Fort Clatsop
Lewis and Clark Trail from Fort Clatsop to the Clatsop Plains
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On the morning of July 24, 1953, a field party of National Park Service employees traversed the road from Fort Clatsop to the Clatsop Plains by automobile . Frequent stops were made to permit an examination of the terrain. Later that day two members of the party retraced the greater part of the road on foot. As far as time and the dense undergrowth permitted, side trips were made from the road to identify topographical features shown on Clark's map (Map 1 of this report) and to attempt to trace sections of the original trail. In particular, a descent was made to the bottom of the canyon of the unnamed easternmost branch of the Skipanon River, along the north bank of which Clark traveled for about 1/2 mile. As a result of these observations, it is possible to present a fairly complete picture of the country traversed by the Lewis and Clark trail as it exists today.

For about .6 mile west of the Fort Clatsop site the present road ascends along the top of the rather broad spur ridge on which the fort is situated. For this distance the road must nearly coincide with the Lewis and Clark trail location. The land traversed, by this section of the road has been logged off quite cleanly, except for a few snags and some fairly large hemlock trees which are scattered about. For the most part, however, the read goes through dense thickets of young alders, hemlocks, and shrubs (largely blackberry and salal) . The Crown Zellerbach Corporation, which owns most of this property, has also planted young forest trees, largely Douglas Fir, through the cut-over tract (see Photos 1-3) . At the present time this section of the road is not particularly attractive from a scenic standpoint, but the dense conifer forest which once covered the area will eventually reassert itself.

At about .6 mile from the fort the present road swings rather sharply to the southward off the top of the spur ridge and ascends along the southeast slope of the spur for a short distance before turning west again and recrossing the spur and ascending the north slope to the summit of the main ridge separating Fort Clatsop from the sea. This section of the road, about .6 mile in length, is through a dense forest of hemlock, interspersed with a few rather large Sitka spruce trees (See Photos 4 and 7). Although this forest at first appears to be virgin growth, a close inspection off the road reveals the presence, in spots, of large stumps showing unmistakable signs of the saw (see Photos 5 and 6). These stumps are found largely on the north slope of the spur.

On the area traversed by this section of the present road, both the outgoing and returning Lewis and Clark trails somewhat sharply diverged from the road location. The outgoing trail apparently continued up the crest of the spur for a short distance beyond the .6-mile point on the road. Then it dropped down into the head of the north-flowing stream, climbed southward out of it, crossed the main ridge, and dropped down to the easternmost branch of the Skipanon River. For perhaps 500 feet beyond the .6-mile point this route traversed an area now very cleanly denuded of timber. Them the route plunged into an area today covered by dense forest, in which it remained all the way down the east Skipanon River and on to the main Skipanon.

The returning branch of the trail, running eastward from the summit of the main ridge, descends into the densely timbered (with hemlock) canyon of the north-flowing tributary of the Lewis and Clark River for a short distance, then climbs out to rejoin the outward route at about the .6-mile point on the road. The easternmost 500 or 600 feet of this route is through land now cleanly cut (see Map 3).

From the summit of the main ridge, at an elevation of about 260 feet, the road continues westward just south of the top of a spur ridge which projects toward the ocean. From the south edge of the road down into the canyon of the easternmost branch of the Skipanon River, the steep slope is covered by a magnificent hemlock forest with a dense undergrowth of fern, huckleberry, salal, and other shrubs. In fact, the entire canyon of this branch of the Skipanon River apparently looks much the same now as it did when it was traversed by Clark and his companions in December of 1805 . The person who scrambles through the fallen trees and brush along the course of this stream can easily realize why Clark believed he had traveled seven miles in reaching the ocean instead of an actual 3.6 airline miles. The northern edge of the road as it travels along the summit of the spur ridge is fringed by a narrow strip of hemlock trees and brush which screens . fairly effectively a large area of logged-over land lying directly to the north.

After about .4 mile westward from the summit of the main ridge, the road swings around to the western face of the spur ridge, which descends sharply to the valley of the Skipanon River. As the road reaches the face of the spur it leaves the hemlock forest and enters an extensive tract of cut-over land which extends westward to the farm land in the valley of the Skipanon and northward for several miles . The road descends through this cut-over land, now covered by a dense growth of young alders, hemlocks, and brush, down the face of the spur to cross the east fork of the Skipanon River and to connect with a county road leading west to U. S. Highway 101.

About 1/4 mile south of this section of the road the Lewis and Clark Trail continues west over a low wooded ridge from the eastern fork of the Skipanon River to the main course of the same stream. Although some timbering has been conducted along this section of the trail, it traverses country which remains essentially primitive in appearance until it crosses the main Skipanon River, when it enters an area of small homes and farms.

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Last Updated: 04-May-2004