The Nez Perce National Historical Park was established in 1965 and is made up of 38 sites, which tell the story of the Nimiipuu. The sites are spread across Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington, but the visitor center is located at Spalding.
Before reaching the visitor center, those traveling east from Lewiston on U.S. Highway 95/12 can find Coyote’s Fishnet, which has a historical marker near milepost 307, and the Ant and the Yellowjacket, which also has a marker just east of the Spalding Bridge. Those are both natural formations that are part of Nez Perce lore.
Spalding is about 12 miles east of Lewiston, located along U.S. Highway 95 less than a mile past where the highway crosses the Clearwater River via the Spalding Bridge. The Nez Perce National Historical Park visitor center and park headquarters are easily visible for those driving down the highway. The sites in the park include the Watson’s Store, the Spalding Presbyterian Church and the Northern Idaho Indian Agency’s cabin and agent’s residents.
The visitor center is open from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and has year-round showings of the park film “Of One Heart” and offers a collection of clothing, tools, weapons and ceremonial objects in the museum area. There is no fee to visit the park.
Travel a little past the historical center and cross a bridge to enjoy lunch outside at the picnic area or visit the Indian Agency cabin marker. There are two cemeteries at the Spalding site. Visitors are welcome, but are expected to follow the rules, including not standing on marked graves, not taking rubbings of the headstones, not touching the memorial items on the graves and no eating, drinking or recreational activities that are considered inappropriate.
Visitors can also walk a number of trails around the visitor center. The trails are all 1 mile or less and can take you to places like Lapwai Creek, the Watson’s Store, the Boomgrounds and the remains of the mission.
The longest of the trails is the Old Townsite Trail, which is 1 mile long. It lies in the grassy area below the visitor center and is a great location to see wildlife. The trail will show you two periods of occupation, the Nez Perce Indian agency and the homesteading. The agency was in use between 1860 to 1904 and the trail starts at the house of the superintendent of the agency. This house is one of two buildings from the time standing. The homesteading can be found in clues like fruit trees, lilac bushes and an old root cellar.
The next longest trail is a quick four-tenths of a mile and is the Picnic Area Trail. The trail takes you through the Nez Perce village site and the Rev. Henry Spalding mission. The Idaho Legislature established the Spalding Memorial State Park in 1936 at the site of the old mission.
There are two trails coming in at two-tenths of a mile apiece: the Boomgrounds Trail and the Lapwai Creek Trail. The Boomgrounds Trail is named after a logging term for a place where wood is collected. It offers views of the Clearwater River. The Lapwai Creek Trail will lead you along the creek to the gravel bar which overlooks where the creek joins the Clearwater River.
The last trail is also the shortest, coming in at one-tenth of a mile: Watson’s Trail, which takes you off the main road, into the shade and then the Watson’s Store. The store was owned and operated by Lewis and Margaret Watson starting in 1910. It remained open until 1965. n
Nez Perce National Historical Park visitor center
LOCATION: Located at Spalding, which is 12 miles east of Lewiston via U.S. Highway 95.
WHAT YOU’LL DO: Walk along trails to see historic stores like the Indian Agency Cabin Marker and head into the visitor center to hear about the history of the Nez Perce Tribe.
DIFFICULTY: 2 out of 5, all trails are a mile or less and most are on level ground.
DON’T FORGET: Head into the visitor center to see the museum and get more information on the area.
NEARBY SITES OF INTEREST: Coyote’s Fishnet historical marker, the Ant and the Yellowjacket historical marker, Spalding Presbyterian Church.