On November 7, 1805, after a journey of nearly 19 months and 4,000 miles, the Lewis and Clark expedition thought they had at last reached their destination, the Pacific Ocean. “Ocian in View! O! the joy,” wrote William Clark in his journal. Alas, they were close, but from the Washington  side of the Columbia River they had mistaken its broad mouth for the sea itself.
Hindered by waves and foul weather, it would take nearly another week before they actually beheld the Pacific. They explored farther west, to Cape Disappointment , and spent 10 uncomfortable days exposed to the elements on the north shore of the Columbia, then decided to move south for a more suitable location to pass the coming winter.
They chose a thickly forested rise alongside the Netul River (now the Lewis and Clark River), a few miles south of present-day Astoria , for their campsite. There, the Corps of Discovery  quickly set about felling trees and building two parallel rows of cabins, joined by a gated palisade. The finished compound measured about 50 feet on each side. The party of 33 people, including one African American, a Native American woman, and her baby, moved into the seven small rooms on Christmas Eve and named their stockade Fort Clatsop for the nearby Indian people.
The winter of 1805–1806 was one of the worst on record—cold, wet, rainy, and generally miserable. Of the 106 days spent at the site, it rained on all but 12. The January 18, 1806, journal entry of expedition member Private Joseph Whitehouse was typical of the comments recorded during the stay: “It rained hard all last night, & still continued the same this morning. It continued Raining during the whole of this day.”
While at Fort Clatsop, the men stored up meat and other supplies, sewed moccasins and new garments, and traded with local tribes, all the while coping with the constant damp, illness and injuries, and merciless plagues of fleas. As soon as the weather permitted, on March 23, 1806, they finally departed on their homeward journey to St. Louis .
Within a few years the elements had erased all traces of Fort Clatsop, and its exact location was lost. In 1955, local history buffs took their best guess and built a replica of the fort, based on the notes and sketches of Captain Clark. In 1999 an anthropologist discovered a 148-year-old map identifying the location of Lewis and Clark’s winter encampment, and as it turns out the reproduction is sited very close to the original.
In 2005, this replica of Fort Clatsop burned, and a new replica, built mostly by volunteers using period tools, was reopened in 2006. This new Fort Clatsop is more authentic than the previous replica to the actual fort that housed the intrepid Corps of Discovery .
Today, in addition to the log replica of the fort, a well-equipped visitors center, a museum, and other attractions make Fort Clatsop National Memorial a must-stop for anyone interested in this pivotal chapter of American history. The expedition’s story is nicely narrated here with displays, artifacts, slides, and films, but the summertime “living history” reenactments are the main reason to come.
Paths lead through the grove of old-growth Sitka spruce, with interpretive placards identifying native plants. A short walk from the fort leads to the riverside, where dugout canoes are modeled on those used by the corps while in this area. In addition, the 6.5-mile Fort to Sea Trail  follows the general route blazed by Captain Clark from the fort through dunes and fields to the Pacific at Sunset Beach. The Corps used the trail to explore the coastline and while camping at the beach when extracting salt from seawater.
The winter of 1805–1806 put a premium on wilderness survival skills, some of which are exhibited here by rangers in costume. You can see the tanning of hides, making of buckskin clothing and moccasins, and the molding of tallow candles and lead bullets. In addition, visitors may occasionally participate in the construction of a dugout canoe or try their luck at starting a fire by striking flint on steel. For a taste of what Lewis and Clark and their party experienced here, a visit on a cold, wet, wintry day, when every branch and leaf is dripping with rain, is an opportunity to better appreciate their fortitude.
The 1,500-acre Fort Clatsop National Memorial sits six miles southwest of Astoria  and three miles east of U.S. 101 on the Lewis and Clark River. To get there from Astoria, take Marine Drive and head west across Young’s Bay to Warrenton. On the other side of the bay look for signs for the Fort Clatsop turnoff; turn left off the Coast Highway about a mile after the bridge and follow the signs to Fort Clatsop (92343 Fort Clatsop Rd., 503/861-2471, www.nps.gov/lewi , 9 a.m.–6 p.m. daily mid-June–Labor Day, 9 a.m.–5 p.m. daily after Labor Day–mid-June, $3 adults, under 16 free).