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Meriwether Lewis, William Clark, and the Corps of Discovery departed St. Charles, Missouri on May 21, 1804, to begin their expedition into the unknown. Their journey was backbreaking, fraught with danger and took 28 months. This summer you can see and experience the Lewis & Clark Trail in air-conditioned comfort via motorcoach, and it will take just 16 days.

The journey begins in St. Louis with a get-acquainted dinner on historic Laclede’s Landing.

Get an overview of where you’re headed at the Museum of Westward Expansion at the Gatewav Arch, and visit St. Charles, the last outpost of “civilization” the party would see as they headed west. Other Missouri stops include Arrow Rock State Park, the Arabia Steamboat Museum in Kansas City and Fort Osage near Buckner.

As the tour heads northwest, it follows the Missouri River for more than 1,500 miles. Near Council Bluffs enjoy a Dutch oven dinner reminiscent of meals the Corps of Discovery prepared over a campfire on their 1804-1806 journey of discovery. The remote location alongside the Missouri River contributes to the feeling of “being there” as the costumed interpreter relates his experiences of being initiated into the fraternity of riverhands who plied the river in the time of Lewis and Clark. On the Iowa side of the river near Sioux City stands the monument to the only man who died on the Lewis & Clark Expedition, Sgt. Charles Floyd.

In South Dakota, as in many locations along the trail, your accommodations overlook the river. A traditional fish fry commemorates the point where Meriwether Lewis caught his first trout. Another commemorative spot in South Dakota is the location where a conflict with the fierce Teton Sioux nearly stopped the expedition in its tracks. You’ll also have several opportunities to witness how the development of the west affected those who were already there, the Native Americans.

Bismarck, North Dakota, marks the midpoint of the journey. The Corps of Discovery spent their first winter near here at Fort Mandan. Visit the reconstructed site, and the excellent Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center in nearby Washburn. That evening you’ll cruise the Missouri River on the Lewis & Clark Riverboat.

The journey continues from Bismarck. A model earth lodge is a highlight at the Knife River Indian Village, the only national park which commemorates the Plains Indian. At the western edge of North Dakota sits beautifully restored Fort Union. It served as one of John Jacob Astor’s major fur trading posts on the Missouri River.

Pompeys Pillar, named for Sacagawea’s son, features the only remaining physical evidence of the Lewis & Clark Expedition. William Clark carved his name in the rock on the return trip in 1806. It is located near Billings, Montana.

On a stretch of the Missouri in western Montana, towering cliffs appear to block the way. As the river changes direction, the cliffs seemed to pull apart. Capt. Lewis called it the Gates of the Mountains. An interpretive boat ride through the area will be a highlight of your tour. The scenery and wildlife make for an unforgettable experience.

The tour spends two nights in Great Falls, visiting such outstanding sites as the new Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center, Fort Benton, and the Charlie Russell Museum, a tribute to the famed western artist. Then it’s time to travel over the Lolo Trail, the most difficult part of the journey for the Corps of Discovery. A local historian will help you understand the chronology and a visit to the Nez Perce National Historic Park brings appreciation of the invaluable role this tribe played in the expedition’s survival.

Traveling through the Columbia River Gorge is a breathtaking experience. You’ll visit the new Discovery Center in The Dalles and see why Multnomah Falls is the most visited site in Oregon. And, like all great tours, one of the highlights has been saved for last. Along the beautiful rugged Oregon coast, you’ll visit the site where Sacagawea and Capt. Clark saw a beached whale and tour Seaside, where the expedition made salt. The tour ends at the re-creation of Fort Clatsop, the Corps’ home for the dreary winter of 1805-06.

On the final day the tour travels to Portland for the return flight. You’ll take with you memories of an exciting venture through some of America’s most magnificent territory, much of it unchanged since Lewis saw it nearly 200 years ago. You will also take home with you a true understanding of how this expedition expanded our country “from sea to shining sea.”

Lewis & Clark Trail – August 5-20, 2011