Welcome to Fort Clatsop, home to the Lewis & Clark expedition for 3-1/2 months during the winter of 1805-06. A pretty spot when the sun is shining, but Lewis & Clark didn’t camp here when the weather was fine. They arrived in the midst of the winter rainy season. And it rains a lot in the Pacific Coast ranges–up to 70 inches per year.
By all accounts, their stay here was pretty miserable. Nearly three dozen men, a young Indian woman named Sacajawea, her French-Canadian husband, and their infant son lived inside the stockade that winter. Total area with parade ground: about 2500 square feet. Not much bigger than a modern day suburban home.
Quarters were cramped and sparsely furnished–up to 9 men per room in the enlisted men’s quarters. They were also dark (very few windows) and smoky because of the poorly ventilated firepits in each room. With supplies running low, the inhabitants had little to eat other than deer and elk meat. Head colds, flu, and fleas were a constant irritant. And to top it off, it rained all but 12 of the 106 days they spent here!
A replica of the original Fort Clatsop now stands in the clearing. Visitors can wander through each tiny room with its rustic beds, benches, and tree stump tables. Or they can follow graveled paths through the rainforest to a fresh water spring or the canoe landings on the Lewis & Clark River. Park rangers are available to answer questions and re-enactors in full costume are often on hand, as well, firing off flintlock muskets or sewing moccasins.
The Interpretive Center is a must see! A full-sized bronze statue of Lewis & Clark, sculpted by Stanley Wanlass, stands in front of a huge bay window with the forest as a backdrop. There’s also a wide range of items on display: uniform jackets, weapons, tools, furs, woven baskets, trade goods, even a dugout canoe!
Most visitors stream through here during the summer months. But the best time to visit is actually right now, when a steady stream of raindrops patters down on the little log fort or the forest is thick with fog. Only then will you get a real sense of the Lewis & Clark experience.
Fort Clatsop is located about 5.5 miles SSW of Astoria, OR. The fort and interpretive center are open every day of the year except Christmas. Entrance fees are just $3 per adult; those 15 and younger are free. For more info and detailed maps to the site, please check the Fort Clatsop National Memorial website.