Written by: Anna Sibal and Julian Fenn
07/11/2013 10:55 AM
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
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
Day Four - Heyburn State Park to Coeur D'Alene: 40 miles
Day Five - Coeur D'Alene to Wallace: 50 miles
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.
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