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On May 14, 1804, Meriwether Lewis, William Clark, and their Corps of Northwest Discovery Volunteers left St. Charles, Missouri, and headed up the Missouri River. The westward expedition included soldiers, a French-Indian interpreter, a boat crew and york, a black enslaved by Clark.
The explorers landed on June 26, 1804, and camped for three days at Kaw Point, at the confluence of the Kansas and Missouri rivers.
Lewis and Clark followed a river route in this region traveled by French trappers, traders and explorers Etienne de Veniard, Sieur de Bourgmont 80 years earlier. However, Lewis and Clark’s expedition served its own purpose under President Thomas Jefferson’s commission: to explore the lands west of the Mississippi River that included the Louisiana Purchase.
The expedition party traversed cliffs, plains, and waterways in and around present-day Kansas City. Throughout their travels, Lewis and Clark were the first to officially record signs of the Kaw Nation, Osage Nation, and other tribes that once lived in the area.
Lewis and Clark journals contain observations of the landscape, river features, artifacts, a flock of Carolina parakeets, or “Parrot Queets,” and other native flora and fauna. They continued their multi-year expedition for 8,000 miles.
The Corps of Discovery expedition preceded the frontier development of what would become Kansas City – they certainly wouldn’t recognize the city today. Today’s explorers can form their own expedition and rediscover the history of the expedition by visiting historical landmarks, lookouts, parks and more.
At Kaw Point, where the Missouri and Kansas rivers meet, modern explorers can find Lewis and Clark Park: the site of the encampment of the Corps of Discovery. A 10-acre wooded park along the banks at the confluence houses a memorial to the Native American tribes of the area.
The park also includes an education pavilion, a small amphitheater, and limestone seating blocks engraved with the names of Corps members. Take a seat and take in a spectacular view of downtown Kansas City, Missouri.
Waterfront Heritage Trail
from Kansas City Waterfront Heritage Trail is dotted with several historical markers and statues to commemorate the heritage of Lewis and Clark’s journey along the way. Cyclists, joggers and hikers can also travel from Kaw Point to numerous stops along sections of the trail.
Access points include Berkley Riverfront Park, City Market and Downtown Kansas City, Kansas.
Part of the Riverfront Heritage Trail and located just west of the River Market, Bluff River Park is remarkable for two reasons. First, the park sits on a bluff and offers panoramic views of West Bottoms, Charles B. Wheeler Downtown Airport, and Kaw Point. Catch the sunrise, sunset, and aerial activity at this lookout and take photos.
Second, the park is home to public art created by Susana Jones. Jones sculpted canoes that look like a smaller version of the 1,000-pound canoes used by the Corps of Discovery. The site also includes an orientation marker.
Since the park doesn’t offer much green space, leave the picnic at home and consider this an interesting stop along the Heritage Trail during your exploration.
Kansas City Pedestrian Bridge
The 650 feet long Kansas City Pedestrian Bridge connects the River Market to Riverfront Park via a series of stairways and walkways. The observation deck offers spectacular views of the Missouri River, nearby bridges, and the north side of the river’s forested bottoms.
Bring a camera to capture the mix of natural beauty and artificial construction. Gaze at the waterway the expedition navigated in canoes and imagine what the land might have looked like before the construction of railroads, highways and an airport for modern transportation.
You’ll find historical markers on the observation deck and along the walkways that run parallel to the riverfront, referencing the early days of Lewis and Clark and Kansas City on the frontier.
On their return trip from the Pacific, Lewis and Clark stopped at “Clark’s Point” on September 15, 1806. The high bluff is now known as Quality Hill. Lewis recorded in his newspaper this observation on the cliff as a site for a strong potential:
“The shoreline is bold and rocky immediately below the hill, from the top of the hill you have perfect command of the river, this hill faces the Kanzas and has a view of the Missouri a short distance above this river. We landed once to let the men pick some Pappaws or the Custard apple of which this county abounds, and the men are very fond of it.
Ermine Case Junior Park is the site of a national park service marker pen, bronze marker pen and a bronze statue titled “Body of Discovery”. The statue depicts Lewis, Clark, York, Sacagawea and his son Jean Baptiste (who did not accompany the expedition in the Kansas City area), and Seaman, Meriwether Lewis’s Newfoundland dog who accompanied them throughout their expedition.
A plate on the site also shares information about the French explorer Etienne de Veniard, who preceded the expedition.
Leavenworth County, Kansas
Get in the car and drive to Leavenworth County, Kansas along the Glacial Hills Scenic Drive and find more markers commemorating the sites where the Corps of Discovery stopped. The expedition party encountered its first abandoned village of Kansa (Kaw) near Leavenworth on July 2, 1804.
waterfront park at 1201 Riverfront Park Road. has several signs and beacons which provide details of the group’s visit. The city is home to more sites and people of historical interest on the walkable Roadside visit. here is a guide and map at crossing points in Fort Leavenworth.
the Border Army Museum at 100 Reynolds Avenue in Fort Leavenworth houses a “Beyond Lewis and Clark” gallery that explores the Corps of Discovery’s mission and subsequent expeditions. An online exhibition shares details about medical treatments on shipping.
Discover more online educational resources for children here.
Two days after leaving Leavenworth, the Corps of Discovery observed the first Independence Day on July 4, 1804, five miles north of present-day Atchison. The expedition party camped near a waterway they named Independence Creek. Modern travelers can see an interpretive panel, geodetic marker and a replica of an Indian Kanza Earthlodge dwelling at the historical site.
the Lewis & Clark Pavilion and Atchison Historical Marker, at the intersection of Commercial Street and River Road, features interpretive panels with information about the expedition, the Missouri River, and the Kanza Nation.
the Atchison County Historical Society Museum, located in the Santa Fe Depot at 200 S. 10th Street, features an exhibit and collections related to the Corps of Discovery, a resin model of the famous statue found at Case Park in Kansas City, and other people and artifacts from of local historical interest.
Explore more online
Looking to learn more about the Corps of Discovery’s expedition across America? Explorers at home can learn more about their travels with these great online resources.
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