Kids at Fort Clatsop: Lewis and Clark National Historical Park

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Oregon’s rich history is on display at Fort Clatsop National Park near Astoria. Fort Clatsop is where the famous explorers Lewis and Clark and their Corps of Discovery spent the miserable winter of 1805-1806. We’ve visited this park several times, and highly recommend it as a family activity!

Warren family in front of entrance sign for Fort Clatsop Lewis and Clark National Historical site.

**Note: the official name of Fort Clatsop National Park is actually The Lewis and Clark National Historical Park. There are multiple other sites that have the Lewis and Clark name! So we’ll usually refer to it in this post as Fort Clatsop National Park for simplicity.

How to get to Fort Clatsop

Our daughters walk past banners at Fort Clatsop NHS. The banners on the wall list each of the units connected to the Lewis and Clark National Historical Park (Fort Clatsop and Dismal Nitch are cut off at either end).
The banners on the wall list each of the units connected to the Lewis and Clark National Historical Park (Fort Clatsop and Dismal Nitch are cut off at either end).

Fort Clatsop (Lewis & Clark NHP) is a unit of the National Park Service that consists of several sites in Oregon and Washington. The main park is a two-hour drive from Portland, between Astoria and Seaside.

Fort Clatsop sign at the Visitor Center with our youngest son in front of it.

The Dismal Nitch and Middle Village sites are on the Washington side of the Columbia River (both about a 20-minute drive from Lewis and Clark NHP).

Warren family in front of the Welcome to Washington sign at Dismal Nitch. Sign is covered with bumper stickers.
This Washington State sign is right next to the Dismal Nitch site.

The historic significance of Fort Clatsop

The Corps of Discovery made United States history when they mapped routes of travel from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean. 

Meriwether Lewis and William Clark led the two-year expedition, accompanied by Sacagawea and other party members. This journey was no easy feat, and the Corps faced many challenges along the way. At the request of President Thomas Jefferson, the expedition members began in St. Louis and mapped the journey to the Pacific Coast and back.

Our oldest daughter with statue of Sacagawea with her baby Pompey on her back.
Rook and Sagcagawea and Pompey

The Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail is a collection of national parks, state parks, and historic sites which follow the footsteps of the explorers from Pennsylvania to the Pacific (as well as other significant events in their lives). Fort Clatsop was the site of the explorers’ winter encampment. 

What to see at Fort Clatsop National Park 

Visitor Center

The Fort Clatsop unit of the Lewis and Clark NHP has several notable features. The Fort Clatsop Visitor Center offers ranger-led programs, as well as audio-visual presentations. We started with the introductory movie in the theater that explains the history and significance of Fort Clatsop to the Corps of Discovery through the eyes of the indigenous Clatsop people.

Our son watching the introductory film. Scene shown is a pot being stirred.

Our kids loved exploring the exhibit hall which includes artifacts from the expedition and interpretive activities. One display allows you to flip through pressed plants that grow in the area, while another display offers models of animal footprints to trace and identify.

Wooden crate with framed pressed plants and labeled "The Plants of Fort Clatsop".

Our boys particularly enjoyed watching a short film that showed how to load and fire a musket. Seeing that process really made it clear how difficult hunting could be in the early 1800s.

Brian and our boys watch a video of a man preparing a musket to fire.

Junior Ranger program

We recommend stopping at the Fort Clatsop Visitor Center first if you plan to visit several of the local Lewis and Clark sites. Not only is it the best place to get visitor information, but you can also pick up Junior Ranger booklets for your kids.

Our two daughters working on their Junior Ranger booklets at Fort Clatsop.

To earn the Junior Ranger badge for this park, you will need to visit several of the other sites and units nearby. The number of sites and activities your child needs to complete is based on their age.

Junior Ranger booklet page for Lewis and Clark National Historical Park.
Here’s the list of possible sites to visit to earn the Junior Ranger Badge.

The Fort Clatsop Visitor Center has National Parks and Junior Ranger stamps for several of these other nearby units. It’s a great spot to start AND finish your tour of the Lewis and Clark National Historical Park.

Stamping station at the Fort Clatsop Visitor Center with several stamps for the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail units. Units listed above stamps include the Saltworks, Middle Village, Fort Clatsop and Junior ranger.

