Explore a full-size 'Corps of Discovery' replica keelboat at Lewis and Clark State Park near Onawa

Just south of Sioux City, near the Missouri River and the community of Onawa, is Lewis and Clark State Park.


Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, at the behest of President Thomas Jefferson in the early nineteenth century, set out to explore and document the newly acquired Louisiana Purchase and find a path to the Pacific Ocean. They of course started their journey near present day St. Louis and worked their way north up the Missouri River before eventually heading west. The particular site, according to history on the Iowa Department of Natural Resources website, is near an oxbow of the Missouri River called Blue Lake. It has been documented that this site was a camp on the Corps of Discovery (the name of the Lewis and Clark expedition) and they stopped here to camp and explore beginning on August 10, 1804.


Not long after this encampment, Sergeant Charles Floyd died and was buried on a bluff overlooking the river a few miles to the north. Sergeant Floyd was the only member of crew to perish during the entirety of the expedition. Iowa Adventurer visited the Floyd Monument in 2018 and it is very much worth your time to visit.


There are lots of amenities at Lewis and Clark State Park but perhaps most unique of all is the to-scale replica of the keelboat used by the expedition crew.

By today's boat-making standards, it might seem primitive. However, it is a handsome piece of craftsmanship and visitors to the park, during certain months of the year, are welcome to board the boat and explore it. Of course, I was not going to miss my chance to do so.

According to the DNR's website, the original was dubbed "Best Friend" by the expedition and this particular reproduction was crafted by Butch Bouvier of L&C Replicas.

If it's the right time of year and you have a large enough group and you call ahead, you can actually go for a ride on the boat. This is definitely something I would be interested in the future.

The boat is not far from the park's stately visitor center. I was unable to go in as it was closed at the hour of my visit. However, based on what I can find online, it appears there are additional reproduction boats and other informative displays available to enjoy.

From both the shoreline and nicely built observation structures, you can enjoy great views of the oxbow lake and beyond.

There are both large and small picnic facilities available.

There is a boat ramp, swimming areas, and I'm sure regulars know where the good spots are go fishing.

Of course, like most parks, there's also camping areas for those who enjoy that lifestyle.

I need to come back and spend more time at the park, including more thoroughly going through all of the great sign boards that have been placed around.

Our state has a few dozen state parks and they are all unique. Iowa Adventurer has stopped at a couple of them over the past few years including the heavily visited Ledges State Park in Central Iowa and Maquoketa Caves State Park in Eastern Iowa. While those may comparatively have greater variability in terms of the terrain, this particular park still offers some pretty gorgeous views.

The great part about Lewis and Clark State Park is you can enjoy the traditional state park outdoor activities like camping, boating, swimming, hiking, fishing, and picnicking and couple that with some incredible Iowa and American history. After all, it's not everyday you can explore a replica of a boat used in one of the greatest exploration adventures in our country's history.

As always, I welcome your suggestions of places to visit and profile whether in Monona County or any of the other 98 counties in Iowa. If you have a good idea or would like to host the Iowa Adventurer, please drop me a note through this site.

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