Fur trading forts or factories, as they were known in French, spread west along the rivers that cross North America. With the help of First Nations guides, Alexander Mackenzie of the North West Company and Louis and Clark, working for the American government, explored all the way to the Pacific Ocean. While companies undertook much of the overland exploration of what is now Canada, albeit under charter from the British crown, the American government took a direct hand in exploration and expansion. Inland trading outposts west of the Rocky Mountains were established in the 19th century: Fort St. James became the headquarters of New Caledonia in 1806 and pelts continued to flow into riverside forts in the Prairie regions. Although some of the pelts were brought from the far west, it was the seagoing trade rather than the overland trade that had the most impact on 18th century furs of the Pacific Northwest.
The Russians began placing small colonies and posts on the Aleutian Islands in the 18th century and developed relationships with northern peoples like the Tlingit. Nootka Sound on Vancouver Island became a well known trade destination and a harbour for the refitting of European and American ships. The British and American trade in furs often took place on the west coast of Vancouver Island, with the Nuu-chah-nulth and with the Haida of Haida Gwaii, the archipelago also known as the Queen Charlotte Islands. Until the 19th century, there was very little settlement of the Pacific Northwest by Europeans, and the fur trade took place along the coast: traders could return to their ships and sail off with their cargo of pelts. Temporary outposts, such as the Spanish fort erected in Nootka Sound in 1789, were small, providing defensive and provisioning necessities and symbolically asserting claims.