Lewis & Clark: Lesson 4
Planning a Trip Along The Lewis & Clark Trail

Your studies of Lewis & Clark have brought you in contact with different physical environments and Native American groups. Perhaps your research has piqued your curiosity enough to make you venture forth and look at some new places firsthand. In other words, you are ready to take a trip out West!

The purpose of the following exercise is to provide you with a reasonably sensible approach to planning an extensive trip (one that will last for at least two weeks). Careful planning helps to minimize surprises, especially unpleasant ones. It also increases the likelihood of fulfilling intended goals, objectives, and expectations. Finally, we believe that the process described herein, or your tailored variants, should be useful for life.

This lesson relates to Standard No. 18 ("How to apply geography to interpret the present and plan the future.")


  1. Critical Decisions - There are several critical decisions that must be made up front. They include (but are not limited to):
    1. Who is going? List all trip participants.
    2. When is the trip going to take place? Establish firm dates for departure and return.
    3. Establish a budget. Determine considerations and constraints.
    4. Select mode(s) of travel (auto, train, plane, combination…)
  2. Resources
    1. Maps: the United States, regional maps (e.g. the Northwest), state maps (e.g. Montana), local maps (such as Powder River Country). Maps are available from AAA, the National Geographic Society, the local bookstore, the US Geological Survey, the National Park Service, state governments.
    2. Books and magazines. The local bookstore should have a travel section. It may also carry or order special topic publications (e.g., The Roadside Geology of Montana). Consider your personal interests (such as "The best fishing holes west of the Mississippi River" or "Grasslands in the U.S." or birdwatching, etc.).
    3. Every state has a tourism department, which is only too happy to send packets of free materials. The more specific
    4. Some excellent places to begin are:
      1. Fanselow, Julie. Traveling the Lewis and Clark Trail: A Falcon Guide. Second Edition. Helena, MT: 2000. ISBN 1-58592-042-8. $15.95
      2. Fifer, Barbara, & Soderberg, Vicky. "Historical Highlights and Color Maps: Where to Stay and What to Do." In Along the Trail With Lewis and Clark. Montana Magazine: 1998.
      3. Schmidt, Thomas. The Lewis and Clark Trail. National Geographic Bicentennial Edition (Revised) 2002.
      4. TIME Magazine July 8, 2002 features Lewis and Clark and has a fold-out map of their journey.
      [Note: These works complement each other very well]
  3. Agenda, Itinerary, Timetable

    All trip participants (the group-see A1) must get together and plan the adventure. Research shows that when people contribute to the formation of a program (trip), in other words, when they have "bought in," they are more likely to cooperate and/or compromise during decision-making times. Hence, "the group" must decide on an itinerary and a timetable.

    One of our concerns is the space/time or time/distance perception problem which can be experienced by Easterners in the West. At home we commonly enter and leave a couple of states in a two-hour drive. Out west, two hours of driving will be an inch or so on the map. The time/distance insert maps in the corners of AAA maps are invaluable sources of accurate planning information. Please consult them when you prepare the itinerary.

    To highlight this situation, we cite the 13-day trip proposed by Julie Fanselow. It goes from St. Louis to Fort Clatsop, following Lewis & Clark's basic route. This looks like the perfect two-week vacation. But a New Englander must spend an additional two days getting to St. Louis, and a minimum of five days returning from the west coast. Further, an east-west drive across the U.S. may contain some "boring" landscapes to the uninitiated.

    An alternative to seemingly endless driving might be to concentrate your trip around selected segments f the Lewis & Clark route. For example, you could travel to St. Louis, Missouri and vicinity, where there are four places to visit (Cahokia Mounds, Camp Dubois, Gateway Arch, and St. Charles). From there, go to Bismark, North Dakota. Near Bismark are several sites, including Ft. Mandan, Hidatsa and Mandan lodges, and their respective interpretive centers.

    The next significant Lewis and Clark interpretive center is in Great Falls, Montana. To get there, you might consider going south to the Black Hills region of South Dakota. There you will find the Badlands and Mount Rushmore National Parks. Near I-90 West are Sturgis, South Dakota (motorcycles) and Devil's Tower (volcanic); farther along is the Little Bighorn National Park (Custer). Just outside Billings, Montana, is Pompey's Pillar, where Clark carved his name on the return trip. By using Lewis and Clark as your theme, you can become your own "Corps of Discovery," and that is the most exciting part.

  4. Accommodations

    Sometime during the planning process you must address the question of where you are going to stay and how you will plan for meals. These decisions are based on how much time and money you have, and how you wish to "experience" the West. If you travel by train or with an outfitter, these things will be taken care of. If, on the other hand, you are doing your own tour, you need to decide on living arrangements. An early consideration is whether you plan to camp or stay in motels, or do a combination. There are advantages and disadvantages to both camping and motelling.

    Camping: advantages are that it's relatively inexpensive (if you already have the gear); it brings you closer to nature; it facilitates meeting interesting people. Disadvantages are the time-consuming tasks of setting up/taking down camp, cooking/clean-up, the vulnerability to bad weather, and the possible lack of showers.

    Motelling: advantages are that it is efficient (unless you have trouble finding one), and it allows for showers, TV and hair dryers. Disadvantages are that some destination sites (e.g. Chaco Canyon) are miles from a motel and restaurant; it's much more expensive than camping.

  5. Weather

    You will need to get a pretty good idea about the kinds of weather you may experience on your journey. The weather will influence your choice of clothes, accommodations, and possibly site visits-the latter could be closed temporarily because of snow or mud. High elevations in the West can become very cold at night, like winter without the snow, so be prepared. Weather conditions may affect your choice of accommodations if you do a combination of camping and motel stays. Many online sites can facilitate your planning here.

  6. Itinerary

    This is the heart and soul of your trip. Make a day-by-day itinerary. You may go to AAA and have them do this for you (a TripTIC), but that isn't much fun. You may also go on the Net and find maps/routes between places. But you must take all group ideas and incorporate them into the final itinerary. A suggested format follows:

    DAY 1
    Date Day of Week Start End Miles Travel time
    June 2 Saturday Keene Buffalo 406 8 hrs.

    Activities along route:

    • Stop at Haystack, VT-view Mt. Monadnock
    • Stop in Syracuse, NY (actually Liverpool, NY) for a "coney" and a look at the Salt Museum
    • Look for NYS barge canal, RR, interstate, state roads-think about transportation
    • Look for drumlins (glaciation)
    • Think about what land use changes you have seen
    • Other

    DAY 2 Continue chart, etc.

  7. Preparation - a detailed checklist
    • Clothes (including footwear)
    • Camping gear, if required (including cooking equipment)
    • Maps, books, references
    • Tools
    • Hiking, fishing, birding, etc. gear
    • Accessories-camera, binoculars, …
    • Medical and first-aid items
    • Special needs/equipment (such as an inflatable raft)
    • Toiletries
  8. Budget
    1. Travel - Cost of gasoline (miles traveled divided by miles per gallon x cost/gallon= total $); lube, oil, filter change, incidentals (e.g. flat tire)
    2. Food - Number of people x cost of meals/day= cost of food
    3. Lodging - Number of nights x cost of accommodation= total cost
    4. Photography - Cost of film + processing
    5. Gifts/souvenirs, etc.

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