The summer travel season is almost upon us. Now is the time to figure out where you’re going and what to see.
Some good advice: Explore parts or all of the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail during your summer travels. The trail goes for 4,900 miles through 16 states from Pittsburgh, Pa., to the mouth of the Columbia River in the Pacific Northwest.
The trail is perfect for tourist outings for single travelers, companions and families. You’ll discover beautiful scenery; hiking trails to wander along; campsites if you prefer sleeping in the outdoors; educational, recreational and entertainment opportunities; and significant historical sites, statues, and museums about the 1803-06 expedition.
Meriwether Lewis and William Clark believed good planning would make for a successful journey. With their philosophy in mind, here are tips on how to prepare for your travels, as well as how to keep a travel journal that your family and your descendants will love to read.
Travel books about the Lewis and Clark Trail: Before you make final decisions on your travel plans, research parts of the trail that you may be interested in by reading books that tell not only about what the expedition did on this or that day but also what’s available today in those areas. All of the books mentioned below are available from online book companies and outlets like Amazon.
There are numerous quality books on the market that offer details about where the trail goes through certain states and the available Lewis and Clark sites, museums, and statues. Most of these books provide information about hotels, recreational opportunities and other amenities, including guiding companies if you’re interested in getting on the water in a canoe or traveling parts of the trail by tourist boat. These are good references if you already know your specific destination.
For example, if you know your destination is along the Snake or Columbia rivers in the Pacific Northwest, take a look at a spiral-bound book, Wind Hard from the West: The Lewis and Clark Expedition on the Snake and Columbia Rivers, by Robert Heacock and Kris Townsend.
The book by the two long-time members of the Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation includes the expedition’s daily activities and location descriptions; and maps and historic and modern photos. The book is extremely helpful if you want to locate Lewis and Clark sites along the two rivers and learn what happened at those sites.
And let’s say your travel destination is Lewis and Clark sites in Missouri. A good reference guide: Exploring Lewis & Clark’s Missouri by Brett Dufur. This book gives information on how to find specific Lewis and Clark locations but also extensive advice on local hiking trails, art galleries, museums, parks, and other places. The book is a wealth of information that even includes addresses and phone numbers of places along the trail through Missouri.
Because the trail is so long, it can be challenging to identify specific areas you want to visit if you intend to travel the entire trail. Here are some suggested books for taking a look at what’s offered along the entire trail:
Traveling the Lewis and Clark Trail by Julie Fanselow offers first-rate information about the best sites to visit and activities to do along the trail, as well as maps, itineraries, and advice on local lodging and dining. Julie also details specific Lewis and Clark events that happened along the trail.
Her top-notch book has remained a popular travel guide since it was originally published around the time of the 2003-06 Lewis and Clark National Bicentennial Celebration. Now in its fourth edition, the book is an essential pilot for a Lewis and Clark traveler.
Likewise, so is Adventures Across America: On and Off the Trail of Lewis and Clark by Jennifer White Fischer.
Published in 2019, the book gives an in-depth look—in both text and photographs—at what you’ll find not only along the trail in the way of Lewis and Clark history but also historical places unrelated to Lewis and Clark that you would enjoy visiting. Jennifer even notes good cafes and restaurants, as well as nearby walking trails and other opportunities.
If you prefer human-powered wheels to motorized travel, there is a good book, Bicycling the Lewis & Clark Trail, by Michael McCoy. With maps, info about road surfaces and traffic, and other helpful information, it’s an indispensable handbook for bicyclists.
Meanwhile, if you feel more adventurous than merely driving the roads on or near the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail, backpacking and camping are great alternatives—and they are good ways to get a taste of the outdoor life experienced by the explorers.
Thomas J. Elpel, founder and director of Green University and Outdoor Wilderness Living School, has authored excellent books about practical survival skills and reconnecting with nature.
Tom is the author of a brilliant and insightful award-winning book, Five Months on the Missouri, about his 2,341-mile journey in a dugout canoe from Montana to St. Louis, Mo. The book offers a wonderful step back in time to the adventures of Lewis and Clark and what it’s like along the river today—it’s superb reading for any traveler by water or otherwise along the Missouri River. Click here to see information about Tom’s books.
