Fort Clatsop
Lewis and Clark Trail from Fort Clatsop to the Clatsop Plains
NPS Logo


When one begins to apply Captain Clark's description of the trail to the present-day map, one immediately runs into difficulty. In the first place, to leave Fort Clatsop on a true course of West S 60° W or S 62° W would take Clark down off the small ridge on which Fort Clatsop is located, a most unlikely eventuality since the logical route from the Fort to the seacoast leads up the ridge immediately west or slightly to the north of west, from the fort. Also, Clark's estimated distance of approximately 7 miles to the coast does not correspond even remotely to the distance of 3.6 miles as measured by the best available present-day maps.

Fortunately, Clark drew a map of his route to the coast (see Map 1) which, although it does not correspond to modern maps in all respects, permits one to trace the route with a fair degree of accuracy. The Clark path undoubtedly went a little north of west for nearly 1/2 mile from the fort, then turned south westerly paralleling the upper drainage of the small creek which forms the first tributary of the present Lewis and Clark River to the north of the Fort Clatsop site. [9] After about 1/2 mile the trail, continuing southwest, crossed the headwaters of this creek, after which it turned more sharply southward across the ridge to the upper course of the unnamed easternmost branch of the Skipanon River. Clark and his men followed down the north bank of this stream for about 1/2 mile to just below its juncture with an unnamed creek flowing from the west. Crossing the eastern branch of the north-flowing Skipanon River just below this junction, Clark continued west over a low ridge to the main branch of the Skipanon River, which evidently was his "low marshey bottom which we crossed thro water & thick brush." [10]

After leaving the Skipanon River Clark continued west ward across a prairie for about 1/2 mile to the present Neacoxie Creek, which at the point Clark encountered it runs north. This was the stream which Clark found to be about 60 yards wide and which he was forced to raft. On the next day he returned to this point from his elk hunt, recrossed the stream, and proceeded northward along the east bank until he met some Indians . From them, evidently, he learned that the stream he was on made a hairpin turn a short distance, to the northward and reversed its direction. The Indians carried their canoe from the north-flowing section of the stream across to the south-flowing section. From there they made their way westward to the ocean near a mouth of the Neacoxie Creek which has now been closed by sand. [11] As nearly as it can be traced at the present time, Clark's outward route is shown by the solid line on Map 2 of this report.

Although Clark does not mention it in his journal, his return course from the ocean to the fort evidently was not exactly the same as his outward route. On his map (see Map 1) the dotted line representing his trail is split at two different places . The western stretch of double track, covering the area of the crossing of the main Skipanon River, is not of particular interest for the purpose of this study, since the separation of the two courses is not great, since there is no clue as to which was the outward and which the returning course, and since the topography of this vicinity does not permit a precise location of either course in any case.

On the other hand, the eastern section of double track, stretching from the junction of the two forks of the eastern branch of the Skipanon River eastward to the slope of the ridge leading down to Fort Clatsop, is important to this study. Clark's description of his outward route makes it possible to state definitely that the southern course shown on his map was the one used during the first trip to the sea. Therefore, the northern course must have been followed on the return journey, or must have been laid out on a later occasion.

It seems logical to assume that this new route was used on the homeward trip, since anyone who forced his way through the rough country on the north bank of the unnamed easternmost branch of the Skipanon River would not be likely to return by the same course if an alternative presented itself. Evidently Clark, upon crossing the eastern branch of the Skipanon below the junction of its two branches, decided to ascend the point of the ridge to the northeast and to follow the top of the ridge eastward until he reached the headwaters of the stream which flows into the Lewis and Clark River north of Fort Clatsop. Descending into the canyon of this stream, he crossed it farther down than on the outward trip, climbed up the other side, and rejoined his outward trail probably about .6 mile west of the fort. The approximate course of this homeward route is shown by the dotted red line on Map 2 of this report.

<<< Previous <<< Contents >>> Next >>>

Last Updated: 04-May-2004