Nez Perce National Historical Park

Nez Perce National Historical Park, Spalding

Nez Perce National Historical Park

Nez Perce National Historical Park
Historic Sites • Battlefields
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This park has 38 separate sites spanning four states, all dedicated to preserving the history and culture of the Nez Perce Indian Nation. The park includes the Nez Perce National Historic Trail, a portion of the Lewis and Clark Trail and the White Bird Battlefield.
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Detailed Reviews: Reviews order informed by descriptiveness of user-identified themes such as cleanliness, atmosphere, general tips and location information.

58 reviews
Very good

Anchorage, AK51 contributions
Nez Perce National Historical Park is an interesting experiment for the National Park Service. First of all, the park has around 40 sites, depending on how you count them, spread out across four states. This number is a little deceptive, since a number of the sites don't have much to them and can be visited thoroughly in less than five minutes. It would be a labor of several days to get to and see them all, and would involve a lot of driving. I like to be thorough about my national parks, but being thorough with this park takes on a whole new meaning. Second, many of the "sites" of this national park are not actually NPS sites, but are managed by other authorities. This is not a unique phenomena with this park. For example, the Lewis & Clark NHP and Redwood National Park both incorporate state parks within their boundaries. However, quite a few of the sites associated with Nez Perce NHP are simply roadside turnouts with a sign or two, apparently placed by the state of Idaho, explaining something significant that happened at or near that particular spot. In a number of cases, there is nothing at all visible to relate the events described on the signage with the landscape around you. To a certain extent, you might as well be reading a book. Other sites are more substantial and have things to see and do. On my trip, I did not even attempt to visit all the possible sites, nor did I have time for everything I planned on seeing in the actual event. However, I will here comment on what I did see.

The Nez Perce NHP bascially deals with the history of the Niimiipu (Nez Perce) people, with some focus on the events of the Nez Perce War of 1877-78. Other sites deal with the Lewis & Clark expedition (and their contact with the Nez Perce), with the region's prehistory, and with certain events in the history of the American settlement of the region and its geography and natural settings. All of the sites are marked, but with some of the smaller sites this may only be a small sign that says "Nez Perce NHP site ahead" or some similar language. They can be missed.

The first site I visited was Big Hole National Battlefield in Montana. This NPS site pre-existed the establishment of Nez Perce NHP and was incorporated into the latter at a later date. It still has a separate listing on the NPS website. I have reviewed it separately so I will not comment further here.

The next site I stopped at was at Lolo Pass, on the border of Idaho and Montana. This site is managed by the US Forest Service. It features an attractive visitor center with a nice little museum. Those of us who have read the journals of Lewis and Clark will recall the hardships the party faced in the winter crossing of this pass. I know I was very taken with the descriptions in my early youth. The museum, of course, covers this crossing, but it also has very good displays relating to the Nez Perce and other local peoples, to the georaphy and plant life of these high mountains, and to other local historical events. There is a very pleasant, easy loop trail out behind the visitor center which finds its way through the high mountain forests. I spent a couple of hours here.

After the long drive along US 12 along the Clearwater River, a very lovely drive, by the way, with a number of historical points marked along the way which are not associated with the NHP, I was running out of daylight and so did not get up to the Heart of the Monster area as I would have liked. I did make stops at a couple of park sites along US 12 and Idaho 13, such as the site of the Looking Glass Camp and the Clearwater Battlefield. These are among the sites with just a signboard and nothing more.

