Lake Koocanusa Scenic Byway

Photo thumbnail showing Koocanusa reservoir body of water from a distance on a mountain top

Lake Koocanusa Scenic Byway was created in 1992 to become the Northern Region's 5th scenic byway. It follows the Kootenai River and Lake Koocanusa via State Highway No. 37.

Open year-round, this 67-mile route connects Libby and Eureka. The byway also includes a side loop (Forest Development Road No. 228) around the west side of the lake, a more leisurely, two-lane, paved route that is closed in winter. Lake Koocanusa was formed behind Libby Dam that was completed in 1974. The lake extends 90 miles north from the dam into British Columbia. The scenic byway highlights the southern half of the reservoir.

Origin of the Word Koocanusa

To the untrained ear, Koocanusa sounds much like a Kootenai Indian word. However, it is a modern creation. When the dam was under construction, the Corps of Engineers conducted a contest to name the lake. A woman from Eureka, Montana, won the contest by taking the first three letters from the words Kootenai and Canada and adding USA to create the Name Koocanusa.

The landscape of this scenic byway corridor is dominated by the Kootenai River and Lake Koocanusa. The lake cuts a narrow fjord-like gorge between the Purcell Mountains and the Salish Mountains. Rock outcrops and ledges provide habitat for bighorn sheep, seen frequently along the byway. Forests along the byway are home for whitetail and mule deer, elk moose, bear, coyotes, eagles, ospreys, and other species of interest to wildlife watchers.


Camping on the lake is available at numerous primitive sites, including an island and four major, developed campgrounds. Picnicking, rock climbing, hiking, lookout rental, and fishing are also popular. Boating access is available at four paved boat ramps.

Fishing Opportunities

Lake Koocanusa has one of the best land-locked salmon fisheries in the northwest. The Kootenai River provides excellent fishing and is considered a blue-ribbon trout stream with trophy-size rainbow trout. See the following Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks webpages for more information on fishing the waters:

The visitor center at Libby Dam offers interesting displays and tours of the dam's powerhouse where five giant turbines generate electricity.

To reach the Lake Koocanusa Scenic Byway (State Highway 37), take either U.S. Highway 2 to Libby or U.S. Highway 93 to Eureka.

For more information, feel free to contact us at one of our offices.