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How to follow the Lewis and Clark Expedition through Kansas and Missouri

Kaw Point
Taylor Sloan
See the site of the Corps of Discovery's encampment — and a spectacular view of Kansas City — at Lewis and Clark Park at Kaw Point.

From Kansas City headed west, explore the sites and legacy of Lewis and Clark's historic Corps of Discovery from over two centuries ago.

This story was first published in KCUR's Creative Adventure newsletter. You can sign up to receive stories like this in your inbox every Tuesday.

On May 14, 1804, Meriwether Lewis, William Clark, and their Corps of Volunteers for Northwest Discovery departed St. Charles, Missouri, and headed upstream on the Missouri River. The westbound expedition party included soldiers, a French-Indian interpreter, a boat crew and York, a Black man enslaved by Clark.

The explorers landed on June 26, 1804, and camped for three days at Kaw Point, the confluence of the Kansas and Missouri Rivers.

Lewis and Clark followed a river route in this area traveled by French trappers, traders, and explorer Étienne de Veniard, Sieur de Bourgmont 80 years earlier. However, Lewis and Clark’s expedition served its own purpose under President Thomas Jefferson’s commission: to explore lands west of the Mississippi River that comprised the Louisiana Purchase.

The expedition party went through bluffs, plains and waterways in and around present-day Kansas City. Throughout their travels, Lewis and Clark were the first to formally record signs of the Kaw Nation, Osage Nation and other tribes who once lived in the area.

Lewis and Clark's journals contain observations about the landscape, river features, artifacts, a flock of Carolina parakeets or “Parrot queets,” and other native flora and fauna. They continued their multi-year expedition across 8,000 miles.

The Corps of Discovery's expedition preceded frontier development of what would become Kansas City — they certainly would not recognize the city today. Present-day explorers may form their own expedition and rediscover the history of the expedition by visiting historical markers, overlooks, parks and more.

Kaw Point

View at dawn from Kaw Point
Vincent Parsons
Where the Missouri and Kansas Rivers meet, explorers can find Lewis and Clark Park and gorgeous views from Kaw Point.

At Kaw Point, where the Missouri and Kansas Rivers meet, modern explorers can find Lewis and Clark Park: the site of the Corps of Discovery's encampment. A 10-acre wooded park situated along the shores at the confluence features a memorial to the Native American tribes of the area.

The park also includes an education pavilion, small amphitheater and limestone seating blocks carved with the names of Corps members. Take a seat and behold a dramatic view of downtown Kansas City, Missouri.

Riverfront Heritage Trail

Lewis and Clark Canoes by artist Susana Jones
CJ Janovy
River Bluff Park is home to public art such as these carved dugout canoes, made to resemble a smaller version of the 1,000-pound dugouts that the Corps of Discovery used.

Kansas City's Riverfront Heritage Trail is dotted with several historical markers and statues to commemorate the heritage of Lewis and Clark’s travel along the path. Bikers, joggers and hikers can also travel from Kaw Point to many stops along sections of the trail.

Access points include Berkley Riverfront Park, City Market and Downtown Kansas City, Kansas.

Part of the Riverfront Heritage Trail and located just to the west of the River Market, River Bluff Park is notable for two reasons. First, the park sits on a bluff and offers a scenic vista of the West Bottoms, Charles B. Wheeler Downtown Airport and Kaw Point. Catch sunrise, sunset and airplane activity at this overlook and snap some photos.

Second, the park is home to public art created by Susana Jones. Jones carved dugout canoes that resemble a smaller version of the 1,000-pound dugouts that the Corps of Discovery used. The site includes a wayfinding marker as well.

Since the park doesn’t offer much green space, leave the picnic at home and consider this a worthwhile stop along the Heritage Trail as you explore.

Town of Kansas Pedestrian Bridge

Town of Kansas Bridge
Jordan Bruening
The Observation Deck at the top of the Town of Kansas Pedestrian Bridge provides an excellent view of the Missouri River.

The 650-foot long Town of Kansas Pedestrian Bridge connects the River Market to Riverfront Park via a series of stairs and walkways. The Observation Deck provides a dramatic view of the Missouri River, nearby bridges and the northern side of the wooded river bottoms.

