NPS Logo

Historical Background

Survey of Historic Sites and Buildings

Suggested Reading


Lewis and Clark
Survey of
Historic Sites and Buildings

National Historic Landmark Travelers Rest

Location (approximate): Missoula County, along U.S. 93 just south of the village of Lolo, about 2 miles upstream from the Bitterroot River on the south side of Lolo Creek, some 11 miles southwest of Missoula.

As the eastern terminus of the Lolo Trail, this site in the Bitterroot Valley was a pivotal one on both the westbound and eastbound phases of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. On their way to the Pacific, the explorers paused at this place for 2 days, September 9-11, 1805, to rest and prepare for the ordeal they knew they would face in crossing the trail. They also took advantage of the excellent weather to make celestial observations. Unfortunately, hunting was poor and added little to the scant larder.

On the positive side, the commanders learned two important facts. Their guide, Old Toby, told them of a fine overland shortcut used by the Indians between the site and the Missouri in the Great Falls vicinity. The Minitaris had told Lewis and Clark of this route, but they had passed the Sun and Dearborn Rivers without recognizing that these streams provided access to it. Secondly, one of three Flathead Indians encountered at Travelers Rest explained that a related tribe lived over the mountains to the west along the Columbia River, which was navigable to the sea.

Travelers Rest
Travelers Rest in the mid-1850's, drawn by Gustav Sohon. This view is from the Bitterroot River Valley looking to the northwest. The Bitterroot River is off the sketch to the right. Lolo Creek runs along the thin strip of timber in the middle distance that extends across the right side of the sketch. The Bitterroot Mountains are to the west and northwest. (:ithograph by Sarony, Major & Knapp from a sketch by Gustav Sohon, in U.S. Pacific Railroad Surveys, XII, Plate LVII.)

On the eastward trip, the expedition stayed at Travelers Rest from June 30 to July 3, 1806, while recuperating from its trek over the Lolo Trail and making final plans to separate. On departure from the camp, the Lewis group explored the shortcut Old Toby had delineated as well as the dangerous Upper Marias River area, which Blackfeet were known to frequent. The Clark contingent recovered the cache and boats on the Beaverhead River at Camp Fortunate, Mont., before probing the Yellowstone, below the mouth of which the two elements reunited on the Missouri.

Aside from the small village of Lolo, agricultural activity, and modern highways in the vicinity, the Travelers Rest area has little felt the impress of the hand of man since the time of Lewis and Clark. New channels for the Bitterroot River and Lolo Creek have been dredged in the locality. U.S. 93, extending north to south along the Bitterroot River, passes the campsite, which is used for farming today and is privately owned. A plaque erected about one-half mile north of the site by the Daughters of the American Revolution, as well as one placed by the Montana Highway Department, identify it. From Lolo, U.S. 12 (Lewis and Clark Highway) follows up Lolo Creek and generally parallels the Lolo Trail across the Bitterroot Mountains.

Travelers Rest
The same scene today. Intrusions are few in the Travelers Rest area. (National Park Service (Mattison, 1958).)

Last Updated: 22-Feb-2004