Enduring Stories Dynamic Landscapes

The Lewis and Clark Expedition on National Forests and Grasslands

[graphic] Three images; the first of a large bull elk, another of a cowboy riding along on his horse that is packed with gear and a picture of the green rolling hills of the Lewis and Clark Pass, Helena National Forest, Montana.

Image caption top: Lewis and Clark Pass, Helena National Forest, Montana.
Image caption left: Photograph by Chuck Bartlebaugh.
Image caption below: Horseback rider, courtesy Travel Montana

The mountains Lewis and Clark explored include some of the biggest, wildest country managed by the Forest Service.The wave upon wave of mountains that Lewis first saw when he reached the Continental Divide at Lemhi Pass are part of the Frank Church River of No Return and Selway Bitterroot Wilderness Areas, over four million acres just as primitive now as then. Here on the Salmon-Challis and Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forests, you can explore what author Stephen Ambrose called one of the most pristine portions of the trail.Hike the upper three miles of the Trail from Lemhi Pass, and then continue eight miles more by horseback, mountain bike, or motorized vehicle to the Lemhi Valley floor. Or hike a six-mile section of isolated trail from Wagonhammer Springs to Trail Gulch on your own or with a guide.

On the Bitterroot National Forest, drive backcountry roads around Lost Trail Pass to discover why the expedition had such a difficult time in these mountains in 1805, or hike the ancient Indian trail over Gibbon’s Pass, the route that Clark followed in 1806.

Perhaps the best way to get a sense of Lewis and Clark’s overland journey is to follow their footsteps on the Lolo and Clearwater National Forests. You can either drive 120 miles of winding highway along Lolo Creek and the Wild and Scenic Lochsa River, or hike, bike or slowly drive the primitive Lolo Motorway, which parallels the Nee-me-Poo Trail, the old Nez Perce trail to the buffalo, within the heart of the Lolo Trail National Historic Landmark. Whichever route you choose, you will encounter some of the most remote, and rugged country along the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail.

Lewis and Clark traveled over 2,000 miles, crossing and re-crossing the Rocky Mountains.Despite the challenges of geography, Lewis took time to gather information about what they saw.Their journals are the first scientific descriptions of Montana and Idaho. Besides the daily details of the trek, Clark recorded the courses of rivers and streams; Lewis described the trees, birds and other animals. Most of the tree species he noted on the Lolo Trail were new to science. Today, scientists scour the journals to better understand the influence of humans on the historical conditions of the land and wildlife.

Enduring Stories Dynamic Landscapes | US Forest Service