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The Headwaters   arrow

Missouri Headwaters State Park

At Three Forks, Montana, the Missouri River snuggles into the Rockies. In the south western area of the state resides a small community of the same name.

Roughly 30 miles west of Bozeman, Three Forks was named by Lewis and Clark on July 26th and 27th in 1805. The southwest fork was named in honor of Thomas Jefferson, third President of the United States. The southeast fork was named for Albert Gallatin, the Secretary of the Treasury. James Madison, the Secretary of State and later the fourth President of the United States, was to give his name to the middle fork.

All three of these rivers are prime blue-ribbon trout fishing habitats. Day and overnight camping is permitted at the Missouri River Headwaters State Park. There is also a museum and wildlife viewing area.

On Lewis and Clark’s westward journey, the Three Forks would become a camp of upmost importance. Not having seen any native Americans for months, the Jefferson fork would allow them their first sighting. It was important to connect with the natives, because they would be the only chance at navigating the formidable Rocky Mountains.

As luck would have it, the chief of the Shoshone tribe they encountered was the brother of Sacajawea (their Indian guide) and helpful cooperation was now insured. It was also here that the party would store many belongings, including all of their boats, for it would be impossible to portage them across the mountains.

Having missed the shortcut through the mountains, their crossing to the west of the Great Divide would prove arduous. On the return route, Indians would guide Lewis to this shortcut, up the Blackfoot River, and down the Medicine River (present day Sun River).

Clark on the other hand, would have to return to the Three Forks to retrieve the gear and boats. He would then be assisted by the natives to the Yellowstone river, meeting up with Lewis at its junction with the Missouri.