If you’re looking for a summer adventure not far from home, the Northwest has thousands of acres to explore and quiet and scenic highways and backroads to get you there.Highway 12 from Lewiston to Lolo, Mont., is familiar territory to many in our region. For a stunning drive full of history, from Lolo head south on U.S. Highway 93 to Salmon, Idaho.
Trip: Lewiston to Salmon, Idaho.
Distance: 355 miles.
Time: 6 hours, 21 minutes.
U.S. 93 runs alongside the Bitterroot and Sapphire mountains. It also follows the Nez Perce Trail and the Lewis and Clark Trial. Historical markers dot the route. Campsites, like Indian Trees Campground, provide access to trails for hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding.
The highway enters a deep canyon where pronghorn sheep are a common sight. Lost Trail Pass, 7,014 feet, offers views of distant peaks. Lewis and Clark gave it its name 1805 as they struggled to find their way north.
At the pass you can take a side trip east on Highway 43 to the solemn Big Hole National Battlefield, a historic site and a memorial to those who died there Aug. 9, 1877. The battle was part of a five-month conflict in which the U.S. army pursued roughly 750 Nez Perce men, women and children fleeing for Canada. The landscape remains largely intact, and there’s a visitor’s center.
From the battlefield it’s about an hour’s drive to Salmon, the ancestral home of Sacajawea. In the 1860s, Salmon became a hub for miners when gold was discovered in the area. Today’s population is a mix of ranchers, loggers and river runners who come for white water adventure on the Main and Middle Fork of the Salmon River, the River of No Return. The story of Sacajawea and her people, the Agaidika Shoshone, is told at the Sacajawea Interpretive Cultural and Educational Center, a 71-acre park with a small museum. The Agaidika, which means salmon eaters, were named the Lemhi by Mormon missionaries in 1855. After a series of treaty disputes, federal troops marched the tribe to a desert reservation in Fort Hall, Idaho, in 1907.
From Salmon, the road forks. One can go deeper into central Idaho to explore Stanley or the tony Sun Valley or head south on Idaho State Highway 28 and experience vast, lonely sagebrush flats where abandoned homesteads and ghost towns like Gilmore still stand as a testament to abandoned dreams and a not-so-distant past.