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Lewis and Clark
Survey of
Historic Sites and Buildings

historic site Lewis and Clark Pass

Location: Lewis and Clark County, in the Helena National Forest, about 17 miles northeast of Lincoln, Mont., on the Continental Divide at the heads of Alice Creek, on the west, and Green Creek, on the east. The best approach is from the west side of the divide. About 8 miles east of Lincoln on Mont. 200, a marker points up Alice Creek to Lewis and Clark Pass. A passable road extends northward along the creek for about 15 miles to the Alice Creek Ranger Station (Helena National Forest). From there, a 1-mile jeep trail leads to the crest of the pass.

Over this pass—subsequently misnamed Lewis and Clark Pass because Clark never saw or traversed it—on July 7, 1806, Lewis and his nine-man party recrossed the Continental Divide and reentered U.S. territory. Clark and his much larger contingent, which had separated from the rest of the expedition at Travelers Rest, Mont., passed over the divide via Gibbons Pass.

When Lewis crossed Lewis and Clark Pass, he was following an overland Indian shortcut between Travelers Rest and the Missouri just above the Great Falls that the explorers had missed on their westbound journey and which would have saved them almost 50 days and the tribulations of the land-water route they had utilized. The two missions of the Lewis group were investigation of the shortcut and exploration of the Upper Marias. The traverse of the shortcut to the Great Falls, utilizing 17 horses, required 8 days. After crossing Lewis and Clark Pass, Lewis, pursuing buffalo and other game, pushed north beyond the Dearborn River route to the Missouri until he reached the Sun River, which he followed downstream to the Great Falls area.

Remote Lewis and Clark Pass (6,421 feet) is all but forgotten today and does not even appear on most highway maps. The major reason for this is the routing of Mont. 200 over the divide via Rogers Pass (5,610 feet), about 6 air miles to the southeast, instead of by Lewis and Clark Pass or Cadotte Pass (6,040 feet), situated midway between the two other passes. Mont. 200, which runs from the Sun River Valley to Missoula, generally follows the old Indian trail traveled by Lewis and his men.

Over the years, Lewis and Clark Pass has changed little. To the west, where the ascent is easy, is a mixture of forest and open glade land; to the east, where the ascent is rocky and steep, rising 1,400 feet in the last 2 miles, lies barren and broken country. This leads down from the divide to the great game plains at the foot of the mountains—where enormous buffalo herds roamed in the time of Lewis and Clark.

Last Updated: 22-Feb-2004