Finding America by RV—Idaho’s Northwest Passage Scenic Byway

Lewis & Clark, the mighty Nez Perce people, wild and scenic rivers rushing through remote canyons—just three of the many reasons to go in search of America in the wilds of North Central Idaho. One of America’s famed Scenic Byways traces the trail followed by the Lewis & Clark Corps of Discovery through Idaho in 1805 and 1806. It’s now known as the Northwest Passage Scenic Byway.

RV travelers longing to study these intrepid explorers, and the native people they lived among, won’t find a better route to follow than US-12 from Lewiston, ID east two hundred miles to the Montana border at Lolo Pass.

How Do We Get There?

Lucky for you, RV traveler, this gorgeously remote byway is easy to reach from a couple of major cities. It is, for example, only five and a half hours east from Portland, OR to Lewiston, ID along US-12. Lewiston is also about ten hours north of Salt Lake City via I-84. Either way, once you make your way to Lewiston, ID, the journey really gets spectacular.

As we mentioned, you’re going to follow US-12 from Lewiston all the way to the Montana border, through Lolo Pass. A spur of the Byway branches south at Kooskia, ID on Hwy 13 to Grangeville, so plan time to make that side trip for even more historic interest.

What Can We See and Where Can We Camp?

Whether you’re looking for historic sites, outdoor recreation or simply stunning views to capture in vacation photos, you’re going to love traveling the Northwest Passage Scenic Byway by RV.

By starting your journey at the Byway’s western terminus, you’ll be able to visit the Lewis & Clark Discovery Center on the Snake River in Hells Gate State Park. Take time to watch the half-hour video presentation From the Mountains to the Sea: Lewis & Clark in Idaho to learn the high points of this famous exploration. You’ll also find roomy campsites along the river, so consider a stop here before continuing along the Byway.

To fully understand the history of the Lewis & Clark Expedition, we must also know the role the Nez Perce people played. Follow the Scenic Byway (US-12) east along the Clearwater River to Spalding to find the Nez Perce National Historic Park. There’s a visitor center and museum here, plus access to numerous sites sacred to the Nez Perce.

As you continue east along the Byway, you’ll find the site of Canoe Camp, where the Corps of Discovery stopped to fashion canoes from large pine trees. A little farther east, in the town of Kamiah, be sure to visit the city park, where an interpretive exhibit highlights Long Camp,

Lewis & Clark with the Nez Perce Indians

Lewis & Clark with the Nez Perce Indians

where Lewis & Clark camped with the Nez Perce people. Don’t leave Kamiah without visiting the Heart of the Monster, the site where legend says the Nez Perce people were created.

From Kamiah, you have a choice to make. If you’re ready to stop for another night of Idaho RV camping, this is the perfect place to do it. The Kamiah, ID area boasts numerous private RV campgrounds along US-12 as well as campgrounds beyond Kamiah in Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest.

Should you decide to travel on to Kooskia and then south to Grangeville on Hwy 13, there are also private RV campgrounds in Grangeville. To fully understand the role of Western expansion in the history of the Nez Perce, seek out the interpretive signs on Hwy 13 near Stites, ID that tell the story of the Battle of the Clearwater and the forced migration of the Nez Perce into Montana under Chief Joseph. Once you’ve studied this site, it’s time to return to US-12 at Kooskia to conclude your journey.

You’re moving now through the remote beauty of the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness, along the Byway to the 1920s Lochsa Historical Ranger Station. Take time to soak in the stunning views in this rugged country and you’ll understand why it was sacred to the Nez Perce and highly praised by the Lewis & Clark Expedition.

At the end of your journey, two-hundred-two miles from where we started in Lewiston, you’ll find yourself at Lolo Pass, the main route over the Bitterroot Mountains into Montana. Stop at Lolo Pass Visitor Center to complete your education of the Northwest Passage Expedition and the final exodus of the Nez Perce people.

Are you ready to visit North Central Idaho by RV? The Northwest Passage Scenic Byway is the place to start. Whether you rent an RV for the trip or travel in your own beloved home-on-wheels, this trip through time is one every modern-day explorer should make.

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