route across the United States commemorating the Lewis and Clark Expedition

The Lewis and Clark Trail is a United States National Historic Trail commemorating the journey of the 1804-1806 Corps of Discovery expedition that explored the U.S.A.'s newly acquired Louisiana Purchase and beyond. Part of the reason for the expedition was political; the American government wanted to assert its claim to the Oregon Territory which both Britain and Spain also claimed.

Starting in Illinois, the route follows the Missouri River to the headwaters in the Rocky Mountains, then over the Continental Divide. From there it follows the Clearwater, Snake and Columbia Rivers to the Pacific Ocean near Fort Clatsop Oregon. The expedition paved the way for the wave of colonization known as the "Wild West", and the parallel Oregon Trail.


See also: Early United States history, Indigenous cultures of North America

The Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail is a trail of approximately three thousand seven hundred miles (6000 km), extending from Wood River, Illinois, to the mouth of the Columbia River in Oregon, and following the outbound and inbound routes of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Today's trail is a joint effort of many organizations and agencies. Although the Trail is administered by the National Park Service, sites along the Trail are managed by federal land management agencies, state, local, tribal, and private organizations.

North Dakota, like many other states along the Missouri, has designated a "Lewis and Clark Trail" following the river on both sides. Also common to these states is the naming of the state highways running alongside the rivers; 1804 on the east side and 1806 on the west. In North Dakota the 1804/1806 signage can be spotty, but the "Lewis and Clark Trail" signs are always there.


The long trail

Get in


There are two alternate starting points: Bismarck and Mandan.



This itinerary discusses two paths: from Bismarck to Williston on highway 1804, and from Mandan to Watford City on highway 1806.

From Bismarck, go north on 1804 and follow the Lewis and Clark Trail signs. From Mandan, go north on 1806 and follow the Lewis and Clark Trail Signs.

You'll see the Cottonwood forests of the Missouri Valley, and depending on how close you stay to the river, you'll come across plenty of interesting things.

Notable Places along the East Bank

  • Lewis and Clark Steamboat Company, Bismarck
  • Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center, Washburn

Notable Places along the West Bank

  • Cross Ranch State Park near Stanton
  • Lake Sakakawea State Park near the Garrison Dam

River crossings are located at

  • Buford, on State Highway 58.
  • Williston, on US 85 southwest of town.
  • New Town, on State Highway 23 west of town.
  • Garrison Dam, on State Highway 200.
  • Washburn, on State Highway 200A.
  • and of course Bismarck/Mandan.

By train


Amtrak's Empire Builder follows part of the route in North Dakota and Montana. The National Park Service seasonally provides interpreters aboard the Empire Builder who explain Lewis and Clark's trip. The Portland branch of the Empire Builder follows their route on the Columbia River for several hundred more miles.



It is possible to retrace most of the route the same way Lewis and Clark did--by boat--on the Missouri and Columbia Rivers.

  • Frontier Army Museum, 100 Reynolds Ave,Fort Leavenworth, KS 66027, +1 913 684-3767.

Stay safe


Go next

This itinerary to Lewis and Clark Trail is a usable article. It explains how to get there and touches on all the major points along the way. An adventurous person could use this article, but please feel free to improve it by editing the page.