Lewis and Clark Trail


Forest Service Trail #25

Why? History and an easy, adaptable walk in the woods by a river.

Season: June through October.

Ease: Easy to moderate, depending on how far you walk.

By far the easiest, most accessible, piece of Lewis and Clark trail traces their route along the Lochsa River on September 15, 1805. Given the surrounding terrain, this piece of trail is remarkably flat. It’s also flexible because it’s a series of connected segments that can be hiked all at once, one at a time, or in whatever combination you wish.

Now I can’t guarantee that you’ll be walking in Lewis and Clark’s exact footsteps if you walk this trail, only that you’ll be on the general route they followed on that day, when they had to regain the ridgeline after their guide had mistakenly taken them down to the Lochsa River the night before. They started near what is now White Sands Campground, and ended the day, after a difficult hike up Wendover Ridge, at Snowbank Camp near today’s Lolo Motorway. The trail from White Sands to the base of Wendover Ridge traces the first part of that journey. It loosely follows Highway 12 for most of its length and doesn’t always feel very separate from that road. Highway noise is a common accompaniment to what otherwise might be a fine walk in the woods and along a lovely river.

Segment one, about 2 ½ miles long, is from the White Sands Campground to Powell. It’s a mixture of trail and road, of nice river views, woods, and scratchy knapweed. In one narrow and winding section, there are several downed logs. As I walked it, I tried to imagine walking similar trails 200 years ago, working my way through live and dead timber in what surely would have been footwear less sturdy than the hiking boots I wore.

Segment two, about 2 ½ miles long, is from the Powell Campground to Highway 12 near mile marker 160. Though this segment of trail contains the areas that are closest to the highway, it also has the finest river views and nicest woods. Sections of it are right on the river, which is clear and river-noisy, wide and showing off the rocks on its bottom. The trees include some huge larch of the size where, on casual glace, the bark looks like that of a ponderosa pine. There’s even the remains of an old pull car tram that used to be a means of crossing the river. It’s too bad that at other times, Highway 12 is at head level and much too obvious.

Segment three runs from the highway to Papoose Creek, along a road for a bit, then uphill over a ridge and through a lovely bit of woods with a wide variety of trees and a couple of my favorite flowers, wintergreen and tiarella. It’s a little less than a half mile long.

And segment four runs from Papoose Creek to Wendover, covering just over 1 mile. It’s another fine wooded section at the start, a needle-covered trail that goes around the point of another ridge, then down past a parking area before crossing the road up the West Fork Wendover Creek. The trail is then flat, heading around behind Whitehorse Pond and crossing Wendover Creek before junctioning with the trail up Wendover Ridge.

If you want exercise, turn right and take that trail. It’s the one where, during Lewis and Clark’s trip, a horse fell and smashed Clark’s field desk. It’s steep, really steep – I know, cause I’ve hiked it.

Name Note: Wendover Ridge was named for a trapper who worked Wendover Creek.

Trail Notes: By and large, this trail is relatively easy to follow. In many places, it’s quite used. In others, I admit, a few trail signs would help. I had the most difficulty near Whitehorse Pond going west. There’s a trail divide that’s not marked. Stay on the bit closest to the pond. Segment one goes back and forth from trail to old road, but the changes were marked fairly well. And I had difficulty finding the sign for the west end of segment two. It’s a bit farther down off the highway than trail signs usually are, and brown on brown. It’s easiest to hike this segment from the east end.

Directions: The Wendover trailhead is at mile marker 158 on Highway 12. The Wendover Badger Road is at 159, and the Papoose Creek Road is between that and mile marker 160, where the road that is the end of the trail between Papoose Creek and the highway ends. The Elk Summit Road is near mile marker 163.

Information: Powell Ranger District, CWNF, 208 942-3113

Maps: You won’t find this trail on any USGS maps, and it’s hard to see on the CWNF map. However, the appropriate USGS maps would be Rocky Point and Cayuse Junction, Idaho.