The gift shop offers a variety of items, including books, maps, and souvenirs. The selection is great, and both kids and adults will easily find something to interest them, so definitely plan to spend a bit of time exploring!

Fort Clatsop Replica

Our son walking away from the Fort Clatsop replica
Our son walking away from the Fort Clatsop replica.

It’s a short walk from the Visitor Center to the focus of the park, the full-scale replica of Fort Clatsop. Along the way, your kids can look for native plants of the coastal forests to check off in their Junior Ranger book.  

Learning about native plants of the Pacific Northwest at Fort Clatsop National Park.

As you walk in through the palisades you’ll see inside the reconstruction of the fort. Park rangers give interpretive talks and demonstrations, which often involve volunteers in historic costumes during special events. Note: we’ve seen more demonstrations when school groups are present.

Our daughter inside the Fort Clatsop replica looking up at the flag.
Inside the central courtyard of the fort replica

We felt sorry for the 33 members of the Lewis and Clark Expedition when we saw how small the fort was. We’ve visited the Oregon Coast several times during the rainy winter season, and couldn’t imagine that many people being stuck in those buildings together all that time!

Our son exploring inside one of the wooden log cabin rooms at the Fort.
Our son exploring inside one of the wooden log cabin rooms at the Fort.

Netul River Trail

From the fort replica, you can walk through the forest down to the Netul River Trail. It’s a little over a mile to the Netul Landing Site picnic area along the river path. Our kids enjoyed the walk even on a damp day.

@dinkumtribe Fort Clatsop is one of our favorite places to visit on the Lewis and Clark Trail of National Historic sites. The walk from the reconstructed fort to the canoe landing on the Netul River is beautiful and showcases several different biomes along the way. #lewisandclark #traveltok #nationalhistoricsite #npsoftiktok #nationalparksusa #nationalparkservice #traveloregon #hikingwithkids @DinkumTribe ADHD family travel @DinkumTribe ADHD family travel @DinkumTribe ADHD family travel ♬ Acoustic Folk Instrumental – Yunusta

Alternatively, you can drive directly to the Netul Landing site from the Visitor’s Center— the parking lot is right off Fort Clatsop Road. The fee is included with your park entrance fee.

The Netul Landing site includes a small parking lot, picnic tables, and a short trail that leads down to the river. A covered interpretive pavilion explains the significance of the site.

Interpretive pavilion at Netul Landing, Fort Clatsop National Park., Oregon.
Interpretive pavilion at Netul landing

Note that there are two parking areas that also have picnic areas at the Netul Landing site. If you’re driving from the Fort, the first parking area has the covered interpretive pavilion. From there you can walk along the river path to another parking area with a picnic pavilion and the canoe replicas.

Kayaking and Hiking (Fort to Sea)

Replica Canoes stand on the riverbank at Netul landing, our boys are in the background looking at the river.
Netul Landing with canoe replicas

A canoe and kayak launch on the riverbank commemorates the Corps of Discovery’s historic canoe landing in early December 1805. Launch your kayak or canoe from here, or enjoy a ranger-led kayak tour in the summertime.

Map sign showing the Fort to Sea trail

The Fort to Sea trail follows the path the Expedition took from Fort Clatsop to Sunset Beach. It’s over 6 miles one way, with varying terrain and few amenities along the way. If you have seasoned hikers in your family, it would make a great day hike.

Section of coastal trail near Sunset Beach and the end of the Fort To Sea Trail. Shows a dirt path with coastal grasses and some pine trees.

Nearby Natural Features

The mouth of the Columbia River is located just downstream from the Netul Landing Site. This area is home to a variety of wetlands and is a critical habitat for many species of birds. There are multiple habitats, including freshwater marshes, forested wetlands, and coastal estuaries.

Jenn and kids walking through the forest near Fort Clatsop.

The Lewis and Clark National Historical Park is open year-round. The best (and busiest) time to visit is during the summer months. However, you can still enjoy Fort Clatsop national park in the rainy fall, winter, or spring (that’s when our family has always visited).

Check the website for current park hours and upcoming events.

Other Lewis and Clark sites near Fort Clatsop National Park

Salt Works (Seaside)

Lewis and Clark Salt works, Seaside, Oregon.

