Lewis and Clark: There and Back Again

Lewis and Clark traveled to the Pacific Ocean and back using a variety of water vessels. Until they crossed the Rocky Mountains all water travel was against the current and hard work! The rest of their journey was on foot and horseback. The total number of miles there and back was between seven and eight thousand.

The expedition began with a keelboat, a pirogue and canoe. Eventually the keelboat was sent back to President Jefferson packed with written reports, Native American artifacts, plant and animal specimens, minerals, four live magpies, a prairie dog and a grouse.

Image Keelboat Cabin

Over the course of the expedition they paddled about 15 canoes, most made themselves, using tools they brought along. They carved the canoes very slowly by hand until the Shoshoni Indians taught them how to burn out the logs. An incredibly challenging leg of their journey occurred at the Great Falls in Montana when the Corps climbed out of their canoes and had to portage around this magnificent natural obstacle.

Image Great Falls PortageImage of PortageImage of Great Falls in Montana

When the Missouri River could no longer be navigated their plan was to switch to horseback. They hoped to purchase horses from the Shoshoni to cross the Bitterroot Mountains. Although there was already snow in the mountains, the Corps decided to keep going and consequently, this is probably the closest they came to losing their lives. They arrived in Nez Perce country sick and starving. 

The fabulous finale to the expedition's trek to the Pacific was an exciting ride down the Columbia River. After wintering at Fort Clatsop in Oregon, the Corps re-traced their steps, with a few changes, back to where they began their journey. Check out this detailed timeline listing what form of transportation was used at each place on the Lewis and Clark trail.

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