This road trip will mirror the route Meriweather Lewis and William Clark took when exploring the Louisiana Territory, purchased from France in 1803. Their charge from President Thomas Jefferson was to find a water route to the Pacific Ocean and to chart this virgin territory. The journey began in May of 1804, from St Louis, Missouri. Join these explorers on your own journey of discovery by following this road trip.
Stop #1 – St Louis, Missouri
Gateway Arch, a gleaming stainless steel structure on the St Louis side of the Mississippi River, commemorates America’s 19th century westward expansion. It rises 210 meters (630 feet) and dominates the river’s edge and the St Louis skyline as westbound travelers cross the Mississippi. A memorial to Jefferson’s Louisiana Purchase and Lewis and Clark is also found on the site, as well as several theaters in the Visitor Center.
Take the tram, a small cocoon-like pod which transports visitors to the top of the arch, where sixteen small windows offer views of the Mississippi River and the city of St Louis.
Travel West on Interstate 70 to Kansas City, then north on Interstate 29 to Council Bluffs, IA. (438 miles)
Stop #2 – Council Bluffs, IA
At a spot on Eighth Street, overlooking the river, Lewis & Clark met with chiefs of the Otoe and Missouri Indians in 1804. This "council" gave the city its name and is commemorated with a monument at the location of the meeting.
Travel North on Interstate 29, then West on Rte 50, just into South Dakota to the town of Yankton, SD. (152 miles).
Stop #3 – Yankton, SD
Yankton was an important stop for Lewis & Clark. They presented gifts to the Yankton Sioux and were warned about the other Sioux tribes further up the river. Stop here only for an hour or so, then proceed as described below.
Travel North on US Rte 81, then West on Interstate 90, then North again on US Rte 83 to Pierre, SD. (290 miles)
Stop #4 – Pierre, SD
Pierre is used here as a way station only. It has a reasonable choice of accomodations since it is the capital of South Dakota.
From Pierre, continue North on US Rte 83 to Interstate 94 West to the community of Mandan, ND, just west of Bismarck, the state’s capital. (215 miles)
Stop #5 – Mandan, ND
This stop is the location where Lewis & Clark planned to spend their first winter. They arrived on October 1, 1804 and built a fort which was completed in late November. They stayed until the spring thaw began, in early April, 1805.
Continue West on Interstate 94 into Montana, then take Rte 200 S West to US Rte 200 West all the way to Great Falls, MT. (533 miles)
Stop #6 – Great Falls, MT
Great Falls was an important area during the Lewis & Clark Expedtion since they were told that it was only when they reached these falls that they could be sure that they were still on the Missouri River. They saw these falls on June 13, 1805. Because the falls were really a set of falls which extended for about 19 miles, their portage took almost a month. They were thus in this area for a long time and they explored the region extensively. In Great Falls, visitors will find numerous references to the expedition. The Lewis & Clark Audio Tour, available at the Historical Society, takes participants through their adventures in the area and the Lewis & Clark National Historic Train Interpretive Center can be found in Giant Springs Heritage State Park.
From Great Falls, continue West on US Rte 200 to Missoula, then go west on US Rte 12 to Lewiston, ID or Clarkston, WA (notes the names). (533 miles)
Stop #7 – It was in Lewiston that Lewis & Clark camped for a while and received assistance from the Nez Perce Indians. From here it was travel by boat again (they had required horses to cross the Bitteroot Mountains in the process of arriving here), and they would be traveling with the river current all the way to the Pacific Ocean.
In Lewiston there are several reminders of this part of their journey. Check out the Lewis & Clark Center for Arts and History, on Main Street, and the Nez Perce National Historical Park whose headquarters are in the neighboring community of Spaulding, ID.
From Lewiston, continue West on US Rte 12 to Rte 730 West and along the Columbia River on US Rte 30, which becomes Interstate 84 West all the way to Portland, OR. (354 miles)
Stop #8 – Portland, OR
This last stop on our journey puts Lewis & Clark very close to the Pacific Ocean, their goal. They rode the mighty Columbia River through the Cascades to get here. The scenery along the Historic Columbia River Highway is spectacular. There are numerous places to stop along the way. A special location is Vista House, in Crown Point State Park where visitor can obtain panoramic views of the Columbia River Gorge. The expedition finally reached the coast in late November, 1905, where they camped for the winter and prepared for their return.
Lewis & Clark actually returned along a similar route, back to St Louis. Along the return journey, they split up where the Yellowstone River forks from the Missouri. Clark took the Yellowstone part of the journey while Lewis stayed to the North. Our road trip, however, is over at Portland after covering a distance of about 2,500 miles. The modern is significantly less dangerous than the original expedition!