The next morning, early, I drove south from Grangeville along US 95 I stopped at the Camas Prairie site, which, again, is just an Idaho placed signboard along the road. Then I came to the White Bird Battlefield, which was something of a highlight of my visit to Nez Perce NHP. This site comes in two pieces and I would strongly suggest going to both. In this neighborhood, the unusual geography of this part of Idaho comes into play. As you drive, you seem to be travelling across a fairly level stretch of terrain with mixed forest and open farmland. Then, quite suddenly, you pass White Bird Summit and you are greeted with a panoramic vista of the Salmon River Valley spread out below you. It is very spectacular. About halfway down the grade there is a pullout on the east side of the road with several signboards and a restroom. This is the first part of the White Bird Battlefield site. This viewpoint overlooks the site of the battlefield and you can easily make out the features described on the signage, so it is of historical interest as well as being a beautiful view. The best part, however, is further on. At the bottom of the hill you get off, heading to the town of White Bird, which is curled up in a hollow to the east of 95. In town, you turn right on Old US 95 and start back uphill along this older, more winding road. A couple of miles out of town you will probably miss or almost miss the parking area for White Bird Battlefield. It is on the left and is not particularly obvious. It also is very small. I think you would have to squeeze to get more than two ordinary cars into it. I was there at about 7:30 in the morning, so there was no problem. This parking area gives access to a hiking loop which covers the battlefield. There is a trail brochure available in a box, for use or purchase, which describes in detail the course of the battle keyed to numbered stops. There is also signage along the way. This trail is very steep in places and for about three quarters of a mile you are climbing steadily and are grateful for the numbered stops so you can catch your breath. This is very beautiful open mountain country with great views in all directions as you get higher. This is the site of the first battle of the Nez Perce War. It didn't have to be this way. A small army unit was conferring with the principal Niimiipu concerning the violent actions taken by some of the young men. Although the Nez Perce had ample reason to go to war, in the form of having land stolen, they had pretty much decided a war would be disastrous for them and were anxious to avoid it. Some of the younger men had other ideas. The army unit had come to negotiate and were not prepared for or expecting a battle. The Nez Perce leaders were anxious to smooth over the troubles. Somebody (probably a civilian volunteer with the army) fired a shot, and the war began. The army was soundly defeated here, but the war, of course, was the tragedy for the Nez Perce that their leaders feared. You have time to think about all these things when you are huffing and puffing up and down a mountain in the early morning. I was also thinking how exhausting it would have been to fight in such terrain, particularly since, for this fight, both sides began mounted. I doubt the horses liked it much. After you reach the top and regain your breath, you can retrace your steps or continue around the loop. The other half of the loop is longer but is scenic, although without the historical stops.

My next stop was at Tolo Lake. This is to the west of 95 outside of Grangeville on a dirt road which connects with 95 in both directions and thus bypasses Grangeville. This is open and level farmland now. The site here consists of a couple of state signboards, but there actually is something to see, that being the lake itself. It is fairly small, but it is quiet and remote and you can see a lot of birds. The lake is both connected to the Nez Perce as a campsite and mentioned by Lewis and Clark, who sent a couple of men this way to buy fish. It is also the site where a mammoth skeleton was found. It's probably worth the stop.

North of Tolo Lake, you can visit the Weis Rockshelter. This is a prehistoric site maybe twenty minutes west of US 95. It is well marked by signs, including where one turns on the various secondary roads. It is not much to see, the entrance to the cave where artifacts were found is mostly sealed by debris. I'd still recommend it, both for the sense of standing where people stood thousands of years ago and for the lovely drive, which once again displays the odd nature of the topography in this part of Idaho. What appears to be a level plain is cut with a number of forested canyons or gorges, and the rockshelter lies down in one of these. It's pretty.

Driving further north on US 95, you pass maybe a dozen park sites on the way to Spalding. I think I stopped at all of them, but I might have missed one or two. Again, these are mostly just signs along the road, but Fort Lapwai, in the town of Lapwai, is somewhat interesting. The old officers quarters is still standing and this is where the signage is. It is a little hard to find, being on a residential street in this small town, but, for once, the park service website gives adequate directions.

The main campus of Nez Perce National Historical Park is along the Clearwater River outside Spalding, just before US 95 meets up with US 12. There is quite a lot to see and do here, most of which I did not get a chance to see or do. I spent quite a bit of time in the fine little museum at the visitor center. I was particularly taken with the displays about Nez Perce music, but there is very adequate coverage of all aspects of Nez Perce life. I then took a turn along the trails that lead across open terrain and have views of the Clearwater.

There was a lot to explore, but my watch was warning me I had to go. Here I was essentially at the end of a five week, 9000 mile driving tour of the west, and my last stop would be at my daughter;s house in Everett, Washington, some four hundred fifty miles away. It has taken me ten months to complete reviews of the places associated with this trip. I hope these reviews will help others.

The last NHP site at which I stopped was the Confluence Overlook. This is on US 95 north of Lewiston / Clarkston near the top of the grade. You can get great views of the confluence of the Clearwater with the Snake and the twin cities lying on the borders of Washington and Idaho.
Written August 8, 2016
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews.

Quimper, France189 contributions
I only had a few hours to spend near Lewiston so I chose to go to the museum on the Nez Perce reservation in Spalding. The staff was very helpful, the exhibits are superb, so was the temporary exhibition. Anyone interested in history and Native American history should definitely stop here to visit the museum itself and the historic village.
Written November 10, 2010
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews.

