Following Lewis And Clark Through Washington - My Family Travels

Washington State looked different to us than its wilderness did to Lewis and Clark so many years ago, so we became our own Corps of Discovery.

When Lewis and Clark blazed a trail across Southern Washington more than two centuries ago, their Corps of Discovery wasn't sure what was ahead. My mother Joan and I felt the same way as we began our own journey from the Tri-Cities area to the mouth of the great Columbia River.

Yet much has changed since President Jefferson sent his expedition in search of the Northwest Passage. Families can follow Lewis and Clark's path, with many relaxing and educational detours. Southern Washington is a great driving destination, and cars seem a luxury when compared to canoes, the Corps of Discovery's means of transportation. Washington State's participation in the nation-wide Lewis and Clark Bicentennial only added to the excitement.

Traveling in Washington's Tri-Cities

The Tri-Cities area of Washington state is composed of Kennewick, Pasco, and Richland. The arid climate yields about 300 days of sunshine per year. It was very hot during our July visit, but the lack of humidity made the weather almost a relief for us New Yorkers. Though the land appears desert-like, its hospitality proves rich and fertile.

Pasco's Sacajawea State Park commemorates the area where Lewis and Clark camped and traded with local tribes in October 1805. Its name recalls the courageous Shoshone woman who journeyed with an infant son and acted as the expedition's interpreter and guide. Sacajawea accomplished all this as a teenager! Learn more about her, and about native life before Lewis and Clark's arrival, at the Interpretive Center (2503 Sacajawea Rd, Pasco WA 99301; 509/545-2361- closed in winter).

While in Pasco, stop by Country Mercantile off Highway 395. This endearing roadside fruit stand sells homemade candies, deli food, and gifts as well. Free samples are common, and it's difficult not to take home some chocolate-covered cherries. (232 Crestloch Rd, Pasco WA 99301; 509/545-2192)

If you're looking for a spot to picnic or for the kids to expend some energy, look no further than Columbia Park in Kennewick. This is possibly the most "loved" park ever, a 606-acre parcel filled with ongoing projects originating from the minds and hearts of a caring community. Such projects include the Family Fishing Pond converted from a stagnant lagoon, the J&S Dreamland Express train constructed from donated airline baggage cars (running on weekends) and a splashy children's water feature. (6515 Columbia Dr. Trail, Kennewick WA 99336; 509/585-4529)

The Columbia River Exhibition of History, Science, and Technology (CREHST) is a good pick for families because of its interactive exhibits. This museum traces the history of the Tri-Cities region from tribal customs to the nearby Hanford Site and its importance to the Manhattan Project. Other highlights include a wooly mammoth tusk and a tiny trailer, typical housing for families during the World War II era. Mom was amazed at the cramped environment in the trailer, but I compared it to a Manhattan studio apartment! (95 Lee Blvd, Richland WA 99352; 509/943-9000)

For more information about Washington's Tri-Cities, contact the Visitor and Convention Bureau (800/254-5824). 

The Columbia River Gorge – Southwest Washington

During the drive west along the Columbia, the scenery changes. Vegetation grows greener, hills rise more dramatically above, and Oregon's Mt. Hood peeks across the water. Windsurfers and kiteboarders (picture a wakeboarder getting major air with the aid of a kite) skate across the river in swarms, since the windy gorge is a Mecca for both sports. When Lewis and Clark passed through here, the water ran more roughly due to lack of damming.

In April 1806, the Corps of Discovery walked across the site of Maryhill Museum of Art before returning to the river. Their presence remains today with "Lewis and Clark at Maryhill," an exhibit of Native American artifacts donated by local tribes and families and comparable to those described in Lewis and Clark's journals. Also learn about Northwest entrepreneur Sam Hill and his friends, view an eclectic chess set collection ("Abstract" chess? Tooth chess?), and discover the marvelous Auguste Rodin Gallery. (35 Maryhill Museum Drive, Goldendale WA 98620; 509/773-3733)

