Lewis & Clark National Historical Park

Photo by Edward Stojakovik | Flickr.com

Near the mouth of the Columbia River, five sites in Oregon and Washington preserve the history of the Lewis & Clark expedition’s West Coast terminus, 1805 to 1806. Fort Clatsop, Netul Landing and the Salt Works are in Oregon; Middle Village and Dismal Niche are across the river in Washington. These sites tell the stories of the Corps of Discovery’s cross-continent journey, and, today, make a great expedition for lovers of American history as well as those who simply want to enjoy the natural beauty of the great river, the Pacific Ocean and coastal forests.

For an orientation, visitors should first head to the park’s visitor center at Fort Clatsop, near Astoria. There, films and interpretive displays tell the stories of the expedition and its key players, and a replica of their original log-hewn encampment that sheltered them through the winter of 1805-1806 is open for inspection. To establish Fort Clatsop, the Corps left the Columbia and paddled up the Netul River where, today, visitors can visit the spot where they set aground. The Netul is a great place for kayaking, and the park offers scheduled guided paddling trips from the landing. A short drive south along the coast, the Salt Works (in Seaside) is a replica of the salt processing operation the Corps used to reduce seawater to salt, essential for preserving foods.

Across the Columbia River, Dismal Niche is an interpretive pullout along the highway east of the Astoria-Megler Bridge. This marks the place where the Corps was stranded for nearly a week during an epic November storm in 1805. Sick, hungry and with few remaining supplies, the Corps aptly named the place, which is just a few miles shy of the Pacific, after their sense of despair. A short drive west is Middle Camp, a place where the Corps rested, regrouped, renamed it Station Camp and decided on their winter strategy, which was to camp across the Columbia (at Fort Clatsop). Middle Camp was a summer village of the Chinook people who had moved to their winter village before the Corps’ occupation of the site.

Learn more about visiting Lewis and Clark National Historical Park at nps.gov/lewi. To stay on the Washington side of the river, go to visitlongbeachpeninsula.com to find lodging on the Long Beach Peninsula, a convenient location for visiting the park sites. For nearby lodging on the Oregon side, visit travelastoria.com or seasideor.com.