Located near the mouth of the Columbia River in the American Pacific Northwest states of Oregon and Washington, the Lewis and Clark National and State Historical Parks are a series of parks run in cooperation with the United States National Park Service, honoring the famed Lewis and Clark Expedition of 1804-1806.
The park system comprises six parks commemorating notable sites along Lewis and Clark's voyages, including Fort Clatsop, the final encampment for the duo's Corps of Discovery.
Beginning on May 14, 1804, a group of 31 United States military volunteers, helmed by Captains Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, undertook a cross-country expedition at the behest of President Thomas Jefferson, who wished to explore the uncharted territory to the west of the Mississippi River and establish a direct travel route to the Pacific Ocean. After a year and a half of travel, the expedition group reached the ocean, establishing a fort 2 miles upstream at the Netul River and naming it after the local Clatsop Native American tribe. The group remained at the fort for 3 months over the winter of 1805-1806, before embarking on their return trip to St. Louis, Missouri.
The exact location of the original Fort Clatsop is unknown, as it soon deteriorated in the region's wet climate. Using original sketches by William Clark, a replica of the fort was constructed near the presumed location in 1955, as part of the sesquicentennial celebration of Lewis and Clark reaching the Pacific, and was established as a federal park site in May of 1958. On October 30, 2004, the area was redesignated as the Lewis and Clark National Historical Park, a federal national park overseeing several other nearby historic sites connected to the expedition. The following November, three Oregon and two Washington state parks were incorporated into the park system.
Historic Sites and Attractions
Today, the federal park encompasses seven historical sites, including the Fort Clatsop replica, which was reconstructed in 2006 after being damaged in a fire just prior to its 2005 bicentennial commemoration. The replica site is part of a visitor center, which also includes an exhibit hall and gift shop and presents two educational films daily. Ranger-led historical and nature programming is offered at the center, which serves as the trailhead for the Fort to Sea Trail, a 6.5-mile hike that retraces the corps' original paths.
More than 150 acres of coastal forestland surrounding the Dismal Nitch site are preserved as part of the park. A November 1805 winter storm trapped the corps onto a patch of rocky shoreline and hillside, a site referred to as "that dismal little nitch" in Clark's travelogue. Today, the area offers dramatic views of the Columbia River as well as bald eagle watching sites. Other preserved historic sites in the park include Middle Village-Station Camp, a Chinook trading village site used as a survey station for expedition members to map the Columbia River, Netul Landing, which commemorates the original name of the Lewis and Clark River, the corps' Salt Works site, and a Thomas Jefferson Memorial.
In Oregon, the park system also includes Ecola State Park, the site of an 1806 trek by the corps, which features several miles of hiking trails and has been featured prominently in film and television. The 3,700-acre Fort Stevens State Park is the site of a former Civil War era military installation, and the Sunset Beach State Recreation Area is located at the end of the Fort to Sea Trail, providing visitors with access to the Pacific Ocean. Nearby, Washington's Cape Disappointment State Park features two lighthouses and 27 miles of beachfront trails, and Fort Columbia State Park, a former coastal artillery, commemorates regional military history.
Ongoing Programs and Education
The federal park's archival museum collections document the history of the area prior to the Lewis and Clark Expedition, with a focus on archaeological and ethnological documentation of the area's indigenous Clatsop, Nehalem, and Chinook peoples. While no holdings can be definitively associated with the expedition, historic objects from the time period are also featured in the collection, along with botanical specimens reflecting the corps' plant documentation and a large number of documents and photographs related to the establishment of Fort Clatsop as a historic monument.
In addition to the park system's trails, 3-hour paddle tours of the Lewis and Clark River are offered, led by rangers elaborating on park and expedition history. Monthly lecture series are presented by the federal park, including the Nature Matters series, focusing on topics of nature and culture, and the In Their Footsteps series, highlighting historical scholars, authors, and artists. The Fort Clatsop Visitor Center also doubles as an outdoor classroom, offering educational experiences for children and adults.
92343 Fort Clatsop Rd, Astoria, OR 97103, Phone: 503-861-2471