Filed under: Family Day Trips, Historic Places & Landmarks, Nature & Wildlife, The Road Less Traveled
In the Footsteps of Lewis & Clark: the Headwaters of the Missouri River–Part 1
A few years back we took a road trip to Montana. Along the way we encountered hot springs, geysers, fumaroles, bison, elk, both living and true ghost towns and a great deal of history. Little did we know, even more adventure awaited. Further along our adventure in Montana, while awaiting the opening of the West Yellowstone entrance to Yellowstone Park, we chanced to travel to the small town of Three Forks, Montana to investigate what it had to offer. Expecting another sleepy little town, much to our surprise we experienced a lesson in history in the process.
The town was so named as it is located at the confluence of the Jefferson, Madison and Gallatin Rivers which combine to form the Missouri River to create the longest river in the United States. The confluence was discovered by Lewis and Clark in July, 1805, who named the rivers after the President of the United States and the Secretaries of the Treasury and State, having previously named rivers after the Secretaries of War and the Navy. This was decided only after they agreed that it was inappropriate to name either of them the Missouri, after the large river they combined to create, none being significantly larger than the others.
The southwest fork, which ascended to join the others, was named in honor of Thomas Jefferson; the middle fork was named after James Madison and the southeast fork was named after Albert Gallatin. The Madison and Jefferson are 90 yards wide and the Gallatin is a bit smaller, only measuring 70 years in width, but all are substantial bodies of water.
It was, indeed, quite an amazing site, seeing these three large rivers come together to form an even larger one, the mighty Missouri. Even the kids were impressed, though when we initially arrived, they appreciated neither the significance nor the history of where we were standing. Missouri Headwaters State Park marks the official start of the Missouri River and includes the Three Forks of the Missouri National Historic Landmark.
Read more about Montana camping and things to do in Montana.