 warriors, and descended upon Platte Bridge. The bridge, across the North Platte River near present-day Casper, Wyoming, was guarded by 120 soldiers. In an engagement near the bridge, and another against a wagon train guarded by 28 soldiers a few miles away, the Indians killed 29 soldiers while suffering at least eight dead.

Split Rock (Wyoming) United States historic place

Split Rock, also known as Twin Peaks, is a mountain in the Granite Mountains of central Wyoming. The peak has an elevation of 7,305 feet (2,227 m), and is located about 10 miles (16 km) north of the Muddy Gap junction between Casper and Rawlins. The mountain is distinctive for a deep V-shaped cleft dividing its summit. The mountain was a prominent landmark on the Oregon Trail and other early settlement routes in the region, which crossed a low rise at the eastern end of the range between Casper and the North Platte River valley and the Sweetwater River.


  1. 1 2 "North Platte River". Geographic Names Information System . United States Geological Survey. 1978-10-13. Retrieved 2011-02-27.
  2. "Boundary Descriptions and Names of Regions, Subregions, Accounting Units and Cataloging Units". U.S. Geological Survey. Retrieved 2011-02-27.
  3. 1 2 "USGS Gage #06686000 on the North Platte River at Lisco, NE". National Water Information System. U.S. Geological Survey. 1916–1998. Retrieved 2011-02-27.
  4. U.S. Geological Survey. National Hydrography Dataset high-resolution flowline data. The National Map, accessed March 21, 2011
  5. 1 2 North Platte between Casper, WY and Pathfinder Reservoir Archived 2011-11-02 at the Wayback Machine Accessed 26 Aug 2011
  6. Child's Route Accessed 22 Aug 2011
  7. Ostlind, Emilene (November 8, 2014). "The North Platte River Basin: A Natural History". Archived from the original on 2019-11-11.
  8. Google Earth--Jackson County Colorado. Google earth shows the boundaries (the continental divide) and peaks surrounding Jackson county. 23 August 2011
  9. Google earth shows--Jackson county satellite views of rivers and streams reasonably well as long as they are reasonably large. To get names of rivers and streams use the free Western Preservation topographic maps (topo option) Archived 2012-03-16 at the Wayback Machine Accessed 23 Aug 2011
  10. Northgate Canyon Accessed 23 Aug 2011)
  11. Kortes Reservoir Accessed 22 Aug 2011
  12. Alcova Reservoir Accessed 22 Aug 2011
  13. Gray Reef Reservoir Accessed 23 Aug 2011
  14. Fifer, Barbera. Wyoming's Historic Forts. Farcountry Press. pp. 59–68.
  15. Mormon Ferry Accessed 22 Aug 2011
  16. "Platte River Fords". Wyoming State Historic Preservation Office.
  17. Guernsey Reservoir Accessed 22 Aug 2011
  18. "History and Facts about Lake McConaughy". Official Website of the Ogallala/Keith County Chamber of Commerce. Retrieved September 5, 2009.