Near the entrance to Columbia Gorge Interpretive Center, kids can make petroglyph rubbings, foreshadowing the in-depth look at gorge history that follows. This includes Lewis and Clark and the Jefferson Peace Medals they brought for negotiations with Indians. A fish wheel and other past technologies are on display, as well as the world's largest rosary collection. (990 SW Rock Creek Drive, Stevenson WA 98648; 800/991-2338)

Fort Vancouver National Historic Reserve is a reconstructed 1800s business fort that once served as headquarters for the Hudson's Bay Company. Outside the fort's walls lies the premier archeological site in the Pacific Northwest. I was excited to share this with my mother, who loves archeology and could stare at holes in the ground for hours. The reserve even organizes educational Kid's Digs; check their site for a schedule. (Fort Vancouver Way & Officers Row, Vancouver WA 98661; 360/816-6230)

Fort Vancouver's neighbor, the Pearson Air Museum, is the nation's oldest continually operating airfield, dating back to 1905. It's a must for anyone interested in aviation history, with old biplanes, interesting historical murals, and a CD-ROM room for all ages. An interactive children's area offers presentations on gravity and airflow. (1115 E. 5th Street, Vancouver WA 98661; 360/694-7026)

Loving Long Beach Penninsula

Washington, like many states, has a Long Beach, too, located at its southwestern-most tip. Lewis and Clark reached the Pacific Ocean here in November, 1805 and ended the westbound portion of their expedition in the land of the Chinook Indians. Travelers today enjoy the quirky "beach town" atmosphere.

Cape Disappointment State Park features a number of hiking trails, as well as the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center. Built in 1975, this museum sought to tell the entire Lewis and Clark story like not many others did at the time. It's still effective, matching journal entries with freestanding exhibits. (Off Highway 101, Long Beach WA 98624; 360/642-3078)

Nearby North Head Lighthouse (360/642-3078), one of two operating lighthouses on the peninsula, conducts tours daily during the summer. It helps guide ships through the especially rough and shipwreck-prone Cape Disappointment, nicknamed the "Graveyard of the Pacific."

Look up in the sky in Long Beach and you might see a kite or two or twenty. Kiting is a serious, popular hobby in this area, and the World Kite Museum reflects this attitude. Here, kids can make their own kites and learn about the kites of different cultures that plaster that walls and ceiling. Mom and I enjoyed watching videos about kiteboarding and Japanese fighting kites. (303 Sid Snyder Drive, Long Beach WA 98631; 360/642-4020. Visit the Long Beach Visitor's Bureau or call 360/642-2400 for more information.

The proper end to a "Lewis and Clark" journey through southern Washington requires crossing the Columbia to Astoria, Oregon! This is where the Corps of Discovery — actually the Corps of Volunteers of North Western Discovery — encamped during the winter of 1805-1806 before their return journey. Fort Clatsop National Memorial replicates their experience, with costumed programs in the summer and a year-round Visitor Center. The replica of Fort Clatsop was destroyed by fire in 2005, but there is a new one to see as well as educational programs. On the way there, you may spot some elk, an important source of food for Lewis and Clark. (92343 Fort Clatsop Road, Astoria OR 97103; 503/861-2471).

For more information on Lewis & Clark Trail Attractions throughout North America, visit the Lewis & Clark Trail Heritage Foundation's website.

My Explorations, Our Discovery

I used to think only of Seattle when I thought of Washington, from my limited East-coast point of view. Yet I've learned that Washington's "road less traveled" was one of the first trails to be blazed in what would eventually become the Northwestern United States.

And I'm grateful that like Lewis and Clark, "Guterman and Guterman" could travel together.

Lewis & Clark Camped; This is Where We Stayed

In the Tri-Cities:
Hampton Inn
Richland WA 99352

In the Columbia Gorge:
Skamania Lodge
Stevenson WA 98648

On the Long Beach Penninsula:
The Breakers
Long Beach WA 98631

Dear Reader: This page may contain affiliate links which may earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. Our independent journalism is not influenced by any advertiser or commercial initiative unless it is clearly marked as sponsored content. As travel products change, please be sure to reconfirm all details and stay up to date with current events to ensure a safe and successful trip.