"Montana--Three Forks and the Lolo Train were our objectives in following Lewis and Clark"


We arrived at Montana's Missouri Headwaters State Park on a warm sunny August afternoon after a leisurely drive on Interstate 90 through Livingston and then over Bozeman Pass.

The Lewis and Clark Expedition was here before us on July 25-27 1805 after a journey up the Missouri River that had already taken over one year.

Once again this Writer was on the trail of the historic Expedition that opened the way for its young country to extend its boundaries from Atlantic to Pacific Ocean.

Three Forks, Montana is where the Gallatin, Madison and Jefferson rivers come together to create the Missouri River and were so named by Meriwether Lewis, the first white man to view them, in July 1805.

Sacajawea, the only woman on the Expedition, recognized the place as where she had been captured five years before by raiding Gros Ventres according to Clark's Journal.

Our Journal read differently. "We found a lovely campsite with some shade and were one of the first arrivals that afternoon although later quite a few campers joined us. We barbecued top sirloins to go with potato salad, fresh corn and cream puffs. In the evening we retreated from numerous hungry mosquitoes to the luxury of our RV".

Lewis and Clark, in their journal, also complained of the hordes of 'pesky mosquitoes' found at this place.

The next day we went through Missoula, Montana faithfully following the Route 12 signs. This road would take us once again to the Lolo Trail and the route followed by Lewis and Clark through the Bitterroot Mountains to the Columbia River.

For Lewis and Clark and their band of thirty three men and one woman, the most challenging events in the whole course of their three year adventure, occurred in the Bitterroot Range of Mountains, both going west and then on the return as well.

And perhaps of all the places to visit Expedition sites, the Bitterroot country offers the best perspective of what conditions were really like for the Expedition. The mountains remain the same, peaks snowcapped most of the year, still with vast forests and contorted alpine country.

It is easy to be fascinated with the Bitterroot and the Lolo trail. This writer has traversed it three times, once from west to east and twice from east to west. The mountains are spectacular, the surrounding forest immense. All our trips were in the pleasant days of summer but it is not hard to imagine the trials the route created in the late autumn when the Expedition struggled west with only horse flesh to eat or on the return the following Spring when a winter's accumulation of snow kept the party anxiously awaiting a thaw.

Our Journal continues: "Following Route 12 and the Lolo Trail we stopped for the day at Lewis and Clark Campground located on Lolo Creek, still on the eastern side of the Pass. It was perfect August day and we spent some time wandering along the Creek studying local flora and fauna, much in the same way as Merriwether Lewis did."

It is 215 miles from Missoula to Lewiston, Idaho through Lolo Pass. The route, now so scenic and enjoyable, gave the Explorers their most trying times, depending on a single old Indian guide they called Toby to lead them through the formidable mountain barrier as late autumn rain, sleet and snow storms spelled the need for haste.

Our Journal reports: "At 4100 feet our camp was cool and downright chilly in the a.m. before Old Sol finally showed above the trees. After breakfast of pancakes and sausage we were on the road noting one sign warning of "77 miles of winding road'. However it was once again a rewarding scenic drive with very little traffic. We called it the River Road as we followed, first the Lotsa River and then the Clearwater River for almost 100 miles often with tantalizing views of high Bitterroot peaks."

On a previous trip we spent one night at Wild Goose Campground alongside the Clearwater River including a chilly dip in same or so the Journal reported.

This time we went on to Lewiston and settled in the well appointed Hellgate State Park adjacent to the Snake River. With welcome shade, showers and nearby supermarkets we decided on a relaxing weekend.

For Lewis and Clark it took from September 4 in the Bitterroot Valley to October 9 to reach the junction of the Clearwater and Snake Rivers. Then the Expedition continued down the Snake River till its junction with the Columbia.

When we left Lewiston we followed Route 12 which does not follow the Snake River. However parts of Route 12 come very close to the 80 mile shortcut the Expedition took on its return journey in the Spring of 1806.

At Kennewick we met the Columbia River a few miles below its junction with the Snake River. On Highway 730 and then 84 we were once again on the Expedition's trail. They of course traveled all of this route in canoes. Wheat fields and lush vineyards have replaced the semi arid rolling hill country which members of the expedition viewed from their canoes. In addition McNary Dam has covered many of the rapids the men braved and the campsites they used each evening.

On this particular trip we left the Columbia River and Lewis and Clark trail at The Dalles preceding south on Oregon Highway 197 towards home.

The last part of the Expedition trek, from Portland and Vancouver, and following the Columbia to the sea we left for another trip. And one we will relate in an upcoming issue of Vittles.

Both Oregon and Washington have provided lavish printed booklets with photos, maps and excepts from the journals of the explorers as it proceeded down the Columbia River. You can contact the Oregon Tourism Commission at 800 547-7842, on the web at www.traveloregon.com. The Washington State Business and Tourism Development is on the web at www.experiencewashington.com, telephone 360 752-5050.

The National Lewis & Clark Bicentennial Council has a website at lewisandclark200.org with information of planned projects and events as well as links to the National Park Service's Lewis and Clark Trail site at www.nps.gov/lecl/.

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Last Update:3/10/03

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