The Salt Works area of the Lewis and Clark National Historic Park is a great place to learn about the expedition’s work in creating salt. This was an important part of their food preservation for survival on later parts of the trip when they were unable to hunt or fish. 

Salt work interpretive sign in Seaside, Oregon. Part of the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail.

It’s in a small neighborhood in downtown Seaside, and there’s not much to see at the Salt Cairn (and no amenities whatsoever).

Neighborhood where the Salt Works are located in Seaside.

If you walk a few blocks over to the Seaside Promenade and follow it to the central roundabout, there’s a beautiful replica of the explorers catching their first view of the Pacific.

Lewis and Clark statue in the Seaside roundabout. Only Lewis is visible, with his dog Seaman at his feet, and Tillamook head is in the background at a distance.
Lewis and Clark statue in the Seaside roundabout.

Seaside’s many other nearby attractions make it a worthwhile stop. Seaside also features a local history museum that is part of the Lewis & Clark Trail.

Ecola State Park

Continue your drive south (towards Cannon Beach) to check out the beautiful views of Ecola State Park.

Ocean view from Ecola State Park.

At Ecola, the Corps of Discovery found a whale corpse that provided them with much-needed food and blubber (used for oil).

Oregon History Ecola sign explains why the park is named Ecola (whale) because Lewis and Clark heard about a whale on the beach that the Native Americans were harvesting blubber from.

Today you can often see whales from the high cliff top or have a picnic lunch.

@dinkumtribe We’ve been visiting Ecola State Park for over 20 years, and while the trails and facilities have changed over the years, the views are still incredible! If you visit, be sure to pay attention to the trail signs and “off-limits” areas- there is significant erosion and trail damage happening, so cliffs may not be as stable as they look. #traveloregon #familytravel #oregonstateparks #leavenothingbutfootprints #oregoncoast #traveltok @DinkumTribe ADHD family travel @DinkumTribe ADHD family travel @DinkumTribe ADHD family travel ♬ Countryside – Andrew Joy

Units north of Fort Clatsop (Washington)

If you drive north from Fort Clatsop, you’ll cross the Columbia River estuary into Astoria. Take the Astoria-Megler bridge across the state line into Washington to visit other sites connected to the Corps of Discovery.

@dinkumtribe Crossing the Astoria-Megler Bridge is always fun, but especially when it’s such a gorgeous day! @DinkumTribe ADHD family travel @DinkumTribe ADHD family travel @DinkumTribe ADHD family travel #astoriaoregon #astoriabridge #oregoncoast #columbiariver #traveloregon #oregontravelguide ♬ original sound – DinkumTribe ADHD family travel

A short drive away is two smaller historic sites, Dismal Nitch and Middle Village.

Dismal Nitch (WA)

Dismal Nitch tells the story of a challenging incident on the Lewis and Clark Expedition. It’s right next to a Washington State rest stop on the highway, which provides restrooms and picnic tables for vistors.

Sign showing the Dismal Nitch Safety Rest Area information.

This is a perfect spot to get some beautiful views of the Columbia River, if you can manage the wind!

our boys look at the interpretive signs next to the Columbia River at the Dismal Nitch unit.
Our boys were COLD from the wind chill on this sunny day!

The interpretive signs and short trail explain how the Corps of Discovery found themselves trapped near the coast in the midst of a sudden winter storm. For six days they shivered through the rain and wind, and were shocked (and saved from starving) when a local Native tribe arrived in boats with fish to sell.

Our kids climbing among rocks near Dismal Nitch on a sunny day.

This is a great spot to let kids clamber over rocks and explore safely if the weather is nice. We were impressed with the beautiful bronze sculpture at the trails’ end as well.

Our son stands in front of a bronze sculpture on concrete wall showing the arrival of the Native tribes in boats and the Lewis and Clark expedition receiving them at Dismal Nitch.

Middle Village / Station Camp (WA)

Entry sign for Middle Village / Station Camp Park with chapel and canoes in background.

Middle Village (previously known to historians as Station Camp) contains rich archaeological evidence of a Chinook village. The same spot was later used as a campsite for the Lewis and Clark Expedition after the Chinook had moved to a different location. 

