Pony Express Fun for Kids and The Whole Family


By Lisa D. Smith and Nancy J. Reid


From April 3, 1860, to October 24, 1861, young men once rode horses to carry mail from Missouri to California in the unprecedented time of only 10 days. This relay system was the most direct and practical means of east-west communications before the telegraph just 19 months after the Pony Express Service began.

Riders headed out from San Francisco, riding east to St. Joseph, Missouri while other riders started from the east, traveling the same route going west. There were stops along the way where riders were greeted with a waiting fresh mount and mail pouch. They dismounted, switched horses in a flash, and galloped off. They would ride for 75-100 miles, swapping horses 8-10 times before trading off with another rider, and having a chance to rest at a station. The service eventually ran twice a week, delivering mail every ten days. Over the life of the Pony Express, the service delivered over 33,000 pieces of mail traveling over 600,000 miles – 300 runs each way.

“Neither rain, or snow, nor death of night, can keep us from our duty.”

There are valuable lessons to be learned from the Pony Express riders and their historic endeavors. Along with learning about US history and geography, teaching kids about the Pony Express showcases the importance of sticking to a goal or commitment and making good on a promise. It also highlights how society is always progressing on how things are done, from horses and riders to the telegraph system and telegrams, paper letters to email, text messages and video communication, and more.

As full-time travelers on the Love Your Parks Tour, we recommend visiting some of the historic Pony Express stops, sites, markers, and even ruins. You can do this by following the Pony Express National Historic Trail which covers the Pony Express route in eight states, (California, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Nevada, Utah, and Wyoming), and includes auto-touring, interpretive sites, hiking, biking, or horseback riding trail segments, visiting museums and historic sites, and much more. So far, we’ve visited five of the Northwest Nevada sites on the trail, some in historic mining towns, and some way out in the open and rugged high desert plains that Highway 50, the Loneliest Road in America, travels through. For kids (and us adults too), it opens the imagination to what it was like for these determined riders traveling so fast across the country, with sheer bravery fueling their spirit to complete their mail-carrying commitment.

The Pony Express National Historic Trail is part of the National Park Service, and along with route-planning maps they have some fun and educational resources to get kids involved and interested in the Pony Express including coloring-in pages about the animals that riders may have encountered on the route, a trail guide, and a junior ranger booklet. All can be accessed here: https://www.nps.gov/poex/learn/kidsyouth/index.htm

You can learn more about following the Pony Express National Historic Trail (what a fun family road trip adventure!) here at https://www.nps.gov/poex/index.htm, and through the Pony Express Trail Association that also lists upcoming events including actual trail rides – see: https://nationalponyexpress.org/

Follow our Love Your Parks Tour Pony Express adventure as we add sites to our interactive map, here: https://nationalparktraveling.com/listing/following-the-pony-express-national-historic-trail/

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