After exploring the U.S. and the majority of Canada with my three kids, 9, 13 and 14, I’m still amazed by what fascinates them. I thought historical sites about explorers would be a hard sell.
Not so. My boys, 9 and 13, knew more about Lewis and Clark than I did. Of course, they were hooked after the park ranger fired off an antique musket at our first stop.
Who are Lewis and Clark?
The famous explorers that charted the western U.S. after the Louisiana Purchase. President Thomas Jefferson dispatched Merriweather Lewis and William Clark, both in their early 30s, to discover a water passage to the Pacific Ocean.
Starting in 1804, Lewis and Clark along with the other men of the Corps of Discovery, set out from St. Louis, Missouri, headed west to the Pacific Ocean. Not until November 1805 did the Lewis and Clark Expedition plus Sacagawea and her baby reach the Pacific Ocean across uncharted territory.
Needing a place to spend the winter, they built Fort Clatsop at the mouth of the Columbia River. For three months, the Corps of Discovery sewed moccasins, hunted and made salt in preparation for the trip back. In March 1806, they left for St. Louis.
Family Fun at the Lewis & Clark National Historical Park
During our visit we stopped by the visitor center at Lewis and Clark National Historical Park at Fort Clatsop first. With an introductory movie and an interpretive area, my kids got the basic history of the expedition.
Next we hiked to the replica of the wooden Fort Clatsop that features living history demonstrations. We explored the fort to see how the Corps of Discovery lived, learned about fur trading and the woolen Hudson Bay blankets used in trading.
To my boys’ delight, our costumed ranger loaded up an antique musket. With a blast of fire and a boom that rumbled through the forest, the ranger fired off the rifle. My boys wanted to enlist as explorers on the spot, instead we explored more Lewis and Clark sites.
During the summer, ranger programming is offered from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. most days at the fort. Several different programs are offered and the schedule is available at the visitor center.
Fort Clatsop with Kids
The Junior Ranger Program is the go-to program for families to learn more about a National Park Service site. It’s free and takes about two hours to complete. My kids love the badges that the Park Rangers present them after completing their booklets.
To earn the Lewis and Clark National and State Historical Parks Junior Ranger patch, grab an age-based booklet at the visitor center and complete required activities. The Lewis and Clark National and State Historical Parks Junior Ranger patches comes with rank patches based on the number of Lewis and Clark sites kids visit.
Complete seven activities in the Junior Ranger booklet and visit one site to earn the rank of Private. Visit two sites to earn the rank of Sergeant, three sites to earn the rank of Captain and visit four sites to earn the rank of President. Some of the sites are in Washington, across the Astoria Bridge.
Hiking at the Lewis and Clark Parks
Fort-to-Sea Trail offers a 6.5-mile path from Fort Clatsop to the Pacific Ocean. It retraces the route that the Corps of Discovery took from Fort Clatsop to the ocean and to Netul Landing along the river.
Fort Stevens State Park offers hiking paths north of the Lewis and Clark National and State Parks. Sunset Beach State Recreation area offers hiking as well, both in Oregon.
Cape Disappointment in State Park in Washington offers hiking. I found hiking at Fort Columbia State Park in Washington as well.
Other sites to explore about Lewis and Clark
The Lewis and Clark National and State Parks is a collection of national and state park sites dedicated to the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Located on both sides of the Columbia River in Washington and Oregon, start at the main visitor center at Lewis and Clark National Historical Park in Astoria, Oregon, or Cape Disappointment State Park in Washington.
Though several Lewis and Clark Expedition sites preserve the history across the western U.S. Along with the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail that retraces the route from St. Louis to the Pacific Ocean across present-day Missouri, Kansas, Iowa, Nebraska, North and South Dakota, Montana, Idaho, Oregon and Washington.
- Fort Clatsop at the Lewis and Clark National Historical Park—one of the main visitor centers
- Netul Landing—along the Lewis and Clark River
- Fort Stevens State Park—visit the 1906 wreck of the Peter Iredale along the beach.
- Salt Works—where the Corps of Discovery made salt from ocean water to preserve meat.
- Ecola State Park—Captain Clark and Sacagawea trekked to this area.
- Cape Disappointment State Park— one of the main visitor centers and offers a full-service state park.
- Fort Columbia State Park—home to the Chinook Indians and the coastal defense fort.
- Dismal Notch—a landing spot for the Corps of Discovery along the Columbia River.
Where’s Lewis and Clark National Historical Park
Located at 92343 Fort Clatsop Road in Astoria, Lewis and Clark National Historical Park is open seven days a week (closed December 25). Summer hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and until 5 p.m. during the rest of the year. Use an annual pass or pay $5 per person for adults, 16+ (kids under 15 are free).
Know Before You Go:
- Be prepared for rain at any time.
- Limited food service at the park sites so pack a picnic.