Lewis and Clark Among the Nez Perce

Explore North Central Idaho, a Region Steeped in History and Adventure

North Central Idaho is an outdoor paradise loaded with local history, adventures, and attractions. Travel the land of the ancestral Nimiipuu Tribe (now Nez Perce), follow in the footsteps of the historic Lewis and Clark expedition, and explore quaint and welcoming communities throughout. 

Discover Rich Histories

Trace the steps of the famed explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark at the Lewis and Clark Discovery Center located in the heart of Hells Gate State Park. Explore the full breadth of the center’s two-acre outdoor interpretive plaza, nestled against the bank of the Snake River. Watch a 32-minute movie about the Lewis and Clark expedition in Idaho, peruse indoor and outdoor cultural and art exhibits, and pick up souvenirs at the onsite gift shop. Afterward, head deeper into the park to trek pristine hiking trails, take exhilarating jet boat tours through the country’s deepest canyon, camp along the banks of the winding Snake River, and cozy up in comfortable cabins.

Make A Stop

From Hells Gate, take US-12 to 95 east to the Clearwater River Casino and Lodge. Along the way, be sure to get out and stretch your legs at mile marker 306.8 and read all about Lewis and Clark’s expedition through the historic ancestral Nez Perce land at the Northwest Passage Scenic Byway marker. Also read about the Nez Perce Village, one of Idaho’s most important archaeological sites. Occupied by the Nimiipuu Tribe for over 10,000 years, the Village has at least 10 pit houses remaining, with some as old as 5,000 years. 

Forge onward and learn all about the Three Legends of the Nez Perce at the national historic park. Visible from the Clearwater River Casino and Lodge, the Three Legends tell the tales of Coyote, Ant, and Yellowjacket. In the legend of Coyote’s Fishnet, two all powerful animal spirits — Coyote and Bear — have a falling out so epic it became immortalized in the mountain now known as Coyote’s Fishnet. Similarly, in the legend of Ant and Yellowjacket, two basalt arches depict the two animal spirits forever locked in combat — a cautionary tale used to warn against fighting over natural resources with allies. In addition, the Nez Perce Cultural Walk, located inside of the casino, is a must-see. Learn more about the rich history of the Nez Perce through immaculately preserved artifacts onsite.

Catch Some Knowledge

Steeped in historical significance, salmon and steelhead have long served as a food source in the region. As William Clark recorded in one of his expedition journals, the salmon appeared to be the principal food source for the Nez Perce. However, as settlement in the region has grown, the population of the species has shrunk. At the Dworshak National Fish Hatchery, just outside the town of Orofino, visitors can learn more about the restoration and repopulation efforts of these native species. In the neighboring town of Kooksia, visitors can also experience the Kooksia National Fish Hatchery, for another glimpse into the reconstruction efforts of the region.

From the Dworshak hatchery, head to downtown Orofino to dine at local restaurants nestled along the banks of the beautiful Clearwater River, and enjoy a meal of responsibly sourced steelhead or salmon from the nearby hatchery.

Explore Local Culture

In Kamiah, spend time on the Clearwater River and explore the surrounding scenic foothills. Also known as the tim’ne’ pe, or Heart of the Monster, Kamiah tells the tale of the Nez Perce creation story. Learn all about the Heart of the Monster Legend, and where the Iceye’ye (AKA Coyote) saved the Nimiipuu people from the treacherous monster who had killed all the animals.

Nowadays, the community serves as a hub for outdoor recreation. Immerse yourself in the surrounding panoramic vistas and nearby nature-filled adventures. Visitors can also stroll through the Victorian-themed downtown area, and visit numerous cultural and historical attractions.

Experience the Past

Since time immemorial, the Pacific Northwest has played host to the Nez Perce Tribe. Just a few miles south of Kamiah, explore the Nez Perce National Historic Park Museum — a destination dedicated to one peoples, but open to all. Consisting of 38 attractions within the park, visitors can learn about the stories of the Nez Perce. Pick up a map and explore the grounds — from perusing the museum and Spalding Mission, to strolling the expansive grounds. 

For those seeking a break from all the excitement of travel, pack a picnic and enjoy a meal along the peaceful and serene banks of the Clearwater River.

Discover the Unexpected

After leaving Kamiah, head south and follow Highway 13 to Grangeville. Here, visitors can visit the Columbian Mammoth Exhibit and experience firsthand the sheer magnitude of the now-extinct creatures. Learn all about the 1990s excavation of multiple, fully-intact Columbian mammoth fossils, which were discovered in the nearby Tolo Lake

The lake, located just outside Grangeville, is now predominantly visited by birders and anglers, but that hasn’t always been the case. From ancient history to contemporary, Tolo Lake has long served as a time capsule for the storied history of the region.

Learn about the Battle of White Bird Canyon and the eventual Nez Perce Flight of 1877, and how this once peaceful and ancient lake later became the site of much heartbreak and bloodshed. Take audio tours, explore the banks of the lake, and walk through the nearby White Bird Canyon battle site.

Enjoy the Outdoors

As you make your way through the region and your trip winds down, be sure to check out the charming hamlet of White Bird. Explore this western-themed community, and immerse yourself in the culture by grabbing a bite and a drink in the town’s saloon. Later, head 35 miles south to the White Water Capital of the World in Riggins. With the Salmon River and Little Salmon River running through the heart of downtown, Riggins makes for the ideal destination for watersports and recreation. Cap off your North Central Idaho trip with an exhilarating raft down some of the most beautiful and pristine waterways in the world.

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