GETTING THERE From Astoria, head south on U.S. 101 and follow signs.

VISITOR INFORMATION The park’s visitor center (www.nps.gov/lewi; [tel] 503/861-2471) is open year-round, mid-June to Labor Day daily 9am to 6pm; Labor Day to mid-June daily 9am to 5pm. Here you’ll find interpretive displays, a good bookstore, and park rangers who can provide information on nearby attractions, hiking trails, and other parks.

“Ocian in view! O! The joy!” William Clark wrote in his journal as he stood on a spit of land just south of present-day Astoria in the fall of 1805. He was feeling exultant after the arduous journey he’d undertaken with Meriwether Lewis and the Corps of Discovery, traveling over 2,500 miles west from St. Louis, across the northern plains, over the Rockies, and down the Columbia River to the Pacific. They had achieved their goal and fulfilled Thomas Jefferson’s mandate to find a passageway to the west. But Clark had yet to deal with the weather on the northern Oregon coast. After building Fort Clatsop, where the Corps spent the winter, Clark wrote, “O! How horrible is the day waves brakeing with great violence against the shore . . . all wet and confined to our shelters.” Throughout that long winter, there were only 5 days when it didn’t rain.
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An accurate replica of their shelter, a log stockade which they named Fort Clatsop after the local Clatsop Indians who had befriended them, is what you’ll see at this national park. Though archaeologists have never been able to pinpoint the exact location of Fort Clatsop, this replica was built within a few yards of where they believe the original fort stood. The design was based on notes and sketches in William Clark’s journal.

It’s not a large fort. It was built quickly, and it’s very basic, with wooden gates at either end and two rows of small, adjoining cabins facing each other across a central courtyard (which would have been mud instead of the bark chips that are there now), and it provides a glimpse of what life was like for these now-legendary explorers during that endlessly wet winter more than 200 years ago. Sacagawea, the 16-year-old Shoshone woman who made the trek with French-Canadian Toussaint Charbonneau and their infant son, occupied the first cabin to your right upon entering. Lewis and Clark shared the cabin next to them. The Corps slept about eight men to a cabin on the other side. These bare, unfinished cabins had an open firepit at one end with a flue for the smoke, hand-hewn wooden beds, and not much else. (You’ll appreciate the luxury of a warm dry bed and a hot shower after a visit here.) From mid-June through Labor Day, park rangers clad in period clothing give demonstrations of some of the daily activities that took place at the fort, including flintlock use, buckskin preparation, and candle making.
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A path leads down from the fort to a nearby canoe launch area. The explorers traveled south from Fort Clatsop as far as present-day Seaside—where they boiled seawater to make salt and marveled at a beached whale (Sacagawea insisted on accompanying the men to see it)—and north to Cape Disappointment in Washington State. Both of these sites are part of the Lewis and Clark Historical Park, as is the 6.5-mile Fort to Sea Trail, which ends in Seaside. Over on the Washington side of the Columbia, there are two installations by artist Maya Lin that were commissioned as part of the Lewis and Clark bicentennial.
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On the short trail from the visitor center to the fort, you’ll pass a bronze statue of Sacagawea with her baby on her back. This is a long-overdue tribute to the young Shoshone woman who traveled with the expedition as an unpaid guide and interpreter. She was all of 16 and had given birth just 3 months before the Corps of Discovery set off. Our ideas about “history” and history makers have changed drastically over the last couple of decades. The Native Americans who inhabited the coastal regions of the Northwest had a rich and long-evolved culture of their own that preceded the arrival of Lewis and Clark by thousands of years. But however you view their achievements, Lewis and Clark and the men—and woman—who accompanied them, made an incredible journey through an area previously unknown to colonialists, and their arrival at this spot on the Oregon coast in 1805 marks the beginning of a new era in the settlement of the West.

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Paddling the Lewis and Clark River

 At Fort Clatsop—Lewis & Clark National Historic Park you can join a Park Ranger-led Lewis & Clark River Paddle Tour that lets you paddle in a two-person kayak along the shoreline of the Lewis and Clark River. These 3-hour guided tours, available from late June to early September, are not strenuous and provide a wonderful perspective on the region, its history, and its wildlife. And to make them even more enticing, the kayak tours are free with the price of admission to the park. Kayaks, paddles and life jackets are provided; paddle tours begin at Netul Landing 1 mile south of the Fort Clatsop visitor center. Children must be 10 or older and accompanied by an adult. Note: You must make a reservation for these tours in advance, and reservations are on a first-come, first-served basis. For all the specifics, visit www.nps.gov/lewi. This is a great experience for the entire family.