When I signed up for a five-day luxury canoe and camping trip on the Missouri River in Montana, I didn’t know what to expect. Luxury camping? I’d been camping and canoeing before, but never with strangers, never “luxury” camping, and never on a trip with a theme such as this.
Our path was to be a bit of the historic trail that Meriwether Lewis and William Clark made 200 years ago (albeit, in reverse). We would go down the river, not up it. No one wants to fight the current on a vacation!
Since the 12 of us, along with four river guides and a historian, were going to be each others’ only company for the next five days, I sure hoped we’d like each other. We met the night before our trip in a hotel function room set up with folding chairs and bright red duffel bags piled in the corner. After brief introductions and a pep talk by a river guide, we each took a duffel bag back to our rooms to pack. Whatever we needed for the next five days had to fit inside that bag.
For the 60-mile trip, we traveled in a large canoe that fit 16 and brought two smaller canoes for those who wanted to use them. While a few of our group meandered down the river in the small canoes, the rest traveled in the larger one. Two of our four river guides went ahead in a pontoon boat to set up lunch or the evening camp. We arrived around noon to find a lunch buffet awaiting us at an idyllic spot.
After lunch, we lounged around and swam before heading down river again. Later, the guides passed us again, and we arrived at our night camp to find our tents already set up and hors d’oeuvres and cold beverages ready for us. This kind of camping is not bad!
Along the way, Ron Laycock, our historian (now the president of the Lewis & Clark Trail Heritage Foundation), pointed out places where Lewis and Clark had stopped. We even camped on one of their old sites. What a unique way to learn some important American history! We visited old abandoned homesteads and went on day hikes, as well.
For entertainment at night, we played Yahtzee or listened to a talk about Lewis & Clark while our dinner was prepared. One night we had fresh salmon with a salad and a Dutch oven-baked cake. The next day we had delicious surf-and-turf (shrimp and steak).
Luxury camping, indeed!
IF YOU GO
Rivers Odyssey West (ROW) offers five-day “Missouri River Expeditions” with interpreters every Sunday, beginning June 20 through September 12, 2004. Prices for adults are $1,260-$1,395 (youths 16 and under, $1,095-$1,175). Trips begin and end in Great Falls, Montana. 208-765-0841; www.rowinc.com.
Arrive a day early if you can and visit the Lewis and Clark National Interpretative Center in Great Falls (406-727-8733). It gives a great overview of the journey. If you stay at the Best Western Heritage Inn (406-761-1900), as ROW suggests, a free shuttle is available for guests to and from the center.