You’ll want to allow yourself plenty of time to walk in the footsteps of legendary American explorers Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery as you connect with a different time, but the same place along the Fort to Sea Trail in Clatsop County.
“This trail allows people to walk in the expedition’s footsteps!” said David Szymanski, National Park Superintendent at Ft. Clatsop. “You’re out in the woods and you’re feeling it in a way that’s not too different from the way the expedition would have known it.”
Ft. Clatsop is the replica winter home of the Corps of Discovery who explored western America and reached the mouth of the Columbia River in 1805.
If you are lucky when you visit, you may cross paths with Tom Wilson, covered head to toe in history, he portrays Capt William Clark at Fort Clatsop National Park.
“This fort wasn’t really in their plans,” noted Wilson, a retired teacher who has provided a living history portrayal of the early day explorer for over a decade. “They had hoped to get to the sea, find a ship at anchor, get re-provisioned and head back over the mountains before winter. Well, things didn’t go they way they planned..”
Wilson said that the story of Lewis and Clark’s winter time in Oregon remains a remarkable testimony to their strength and courage two hundred years later.
“They were low on provisions and their clothes had rotted,” added Wilson. “Unfortunately, they arrived too late and the trading season was over. They were stuck here.”
The fort and adjacent visitor center certainly give you a perspective on what the life must have been like for the early day American explorers, but if you’ve a notion to wander a bit, set yourself on the remarkable “Fort to Sea Trail.”
“The fort was home but the woods around it and the nearby ocean were the grocery stores,” said Jill Harding, a Ft Clatsop Park Ranger. “In addition, when they went out they visited their neighbors, the Clatsop Indians and they received tremendous information about the surrounding area.”
“This trail allows you to hike through several different life zones or habitat types too,” added Syzmanski. “You’re trekking for a couple of miles through a conifer forest stand, then across freshwater marsh and wetlands and then all of a sudden you’re exploring a tidal river environment. Don’t be surprised if you see deer or elk and then you cross under Coastal Highway 101 and suddenly reach sand dunes with freshwater lakes and soon the coastline. It’s all rather remarkable.”
Keep in mind the trail is more than six miles long so allow plenty of time for the easy to moderate hike; a portion of it is even wheelchair accessible. Bring water, food snacks and dress for the ever-changing Oregon coastal weather pattern of sun-showers and back to sunshine again.
If you’d like to make your visit a longer overnight stay, consider the nearby Fort Stevens State Park where more beaches, lakes and wetlands are yours to explore.
“We have camping, fishing at Coffenbury Lake, beachcombing, clamming and bicycle riding throughout the parks roads and trail,” noted Teri Wing, Ft Steven’s Park Ranger. “It’s a quiet place this time of year, more serene and it feels wonderful to get away from it all. This is the place to do that.”
Szymanski added that the hike might well launch you on your own trail of discovery into Oregon history:
“This is a place where you can spend a day or two exploring and get to know more about our nation’s and this region’s history too. So come visit Ft Clatsop and Ft Stevens and see why Lewis and Clark came this way.”