Key Stops Along the Lewis & Clark Trail

Nature

The Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail commemorates the historic expedition carried out from 1803 to 1806, in order to survey the territory the US acquired from France through the Louisiana Purchase. From Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania all the way to the Pacific Ocean, the trail spans over 4,900 miles of beautiful landscapes, from pristine meadows to striking mountainous terrain. Now operated by the National Park Service, sites along the trail are dedicated to the preservation of the natural, historical, and tribal wonders that inspired the same awe in Captain Meriweather Lewis and Second Lieutenant Willliam Clark as they do in visitors to this day.

However, unless you have three years to spare, pinning down the best sites to visit can be daunting. That’s why we’ve handpicked the most incredible stops along this historic trail.

Lewis & Clark National Trail HQ and Visitor Center

The National Trails HQ along the Missouri River

The National Trails HQ along the Missouri River

Whether you’re just passing through or kicking off your journey in Omaha, don’t miss a stop at the National Trail’s Headquarters, which sits on the exact landing spot on the west bank of the Missouri River of the original expedition. It’s the perfect place to get a comprehensive overview of such an immense excursion, featuring hands-on exhibits and maps that detail historical info about key sites along the trail as well as facts about the explorers themselves.

Keep the historical venture underway with a night or two at the Magnolia Hotel. Its stately atmosphere and traditional decor make for the perfect place to recharge before hitting the trail come morning.

The White Cliffs

The sky-high White Cliffs of the Missouri Breaks

The sky-high White Cliffs of the Missouri Breaks

The White Cliffs of the Missouri Breaks are among the most beautiful geological formations along the entire trail. Along certain segments of the river, the sandstone cliffs reach over 300 feet in height, which cast gold reflections in the crystalline waters below. This particular region falls within The Upper Missouri River Break Monument, so pass by their field center in Fort Benton—just a forty-five minute drive from Great Falls—before heading out.

If you need a break from roughing it in the wilderness, recline in style at the Heritage Inn, which has a sauna and hot tub to soothe those post-hike knots.

The Gates of the Mountains

An incredible natural welcome from the Gates of the Mountains

An incredible natural welcome from the Gates of the Mountains

In his field journal, Lewis described this segment of the Missouri River as “the most remarkable cliffs” that they’d seen on their excursion, and then called the site the “Gates of the Mountains” – a name that has stuck to this day. The immense cliffs tower over 1,000 feet above the waters below, and their limestone ridges are home to bighorn sheep and mountain goats. The best way to take in this natural wonder is by taking a boat tour, floating through the canyon and learning about its history and wildlife.

Several of these boat tours depart from Helena. To catch an early morning cruise down the river, stay at the Days Inn, which is conveniently located and full of rustic charm.

Nez Perce National Historical Park

The setting sun brings the slopes of Hell’s Canyon to life

The setting sun brings the slopes of Hell’s Canyon to life

This National Park commemorates history, culture, and stories of the Nez Perz people, and is unique in that it consists of 38 key sites across the states of Idaho, Montana, Washington, and Oregon. Several of the sites follow the trail of legendary Chief Joseph, who battled US forces in 1877 to resist forced relocation onto reservations. The expansive national park is as rich in fascinating historical facts as it is in breathtaking natural beauty.

Many of the park’s sites sit within the state lines of Idaho. The Red Lion Hotel is ideally located amidst key sites of the Nez Perce National Historical Park as well as the equally incredible Hells Canyon National Recreation Area.

Cape Disappointment

The lighthouse at Cape Disappointment towering over Pacific waves below

The lighthouse at Cape Disappointment towering over Pacific waves below

The point where the Columbia River meets the Pacific Ocean hardly earned its title thanks to its landscape. The striking ocean views below and the lush forest surrounding the headlands make for the perfect place to end your own westward expedition. The state park—namesake of the cape itself—offers overnight camping accommodations, over eight miles of hiking trails, launch sites for boats, and tours of the North Head Lighthouse.

To fully immerse yourself in classic, Pacific Northwestern charm, check in to the Inn at Harbour Village. Set in Ilwaco, it’s a short drive from Cape Disappointment and offers free breakfast in the morning.

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