The time – 215 years ago – when the Lewis & Clark Expedition was at the location we now call Tower Rock State Park.
This easily accessible and incredibly scenic location was where Meriwether Lewis climbed to the top of this volcanic rock, looked back and noted in his journal that he saw a “most pleasing view of the country they were about to leave”. If he had any idea of what arduous terrain they would face as they proceeded on, I wonder if he would have reconsidered.
The expedition had traveled upriver, no small feat, but they had been able to shoot plenty of game for food. They were able to winter with the Mandan Indians in present-day North Dakota. They had portaged five waterfalls near present-day Great Falls. None of those challenges were easy but now, they were about to begin the most perilous part of their journey – crossing the Rocky Mountains.
Tower Rock is thirty miles from the Continental Divide. Crossing that with good hiking shoes and made-
for-hiking gear is still a challenge. From journal entries, it seemed that Captain Lewis felt they would cross one mountain ridge and then be on their way with landscapes similar to what they had been traversing. Not so. Mountains, there were miles of them, and after a couple of autumn months, winter would set in.
I’m not going to repeat the Lewis & Clark story except to say you can learn a lot about the significance of Tower Rock and this area. Hike up to the top of the rock and you’ll be at the same vantage point where Meriwether Lewis stood and gazed back to the rolling plain.
Tower Rock was designated a state park in 2005. There are interpretive panels and a kiosk adjacent to the parking area, also an outdoor rest room. A hiking trail leads you up this massive volcanic rock.
To get to Tower Rock State Park from I-15, take the exit for the Hardy Recreation Area, follow the paved
road and be ready for a quick left turn. There is also a community refuse station there, but drive past it and you see the kiosk and interpretive panels. Tower Rock State Park is day use only.
There are some services nearby, also several campgrounds if you follow the Recreation Road. This route ranks high on the list of scenic drives as it hugs the Missouri River which cuts through this gorgeous and rugged canyon.
Great Falls is home to the Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail Interpretive Center where you can learn much more about the expedition. Travel about 35 miles north of Tower Rock on I-15 to reach Great Falls. The town of Cascade is about 10 miles north of Tower Rock. Both are full service communities.