Travelers’ Rest State Park is most well-known for its significance to the much-celebrated Lewis and Clark Expedition of 1803-1806, and indeed, it represents the only archaeologically verified Lewis and Clark campsite along the entire 8,000 plus miles of trail traveled by the expedition.
Less well-known is the fact that the site that is now Travelers’ Rest State Park has long been used by Native peoples, notably the Salish, whose ancestral homeland comprises the Bitterroot Valley and whose oral tradition includes a creation story about this place that they call Tmsml’i - “No Salmon”.
Historical Time Period:
10,000 B.C. - 1806
Travelers' Rest lies at an ancient crossroads of commerce and travel, near the modern intersection of two highways in the growing community of Lolo, Montana.
In 1960, the National Park Service created a National Historic Landmark (NHL) for Travelers’ Rest because of its importance to the success of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Several years later the Park Service established boundaries for the NHL around the confluence of Lolo Creek and the Bitterroot River.
Beginning in the late 1980’s, some Lewis and Clark scholars began to question if the area established was actually the historic site. Research conducted by Dr. Robert Bergantino and Daniel S. Hall in the late 1990’s indicated that a more likely location was upstream on Lolo Creek about 1 ½ miles from its’ confluence with the Bitterroot.
The focus of their efforts was a 15 acre parcel owned by Pat and Ernest Deschamps, who had run a small dairy farm there since the 1960’s. The discovery of a tombac button on an adjacent property fueled speculation that the site could be identified. The button was manufactured in the 18th century and was the type used on military uniforms of the time.
Due to rapid residential growth in the area, the National Trust for Historic Preservation listed Travelers’ Rest as on of “America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places” in 1999. In spring 2001, The Conservation Fund arranged for the purchase of the 15-acre parcel and its subsequent donation to the State of Montana, making the property part of the Montana State Park system.
Unique historical and archeological research by Mr. Hall and his team from Western Cultural, Inc. in 2002 validated and verified that the Travelers’ Rest site had been preserved. Working with the Association, the National Trust and Missoula County, Mr. Hall petitioned the National Park Service to review his work and consider moving the boundaries of the NHL to the current Travelers’ Rest State Park.
In March, 2006, after a lengthy review by the National Park Service and its’ advisory committees, the Secretary of Interior approved the move, making Travelers’ Rest the only Lewis and Clark campsite in the country where verified physical evidence has been discovered. Despite the designation, all of the funding and management of the site still rests with the non-profit Travelers’ Rest Preservation and Heritage Association.
In summer 2002, the state purchased an additional 10 acres on the north side of Lolo Creek and incorporated those into Travelers' Rest State Park. An adjacent 10-acre parcel was donated as a conservation easement for park trails. Additional purchases by the state and the Association have brought the size of Travelers’ Rest to 51 acres. In 2005, a new entrance and visitor area was opened with access from U.S. Highway 12.
The Association focuses most of its energy and resources on providing unique, intimate perspective about the history of this place that has been so important to so many for so long. In addition to ongoing programs, we offer personal interpretation and an education program that brings together the history of early American explorers, the Native American people who prospered here for centuries, and the natural history that shaped all of their worlds.
Click here to learn about events and programs.