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Pedaling the Lewis and Clark Trail

Dennis Coello photo
photo by Dennis Coello, courtesy Adventure Cycling Association

Maybe you were born 200 years too late to paddle a canoe in the original Lewis and Clark Corps of Discovery but don’t despair. Pack your panniers and tighten your spokes because thanks to the Adventure Cycling Association, you can now pedale the intrepid explorers route using the newly released Lewis and Clark Bicycle Trail. The route, available in an eight-map set, charts both the westward route from Illinois, through Montana, to Oregon and a section of the eastward route through southern Montana.

Since Lewis and Clark spent more time in what is now called Montana than in any other state along the 3,254 mile trail, it makes sense that four of the eight map sections are set here. Following them you will cross mountain passes, visit national parks and monuments, overlook dozens of rivers in addition to the Missouri, and ride by bison, elk, deer, antelope and more.

Start with Section 4 as it follows the path from western North Dakota to Great Falls. It skirts a number of designated areas including the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge, the Upper Missouri National Wild & Scenic River and the Missouri River Breaks National Monument.

Section 5 takes you from Great Falls, home of the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail Interpretive Center, to Missoula and includes a number of optional routes and spurs. Take a side trip to see the Gates of the Mountains a three-mile long river passage with 1,200-foot high cliffs. Captain Lewis described it thus: "the towering and projecting rocks in many places seem ready to tumble in on us… This extraordinary range of rocks we called the Gates of the Rocky Mountains."

Section 6 traverses the Bitterroot Mountains from Missoula to Clarkston, Washington along the Lochsa and Clearwater Rivers, with an off-road option along the famed Lolo Trail. Take a quick break at Travelers' Rest State Park when you ride by.

Section 8 retraces William Clark’s 1806 eastbound route along the Yellowstone River from Three Forks to Williston, North Dakota and includes the historically significant Pompeys Pillar (outside of Billings) where Captain Clark carved his name into to unique rock formation.

“On this route, riders can literally see, feel, and breathe the Corps of Discovery journey that took place almost 200 years ago,” said Adventure Cycling’s executive director, Bill Sawyer. “Our mission is to inspire people of all ages to travel by bicycle and explore the landscapes and history of America for fitness, fun and self-discovery. What could better fit this mission than a route following the travels of Lewis and Clark?”

We couldn’t agree more. So, saddle up and start pedaling.