Road Trips and Destinations

Camping Road Trip through Northern Idaho in Lewis and Clark Country


More from Outdoor Living Newsletter July Outdoor Living Newsletter
 

Lochsa River seen from Northwest Passage Scenic Byway

When Meriwether Lewis and William Clark made their historic journey of discovery across what was then known as the Louisiana Territory in search for a waterway route to the Pacific Ocean from 1804 to 1806, they had to pass through a vast expanse of land which we now know as Northern Idaho. To these brave young men, Northern Idaho seemed a beautiful place, especially after the harrowing experience of crossing the Bitterroot Mountains that nearly cost them and their companions their lives.

Northern Idaho has remained largely unchanged since the days of Lewis and Clark's expedition, thanks to the federal protection it currently enjoys. While you won't have to go through the discomfort, risks and inconveniences that Lewis, Clark and their company had to put up with on their trek, you can certainly follow their footsteps and discover for yourself just how lovely this wild country truly is. Here's a five-day itinerary for a camping road trip through northern Idaho in Lewis and Clark country.

When to Go

You can embark on your road trip through Lewis and Clark country any time between springtime and fall. Early springtime and late fall is probably the best time to go if you are looking to go skiing or snowboarding through some fine, powdery snow. Visiting the area in autumn will treat you to marvelous sights of foliage changing to their fall colors. It can get very hot in northern Idaho in the summer months. Winter, on the other hand, can be quite chilly and harsh, with road closures becoming a normal occurrence in these parts.

How to Get There

For this road trip, we recommend starting at Lolo Pass, located at the Bitterroot Mountains at the border between Idaho and Montana. You can access Lolo Pass by taking the Interstate 90 through Missoula, Montana and then making a turn for US Route 12, also known as the Northwest Passage Scenic Byway.

How Long Should the Trip Be?

Ideally, you should take at least a couple of weeks to explore this part of the Idaho Panhandle. Northern Idaho represents all that is great in the Great Outdoors, with so much wilderness waiting to be explored, so many adventures waiting to be experienced and so much magnificent scenery waiting to be discovered. But if you don't have that much time or are just looking for an introduction to Lewis and Clark country in northern Idaho, we recommend a five-day trip to see the most popular spots in this area.

What to See and Do

Lewis and Clark country in northern Idaho is still pretty much the wilderness that the Corps of Discovery found in 1805. Hiking, cycling, whitewater rafting, river and lake cruises and camping are outdoor activities you can enjoy all year except winter. In winter, you can go skiing or snowboarding at the many ski resorts in the area.

Aside from enjoying the great outdoors, you can also visit museums and learn about the history of the area. And, of course, you should take your camera and practice your photography skills. North Idaho is beautiful country; you'd be itching to take pictures along the way.

Itinerary: Five-Day Visit - Lolo Pass to Wallace: About 437 to 454 Miles

Day One - Lolo Pass to White Bird: 150 miles

  1. Start your journey at Lolo Pass. From Missoula, Montana, take the Interstate 90 westward, and then make the turn at US Route 12, also known as the Northwest Passage Scenic Byway. Lolo Pass has great historical significance for being the entry point that the Lewis and Clark Expedition took to Northern Idaho in 1805. Crossing this Bitterroot Mountains pass was one of the most dangerous parts of Lewis and Clark's journey. They had to make this crossing late in the season and were met by severe snowstorms along the way. Theywere delayed causing the expedition to run out of food. Game was scarce at the Pass, so they were forced to kill three of their colts in order to eat and were later reduced to eating tallow candles to survive.

    Before the Lewis and Clark Expedition, Lolo Pass was frequently used as a trade route by the Nez Perce tribe. The Nez Perce also used Lolo Pass to enter Montana during the Nez Perce War in 1877.

    Today, Lolo Pass and Trail is one of the most popular tourist spots in this part of Idaho and Montana. Stop by the Lolo Pass Visitor Centerin Montana before you reach the pass. It has an interpretive center where you can find historical accounts of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Spend at least half an hour to check it out. Additionally, if you need to stock up on fuel or supplies, take care that you do this at Powell about thirteen miles past the border. You'll find nothing but wilderness for around 75 miles afterwards.
  2. Contine West along Northwest Passage Scenic Byway, sometimes also referred to as the Lewis and Clark Highway. The section of the US 12 from Lolo Pass to Lowell, Idaho follows the northern bank of Lochsa River, a tributary of Clearwater River and a popular destination for experienced kayakers and whitewater rafters who want the challenge of riding a Class III-VI river. You'll want to make frequent pullovers along the way to drink in the gorgeous scenery created by deep canyons and rolling, tree-covered hills. The roar of the Lochsa River will be in your ears as you drive along.

