The Old North Trail

The Old North Trail is thought to have been the oldest and the longest trail in human history, tracing the eastern side of the Rocky Mountains, from northern Canada all the way into Mexico. In pre-Colombian North America, the Old North Trail was used for travel, trade, following and hunting herds and was also the frequent venue for conflicts between tribes.

The Old North Trail along the Rocky Mountain Front has a few distinctive characteristics to it. The first is that it is a path of least resistance. While many other trails branch off of it into the mountains and over passes high and low, here the Old North Trail skirts the Rockies outside of the Rockies, as there are no foothills, but it also never ventured far onto the vast North American Plains which offer little to no shelter.

Near the mountains, streams and creeks provided dependable water sources and are easier to cross than further out on the plains, where the creeks and rivers are wide and run swift. Near the mountains, stands of trees and canyons offer shelter from the elements, enemies and offer the ability to hunt in stealth.

Another defining aspect of the Old North Trail would have been the availability of game. Game species are and were abundant along the Front. From shortgrass prairie of the High Plains, through the limber pine stands, into the subalpine of aspen and evergreen, this interface between plains and mountain has an abundance of wildlife due to a patchwork of forest and meadow, allowing for shade and grazing, as well as visual shelter from predators. The very same characteristics that drew the Native American tribes to use this strip of land draw wildlife in large numbers.

Another aspect of the Front was the existence of several locations ideal for buffalo jumps, amongst the cliffs and coulees of the Rocky Mountain Front. Previous to the introduction of horses onto the American continent by Europeans, buffalo jumps were the main technique indigenous people used to hunt bison. Many still exist here today, some with lanes of cairns laid out by Blackfeet hunters to visualize where to drive the bison towards.

Indigenous peoples and wildlife, as everywhere, were closely intertwined, essentially all part of the same ecosystem. Here along the Rocky Mountain Front, the Old North Trail served as a human highway amidst this thin, natural corridor between the high prairie and the high mountains.