The Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center in Great Falls, MT is a fabulous destination for all ages. Our family has always been fascinated with the L&C Expedition, and this center is a fabulous overview of their trip to explore the northwest and to try to find a water passage to the Pacific ocean.
This 25,000 sq. ft. educational museum is located on the Yellowstone River on the outskirts of the city, and between the falls that the expedition portaged around.
Even though the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center is managed by the National Forest Service, they work hand in hand to offer visitor’s an NPS Jr. Ranger experience. At the information desk, located to the right after entering the museum, you can ask for a Jr. Ranger book. The kids earn a patch here for completing their work.
The discovery center is full of well-done and informative exhibits. Upstairs (entrance) you will find the information desk, a gift shop, some exhibits, and the upper entrance to the theater (schedule for films is posted on the information desk counter as well as on both entrances to the theater).
The museum part of the center is located downstairs. One of the things that we appreciated most about the way that the museum is set up is that it is in chronological order. Displays even explain the events, planning, and preparation that led up to the expedition.
The Jr. Ranger program is age appropriate so the younger kids can do it on their own (our kids loved it because ‘it’s easy’ 😉 ). Molly, just turned 6, had not previously completed the program (Caleb has not either, but we require that the kids do them mostly without help, and he’s not big enough), so she did the 5 to 8 year old Jr. Ranger book with no help other than a little reading assistance.
The center offers several areas, spread throughout ‘the expedition’, that have great hands-on activities…
like seeing if you would have been able to pull one of the pirogues upriver, against the current, and how quickly.
Even the big boys had to try that one!
We learned about some of the items that Lewis and Clark made ready for the expedition – including which were valuable on the journey and which ones flopped, and why.
The exhibits are interesting and informative.
The different Indian tribes that Lewis & Clark met along the expedition are represented throughout the journey, and the exhibits explain many of the differences between the tribes, including languages, lifestyles, and home construction.
The little girls loved trying on this cradleboard, complete with baby…
(I’ll keep my Ergo, thanks 😉 )
One exhibit that we all found fascinating was a recreation of part of a conversation showing the efforts it took for Meriwether Lewis to speak to Sacagawea’s brother Cameahwait, chief of the Shoshone. It took 3 others, besides Lewis and Cameahwait for the conversation to be translated between the two.
We have been to the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center several times before, and will return again. It is a great daytrip/field trip, and each time we learn a little bit more about the expedition! We find it fascinating to try to imagine this area as it was when Lewis & Clark traversed it.
The Interpretive Center overlooks the Yellowstone River, and several bike and walking paths can be accessed from it. There is ample big rig parking and the center is easily accessed via main roads.
Tips for a fabulous visit:
*The Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center does charge an entrance fee of $8/person for those 16 and older. Even though the center is maintained by the National Forest Service, they do offer free admission for those who hold a NPS America the Beautiful pass, including the Inter-agency pass, Senior Pass, Access Pass, or Military Pass!
*As soon as you enter the center, stop at the information counter and pick up a Jr. Explorer book. There are 2 different workbooks; one for ages 5-8, and another for 9-12. While the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center is not a National Park Service location, they do work with the NPS to offer a Jr. Ranger program and patch.
*Also, while at the information counter, ask about the free audio tour. There is no charge for the loan of the players, but you will need to ask for them. At many of the exhibits, you will see 2 numbered decals on the wall (as in the top left of this Lolo Trail exhibit). Type in the number on the blue image, and you will get a generic overview of the happenings at this location; type in the number on the red image, and you will get a longer and more detailed version of the events surrounding L&C’s time here.
*Take in one of the center’s two films before touring the downstairs museum. The 158 seat theater features 2 alternating shows,shown on the hour, each day; one covers the explorer’s journey through Indian country, and the other shows the problems that the explorers faced trying to portage around the falls. Between the films the rangers offer a 15 minute interpretive talk.
*There are no restaurants within easy walking distance of the center, so if you are planning on spending the day, consider packing a picnic lunch and driving or walking the short distance to the Giant Springs State Park and Fish Hatchery for an outdoor lunch.
*You will want to set aside at least 2 or 3 hours for your visit.
The Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail Interpretive Center is a great stop for anyone that is interested in the local area, and/or history.