    While on the US 12, stop by the Lochsa Historical Ranger Station, a museum of the National Forest Service. It has interpretive exhibits that highlight the life and work of Forest Rangers. It is also a popular picnic ground for the locals and a resting stop for bikers. The scenery from this complex is also breathtaking. Allow at least 30 minutes to view the exhibits and the scenery. If you want, you can picnic here as well.
  3. Follow US 12 to Kooskia, then South onto ID 13 and US 95, to the White Bird Battlefield. White Bird Battlefield was the site of the skirmish that opened the Nez Perce War. This skirmish was meant to be a bid for truce on the part of the Nez Perce band that showed up at White Bird Canyon on June 17, 1877. The band's members carried white flags and were instructed not to fire their weapons unless fired upon. For reasons unexplained, the civilian volunteer who accompanied the cavalrymen to meet with the Nez Perce that day, Arthur Chapman, shot at the Nez Perce party, forcing them to take cover and fire back. Thus began the war that lasted for the next four months.

    Today, White Bird Battlefield is one of the 38 sites making up the Nez Perce National Historical Park under the protection of the National Park Service. You'll find an interpretive trail across the canyon. It's a 1.5-mile roundtrip hike with six stop-points highlighting the crucial events of the battle. Check out this White Bird Battlefield trail guide from the National Park Service.
  4. Spend the night at a campground near White Bird, Idaho.

Day Two - White Bird to Pittsburg Landing or White Bird: 17 or 34 miles

For the second day of your road trip, drive 17 miles west on FR493 to Pittsburg Landing and spend the whole day exploring Hells Canyon National Recreation Area by jet boat. Hells Canyon National Recreation Area protects the region around Hells Canyon, the deepest river gorge in North America, and Snake River, the body of water that carved the canyon. Hells Canyon dips nearly 8,000 feet, is ten miles wide and extends approximately 40 miles.

Hells Canyon was settled previously by Nez Perce tribes. While three members of the Lewis and Clark visited the mouth of the canyon in 1805, they did not explore its deeper reaches. It was only during the gold rush in the area in the 1860s that the canyon was fully explored.

The vistas from Hells Canyon are simply spectacular. On your jet boat adventure on Snake River, you'll get to see not just these vistas but also what remains of the Nez Perce and miner settlements in the area.

After your jet boat ride, you can spend the night at Wallowa-Whitman National Forest Pittsburg Campground or you can drive back to White Bird from Pittsburg Landing and spend the night at a campground or RV Park near White Bird.

Day Three - White Bird to Heyburn State Park: Around 180 miles

  1. Drive to the Wolf Education and Research Center in Winchester. The Center cares for and protects the last remaining members of the Sawtooth Pack, a pack of gray wolves saved by documentary filmmaker Jim Dutcher that gave the public an insight into the lives of wolves. At the Center, you can hike to the Wolf Camp and observe these Sawtooth wolves in their domain. You can also attend discussions with wildlife biologists on the importance of the conservation and the role wolves like the Sawtooth Pack play in the environment.

    To get to the Wolf Center from White Bird or the Pittsburg Campground, head north on ID 13 to US 95and then north on US 95 to exit the US 95 at mile marker 278 on the road to Winchester. The Wolf Center is just a mile away past the entrance to Winchester Lake State Park. You'll need a 48-hour advance reservation to visit the Center.
  2. Follow the US 95 northward for 25 miles to Spalding and visit the Nez Perce National Historic Park Headquarters. The Nez Perce National Historic Park commemorates the Nez Perce culture and heritage as well as preserves around 38 historically significant sites scattered across Montana, Idaho, Washington and Oregon, especially the sites connected with the Nez Perce War in 1877. At the Park's Spalding headquarters, you'll see exhibits on the Nez Perce. If you want, you can also visit a few sites in the Nez Perce Indian Reservation nearby, such as the Spaldings Mission, the Spalding Presbyterian Church, the Nez Perce Indian Agency and the cemetery.
  3. Follow the US 95 towards Moscow and visit the Appaloosa Museum and Heritage Center. The Appaloosa is the state horse of Idaho, and Appaloosa horses are prized for the distinct patterns on their coats. This horse was bred by the Nez Perce until they were forced to give them up after the Nez Perce War. The horse breed was then saved from near decline by individual breeders and the Appaloosa Horse Club. The Appaloosa Museum contains exhibits on the history and significance of the Appaloosa horse and works closely with the Appaloosa Horse Club.
  4. Head north 51 miles from Moscow on US 95, then drive seven miles east on US and spend the rest of the day at Heyburn State Park. Heyburn State Park is the oldest State Park in the Pacific Northwest, having been established in 1908. Before it became a state park, it had long seen use as a gathering place for members of the Coeur D'Alene tribe. The State Park is known for its three beautiful lakes - the Chatcolet, the Benewah, and the Hidden Lake - and for its rolling hills covered with camas flowers. Here you can have fun in the water and go biking, fishing, swimming, boating or canoeing. You can also go horseback-riding, biking or hiking at the Park. The 72-mile Trail of the Coeur D'Alenes, one of the most popular hiking and biking trails in the Northwest, cuts directly through the State Park.

