Southwest Montana is proud to claim several of Montana’s State Parks. These parks are scattered across the region and feature a variety of historical significance. Throughout the year, we will be featuring each of these parks on our blog, in hopes of inspiring you to find a park of interest and dig a little deeper into the history of our area. We will start with two parks located just outside of Dillon, MT. These parks – Beaverhead Rock and Clark’s Lookout – were made famous by the Lewis and Clark Expedition of the early 1800s.
This point brought the Corps of Discovery hope on August 8, 1805. On this date, the expedition’s Shoshone guide, Sacagawea, observed a distinct rock formation. This formation was a sign that the expedition was nearing the home of her people. The home from which she had been kidnapped at an early age (near 12 years). The expedition realized this to be an opportunity to find aid – specifically horses – that would be used to cross the Continental Divide. Lewis wrote in his journal “The Indian woman recognized the point of a high plain to our right which she informed us was not very distant from the summer retreat of her nation on a river beyond the mountains which runs to the West.” With Sacagawea’s guidance, it was only a few short days later that they came upon the Shoshone.
This point, although first recognized for its significance in this expedition, became an icon of the western life in Montana. The trail past the rock was used by ranchers for the first cattle drives in the area and brought prospectors to settle in the area. Additionally, a stage coach stop existed near the formation as a midpoint between Bannack and Virginia City, operating between the 1860s and 1880s. The best view of the park can be accessed on a pullout on Highway 41, outside of Twin Bridges, but the park can also be accessed directly given the right conditions. The rock formation was given its name due to its resemblance of the head of a beaver. Although there are no amenities at this park, visitors can take in the scenic views and hike across the rock formation.
This point gained its significance only 5 days after the Corps of Discovery came upon Beaverhead Rock. Four individuals, including Lewis, split off from the expedition in search of the Shoshone people. Lewis and his companions took a route on land, while the rest of the expedition continued down the river. Clark’s Lookout is located one mile north of Dillon and can be accessed directly. At this point, Clark climbed up a rock formation to gain a better view of the area. At this outcropping, he viewed the region through a telescope and made several compass readings which were recorded in his journal and used to create maps of the area. This State Park is located above the Beaverhead River and features a variety of interpretive signs which explain the navigation methods used by the expedition. There is a short trail at the park that takes visitors to the spot on which the compass readings were made – this spot now features a marble monument. Visitors now stand on the same spot as Clark once did, able to survey the land and get a sense of the surrounding area and the terrain that the expedition would soon face.
The Lewis and Clark Expedition greatly impacted Montana’s history and laid the foundation for the western move of the country. Don’t miss two important sights on the Lewis and Clark trail.