Our daughter looks to sea while standing in the prow of a canoe replica. The middle Village sign and an interpretive trail sign are in the background.

The Middle Village Park has an interpretive walk with signs and some interactive activities at each stop. It tells the story of the Native Chinook who lived at Middle Village, and also about their interactions with the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

Three of our kids climbing around on the canoes.

Our kids loved climbing over the replica canoes and pretending to be pirates or adventurers. At another spot, there are viewfinders to help you identify the various land features that are visible across the Columbia River.

Our son looking into a viewfinder.
Our son uses the viewfinder to see mountains and headlands.

There’s a beautifully preserved historic church near the canoes as well, from some of the area’s early settlers. We spent about an hour exploring the site with our children, but moved on quickly because there are no amenities available.

Cape Disappointment State Park (WA)

Cape Disappointment State Park (formerly called Fort Canby State Park) is about 30 minutes from Astoria in Washington. Lewis and Clark’s expedition arrived in the area in November 1805. The Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center has even more exhibits to expand your learning about the Corps of Discovery.

A memorable experience

Girl holding Junior Park Ranger Badge from Lewis and Clark National Historic Park.

Fort Clatsop National Park and its other connected sites have so much to offer families! Earning the Junior Ranger badge was a highlight for my daughter when we visited Seaside on our mother-daughter trip.

The other kids got to earn their badges this time, which was especially fun since they saw the Westward Expansion Museum in St. Louis a few summers back. Gotta love connecting the dots as part of our homeschool history learning!

Our youngest son shows off his junior ranger badge and his patch.

If you’re looking for a unique and educational experience, be sure to check out Fort Clatsop National Park. You won’t be disappointed!

© Copyright Jennifer D. Warren 2022. Updated and expanded: April 7, 2024.

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About the author

I’m Jenn Warren, Co-Founder and Content Creator for Dinkum Tribe. I'm a Third Culture Kid (TCK) from Jamaica and California, married to my college sweetheart. I've been a missionary kid, pastor’s kid and (former) pastor’s wife. My husband and I traveled as pastors for 12 years throughout the United States and Canada before becoming travel content creators.

I love living in Oregon and exploring new places with my family. We’ve road tripped over 30,000 miles across the United States and Western Canada with our six children since their infancy. Prior to our marriage, I also lived in Spain for a summer and spent another summer in Mexico.

I’ve homeschooled our six children for over 10 years, and served on the board of a homeschool co-op for 4 years. Several members of our family are neurodivergent (gifted, ADHD, cPTSD), and I’ve spent 5+ years learning how to accommodate neurodivergent needs as well as supporting the resultant mental health challenges (anxiety, depression).

I’ve also served as a support group leader and co-director of Pure Life Alliance, a nonprofit organization that supports families struggling with sexual addiction.

I write about family travel and road trips, millennial marriage, general parenting, homeschooling, parenting neurodivergent children, grief, and abuse recovery.


  1. I love finding historic sites to explore when we are on road trips. It is so interesting to see how life was so many many years ago. This seems like a great park to both learn and explore.

  2. Would love to be back in Oregon, they have so much nature and national parks to discover and explore. Great photos you have here.

  3. This would be so much fun to visit. I loved watching Ken Burnes’ documentary on Lewis and Clark, and it would be amazing to see the locations where they and Sacagawea stayed at. Definitely putting this park on my bucket list.

    1. There’s so many Lewis and Clark sites in this area of Oregon and Washington!

  4. This is a national park I hadn’t heard of but it’s one that seems like I could easily get here on the west coast. Looks lovely, and I’d like the historic trail and fort. Kayaking sounds like it would be a fun thing to do here too

  5. Oregon looks so beautiful, and Fort Clatsop National Park is no exception! I’ve actually never heard of this national park before so I’d really love to explore. Canoeing or kayaking sounds like so much fun! Thanks for sharing 🙂

  6. Fort Clatsop National Park looks like great fun for the whole family. I’ve never heard of it, but it is worth saving if I am ever in that area, so thanks for sharing your experience.

  7. So Fun! Even though we have been to Ecola and Cannon Beach several times, we’ve never stopped at Fort Clatsop. l love the replica forts, we will definitely have to check this out next time.

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