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Bitterroot National Forest

Google Map Coordinates: Latitude: 45.916672 / Longitude: -114.283333

The Bitterroot National Forest is located in west central Montana and east central Idaho. It is comprised of 464,108 acres in Idaho and 1,116,447 acres in Montana for a total of about 1,580,555 acres. There are 21 developed campgrounds, 10 of which met the selection criteria. None of the selected campgrounds are in Idaho.

The Bitterroot National Forest is a forest of strong contrast with sub-alpine woodland, open grassy areas, crystal blue lakes and streams and majestic glaciated mountains. The Forest arches through the gentle western slopes of the Sapphire range and across to the rugged, dramatic Bitterroot range into Idaho. The Bitterroot National Forest contains crystal clear headwaters for both the Bitterroot and Selway Rivers. Approximately half the Forest is either designated Wilderness or part of the National Wild and Scenic River system. With so much pristine land awaiting exploration, diverse recreational opportunities abound in the Forest.

The primary route to the Bitterroot National Forest is U.S. Highway 93, along which travelers can observe the geological forces that formed the Forest. Just south of Darby, MT is a spectacular view of Trapper Peak with its glacial carved bowl. Just north of Darby are colorful bluffs of crudely layered white and yellowish volcanic rock, some 50 millions years old. A hike through Lost Horse Canyon offers spectacular views of this 70 to 90 million year old mass of rock called the Idaho Batholith, thought to be more than 10,000 square miles in size. Anywhere along U.S. 93 there are vantage points to observe the 25 degree angled, smooth surfaced eastern edge of the Bitterroot Range. This phenomena is thought to have been caused by the tops of the Bitterroot Range shearing off while moving across the valley to become, what we call today, the Sapphire Range.

Besides the amazing geological features that contribute to the wide ranging recreational opportunities found in the Forest, the Bitterroot National Forest has retained bits of its human history. For generations Native Americans used the Bitterroot Valley as a natural corridor in their annual migrations. The Valley was the route used in 1877 by the Nez Perce in their flight to escape confinement on a reservation. Little evidence remains of the Nez Perce flight, but evidence of annual migrations can be found in the string of "Indian Trees." The Native Americans stripped the bark from Ponderosa pine trees to eat the sweet cambium, or inner bark. Because these strips never encircled the tree, the method did not kill the trees. Examples of these special trees can be found at Indian Trees and Alta campgrounds and elsewhere.

Concern for the health and management of the forest area in the Bitterroot Valley can be seen in the number and age of Forest Service structures. Many have been preserved to help the Forest's visitors understand a way of life and the Forest's ecology. Two locations that are most accessible are the West Fork and Darby Ranger District Offices. The Darby Visitor Information Center was the first Darby District Ranger Station in the Bitterroot and is preserved today much like it looked long ago. Helpful and knowledgeable volunteers at the Darby Visitor Information Center can answer a variety of questions about the Forest, its history and the recreation opportunities found there.

Most of the Bitterroot National Forest's developed campgrounds might be considered rustic as they offer only good drinking water and vault toilets. However, the newly renovated Lake Como Recreation Area has expanded its facilities to include a campground with electric and water hook-ups. Although the campgrounds are not open around Lake Como during the winter, the lake is a popular location for ice-fishing. Other winter sports available to Bitterroot visitors are cross-country skiing at the Chief Joseph Ski Course and downhill-skiing at Lost Trail Winter Park.

Winter, summer, spring or fall, the Bitterroot National Forest has something for everyone to enjoy. From the drier Bitterroot Valley to the moist higher elevations with stands of Douglas fir, Birch and Alder, the Forest provides habitats for a robust population of mule deer, white-tailed deer, elk, bighorn sheep, mountain goat, mountain lion, moose, and black bears. Ideal for the wildlife watcher, the Forest also offers summertime opportunities for hiking and riding on more than 1600 miles of trails, rafting and kayaking, rock climbing in the Stevensville Ranger District, and fishing in one of many pristine rivers and lakes. With such diversity, the Bitterroot National Forest welcomes visitors to come and explore.

Location – Directions

Bitterroot National Forest
1801 N. First Street
Hamilton, Montana 59840

Primary access is provided by U.S. Highway 93 which bisects the Forest from north to south.

Points of Interest & Other Info

Go wildlife watching for whitetail deer, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, and mountain lions and enjoy interpretive walks by the light of the moon!

The ancestral home of the Bitterroot Salish Native Americans and a center of the Lewis and Clark expedition-inspired Gold Rush, Bitterroot National Forest has 1.6-million-acres of the largest, most rugged wilderness areas in the Rockies. With two jagged-peaked mountain ranges, the Bitterroot and the Sapphire, nearly half the forest is designated wilderness and home to deer, elk, moose, black bears, and bighorn sheep.

The Bitterroot National Forest offers a wealth of recreational opportunities, especially in the backcountry. Visitors can go hiking, horseback riding, boating, water skiing, fishing and downhill skiing. The forest offers more than 35 campgrounds (both at developed sites and in dispersed areas), with picnic areas and winter play areas. Or if you prefer, spend the night in a quiet rustic cabin nestled deep in the forest. Be sure not to miss the "Walk by the Light of the Moon" series of interpretive walks during spring, summer, fall and winter.

Alpine lakes, mountain reservoirs, fast running streams and the meandering Bitterroot River offer anglers the opportunity to fish for brook, rainbow, and brown trout. Be sure to consult the current Montana or Idaho fishing regulations for details.

The Bitterroot Forest is home to many species of wildlife, from mule deer, whitetail deer, elk, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, black bear, mountain lions, and moose, to many varieties of smaller animals and birds. Wildlife viewing areas offer you the opportunity to view them in their natural habitat.

Recreation opportunities abound. Try some popular activities like camping at eighteen developed campgrounds, hiking or riding on more than 1,600 miles of trails, fishing, hunting, rafting, boating, kayaking, mountain biking, rock climbing, horseback riding, wildlife watching; downhill and crosscounty skiing; snowboarding and snowmobiling to name a few. Forty-seven percent of the Bitterroot National Forest (743,000 acres) is part of the Anaconda-Pintler, Selway-Bitterroot, and Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness.