Enduring Stories Dynamic Landscapes

The Lewis and Clark Expedition on National Forests and Grasslands

[graphic] A picture of green, rolling hills, in a spring-like setting.  A hiker is looking out of the rolling hills.

Image caption: Looking east into Montana from the Continental Divide at Lemhi Pass, Montana,
Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest. Photo courtesy Travel Montana.

The Rocky Mountains – Big and Bold

If grasslands
suggest infinity,
a view of the
peaks of the
Rockies will
stop you in
your tracks,
awestruck.

Within the Rocky Mountains lie the headwaters of North America.High mountain peaks rise sharp and challenging, rivers run fast and clear, snow and high winds are commonplace, and dense forests block the sun. Grizzly bears, wolves, elk and moose still roam freely. Even after 200 years, vast stretches of this big country are as wild as when Lewis and Clark saw it. If grasslands suggest infinity, a view of the peaks of the Rockies will stop you in your tracks, awestruck.

[graphic] A picture of a large river in between two rocky cliffs.

Image Caption: The Gates of the
Mountains Helena National Forest, Montana

Thomas Jefferson had instructed Lewis: “The object of your mission is to explore the Missouri River, & such principal stream of it, as, by its course and communication with the waters of the Pacific ocean, whether the Columbia, Oregon, Colorado or any other river may offer the most direct practicable water communication across the continent for the purposes of commerce.”

These orders came into full focus when Lewis and Clark left the Great Falls and passed through the Gates of the Mountains. Here, their search for the Northwest Passage began in earnest. In 1805 and 1806, they crossed the mountains of present-day Montana and Idaho, country so rugged and confusing they had to rely on native guides to lead them over well-worn "Indian highways" used for centuries in the salmon-buffalo trade.