The trail was unofficially used for trade among native tribes since the earliest of times. It didn't become an official trade route until 1598 when Oñate followed the trail while leading a group of settlers during the era of Spanish conquest. The duration of the trip from the Rio Grande to the San Juan Pueblo was said to take, by wagon and by foot, approximately 6 months including 2-3 weeks of rest throughout the trip. According to journals kept by settlers they used common animals found along the trail to add to the food they brought along. The trail greatly improved trade among Spanish villages and helped the Spanish conquistadors spread Christianity throughout the conquered lands. The trail was used from 1598 through 1881 when the railroad replaced the need for wagons. Eventually, railroads replaced rutted trails and over time the trail and evidence of it faded from sight and memory. The changes that the railways brought made trade along El Camino much easier and in some cases made travel quite luxurious.
El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro Trail Association (CARTA) is a non-profit trail organization that aims to help promote, educate, and preserve the cultural and historic trail in collaboration with the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs and various Mexican organizations. CARTA publishes an informative journal, Chronicles of the Trail, quarterly that provides people with further history and current affairs of the trail and what CARTA, as an organization, is doing to help the trail.