What better way to celebrate the spring season than with a scenic road trip that can be done in a day? To travel the Gold Rush Historic Byway, a perfect spring day trip, your starting point is Lewiston, Idaho, a friendly city tucked into the rolling hills of the Palouse region along the Snake River.
About an hour east of Lewiston (on Highway 12), the Gold Rush Historic Byway begins at the turnoff to Highway 11 at the town of Greer. The route runs 42.5 miles up a gradual incline until the road ends; then you get to turn around and enjoy the view from the opposite direction on your return to Highway 12.
During that 42.5 miles, you will have a stunning view of the Clearwater Valley, plenty of opportunities to spot wildlife and the chance to learn about this area’s early history.
The byway begins with sweeping views and vast open prairies, and if you take the trip in May, they are ablaze in blue camas lilies (the Camas Festival takes place at the end of May). About one-third of the way up the byway, you’ll come to the town of Weippe, close to where the Lewis and Clark Corps of Discovery suffered from starvation and were mercifully fed by the Nez Perce Tribe.
After the prairies, the vegetation changes to thick forests, the best place along the drive to spot wildlife. The next town is Pierce, the first place in Idaho where early settlers discovered gold, putting the town on the map and drawing more settlers who were intent on striking it rich. Pierce also has another claim to fame: It is home to Idaho’s first government building. For your dose of history, visit the local logging museum and check out the library’s collection of artifacts from early Chinese laborers, a fascinating window into the lifestyles and roles of Chinese immigrants in the Old West.
At the end of the road, you’ll come to the town of Headquarters,the gateway to the vast ClearwaterNational Forest.
Plan for a full day trip. The round-trip drive on the Gold Rush Historic Byway takes about 2.5 hours. Add a few hours for browsing historic sites and museums, and add another two hours from Lewiston and back on Highway 12. Gas up before you go. You can stop for no-frills lunch at the Timber Inn in Pierce or buy picnic provisions at the grocery store.
While you’re in Lewiston, be sure to visit the Nez Perce National Historical Park in nearby Spalding. In Lewiston, there are several lodging and dining options. Visit the North Central Idaho Travel Association to find lodging, visitnorthcentralidaho.org.