Northwest Discovery Trail Recognition

Water trail wins new recognition

Stretch of rivers from Orofino to Bonneville has been designated as NW Discovery Water Trail


For millions of years the Clearwater, Snake and Columbia rivers have pushed relentlessly westward to the Pacific Ocean.

For thousands of years Indian tribes have used the waterway for fishing, commerce and travel. Two-hundred years ago Lewis and Clark followed the rivers to their end and today hundreds of thousands of people fish, boat and ski on the ancient waterway.

Now the old route is getting official recognition as a recreational destination. A 367-mile stretch of the rivers beginning at Canoe Camp at Orofino and culminating at Bonneville Dam has been designated the Northwest Discovery Water Trail.

“The water trail is an opportunity to designate something that is already here,” said Craig Rockwell of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at Clarkston. “It isn’t really building a new trail. It’s a matter of looking at the Clearwater, Snake and Columbia rivers and recognizing we already have recreational facilities on these rivers.”

The state, local and federal entities that help manage the recreation are cooperating to package information on all the recreational facilities so it is easier for users to access. Soon the trail will be signed with markers and all of the recreational facilities from boat ramps to campgrounds will be compiled in a trail guide. The guide will include other attractions such as museums along the river.

“These places do exist already so we are trying to inventory and package them so people can access that more easily,” said Sarah Krueger, water trails coordinator for the Washington Water Trails Association at Seattle.

Partners in the venture include the corps, state parks in Washington and Idaho, the Clearwater Management Council — a five county group that manages river access on the Clearwater River — the Nez Perce Tribe and the Bureau of Land Management.

On Oct. 10, the portion of the trail that runs along the Clearwater and Snake rivers will be dedicated as part of the Lewis and Clark bicentennial events at Clarkston. The 367-mile trail overlaps the route traveled by the explorers. It also connects with the Lower Columbia Water Trail that starts at Bonneville Dam and heads westward following the Columbia River to Cape Disappointment. Combined the two water trails cover more than 474 miles of navigable water.

The packaging of information and administration of the trail designation is being funded through grants and many of the partners, such as the corps, have pitched in. The trail guide is being printed and a Web site,, has been developed.

Krueger doesn’t expect many people will travel the full length of the trail, but the information is designed to allow people to access short sections.

“The information will be available so people can plan everything from a day trip to a weekend journey,” she said.

Brochures and guides will include safety tips like warning people the Clearwater section of the trail runs cold and swift during the summer time. It also will provide information about passing through the locks at the eight dams on the Snake and Columbia rivers.