by Anastasia Melnick
The Northwest Passage Scenic Byway (US-12) is 202 miles, making it Idaho’s longest byway. It follows the route explorers Lewis and Clark took on their expedition. The byway begins in Lewiston, on the Washington-Idaho border, and continues east to Lolo Pass, on the Idaho-Montana border. By driving this route, you will be able to experience all of what North-Central Idaho has to offer.
When driving east on the US-12, you will pass through the Nez Perce Reservation. Here, you can learn about the Nez Perce Tribe’s extensive history. The Flight of 1877 was a battle that resulted in the mass genocide of the Nimiipuu (Nez Perce) people. The Nez Perce National Historical Park consists of 38 important sites that depict the root of the conflict, the war itself, and the Nimiipuu culture. You can explore several historical sites located along the Northwest Passage Scenic Byway, including battlefields and gravesites.
One of the must-see landmarks is Canoe Camp, where Lewis and Clark stopped on their voyage. With the help of the Nimiipuu people, they built the canoes that carried them to the Pacific Ocean. Canoe Camp has a short hiking trail that allows you to explore the site. Another remarkable landmark to visit is the Heart of the Monster, which is a massive rock formation that is a part of a Nimiipuu creation story. The area features exhibits and signs that teach you about the legend. For more information on the sites at the Nez Perce National Historical Park, visit nps.gov/nepe/index.htm.
If you continue east on the US-12, after you arrive in Kooskia, you will pass by the Lochsa River. Located in the Clearwater National Forest, the area near the river is great for hiking. The Lochsa Ranger Station gives you the resources to take a self-guided tour. This includes a hike on the Colgate Licks Trail, a one-mile loop that brings you to two hot springs. If you travel 30 miles from the Lochsa Ranger Station, you can hike to the Jerry Johnson Hot Springs, three hot springs surrounded by rocks; the area also features a waterfall.
Finally, your journey ends at Lolo Pass, where you can visit the log-cabin Lolo Pass Visitor Center to learn more about the Lewis and Clark journey across the Bitterroot Mountains and the 1877 flight of the Nez Perce Indians.
In order to experience the area’s many attractions and enjoy the outdoors, it is best to complete the trip in two days. A great place to stay overnight is Kooskia.
For more information about lodging, go to visitidaho.org/places-to-stay/kooskia. To learn more about the Northwest Passage Scenic Byway, go to visitidaho.org/things-to-do/road-trips/northwest-passage-scenic-byway.