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Lewis and Clark for the Modern Day Adventurer

Lewis and Clark for the Modern Day Adventurer

Visit these historic places that follow the Lewis and Clark expedition through four Western States.

columbiarivergorge Columbia River Gorge

"Ocean in view. The joy."  —William Clark, November 7, 1805

Interested in history as well as the outdoors? Consider retracing the steps of some of the most famous explorers our nation has ever known.

Beauty and scenery await adventurers who seek to follow Lewis & Clark on the final stretch of their path to the Pacific Ocean. After journeying more than a year, the expedition finally reached the headwaters of the Missouri at Three Forks (in present-day Montana). From here, they crossed the continental divide on foot and descended the mountains to the Columbia River. They arrived at the Pacific Coast in November 1805, made camp and overwintered at Fort Clatsop (near present-day Astoria, Oregon). The expedition headed home the following spring.

You can experience some of the adventures of the expedition in Western states of Montana, Idaho, Washington and Oregon. Much of the landscape inspires awe today as it did 200 years ago. In addition to travel by boat, horse, and foot, transport by car and bicycle are options. To plan your trip, start with a visit to the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail website.

Montana: Visit the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail Interpretive Center in Great Falls. Here, the Corps of Discovery made its most famous portage.  

Missouri Headwaters State Park preserves the confluence of the three forks, where in July 1805, Lewis and Clark concluded that they were the great river’s headwaters. Today the park is an easy three-mile drive off the Interstate.

In August 1805, the commanders split into 2 parties. While Clark searched for Sacagawea’s people the Shoshone, Lewis and a small party crossed the continental divide at Lemhi Pass, and found waters flowing to the Pacific Ocean. Today, reach Lemhi Pass from Dillon, Montana, via remote Forest Service Roads (or via the Lewis and Clark Backcountry Byway, see Idaho, below).

The commanders eventually settled on the Lolo Trail, an old Indian route and the most difficult leg of the journey. The Lolo Pass Visitor Center, in Lolo, Montana, has exhibits on Lewis and Clark’s journey, a short trail to one of the expedition’s camps, and a meadow of camas, an important food source to the Native people. Travel along the ancient Lolo Trail via the Lolo Motorway (aka Forest Road 500), a primitive, winding road between Powell, Montana and Kamiah, Idaho.

Idaho: In the town of Salmon, visit the Sacajawea Interpretive, Cultural, and Education Center, near the birthplace of the young Shoshone woman who served not only as guide, but also as a hardworking member of the Corps of Discovery.  

In August 1805, while Lewis reached Lemhi Pass, Captain Clark explored the Salmon River as a possible route, but saw clearly that its cascades, rapids and steep rock walls were too dangerous. Today, the 10,000 adventurers per year who travel the Salmon’s whitewaters understand why Clark opted for the safer (but equally difficult) Lolo Trail (see Montana, above).  

For a view of Lemhi Pass from the Idaho side, consider the Lewis and Clark Backcountry Byway, a loop road that begins and ends at Tendoy, Idaho, and passes through the Beaverhead Mountains of the Bitterroot Range.  The pass now marks the boundary between Idaho and Montana.

Washington: Visit Sacajawea State Park, where in 1805 the party camped at the confluence of the Snake and Columbia Rivers, long a place of gathering and trading. You can still camp near nearby, at Charbonneau Park (named for Sacajawea’s husband) and other nearby campgrounds.

Take a walk along the Sacajawea Heritage Trail, a 23-mile, paved pedestrian pathway along the Columbia River, or visit the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center at Cape Disappointment near Ilwaco.  It’s a wonderful stop for families, with interactive exhibits for children. 

Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge preserves the historic Cathlapotle town site, visited by the expedition in 1806. Today it is one of the best-preserved Native American sites in the Northwestern U.S. The refuge also provides excellent wildlife viewing opportunities via a 4-mile auto tour route and two developed hiking trails.

Oregon: On the other side of the Columbia River from Cape Disappointment, visit the expedition’s winter quarters at Fort Clatsop, part of Lewis and Clark National Historical Park near Astoria. Try the Fort to Sea Trail, a 6.5-mile trail through much of the same forest, fields and dunes that the Corps regularly traveled during the winter of 1805-1806.

Lewis and Clark passed by nearby Multnomah Falls in November 2, 1805, and again on their return on April 9, 1806, now part of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. The Columbia Gorge Discovery Center has a fantastic exhibit area focused on the cargo of Lewis and Clark, an outdoor native plant garden and interpretive trail that connects to the Dalles River Front Trail, 9-miles round trip.

Did you know?

Two hundred years after the Lewis and Clark Expedition, near Billings, Montana, you will find the only physical evidence of the journey still in place. In July of 1805, William Clark carved his name into the soft rock of what he called Pompey’s Pillar.  Pompey’s Pillar National Monument now preserves the site.