Lolo Trail National Historic Landmark
On September 11, 1805, the Corps of Discovery began one of the most difficult and demanding legs of their voyage to the Pacific Ocean-the 120-mile trek across the Bitterroot Mountains on the Lolo Trail. The Lolo Trail is an ancient Indian route that follows the ridgetops parallel and to the north of Highway 12. This trail provided access to buffalo on the eastern plains for those on the Columbia Plateau, and led people living east of the mountains to salmon-rich waters in the west. During the Nez Perce War of 1877, Chief Joseph and nearly 750 Nez Perce fled General Howard's army along this trail to reach the Bitterroot Valley.
This corridor of interwoven trails was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1960. The routes followed by Lewis and Clark in 1805-1806 and by Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce in 1877 were further designated as National Historic Trails in 1978 and 1986 respectively.
Until US Highway 12 was completed in 1962, the east-west ridge the Lolo Trail followed through the Bitterroot Mountains was the only way to travel from the valleys of western Montana to the camas prairies of eastern Oregon and Washington. Traces of ancient Indian trail, old gold mining era pack trails, Forest Service fire lookout trails, and a 1930’s Civilian Conservation Corps road (The Lolo Motorway or 500 Road) all wind along this same ridgeline.
The Lolo Motorway is one way to access the route which provides breath-taking views in every direction, and allows modern explorers to escape the rush of daily life. One can imagine a time with no paved roads, but quiet trails winding their way through thick, lodgepole forests, open Ponderosa stands, and lush, green meadows. Along the motorway, you can hear the soft trickle of mountain streams, songs of mountain birds, and gaze in wonder at this vast, wild landscape.
In Idaho, is trail located along Forest Roads 100 and 500. Forest Road 500, known as The Lolo Motorway, is a primitive, winding road built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. Access to the Lolo Motorway in the Powell area is via FS Road 569 (Parachute Hill Road), and in the Wilderness Gateway area via FS Road 107 (Saddle Camp Road). Access to Forest Road 100 in the Kamiah area is at the junction of U.S. Highway 12 and the Kamiah bridge over the Clearwater River.
The Clearwater National Forest has further information on the trail. Parts of the trail are also located on the Lolo National Forest and information cal also be found on the web site.
Lochsa Ranger District, Clearwater National Forest
Route 1, Box 398 Kooskia, ID 83539
Powell Ranger District, Clearwater National Forest
c/o Lolo, MT 59847