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After a gruelling two years crossing the country, charting new territory Lewis & Clark, and the Corps of Discovery ended up in Oregon

Back in September 1803, US President Thomas Jefferson decided he ought to find out more about the territory he had just acquired for the United States as part of the Louisiana Purchase. You might have thought he’d have done his due diligence before buying but no – I guess there is not much come back when you are President for only a handful of years. 

The newly acquired Louisiana Territory was an unknown quantity

Anyway, Jefferson decided to recruit his trusty mates Meriweather Lewis and William Clark to lead an expedition up the Missouri River to chart the new territory and find a route to the Pacific Ocean. The assembled crew of 45 were known as the Corps of Discovery. They set out into uncharted waters and it was not an easy journey as they battled the elements, wild animals and had to forge relationships with the local Native American tribes they encountered along their route. 

It was not until November 1805 that they first sighted the Pacific Ocean and they worked their way down the mighty Colombia River. Needing a bit of a break they decided to settle down for the winter in the woods just outside what is now Astoria on the North-Eastern tip of Oregon.

Unfortunately, in those days they didn’t have long term weather forecasts or good local knowledge. The poor old Corps of Discovery suffered a miserable winter in Oregon – they only had about one day when it didn’t rain during the 4 months they were there.

A monument tribute to Sacagawea who was a Lemhi Shoshone woman who traveled with Lewis & Clark

1. REPLICA OF FORT CLATSOP

Sadly, the visitor centre was closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic so we had to satisfy ourselves with exploring the outside. Luckily, unlike the Corps, we had been blessed with splendid weather! The fort that Lewis and Clark had constructed was more of a wooden stockade to keep out wild creatures rather than marauding locals – it, of course, has not survived the passage of time in this wet climate. 

Today, in its place sits a replica of what the National Park Service could construe from the diaries of Lewis and Clark. It is compact and cosy! During the season there are Rangers and volunteers who provide snippets of the travels of Lewis and Clark and what life would have been like at Fort Clatsop during those times. Life would have been tough and not helped by the incessant rain! They were made of tougher stuff in those days – I am pretty sure I would not last five minutes if I were catapulted back in time to be a member of the Corps.

The Fort itself is tiny and wandering in and out of the handful of rooms, even if you did it three times would only take about 10 minutes!

Fort Clatsop is where Lewis and Clark, and the Corps of Discovery spent the Winter of 1805-06
A replica of Fort Clatsop
In the summer months there are interpretive presentations

2. EXPLORE THE TRAILS

There are several trails that run through the park if you fancy a bit of a walk. The shortest of these take you down to the Netul River to the landing point that Lewis and Clark parked their canoes and wombled to the site where Fort Clatsop was erected. It is a pleasant wooded walk and not too strenuous. 

The place where Lewis and Clark landed on the Netul River near Fort Clatsop

If you fancy something more challenging then the 6.5 mile Fort To Sea Trail wends its way through the woods south of Fort Clatsop to Sunset Beach on the Pacific Ocean, forging through ancestral lands of the Clatsop Indians. Beware this is not a circular trail – so if you have not parked a vehicle at Sunset Beach you’ll have to walk another 6.5 miles back! Also, there are sections of the trail that are steep, going both uphill and downhill, sections of the trail that can be slick and muddy, and areas without much vegetative cover.

Planning your visit to the Lewis & Clark National Monument

The Lewis and Clark National Monument is close to the mouth of the Columbia Rivier in North-Western Oregon and a few miles from the port city of Astoria. The main attractions here are:

  • The visitor’s centre
  • A replica of the Fort
  • Trails

Sadly, when we visited the visitor’s centre was closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Best time to visit Astoria

Since it’s the warmest and driest season, summer is the most popular time of year on the Oregon Coast. The crowds can be pretty big at times on the North Coast and Central Coast, especially in Seaside, Cannon Beach, Lincoln City and Newport. The South Coast is less crowded in summer because of its distance from major metropolitan areas. Many people agree that fall is the best time to visit the coast because the weather is still warm, it’s much less busy and accommodations prices drop a little. Winter on the Oregon Coast is not for everyone, but plenty of people love it. Winter storm watching is a thing on the Oregon Coast, and the beachcombing for agates, fossils and shells is the best. November to January is the rainiest season on the coast. Late spring is lovely on the coast, and it’s a great time to visit the coast before the crowds come. Whatever time of year you come, bring layers and prepare for the possibility of rain.

