Lewis Falls was a wide 30ft tall waterfall on the Lewis River, where we chanced upon it as we were driving south on the South Entrance Road as it was one of the easier waterfalls to see. According to The Guide to Yellowstone Waterfalls and Their Discovery, the falls was named after Meriwether Lewis from the famous Lewis and Clark Expedition in 1803-1807, despite the fact that their explorations were 50 miles to the north of this spot. That said, a Hayden surveyor by the name of Frank Bradley honored Lewis by naming the falls as such because he wanted at least one landmark to be named after one of the guys who first surveyed the region. Each time we’ve stopped for this waterfall, it was in the morning when the rising sun would shine right on the waterfall whereas for the rest of the day, at least part or all of it would be in shadow. Thus, morning would be the time to take photographs.
When we first visited the falls in June 2004, the best views we were willing to get were from the north side of the bridge over the Lewis River. I did spot some faint trails that continued for a closer and more direct look at the Lewis Falls, but it looked ill-defined. That said, I suspected that the picture shown in the Yellowstone Waterfalls book was probably where that trail would have led to. On a more recent visit in August 2017, it appeared that a new trail was built that brought us closer to the falls, and that was where the photo at the top of this page came from. This was one of a handful of examples where the park service made changes to the park that was actually for the better, especially in this case where erosion from off-trail scrambling would be less likely given the obvious trail that was now in place while at the same time enhancing the visitor experience.
Finally, the Lewis and Clark expedition was significant because it was the first government-sanctioned effort to explore and map the Western Frontiers (including parts of what would become Yellowstone National Park) shortly after the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. Apparently with some assistance from Sacagawea (a Native American woman from the Shoshone Tribe), they ultimately reached the Pacific Ocean. For better or for worse (especially for Native Americans), this set the state for settlers to come west, but it also set the stage for the eventual establishment of National Parks.
The Lewis River Bridge from where we could see the falls was about 9.6 miles north of the Yellowstone South Entrance and a little over 11 miles south of the West Thumb Junction. Unlike our first visit in June 2004, the pullouts appeared to be long on both sides of the road making them both obvious while also accommodating several cars in either direction.
For additional geographical context, West Yellowstone, Montana was 58 miles (at least 90 minutes drive) south of Gardiner, Montana, 90 miles (over 90 minutes drive) south of Bozeman, Montana, 72 miles (under 2 hours drive) north of Flagg Ranch (near Yellowstone’s South Entrance), and 321 miles (about 4.5 hours drive) north of Salt Lake City, Utah.
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