Travelers can experience the scenery and region’s past along The Gold Rush Historic Highway, accessible year-round for outdoor recreation and notable interpretive stopping places.
Gold drove tens of thousands of miners into Idaho, seeking the “pay dirt,” following the discovery of gold on Orofino Creek in October 1860. There were so many that, according to Elias D. Pierce who led the party that made the discovery, “They made the hills and mountains ring with shouts of joy."
The 42.5-mile route begins in Greer at the junction of U.S. Highway 12, heading up the Greer Grade that provides a view of the Clearwater Valley. Communities along the way include Weippe and Pierce, ending with Headquarters at the end of the byway.
For outdoor recreationists, the byway offers access into the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests with hiking, fishing, camping, ATV riding, hunting, skiing at Bald Mountain Ski Area near Pierce, and other activities.
Multiple points of interest are along the route. Here are a few highlights:
Weippe Prairie at Historical Marker 261 (milepost 17.2) marks where the starving members of the Lewis and Clark Expedition met with the Nez Perce Tribe after crossing the Bitterroot Mountains. Visit here starting in late spring for its bloom of camas flowers. Merriweather Lewis wrote on this in his journal: "The quamash is now in blume and from the colour of its bloom at a short distance it resembles lakes of fine clear water," wrote Lewis on June 12, 1806, when his party came upon the camas at Weippe Prairie.
Weippe Discovery Center in Weippe is an interpretive center that talks about the Lewis and Clark Expedition and its time in Idaho, conducted through displays and artifacts, and hand-painted murals and interpretive plaques with quotes from their journals. The facility also includes the Weippe Library, technology center and college outreach center. http://weippediscoverycenter.com .
Our Lady of the Woodland Catholic Church is a log structure dating from the early 1900s that is in current use. Located in Pierce, the church is near the historic Chinese Cemetery and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Notable historic marker locations: Canal Gulch (mp 28.6) where gold was first discovered in Idaho and the original location of Orofino; Chinese Hanging Tree (mp 27.5)
For more information on the region, go online at http://www.pierce-weippechamber.com/ .