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North Dakota: Legendary. Follow the trail of legends
North Dakota Parks and Recreation Department

Interpretive Sign at Lewis and Clark

Lewis and Clark

This photo was taken in an area that provides visitors with information about the two men for which the park was named, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark. An expedition was commissioned by President Thomas Jefferson shortly after the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. Lewis and Clark were to lead a group of Army volunteers to explore and map the newly acquired land, finding a practical route across the Western half of the continent and establish an American presence before Britain and other European powers tried to make their claim. In addition, they were to make various scientific observations and inventories. This group of men became known as the U.S. Corps of Discovery.

The Corps of Discovery started their voyage in May of 1804. The expedition entered present-day North Dakota on October 14, 1804. That November, they established a wintering fort near the Knife River Indian Villages near present day Washburn, ND. They built Fort Mandan and spent the winter observing and trading with the Hidatsa and Mandan Indians. At Knife River, the expedition met and hired a French Canadian trader, Toussaint Charbonneau, to act as an interpreter during their journey west. Charbonneau, his wife Sakakawea and young son Jean Baptiste accompanied the expedition when they left the fort on April 7, 1805. The expedition camped nearby present day Lewis and Clark State Park on April 17, 1805. An interpretive trail marker has been placed within the park to commemorate their historic journey through North Dakota. Their return trip in 1806 through North Dakota from the Pacific was a short one. It probably didn’t seem as short for Meriwether Lewis as he spent several days face down as he was shot in the behind by what is thought to be his hunting partner, Private Cruzatte, who was near-sighted. Lewis was wearing buckskin which probably resembled the color of an elk. This incident took place near present day Williston, North Dakota. Aided by wind and current, they spent only ten days passing through the state for a second time. The Corps of Discovery spent more time in North Dakota than in any other state on their 8,000 mile expedition that took less than two and half years.

Lewis and Clark State Park lies on the shores of Lake Sakakawea, a reservoir built on the Missouri River in the 1950s and named for the female guide Lewis and Clark used for much of their travels. The park is accessed using North Dakota Highway 1804, a long winding scenic byway that follows the initial path taken by the travelers along the Missouri River in that same year. No matter where you look the legacy of both Lewis & Clark can be seen throughout the region.

Lewis and Clark State Park is located 19 miles southeast of Williston, ND on Highway 1804.