The best reference sources, of course, are the Lewis and Clark journals themselves. Various edited versions of the journals have been published during the last two centuries. By far, the most outstanding and most accurate version is the set of The Definitive Journals of Lewis & Clark, edited by Gary E. Moulton, a Thomas C. Sorensen Professor Emeritus of American History at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln.
With the highest degree of accuracy, Dr. Moulton kept the journals true to what the explorers wrote. His work on the journals was one of the most important scholarly accomplishments of the 20th century.
Beneficial for your travels are Dr. Moulton’s footnotes that explain where the expedition was on a specific day in relation to today’s communities and landmarks. This information is a splendid key for helping you locate a Lewis and Clark site and comparing what you see there against what the explorers reported viewing and experiencing.
Dr. Moulton has also published The Lewis and Clark Expedition Day by Day, a single volume that translates the unique writing styles of the explorers into the modern grammar of today. It’s an easy-to-read book and a remarkable reference if you already know the location of a place where the explorers were on a specific date.
If you’re computer savvy and know the expedition dates associated with the locations of places that you intend to visit, check out the Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition Online. After you reach the website’s home page, type the date you’re looking for into the search bar at the top right of the page. You’ll find the explorers’ daily journal entries, as well as images, supplemental information, audio files, and Native American perspectives.
Visit Lewis and Clark travel websites: You would be wise to study online resources that offer details about the expedition and what you can expect to find today. There are two premier websites.
The Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation’s website offers an interactive travel section that gives a state-by-state look at where to find Lewis and Clark sites and other places of interest. The section also includes information about the top 25 Lewis and Clark sites.
Meanwhile, the National Park Service developed an excellent travel website during the last few years that will soon be turned over to the Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation for management and continued development.
The website—lewisandclark.travel—provides extensive information about history along the Lewis and Clark trail, historic places, natural areas, Native American cultures and lands, arts, events, guides, tours, museums, interpretive centers, campgrounds, motels, bed-and-breakfast lodging, maps, and a wealth of more information. Make sure you check it out.
You’ll definitely want to go to two National Park Service helpful offerings as you plan your journey, whether you’re going to be on a short jaunt or the entire trail.
The NPS has a state-by-state guide where you’ll learn about Lewis and Clark connections in each state. Here’s the link to reach the guide. Click on the name of the state that you want more information about.
Meanwhile, when you’re on the home page for this state-by-state guide, scroll down until you see the U.S. map that shows the visitor centers and museums which have a connection to Lewis and Clark. Use your cursor (your cursor will become a little wavy hand as it hovers over the map) to enlarge the map so it’s easier see the location of a visitor center or museum. When you click on a location, a box will pop up that gives you the address of the museum or visitor center there, as well as a link to click on for more information.
The National Park Service also offers very useful travel apps for trail guides and national parks, a number of which are located along the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail. The apps can be downloaded through the App Store or Google Play. Just type “National Park Service” into one of those site’s search bar.
After your narrow down your upcoming journey, there are other important recommended steps:
Visit YouTube: Go to YouTube and see if videos exist about your destinations. The chances are excellent that some will. They will give you an idea about what places are like. Check out the Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation’s YouTube channel; it has recordings by experts who discuss issues related to the expedition. If you’re a bicyclist, you’ll definitely want to watch a talk by Megan Boehmer who bicycled the trail in 2021.
Visit the world’s best online resource: It’s no exaggeration to say lewis-clark.org is the world’s best online resource about the expedition and its period in time. Also known as Discover Lewis & Clark, it is the educational website of the Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation. The website can provide you with details about what the expedition did day by day, as well as easy-to-understand info about the geography, geology, American natives, plants wildlife, fish, reptiles, and even insects encountered by the explorers.
So, for example, if you’re headed to Great Falls, Montana, you can go to the website and find everything there is to know about the expedition’s time there, including how the explorers celebrated July 4, 1805, with music and dance and, oh, woe, they ran out of whiskey, which meant no more distributions of a gill of whisky to each expedition member after a hard day of traveling. A “gill,” by the way, was the common term back then for four ounces of liquid.