    Spend the night at any of the three Heyburn State Park campgrounds :

Day Four - Heyburn State Park to Coeur D'Alene: 40 miles

  1. Spend the morning exploring Heyburn State Park.
  2. In the afternoon head to Coeur D'Alene via U.S. 95. Coeur D'Alene, fondly called CDA or Lake City by the locals, is the largest city in the northern Idaho Panhandle. It's also consistently been referred to as one of the most fascinating places in the United States. You can go shopping or sightseeing at CDA, take a seaplane ride over Lake Coeur D'Alene, or stroll down the longest floating boardwalk in the world at the Coeur D'Alene Resort. While you're there, check out the Museum of North Idaho to learn more about the history of the Coeur D'Alene region, the culture and heritage of the Native American people for whom the city was named, and how the Idaho Panhandle came to be. Come evening, take a sunset dinner cruise on Lake Coeur D'Alene, and then spend the night at a Coeur D'Alene campground or RV park.

Day Five - Coeur D'Alene to Wallace: 50 miles

  1. For the last day of your road trip, drive East on I-90 to Old Mission State Park located at Cataldo, Idaho. Also known as the Mission of the Sacred Heart, the church was built in 1850, making it the oldest building in Idaho. This church has a distinct history, having been requested by the Coeur D'Alene Native Americans themselves and built by them by hand. It was also built without a single nail and decorated with homely objects such as cleverly cut tin cans and hand-painted newspaper. Today, the church complex is a popular picnic ground and museum.
  2. Spend the remainder of the day at Wallace. To drive to Wallace from Old Mission State Park, just go back on the Interstate 90 and head eastward. The town of Wallace, which the locals fondly call "The Center of the Universe", is a historic mining town, the biggest producer of silver in the US. Its downtown area is listed in the National Register of Historic Places and has many well-preserved buildings dating back to the mining boom in the 1880s. At Wallace, you can pick up a map at any store and go on a self-guided walking tour of the town. To learn more about Wallace's past as a mining town, check out the Wallace District Mining Museum. If you want more excitement, you can also go ziplining at Wallace.

It's easy to imagine what Meriwether Lewis and William Clark felt when they first beheld northern Idaho after emerging from their dangerous trek across the Bitterroots. Lewis and Clark country in northern Idaho is truly a beautiful place that has remained unchanged since the days of the Expedition. Don't pass up the chance to see this magnificent country with your own eyes.

Copyright ©2013 Camping Road Trip, LLC

Find campgrounds and RV parks - Smart Search Now.
Read campground and RV park reviews to help you find the perfect place to stay.

Photos

Sign at Lolo Summit outlining the Lewis and Clark trail through Idaho
Meriwether Lewis and William Clark were here!
White Bird Battlefield, ID
White Bird Battlefield
Hells Canyon, ID
Spectacular Hells Canyon
Group of people getting on a jetboat at Pittsburg Landing on the Snake River, ID
Take a jet boat tour up Hells Canyon
Rolling priaries Northern Idaho
Rolling Prairies
Sawtooth Wolf at the Wolf Education and Research Center, ID
See Sawtooth wolves in their domain
Nez Perce tipis at Nez Perce National Historical Park
Learn about the Nez Perce at the Nez Perce National Historical Park
Appaloosa horses grazing
Appaloosa is the state horse of Idaho
Lake at Heyburn State Park, ID
Enjoy outdoor water activities at Heyburn State Park
Boardwalk and Lake Coeur D'Alene, ID
Walk on the world's longest floating boardwalk on Lake Coeur d'Alene
Sacred Heart Mission, Old Mission State Park, ID
Sacred Heart Mission is the oldest building in Idaho
 

Going camping or RVing?
Take the Camp Finder app to find the best campgrounds, RV parks and RV resorts.

Camp Finder app displayed on an iPhone

© 2007-2014 Camping Road Trip, LLC. All Rights Reserved.