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[photo] Winter snow on the Lolo Trail
Photo from National Historic Landmarks collection

In mid-September 1805, after crossing the Continental Divide at the Lemhi Pass and spending a couple of nights at Traveler's Rest, the Lewis and Clark Expedition reached the historic Lolo Trail. Knowing Lolo Trail would provide the members of the Corps with a truly physical challenge and fearing that they would not be able to survive the perilous peaks ahead without assistance, the Corps of Discovery was quick to acquire as many horses as possible and enlist the help of a few guides, familiar with the route that lay ahead. Under the guidance of a member of the Shoshone nation known as Old Toby, the Lewis and Clark crew turned northward and began their ascent into the daunting Bitterroot Mountains. To get through this more than 200-mile stretch of unforgiving mountain terrain, the pioneers followed the Lolo Trail for 11 harrowing days. Suffering from frostbite, malnutrition and dehydration, the Americans recorded their woes in the pages of their journals. Losing a bit of the energy that had carried him thus far, Clark noted, "I have been wet and as cold in every part as I ever was in my life, indeed I was at one time fearfull my feet would freeze in the thin Mockirsons which I wore" (DeVoto 1997, 240). Nevertheless, the crew pushed on, each day drawing closer to the end of Lolo Trail and the successful completion of the Bitterroot crossing. Capturing the moment, Lewis wrote:

[photo] Various images of Lolo Trail
Photos from National Historic Landmarks collection

. . . the pleasure I now felt in having tryumphed over the rockey Mountains and decending once more to a level and fertile country where there was every rational hope of finding a comfortable subsistence for myself and party can be more readily conceived than expressed, nor was the flattering prospect of the final success of the expedition less pleasing . . . (Moulton 1988, 5: 229)

The Expedition had traveled for days through an area of high mountains, high hills, heavy timber and little game. Exhausted and starving, the men stumbled out of the Bitterroot Mountains and encountered the Nez Perce Indians at Weippe Prairie. On their return trip, the Corps of Discovery again traversed the Lolo Trail starting up on June 15th and reaching Traveler's Rest 15 days later.

The Lolo Trail, a National Historic Landmark administered by the National Park Service, is part of the Nez Perce National Historical Park. The 200-mile-long trail extends from Lolo, Montana, to Weippe Prairie, Idaho. There are two main Visitor Centers, one at Park Headquarters in Spalding, Idaho, 11 miles east of Lewiston and the other at Big Hole National Battlefield, 10 miles west of Wisdom, Montana. The Visitor Center at Spalding, Idaho is open in the winter months from 8:00am to 4:30pm and until 5:30pm in the summer. The Visitor Center at Big Hole National Battlefield near Wisdom, Montana is open in the winter from 9:00am to 5:00pm and in the summer from 8:30am to 6:00pm. Please call 208-843-2261, or visit the park's website for further information. You can also download (in pdf) the Lemhi Pass National Historic Landmark nomination. You can also download (in pdf) the Lolo Trail National Historic Landmark nomination.

Lolo Trail is the subject of an online-lesson plan produced by Teaching with Historic Places, a National Register program that offers classroom-ready lesson plans on properties listed in the National Register. To learn more, visit the Teaching with Historic Places home page.

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