Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail


The Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail follows the explorers' historic route. In 1803 the United States purchased the Louisiana Territory from France, annexing 838,000 square miles of land stretching from the Gulf of Mexico to present-day Canada, and west to the Continental Divide. The nation doubled in size overnight, and President Thomas Jefferson assigned Meriwether Lewis to head an expedition through the new territory to the "Oregon Country" and the Pacific Ocean. With Jefferson's consent, Lewis invited William Clark to be his co-commander. The team's official goal was to find a water passage to the Pacific, following the Missouri River to the Columbia River, an impossible task, as the "Corps of Discovery" would find out. But Jefferson also instructed Lewis and Clark to approach the journey in a scientific manner, observing all aspects of the country closely and, where possible, collecting specimens of flora and fauna for study back east. They were to record weather data and information on the native peoples they encountered, as well as draw maps of the journey. The Corps of Discovery began their journey up the Missouri from Wood River, Illinois, on May 14, 1804. In November, they stopped to build a winter camp near a group of Mandan Indian villages near what is now Washburn, North Dakota. There they met Toussaint Charbonneau, a fur trapper, and his Shoshone wife, Sacagawea, whom Lewis and Clark hired as interpreters on their journey westward. In June 1805, they reached the Great Falls of the Missouri River, and in August they reached its source. Fortuitously, the party encountered with a band of Shoshone who readily traded horses for their trek over the Continental Divide and the Bitterroot Mountains. When they reached navigable water on the Clearwater River, they continued on down the Snake and Columbia Rivers in dugout canoes of their own making. They reached the Pacific in November of 1805 and wintered at Fort Clatsop, which they built near present-day Astoria, Oregon. After failing to make contact with a trading vessel in hopes of returning by sea, the expedition began their journey home on March 23, 1806. Near Missoula, Montana, in July, the expedition parted ways for a time; Lewis and a small group explored the Blackfoot, Sun, and Marias Rivers, while Clark and the bulk of the group (including Sacagawea) headed on to the Yellowstone River. Again, they made dugout canoes and followed the Yellowstone to its confluence with the Missouri River, where they rejoined with Lewis and his party to continue their journey home. On September 23, 1806, they arrived in St. Louis, over two years after they set out. They had traveled over 8,000 miles through territory that was largely known only to its native inhabitants. Their efforts helped open up the western wilderness to further exploration and, eventually, to settlement. What to see and do: Much of the roughly 4,000-mile-long Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail can be explored by watercraft, on foot or horseback, or by automobile. Interpretive centers, geologic and historic sites, and museums are located at many points along the way, including the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail Interpretive Center in Great Falls, Montana, with hands-on exhibits and a 158-seat theater. The National Park Service works together with these sites to develop and improve the trail further. Water segments include the route taken by the Corps of Discovery on the Missouri and Columbia Rivers and their tributaries. Although dams on both rivers have impounded most of the free-running waterways navigated by Lewis and Clark, portions are open to boat and canoe travel. Portions of the land trails may be followed along three segments currently open to the public: the 160-mile Katy Trail in Missouri, paralleling the river; portions of the Lolo Trail, the Nez Perce trace over which Lewis and Clark crossed the Bitterroot Mountains; and the Tillamook Head Trail.


601 Riverfront Dr
Omaha, NE 68102


41.26067900, -95.92349700
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(402) 661-1804

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