Educational Trail Tours on the Nez Perce National Historic Trail

By Karen Heagen

Each summer, the Nez Perce Trail Foundation conducts a guided Summer Educational Trail Tour that follows the route of the 1877 Nez Perce Trail. Building in popularity, the Tour begins at Wallowa, Oregon at the Tamkaliks Pow Wow and concludes at either Big Hole, (Wisdom) Montana (Segment 1) or at the Bear Paw Battlefield near Chinook, Montana (Segment 2). Due to the length and distance of the route, the NPTF Tours are conducted in alternating parts each year.

Participants hike the actual Trail in many areas, and learn about the relevant sites throughout the four states of Oregon, Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming. As a brief history--- bands of Nez Perce were peacefully on their way to the reservation and their allotments in June,1877. The conflict became ignited when a small group of resentful warriors committed crimes near Whitebird, Idaho. Nine hundred Nez Perce men, women, children, and elders (with their 2000 horses) decided to flee the area to avoid confrontation and achieve a peaceful life in the Buffalo Plains. Under government and public pressure, they were relentlessly pursued and attacked by the U.S. Army under the command of General Oliver O. Howard, as well as other Indian tribes.

The conclusion of the Nez Perce War finally came after five days of freezing weather, starvation, and casualties. The Nez Perce quit the battle near the Canadian border after traveling nearly 1,200 miles. The extended history of the Trail includes Kansas, Oklahoma (Indian Territory), and Nespelem, WA. These areas identify the eight-year incarceration of the prisoners, and Chief Joseph’s exile from the Wallowa homelands.

Confluence Circle along the Snake River

Confluence Circle along the Snake River

Each July, the NPTF Summer Educational Trail Tour visits significant sites along the route that include the Wallowa homelands, the Nez Perce National Historic Park at Spalding, Fort Lapwai, Whitebird Battlefield, Clearwater Battlefield, Lolo Pass Trail, Fort Fizzle, Bitterroot Valley, Big Hole Battlefield, Camas Meadows, Yellowstone Park, Canyon Creek, and Bear Paw Battlefield.

This adventure is available to all ages that want to explore and learn about the history of one of America’s most significant (yet relatively unheard of) Native American stories. The Nez Perce tribe has captured the attention of people worldwide-- first from their expert horsemanship involving the Appaloosa horse, and also from their courageous Flight to obtain freedom from the reservation in 1877. The 1800’s public made Chief Joseph (aka the “Red Napoleon”) an underdog hero and figurehead in these efforts. However, his role was primarily a peacemaker and negotiator between the white settlers, the U.S. Army, and his people.

Unknown to many, several bands and their chiefs were involved with the War and the Flight. The NPTF Tour embraces young and old who want to visit the beautiful homelands of Oregon and Idaho, and beyond. It is conducted for those who wish to learn and experience first-hand the epic scale of challenges and trials during the Flight of the Nez Perce. Your experienced guides travel with you to areas that are significant chapters in the history of the Nez Perce War, revealing details and personal experiences of the soldiers and warriors. This Tour will also reveal the timeless beauty and spectacular scenery of the Nez Perce Homelands and its wildlife, landscapes, and culture.

Participants must have reliable transportation for car camping, minimal camping gear, and beginning hiking ability. We encourage groups no larger than 25 people for the maximum quality experience. Please check the website for details. Past participants have included photographers, historians, philosophers, educators, and students. As a two-year participant, Professor Wayne Olts was so inspired that he created photography exhibitions at Folsom Lake College and UCLA featuring his experiences while on the Tours of 2016 and 2017.

White Bird Trail

White Bird Trail

Many participants may like to combine a family vacation with portions of the Tour. All are welcome and we will help plan your itinerary to fit our schedule. There is also ample opportunity to visit museums and cultural centers along the way, as well as a few favorite fishing holes and hiking trails! Our journey takes us through many beautiful valleys and communities, each with their own flavor and culture. Come join our “Walking Stick” band and discover the ancestral lands of the Nez Perce. Share and review our experiences around the nightly campfire and Talking Circle. Our goal is to get people out on the Trail for the trip of a lifetime!

Karen Heagen is the President of the Nez Perce Trail Foundation.  The NPTF was created in 1991 to Protect, Preserve, and Commemorate the events and history of the epic exodus of the Nez Perce people from their homelands. Other endeavors by the Foundation include special projects, scholarships, and community partnerships. Continuing Education College Credit is available through MSUN. For more information, please visit