Bring a camera to capture the blend of natural beauty and manmade construction. Contemplate the riverway that the expedition navigated in dugout canoes and envision what the land might have looked like before railroads, highways and an airport were constructed for modern transportation.

You’ll find historical markers at the observation deck and along the walkways that stretch parallel to the riverfront, referencing Lewis and Clark and Kansas City’s earliest days at the edge of the frontier.

Case Park

Corps of Discovery
KC Parks
This Corps of Discovery statue depicts Lewis, Clark, York, Sacagawea and her son Jean Baptiste, and Seaman, Lewis' Newfoundland dog that accompanied them through their expedition.

On their return journey from the Pacific, Lewis and Clark stopped at “Clark’s Point” on September 15, 1806. The high bluff is now known as Quality Hill. Lewis recorded in his journal this observation about the bluff as a site for a potential fort:

"The Shore is bold and rocky immediately at the foot of the hill, from the top of the hill you have a perfect command of the river, this hill fronts the Kanzas and has a view of the Missouri a Short distance above that River. We landed one time only to let the men geather Pappaws or the Custard apple of which this county abounds, and the men are very fond of."

Ermine Case Junior Park is the site of a National Park Service marker, bronze marker and a bronze statue entitled "Corps of Discovery." The statue depicts Lewis, Clark, York, Sacagawea and her son Jean Baptiste (who didn’t accompany the expedition in the Kansas City area), and Seaman, Meriwether Lewis’s Newfoundland dog that accompanied them through their entire expedition.

A plaque on the site also shares information about French explorer Etienne de Veniard, who preceded the expedition.

Leavenworth County, Kansas

Riverfront Park Leavenworth
Leavenworth Parks and Recreation
The expedition party encountered their first abandoned Kansa (Kaw) village near Leavenworth on July 2, 1804.

Hop in the car, head to Leavenworth County, Kansas, along the Glacial Hills Scenic Byway and find more markers commemorating sites where the Corps of Discovery stopped. The expedition party encountered their first abandoned Kansa (Kaw) village near Leavenworth on July 2, 1804.

Riverfront Park at 1201 Riverfront Park Rd. features several signs and markers that provide detail about the party’s visit. The city is home to more sites and people of historical interest on the walkable Wayside Tour. Here’s a guide and map to Wayside Points at Fort Leavenworth.

The Frontier Army Museum at 100 Reynolds Avenue in Fort Leavenworth houses a gallery “Beyond Lewis and Clark” that explores the Corps of Discovery’s mission and subsequent expeditions. An online exhibit shares details about medical treatments on the expedition.

Check out more online educational resources for kids here.

Atchison, Kansas

Independence Creek: Lewis and Clark Historic Site
Modern travelers will find a replica of a Kanza Indian Earthlodge dwelling at Independence Creek in Atchison, Kansas.

Two days after departing Leavenworth, the Corps of Discovery observed the first Independence Day on July 4, 1804, five miles north of present-day Atchison. The expedition party camped near a waterway they named Independence Creek. Modern travelers can view an interpretive sign, geodetic marker and a replica of a Kanza Indian Earthlodge dwelling at the historic site.

The Lewis & Clark Pavilion and Atchison Historical Marker, at the intersection of Commercial Street and River Road, features interpretive panels with information on the expedition, the Missouri River and the Kanza Nation.

The Atchison County Historical Society Museum, located in the Santa Fe Depot at 200 S. 10th Street, has an exhibit and collections related to the Corps of Discovery, a resin model of the famed statue found at Case Park in Kansas City and other people and items of local historical interest.

Explore More Online

"Scalp dance of the Moennitarris" by Karl Bodmer | Library of Congress (54C)
Artist Karl Bodmer
Library of Congress (54C)
Explorers at home can turn to "Discovering Lewis and Clark," a voluminous online resource detailing the captains, their journey and native nations. "Scalp dance of the Moennitarris" by Karl Bodmer shows a performance similar to ones Lewis and Clark witnessed and recorded in their journals.

Looking to learn more about the Corps of Discovery's expedition across America? Explorers at home can read about their travels with these great online resources.

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Pete Dulin is a Kansas City-based writer and author of four books, including Expedition of Thirst and Kansas City Beer: A History of Brewing in the Heartland.
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