Get help from a local expert: The Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation offers a free Ambassador Program that can put you in touch with local experts who will help you learn about Lewis and Clark history and assist with finding local sites. An Ambassador will also have information about museums, places to eat, and other local opportunities.
The Ambassador Program is a good benefit for travelers interested in personal assistance in discovering local Lewis and Clark information. The program operates through local volunteers who are members of the Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation. To learn more about the program, contact Sarah Cawley, the Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation’s executive director: email@example.com.
Do as Lewis and Clark did: Keep a travel journal
Most of us take photographs on vacations. Go a step beyond and keep a journal. The landscapes and places you travel through, and the people you meet, offer magnificent opportunities to write in a journal—or to draw if you feel like it.
Regardless of how you record your experiences in a journal, it’ll help put you in the mindset of the Lewis and Clark explorers. The two leaders and four other expedition members kept detailed journals, totaling about a million words. Journals cover the 1,118 days from the expedition’s departure from Pittsburgh, Pa., in the fall of 1803 to its return to St. Louis in late September 1806.
Lewis and Clark used a variety of notebooks, usually five- by eight-inch morocco-bound books—morocco is a type of goat skin used in bookbinding—that opened from the end. They also used notebooks bound in pasteboard with marbled covers, as well as two leather-bound books and one field book made up of loose sheets and bound in elk skin.
The explorers recorded their daily activities; extensive observations of plants, animals, weather, and terrain; and details about the lifestyles, customs, clothing, religions, political climate, and other valuable ethnographical information about the Native Americans they encountered in about 50 different tribes. The information became useful to pioneers and others who were part of our country’s westward expansion. Today, the journals are critically important in understanding our country’s history. Click here to learn more about the explorers as ethnologists.
The foremost advocate of travel journaling: Without a doubt, Wayne Wilson is the No. 1 advocate of keeping a travel journal. He spent most of his career in the museum and archives field, including as executive director of the Kelowna Museums in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley. He is a Pacific Northwest historian and an artist extraordinaire.
Since high school, Wayne has always traveled with a sketchbook. His more formal travel journaling began in 2011 during a six-week canoe trip down the Columbia River system. He began filling journals by recounting the places, people, and events that made journeys so compelling. He keeps written travel journals complemented with his artwork of places encountered along a journey.
Wayne is passionate about encouraging people—particularly kids—to keep travel journals. He emphasizes: “Your memories will be richer and clearer. You’ll have more memories. You’ll nurture your creative spirit and your observation skills will sharpen, and your insights on people, places and events will become more thoughtful. As well, your travel journal will be a legacy of who you are as a person.”
That last part—leaving a legacy—is important. “I quickly learned in my museum and archives work that the people who will ever be remembered are those who wrote it down—and I want you to be remembered.
“So don’t be forgotten by your children and grandchildren or even in the longer history of your community. Set out to let your descendants know something more about you—where you traveled, who you met, what gave your life light and meaning, and where you were when you had that epiphany about some part of life.
“A travel journal is a legacy worth leaving.”
Wayne’s website—Travel Journal 100 – Proof of Life—offers a four-module course on travel journaling and solutions to challenges you might face—what you want, for example, in a kit that contains all of the journaling supplies you’ll need. The course offers motivational advice and is the ultimate guide to everything you need to know about travel journaling. There are also tips to help people overcome trepidation they may have about keeping a travel journal.
For an online workshop that he taught in March about travel journaling for members of the Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation, Wayne put together a delightful, beautiful ebook—Lewis and Clark…A Special Guide to Travel Journal Prompts.”
Among other very useful advice, his ebook does just what the title promises: It gives excellent prompts about how to include sights, sounds, smells tastes, touch, and even your 6th sense, you know, the déjà vu that makes the hair stand up on your arms. All of these will enhance your travel journal.
Wayne’s ebook is available online for only $4.95. It’s well worth the small price. Click here to learn more and purchase the ebook.
Wayne also has a Facebook page where you’ll find more advice and have access to thoughts and ideas by other keepers of travel journals. Click here to go to the Facebook page.
Finally, remember: Research, read books, check websites and YouTube, contact the Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation about the Ambassador Program, keep a travel journal…and have fun!
Author of this article: Gary Kimsey. Click here for info about him.