The Lewis and Clark Expedition was one of the most successful explorations in American History.
President Thomas Jefferson commissioned the Expedition to map the way west through the recently
purchased Louisiana Territory. He instructed the Corps of Volunteers for Northwestern Discovery,
as the Expedition was officially named, to find a navigable passage to the Pacific Ocean.
The Expedition left its 1803-1804 winter camp near St. Louis on May 14, 1804, and proceeded
up the Missouri River. In October, their flotilla reached the Mandan villages in present-day North
Dakota where they spent the winter of 1804-1805. Here, the party was joined by Touissant Charbonneau,
his wife Sacagawea (a Shoshoni Indian woman), and their newborn son. The Corps continued its
westward journey the spring of 1805.
The Corps of Discovery Enters Washington
On Oct. 10, 1805, the 33-member Expedition entered what is now the state of Washington. As
they paddled swiftly down the Snake and Columbia rivers, the explorers began to see signs that
they were nearing the Pacific Coast.
On Nov. 15, 1805, the Expedition reached "Station Camp," the place they
recorded as the "End of Our Voyage." From this camp, members of the Expedition
took side trips along the river's north bank to Cape Disappointment and broader views of the
Pacific Ocean. On Nov. 24, after deliberating about where to locate winter camp, the party decided
to explore the south side of the river and eventually established winter quarters at Fort
Clatsop (near present-day Astoria).
As soon as they thought the mountains would be passable in the spring, Lewis and Clark and
their party left Fort Clatsop on March 23, 1806. Following the river – first traveling in
canoes and then on land – the Corps retraced their route up the Columbia to the mouth of
the Walla Walla River. Here, American Indians informed them of an overland trail to the Snake
River. By following this "short-cut," they shaved many miles off the length of their
return journey. The route from the Columbia River to the Snake River was one of the longest
treks by land of the entire expedition.
The Corps of Discovery Leaves Washington
On May 5, 1806, the Expedition departed what is now the state of Washington and proceeded
eastward, eventually reaching St. Louis on Sept. 23, 1806.
The Lewis and Clark Expedition accomplished an extraordinary task under difficult circumstances.
The party made many important observations related to the native peoples of the region, the geography,
wildlife, plants and geology of the American West. When you travel along the Lewis and Clark
Trail in Washington, you will share the adventures of the members of the Corps of Discovery and
learn more about their story.
Next section of journey history
Return to Lewis and Clark Main Menu