About the Area

Barecone Lookout Panorama

The 1.6 million acre Bitterroot National Forest, in west central Montana and east central Idaho, is part of the Northern Rocky Mountains.  Half of the forest is dedicated to the largest expanse of continuous pristine wilderness in the lower 48 states -- the Selway Bitterroot, Frank Church River of No Return, and the Anaconda Pintler.  Much of its beauty can be attributed to the heavily glaciated, rugged peaks of the Bitterroot Range. Drainages carved by glaciers form steep canyons that open into the valley floor. National Forest land begins above the foothills of the Bitterroot River Valley in two mountain ranges--the Bitterroot Mountains on the west and the Sapphire Mountains on the east side of the valley. The nearest urban area is Missoula, Montana, located 40 miles north of Hamilton, Montana.

Elevation ranges from 3,200 feet at the north end of the Bitterroot Valley to Trapper Peak at 10,157 feet in the mountains on the south. In the Idaho portion of the Forest, elevations drop to about 2,600 feet along the Selway River and 2,200 feet on the Salmon River.

In response to the changing needs of society, land managers on the Bitterroot National Forest use the principles of multiple use and ecosystem management to develop their objectives. Based on the sound principles of biological diversity and landscape management, the forest supports productive, healthy diverse ecosystems while providing the goods, services, values and opportunities that people desire. These include recreation, wildlife, fisheries, water, cultural resources, as well as timber, minerals, and grazing.

In the drier valley floor and lower foothills there is an arid-lands mix of grasslands, shrublands, and ponderosa pine that borders cottonwood forest along rivers and streams. On grassland ecosystems, wildlife and domestic livestock share forage. These rangelands provide benefits like wildlife habitats and recreation.

Mid-elevations receive more moisture and are habitat for stands of Douglas fir, lodgepole pine and western larch. Higher elevations produce Engelmann spruce, subalpine fir, subalpine larch and whitebark pine.

Vegetative management of the forest provides a sustained yield of forest products including saw timber, post, poles, and firewood, while providing improved wildlife habitat, forest health and high quality watersheds.

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 cross country skiing; snowboarding and snowmobiling to name a few.  Forty-seven percent of the Bitterroot National Forest (743,000 acres) is comprised of portions of the Anaconda-Pintler, Selway-Bitterroot, and/or Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness.