Welcome to the Mullan Road History Website

In March, 1858, US Army Lt. John Mullan was given the task of building a wagon road from the steamship docks at old Fort Walla Walla on the Columbia River across the Rocky Mountains to the steamship docks at Fort Benton on the Missouri River, by way of the new fort at the town of Walla Walla.

The Mullan Road Route

Looking north at one of the few remaining gravel stretches of the Mullan Road as it crosses Washington State Route 26 near Washtucna, Washington. The portion south of SR 26 has reverted to grazing.

The initial construction by Lt. Mullan and his crew began from Walla Walla in June of 1859 and was completed in October of 1860. In May, 1861, Lt. Mullan began rebuilding and improving portions of the route. In August 1862, the 655 mile road, including the previously existing portion from Wallula to Walla Walla, was finally completed, providing a route for pioneer families, miners, and military supplies between the two major rivers, and creating the first engineered highway in the northwest, which became known as the Mullan Road.

Historic markers, roads, towns, schools, and landmarks along the route continue to bear the name of its builder. The Mullan Road was designated a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark by the American Society of Civil Engineers in 1978.

The construction of the Mullan Road began at the Fort Walla Walla military garrison, now the site of the Veterans Administration Medical Center, and proceeded north in the vicinity of what became 13th Avenue through the current grounds of the Washington State Penitentiary and on to a crossing of Dry Creek. Continuing north, the road crossed the Touchet and Snake rivers on its way to the Spokane River, where it turned east to the Missouri.

We invite you to follow the route of the Mullan Road through the history panels to the right of this page which will take you (1) from Old Fort Walla Walla on the Columbia River to the military Fort in the town of Walla Walla, (2) from the new military Fort in the town of Walla Walla to the Snake River crossing, (3) from the Snake River crossing to the Spokane Valley, (4) from the Spokane Valley to Coeur d’Alene Mission, (5) from Coeur d’Alene Mission to Hell Gate/Missoula, (6) from Hell Gate/Missoula to Mullan Pass/Helena, (7) from Mullan Pass/Helena to Sun River/Great Falls, and finally (8) from Sun River/Great Falls to Fort Benton on the Missouri River.

We hope you enjoy your journey, and that you will also take the opportunity to visit other historical sites and facilities in the Walla Walla area and along the historic Mullan Road.

A Mullan Road Historic Site in Walla Walla

Plans are currently underway for the development of a Mullan Road Historic Site at the corner of the original Fort Walla Walla military reservation on 13th Avenue at Abadie Street in Walla Walla.  The City of Walla Walla has moved to this site a granite marker originally placed at the prison, and Walla Walla 2020, in cooperation with the City, is developing  interpretive signage as well as landscaping and a shelter to honor this first engineered wagon road in the northwest, which helped realize the longstanding dream of a Northwest Passage linking the continent from east to west.  If you are interested in helping with the development of the Mullan Road Historic Site, please contact Daniel Clark, clarkdn@charter.net, 509-522-0399.