This article was kindly contributed by Phil Freeman founder of MotoQuest.com.
When I was entertaining creating a ride that shadowed the Lewis and Clark expedition, I consulted several riders who were from Montana, Idaho, Washington and Oregon. After many discussions and pourings over maps, I stitched together an itinerary that I thought might work, originating out of Portland, Oregon. I wanted to make the ride in a 12-day format, so I needed to be picky on what Lewis and Clark sites we wanted to visit, while maximizing our time on the best roads in each area.
Years later, when we finished our first scouting trip of that itinerary, I was incredulous: the riding was much better than I ever imagined and the best surprise of all was the variety of roads. After having led this trip several times, one thing is for sure: If you ride our Trail of Lewis and Clark itinerary, you come away with a grander perspective of how vast, rugged and naturally beautiful the Pacific Northwest is. Here are a few of the not-to-miss roads of that route. Whether you join us on an organized adventure or rent and ride on your own, you will fall in love with this part of the United States.
Below are a few highlights along this ride. When riders register, we advise them to pick up a copy of “Undaunted Courage” by Stephen Ambrose prior to the start of the trip. Reading this epic account of the Lewis and Clark expedition infuses color into every day of our ride. Below are some of the highlights of places we visit where Lewis and Clark actually stood, and some of the best roads that stitch this world-class ride together.
Antilope Highway 218
From Shaniko, Oregon to Fossil, Oregon is one of the best roads I have ever ridden. Part of it has to be because you never hear about it. This lonely, two-laned road travels through dry farmlands and river valleys – a hot bed for fossils. It’s classic lost Americana, no traffic, lots of elevation changes and spacious vistas. The towns you go through are a blink of the eye, and the sweepers and precious. Keep this road on your radar. And that is just the first part of the day..
This low-level pass outside of the town of Salmon, Idaho is where the Corps of Discovery first crossed the continental divide. The way to Lemhi is a dirt road that arrives at a place that has gone largely unchanged since the time of the expedition. Salmon, Idaho is also the birthplace of Sacagawea, the young female Shashone guide who made the connection between the Corps and Shashone, who peacefully traded horses with Lewis and Clark, so they could continue overland. Just south of the crest of Lemhi Pass is the Sacagawea Memorial Picnic Area, where we have lunch, and straddle a spring creek that eventually becomes the mighty Missouri River.
Idaho Highway 55 – 17 – 21, McCall, Idaho to Stanley, Idaho
This ride is the first part of the day and simply wonderful, if you like following river valleys. You take one wild and scenic river valley and continue on another. You end on the Ponderosa Pine Scenic Route to arrive at Stanley. You will be burdened mostly at trying to take it all in, from the rims of the canyons to the rushing water below. If you want to fall in love with Idaho, this is the day to do it.
Clark’s Lookout, Dillon, Montana
This nondescript state park on the north end of Dillon, Montana is the very place from which Clark surveyed before the expedition continued west. Standing on this rock outcrop, one can only imagine what it would have been like to be a part of this historical trek: so many unknowns to a backdrop of uncompromising beauty.
Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center, Great Falls, Montana
This is the furthest east we go, to pick up the trail of Lewis and Clark. Great Falls is where the Corps of Discovery spent weeks portaging past massive waterfalls. We make sure to stop at the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center, where there are dozens of displays relating what it was like to be part of the Corps during the portage. They even have a rope that you pull to test what it was like to haul one of those boats 15 miles across grasslands. It gives you an idea of the arduous endeavor these adventurers went through just to get through the day.
Montana Highway 200 between Missoula and Great Falls, Montana.
They say it’s “Big Sky” country in Montana, and as you ride this secondary road through traditional Blackfoot country, the broad skies and limitless landscapes in all directions bring that saying steadfastly home. Grasslands, cattle farms, rolling forested hills as far as the eye can see as you slice through it all. Take a seat at the Stray Bullet Cafe in Ovando, Montana and listen to the locals banter. Awe, yes, you are in the wild west!
Idaho’s Highway 12 between Lolo and Kooskia, Idaho
Now, this road is unbelievable. I know many who are reading this have ridden it, and whatever I put here does not do it justice. But just imagine: 99 miles of sweeping curves along a gorgeous Lochsa River valley. It’s what motorcycling should be, and make sure to stop at one of the suspended bridges across the river to gather in the moment. Make sure you ride this one!
Columbia River Gorge, Washington Highway 14 or Oregon Highway 730.
Anyone that has traveled the gorge by motorcycle knows there is a distinct difference between riding the motorcyclist’s road and riding the truckers road. In this case, get ready to see this gorge to its fullest by crossing from the 730 to the 14 to enjoy less traffic and scenery. The gorge is hard to beat on a good day with the looming Mount Ranier peering over you as you ride along the steep cliffs to one side, the mighty Columbia River to the other. We do incorporate a short stint on Highway 30 between Hood River, Oregon and The Dalles, Oregon, on the southside of the river, which ties the day together nicely.
Highway 503 between Woodland, WA and Northwoods, WA.
There are many highlights from our Lewis and Clark Adventure, but the curves along the Swift Reservoir on the 503 are a stand out. The backroad is usually devoid of traffic and prints a severe smile on your face.
When we arrive at the mouth of the Columbia River, there are a few strong emotions that pass through your head, especially after having retraced the Lewis and Clark Expedition for days on end. The first realization is that it just took you 4 days to cover what it took the expedition 4 months to do. Everything they did was hard-fought and dangerous. When you cross the bridge at the mouth of the Columbia, it’s hard not to reflect on how the Corps must have felt when they finally set eyes on the Pacific Ocean.
Fort Clatsop, Astoria, Oregon
It would not be a fitting end to a Lewis and Clark trip without a visit to their wintering lodge Fort Clatsop. It is a mere reconstruction and a bit touristy, but it does drive home the humble accommodations they endured for several months before their return to the east.
I could go on and on, but these are just a few of the world class roads and sites that are waiting for you when you head out to experience the Pacific Northwest and it’s Lewis and Clark history. If you ever get a chance to visit this area on two wheels, and you are interested in Lewis and Clark History, then the Pacific Northwest is a destination not to be missed.
About the Author:
A life-long Alaskan, Phil Freeman founded MotoQuest, a motorcycle tour and rental company. He has traveled Alaska and the world extensively by motorcycle, and is the co-author of the award winning traveling book: “The Adventurous Motorcyclist’s Guide to Alaska.”
MotoQuest is a motorcycle and tour company which offers four locations on the west coast. You may rent a motorcycle in Long Beach, California, San Francisco, California, Portland, Oregon and Anchorage, Alaska. MotoQuest also features organized tours in 20 countries. Whether you want to rent and explore on your own anywhere between Alaska and Baja California, or you want to join a group of like minded adventurers somewhere in the world, we are here to help.