West Fork Ranger District
The West Fork Ranger Station is located 18 miles south of Darby, Mt. along the West Fork of the Bitterroot River. The River is a major focal point for fisherman in and out of the Bitterroot Valley. Beginning with the first insect hatch in the spring the snow-melt swollen river is swarmed upon by fisherman with boat and tackle. As the waters subside and spring blends into summer the river provides a more soothing fishing experience and time for scenic raft trips.
Although the river leads you to the district, it is the wilderness character that defines the West Fork Ranger District. More than half of the district is wilderness. It is one of the few places one can drive between two great wilderness areas.
At Magruder Crossing the road climbs high among sub-alpine larch and crosses mile after mile of wilderness landscape. As you drive this narrow winding road you can peer into the 2.3 million acre Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness or the 1.2 million acre Selway Bitterroot Wilderness. This road was constructed by CCC's in the 1930's and remains much the same now as it did then and provides a unique "driving" experience. There are few amenities along the way except for crystal clear mountain streams and miles of unobstructed vistas. Silence and solitude abound here.
If you follow the Selway River from Magruder Crossing the road ends at Paradise. From here you can launch a raft to float the famous Selway River, 47 miles of Class IV rated river miles. During the permit season (May 15 to July 31) only one launch is permitted per day. One half mile away is the Paradise Guard station, a log cabin where the Forest Service houses “Hosts” or volunteers to maintain the rustic campgrounds along the corridor and to provide information to the visitors recreating in the area. Permits are available through Recreation.gov
There are places to camp with picnic tables and fire rings and some rustic and modern outhouses. The district offers 2 cabins for rent. The Magruder Ranger Station which was once a thriving and busy work station and the home of the ranger and his family. The station consists of 7 buildings constructed in the 1920's and 1930's and are still being used periodically by work crews. Horse Heaven Cabin is another smaller and more primitive cabin about half-way to Elk City, Idaho and is also available for rent at Recreation.gov.
There are several old fire towers that are worth a visit. Many are occupied by fire personnel in June, July and August and provide a unique look at a distant era in fire management. The views are spectacular. Boulder Peak Lookout is under reconstruction as a future rental and provides a dramatic view into the Selway Bitterroot Wilderness. Caution is advised however because the structure is situated on a steep drop-off. The trail in is also a grueling 3 mile ascent. Bare Cone lookout on the other hand can be driven to and offers beautiful vistas of the wilderness.
Outside the wilderness is Painted Rocks Lake another focal point for recreation on the West Fork District. This 293 acre lake is the foreground for the colorful (painted – lichen covered rocks) rocks that line the north end of the lake. Boulder Bay provides a small sand beach and concrete ramp with paved parking area for boats. The lake is popular with fisherman and water skiers and those wanting to cool off during hot summer months.
Other campgrounds on the district include Slate Creek, Alta, Rombo, Fales Flat and Sam Billings. Campsites have fire rings, picnic tables, outhouses, and in some sites charcoal grills. Most are near to a lake, stream or hiking trail. Sam Billings is a short distance from the Boulder Creek trail a popular hiking trail that follows Boulder Creek into the Selway Bitterroot Wilderness.
Another popular campground on the district is Fales Flat. This primitive campground is unique because of the large meadow and great number of Indian peel trees in the area. This campground has a large group camp area (up to 100 people) where reunions and weddings and family gatherings have been held. Reservations for Magruder Ranger Station, Fales Flat, Horse Heaven Cabin, Alta and Rombo Campgrounds can be made at Recreation.gov.