Missouri Headwaters State Park

“…we saw a large brown bear on an island…Charbono gave out, one of his ankles failed him and he was unable to proceede any further”.

July 25, 1805 Meriwether Lewis

The Lewis and Clark Expedition arrived to the Headwaters on July 25, 1805 and was encouraged by Sacajawea’s recognition of the area where she had been kidnapped by the Hidatsa five years earlier. The Corps camped at the headwaters of the Missouri River where captains Lewis and Clark named the three river forks. These rivers were named the Jefferson (after the President) the Madison (after the Secretary of State) and the Gallatin (after the Secretary of Treasury).

On July 28, 1805 Lewis writes in his journal:

“…we called the S.W. fork, that which we meant to ascend, Jefferson’s River in honor of that illustrious personage Thomas Jefferson. [the author of our enterprize.] the Middle fork we called Madison’s River in honor of James Madison, and the S.E. Fork we called Gallitin’s River in honor of Albert Gallitin.…the beds of all these streams are formed of smooth pebble and gravel, and their waters perfectly transparent; in short they are three noble streams”.

A natural crossroads, the Three Forks was a meeting place for Indian hunting parties and early fur trappers. Five years previous to the Expedition, the Minatari had captured Sacajawea near the area. Several Expedition members returned to the Three Forks a few years later where John Potts and George Drouillard were killed in separate incidents with the Blackfeet and a naked John Colter made the famous five-mile run for his life.

By 1822 the Three Forks was trapped out. Several settlements established in the 1860s failed to thrive, but the coming of the railroad brought permanent residents to the area with the founding of the town of Three Forks in 1908.

Today, as well as its historical fascination, the park offers a wide variety of activities, including hiking, biking, camping and picnicking among the 22 primitive campsites and 560 acres. Visitors can venture into Yellowstone Country and explore the park by using its walking trails which are enhanced by interpretive displays describing the vistas.

The waters are good for paddling and power boating. Many canoeists recreating the journey of Lewis and Clark come through the park. Rainbow and brown trout lure anglers. Hunting for deer and game birds is permitted in season.

Related Links

Montana Lewis and Clark

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks