“Ocian in view! O! the joy!” Meriwether Lewis exclaimed in his journal on November 7, 1805 when he first sighted the Pacific Ocean near Astoria, Oregon. Within a month, he, William Clark, and the other 31 members of the Corps of Discovery began constructing Fort Clatsop (named in honor of the local Clatsop Indians) where they lived from December 1805 to March 1806. It took the Corp three and a half weeks to build the fort— they started felling trees on December 9 and moved in on Christmas Day. To experience how the explorers spent that wet winter over 200 years ago, visit Fort Clatsop National Memorial in Warrenton (five miles south of Astoria).
Stop first at the Visitor Center to get an overview of the 125-acre park. The displays and exhibits will familiarize you with the Corps of Discovery’s mission and the difficult 2,000 miles they had traversed to reach the Pacific Ocean. The movie shown in the theater makes you realize just how excited the team of weary explorers must have been to finally meet their goal.
Thanks to soggy coastal conditions, the original Fort Clatsop (named in honor of the local Clatsop Indians) slowly rotted away after Lewis & Clark left the Pacific Northwest. It has been authentically rebuilt twice since then— first in 1955 and then again in 2006 following a devastating fire. The fort still stands on the original site, as confirmed by notes and floor plans drawn by William Clark. Living quarters inside the fort were tight— just seven small rooms for 33 people, including Toussaint Charbonneau, an interpreter, and his Shoshone wife Sacagawea and their infant son. The furnishings are also exact reproductions. Hand-hewn wooden bunks, tables, benches and chairs were functional, not fancy. The 50-foot x 50-foot structure is small in size, but as an outdoor museum, it’s big on preserving and interpreting the Corp of Discovery’s arrival at the Pacific Coast.
You can also learn survival and wilderness skills such as candle-making and meat-smoking, and watch as flintlock rifles and muskets are fired. The fire-starting demonstration is especially fun. Conducted by a park ranger dressed in buckskin and using only the materials Lewis & Clark would have carried—flint and tinder—the ranger shows you how to turn a tiny spark into a real fire. Give it a try—it’s tricky until you get the hang of it!
Don’t overlook the short shady footpath next to the fort. The trail leads through old-growth Sitka spruce and western hemlock trees to the Corps of Discovery’s historic canoe landing site. A boardwalk makes it easy to get a close look at the Netul River, recently renamed the Lewis and Clark River. Go ahead and take a seat in a replica dugout canoe you’ll find there. It’s amazing that the Lewis & Clark party could even use such a canoe— they are none too large or comfortable!
92343 Fort Clatsop Rd
Astoria, Oregon 97103
Phone: 503-861-2471 ext. 214
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In addition to writing about her travels, Denise Seith is also a treasure hunter and loves a good latté. She and her husband own an online gold prospecting and metal detecting equipment store found at GoldRushTradingPost.com