Eating and drinking in Astoria

For small-town Astoria is blessed with a lot of breweries and pubs. The Fort George Brewery and Pub is located in downtown Astoria. It has a large indoor seating and outdoors for the summer. We like our dark beers and they had a couple on tap, even in the summer when breweries tend to focus on lighter beers. Their main menu consists of a lot of pizzas which generally is not great for us as we’re vegan, but they did have vegan cheese and were able to ‘veganize’ a pizza for us.

The Buoy Beer Company brewery sits down on the Astoria waterfront. It has more of an industrial feel to it than the Fort George brewery but does offer the beauty of outdoor seating with views of the Columbia River. We tried their porter, which was very nice. The menu again was regular fare, but the options were limited for vegans and vegetarians.

Not too far from the Buoy Brewery is the Astoria Brewing Company which is Astoria oldest microbrewery. There is outside seating that has views of the Columbia River. We chose not to eat here (apart from a bowl of fries) as the vegan options again were not great. Instead, we focussed on the beers, choosing to sample the different option with a flight of tasters. I must say they were very good!

The Rogue Pub on Pier 39 in AstoriaThe Rogue Pub on Pier 39 is a great place to watch the sun go down

Located a couple of miles, out on Pier 39, is the Rogue Pub. The food here is really good and they do some mighty fine stouts. Probably the best thing about the pub is being able to sit outside on the deck, especially if you can get to the far west side, and watch the sunset. If there is no room you can always pop away from the pub and head down the west side of the pier and watch the sun go down.

The Blue Scorcher Cafe & Bakery is in the same building as the Fort George Brewery

As vegans, it is sometimes difficult to find somewhere suitable, especially when you are staying in small towns. The options are often limited, but it is definitely getting easier to find good options in restaurants and supermarkets. When you find somewhere that is exclusively vegan or vegetarian you hit the jackpot. We never expected to find a place that was vegan friendly, so it was a great surprise to find the Blue Scorcher Cafe Bakery in the same building as the Fort George Brewery. The only drawback was that it only opened for breakfast and lunch.

Where to stay

LUXURY ACCOMMODATION

‘At the Helm Hotel’ is located in Ilwaco, WA just across the Columbia River from Astoria. This 5-star hotel offers room service. Guests can enjoy a meal at the restaurant or a drink at the bar and free WiFi is available. 

All guest rooms at the hotel are equipped with a seating area, a flat-screen TV with cable channels and a private bathroom with a hairdryer and a bath. All rooms will provide guests with a fridge.

A room during peak summer months will cost you around $260 per night.

MID-RANGE ACCOMMODATION

The Astoria Riverwalk Inn is located just one minute walk from Port of Astoria Marina and the Riverwalk Trolley Bus, this Oregon motel features simply furnished rooms with an attached bathroom with free Wi-Fi and complimentary continental breakfast. Free guest parking is offered.

A cable TV with extended channels and tea and coffee-making facilities are found in every room at Riverwalk Inn-Astoria. All rooms include a balcony overlooking the marina and Egyptian cotton sheets. Guest rooms at this motel include views of the marina and the Astoria-Megler Bridge.

A room here in the summer will set you back about $180 per night.

ECONOMY ACCOMMODATION

The Norblad Hotel is a historic 90-year-old building located in Astoria, less than 5-minute walk from the restaurants and shops lining the Astoria Riverwalk. Free WiFi access is available.

Certain rooms come with a private bathroom. Free toiletries are available.

At the Norblad Hotel, you will find a shared kitchen. Other facilities offered at the property include a tour desk and luggage storage.

An ensuite Queen room here in the summer will set you back about $140 per night.

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