Lewis and Clark's journey across Idaho in September, 1805 was the most difficult part of their entire transcontinental expedition. As they crossed the Bitterroot Mountains, the Corps of Discovery encountered an early snow, downed timber and found little to eat. By the time they emerged from the mountains eleven days later, the men were wet, cold, and starving. Luckily, they encountered friendly Nez Perce Indians who fed the expedition. Despite the hardship, Meriwether Lewis wrote of what would become Idaho, "It is a beautiful, fertile and picturesque country."
Idaho's geography also dashed the explorers' hope of finding an all-water route to the Pacific. After crossing the Lemhi Pass, they found what the Indians called "Big Fish Water." On the banks of what is now known as the Salmon River, William Clark realized it would be suicide to try to take canoes through the rapids of what is now called the River of No Return. In his journal, Clark wrote "the river is almost one continued rapid, the passage with canoes is entirely impossible."
Today, much is the same as when Lewis and Clark first set foot in Idaho. The Salmon River, which dashed their hopes of finding a water route to the Pacific, remains the longest undammed river in the lower 48 states. The vistas, first glimpsed in 1805, are now part of the largest block of wilderness outside of Alaska.
Discovering Lewis and Clark
Lewis and Clark Trail
Lewis and Clark: The Journey of the Corps of Discovery
Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation
Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail
Idaho Public Television's "Echoes of a Bitter Crossing, Lewis and Clark in Idaho"