Hidasta informants described a fall of water on the Missouri River near the mountains, so the Captains expected a short portage. Instead of one waterfall, Lewis happened upon a succession of five, and their hope for a short portage faded. Look upriver and see "upper pitch," now called Black Eagle Falls, the last in the series. The remaining four cascades are downriver - the "sublimely grand" Great Falls is 8 river miles and a 20-minute drive away.
A "great" Challenge
Standing atop a knoll, now called Smelter Hill, just upstream, Lewis determined the south shore offered the shortest, most level portage with the fewest ravine crossings. Following Clark's survey, the Corps pulled canoes and gear over 18 miles of unforgiving plains.
A "great" But Tamed, Resource
The 360 foot drop in this section of river offered a ready power source for the young community of Great Falls. Five dams now lasso the river and regulate its water levels and current.