Spokane, WA189 contributions
I have driven by the Nez Perce National Historic Park numerous times on my drive to/from Boise, ID from my home in Spokane, WA. It was only yesterday that I decided to take the time to stop and see what the Park had to offer. What a pleasant surprise! The short time that I had intended to stay ended up being a couple of hours. The resident Park Ranger greeted us and gave us a brief explanation of what we could expect during our visit. Before walking through the museum depicting actual Nez Perce Native American artifacts, we watched the movie showing the Nez Perce history from the time of Lewis & Clark's visit in the 1800's. Afterwards, we took a leisurely walk down the hill to the Spalding Church and Mercantile Store. The only regrets that I have are that I didn't stop here on any of my previous trips past this historical park. It's interesting to note that this is the Park's Headquarters (located in Lapwai, ID) to the 38 sites located in Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington.
Written May 16, 2012
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews.

Thomas F
Columbia, MD207 contributions
By the time we arrived at the Park's main visitor center in Spalding, Idaho, we had already seen several of the other parts of the Nez Perce National Historical Park (Heart of the Monster, Clearwater Battlefield, White Bird Battlefield, etc.). The museum here was small but wonderful, especially since so many of the gorgeous and evocative objects had been gathered by Spalding himself, the first European missionary to live with the tribe in the 1830s and 40s. The film that is shown in the Center was excellent, as was our conversation with the ranger, who was an especially vivid interpreter of his culture.
Written August 24, 2017
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews.

John G
Lebanon, PA390 contributions
The Historical Park is huge, covering many miles and states. An excellent and must place to start is the Visitors Center in Lapwai (not Spalding) ID. The exhibits at the Center are very good, along with the movie, in helping the visitor understand the Nimiipuu people and their culture, dispelling many myths. We were privileged to have a wonderful Nimiipuu Ranger who responded to our many questions and went beyond simple answers to provide us with a real understanding of the people. She really made our stop more than worth it. The Park is huge and even focusing on the immediate area in ID, it is a lot to see. The biggest drawback was the lack of adequate signage, so read up before you go and get the more detailed map from the Visitors Center - it helped us tremendously.
Written June 5, 2017
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews.

United States28 contributions
We happened to be driving through Idaho on 95 and decided to stop at this museum. We are very glad that we did. It is embarrassing to say but I did not know hardly anything about the Nez Perce or their history. The film and the exhibits were great and informative. Shocking to see how much smaller the current reservation is. The picnic area is absolutely beautiful so don't forget to bring your lunch!
Written June 30, 2014
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews.

Honolulu, HI393 contributions
The Nez Perce National Historical Park is spread out over 38 sites in 4 states. We only visited the park headquarters in Spalding, Idaho which contains a visitor center and museum, and hiking trails. The museum is small, but informative. A film about the Nez Perce tribe, “Of One Heart”, was played on demand in the theater in the visitor center. The film was very well done and I highly recommend watching it. There are also hiking trails behind the visitor center that lead to a few remaining buildings and sites, a cemetery that’s still in use, and a picnic area. You can hike or drive down to the trails. I never knew about the Nez Perce Indians, so this was an enlightening experience.
Written September 15, 2018
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews.

Sara F
47 contributions
Nice little museum. Small but worth stopping in. The ranger is super friendly and loves teaching and talking to kids. They are also super helpful and more than willing to give information about local restaurant, places to visit, etc. The drive through the old Town is an added bonus. Can tell they love their heritage and are eager to teach others about their culture
Written July 15, 2017
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews.

Don M
Pocatello, ID51 contributions
We enjoyed our visit to the park headquarters and several of the other sites. The film and displays at the visitors center were remarkable. We also visited Canoe Camp and the Whitebird Battlefield, two of the other sites in the park.
Written September 16, 2016
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews.

305 contributions
Just about 11 miles outside of Lewiston, Idaho is located the Nez Perce NHP. Stop at the information center and review the area and enjoy the small museum and gift shop. It is a short walk to the east on a paved path to the LC Watson & Co General Merchandise store. It is not open but interesting to walk to on your way past the Spalding Presbyterian Church (not open to the public because it is a working place of worship) on to the Red Elk Cemetery. It is a peaceful, small cemetery. If you are using your GPS, Spalding no longer has a post office, so try Lapwai, Idaho.
Written July 26, 2015
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews.

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