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Planning the Ultimate Road Trip on the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail


The recently released Lewis and Clark Trail 2021 annual report highlighted how the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail is working with partners across the U.S. to commemorate and protect the 4,900-mile-long historic route of the original expedition. One of the main partnerships for 2021 was a three-year agreement with the American Indian Alaska Native Tourism Association (AIANTA) to find and share stories of Native American Tribes with homelands along the trail. This development is a reflection of how the Native Americans played a key role in this journey.

As Maryville University’s feature on American civil rights history points out, indigenous peoples had lived meaningful lives, established their own cultures, and participated in their unique history on the landmass we know as North America for more than 20,000 years before the Europeans arrived. In fact, this is even reflected in many Native American myths, such as the Lakota Emergency Story shared by the NPS. Moreover, many of the Tribes encountered by the expedition maintain strong connections to their traditional homelands today.

Thus, when President Thomas Jefferson commissioned the Corps of Discovery to explore the territory of the Louisiana Purchase and beyond, it was only natural that the explorers encountered different Tribes and cultures along the way. But most people may not be too familiar with this part of the story.

Now, you can take a road trip along the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail with this important perspective in mind. Depending on how many natural and historical sites you plan to include as stopovers in your trip, it might take around a month to follow the trail. Here are 10 stops to consider along the way:

10 Historically Important Stops To Visit

1.) Lewis and Clark Boathouse and Nature Center: The expedition began in St. Charles, where the explorers bartered with indigenous tribes and presented them with gifts –– all while informing them that their lands now belonged to the United States. The Boathouse and Nature Center features full-size operational replicas of the boats used on the expedition.

2.) Fort Mandan: Fort Mandan was the winter quarters built by the expedition, named after the local Mandan people. Here, Lewis and Clark engaged in diplomacy and prepared for the next leg of the journey. You can visit a modern reconstruction of the fort, as well as the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center. The Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara (MHA) Nation have an ongoing presence in the area, and visitors can experience cultural interpretation from guides upon request.

3.) Knife River Indian Villages: Not too far from Fort Mandan are the Knife River Indian Villages, which stand in the form of earth lodge dwellings, cache pits, and travois trails, where the expedition traded with the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara tribes — who currently offer tours, camps, trail rides, and horse events for guests.

4.) Pompey’s Pillar: Established as a national monument in 2001, Pompey’s Pillar is a natural rock pillar named for Sacagawea’s son. Clark’s inscription on it is the only direct visible evidence of the entire journey that remains intact today.

5.) White Cliffs: The White Cliffs are sandstone geological formations measuring over 300 feet in height, and make for a must-see attraction on your trip.

6.) The Gates of the Mountains: Along with the White Cliffs, another scenic spot to visit is the Gates of the Mountains, which feature cliffs towering over 1,000 feet above the waters below.

7.) Sacagawea Interpretive, Cultural & Educational Center: This center provides an outdoor experience on the Agai’dika Shoshone-Bannock tribe, the Lewis & Clark Expedition, Western frontier life, and the natural environment.

8.) Nez Perce National Historical Park: Despite hesitant beginnings, the Nez Perce tribe became some of the expedition’s best allies in the journey west. This historical park consists of 38 individual sites spread across four states, and is rich in both history and beauty.

9.) Cape Disappointment State Park: The Corps of Discovery finally managed a glimpse of the Pacific Ocean here, and history lessons abound. You can even visit the lighthouse as you near the end of your trip.

10.) Fort Clatsop: Finally, the expedition reached Fort Clatsop in the winter of 1805, which was only miles from the Pacific Ocean. The park offers a variety of nature-based activities, historical tours, and re-enactments for visitors to take in.

3 Things to Remember When Planning A Road Trip

1.) Remember geotourism principles

National Geographic article notes that 65 million American households are predisposed to support the principles of geotourism, which is defined as tourism that enhances the distinctive geographical character of a place — such as its environment, heritage, culture, and the wellbeing of its residents. A geotourist “goes local” by patronizing locally owned businesses and seeking out authentic experiences.

2.) Practice sustainable habits

Yes, sustainability and travel can work together. According to the research from the University of Eastern Finland, conservation and tourism go hand-in-hand when we use a sustainable framework of activity. In order to do this, book rooms in low-impact accommodations before heading out on the road, and prioritize reusable products as you travel. For transportation, automobiles aren’t the most green and eco-friendly way to travel. Instead, you can look into alternatives like carpooling, biking, or riding the bus. It would also be preferable to ride an electric or biodiesel-fueled car.

3.) Learn about indigenous cultures along the way

Deep-diving into indigenous culture allows you to appreciate the people at its heart. Do your best to learn simple phrases, join in local festivities, and talk to any local guides you may have about their communities. Please note that not all cultural events are open to the public and those that are, may have certain cultural protocols. For instance, attending a powwow means guests should respect it as a way of life, rather than as a form of entertainment. Guests would need to dress appropriately, and avoid pointing at anyone with a finger. Drugs and alcohol are strictly forbidden as well, so guests should pay heed to these rules and protocols before they participate.

Article produced by Alexa Faye for lewisandclark.travel

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