Each of the National Forests and Grasslands in the Northern Region has a distinct personality. Each has special places waiting to be discovered. Contact the Forest or Grassland office directly for more detailed and personalized tips on how to make your visit memorable.
Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest
The Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest straddles the Continental Divide in southwestern Montana. Many old mines and ghost towns silently speak of Montana’s frontier past. The rugged Bitterroot and Centennial Mountain ranges flank the western and southern boundaries, while to the North and East tower the Pintler and Madison Ranges. Broad open valley bottoms are about 4,500 feet in elevation while many peaks exceed 11,000 feet. Lodgepole pine and Douglas-fir forests, interspersed with large grassy parks, cover mountain slopes providing excellent habitat for elk and a great place for hiking and camping. Georgetown Lake offers good fishing, winter or summer.
Two major mountain ranges separated by the Bitterroot River valley in southeastern Montana and Idaho comprise the Bitterroot National Forest. Breathtaking scenery is provided by 30 deep, rocky, glaciated canyons breaking the sharp face of the Bitterroot range at regular intervals to the west. Most of this rugged range is wilderness. To the east, the Sapphire range present a gentler horizon. The forest has plentiful big game, high quality water, and backcountry recreation opportunities including wild rivers.
High summits descending to fertile prairies in the west, miles of tumbling whitewater punctuated with quiet pools, deep canyons providing dramatic passage through the Bitterroots; this is the Clearwater National Forest. The ridges between the canyons have provided travel corridors for centuries. Wildlife use these routes to discover the excellent habitat in these mountains. The forest is well known for its large herds of elk, moose, and other big game animals. Lewis and Clark followed Indian routes through the area on their way to the Pacific. Today’s Traveler follows these same historic pathways through an area that is little changed.
The lands of the Custer National Forest lie scattered across 400 miles of southeastern Montana and northwest South Dakota. The vast distances across which this forest is spread results in a very diverse landscape. Expansive prairies and rugged badlands are common on the Sioux Division in South Dakota, while densely wooded forests, and carpets of alpine wildflowers await visitors to the Beartooth Plateau near 12,799 foot Granite Peak, the highest in Montana. Hunting and fishing, hiking and camping, horseback riding and scenic driving, are just a sample of what the Custer offers. The greatest rewards await those willing to explore off the beaten track.
The Dakota Prairie Grasslands sprawl across wide open spaces of North and South Dakota in four units, each with a flavor all its own. Remnants of tallgrass prairie cover rolling hills on the Sheyenne National Grasslands in significant contrast to the stark badlands found in the Little Missouri National Grasslands. Resources are equally varied on the Grand River and dinosaur fossils hint of past times. The Dakota Prairie Grasslands are a treasure of natural science, revealing their secrets to scientists and others who come here to visit and study. Pristine vistas inspire the imagination; and the sights and sounds of the wide, rolling prairie invites exploration.
The Flathead’s spectacular, rugged terrain lies adjacent to Glacier National Park and west of the Continental Divide. The vast expanse of the Bob Marshall Wilderness complex offers forest visitors primitive recreational opportunities. This wild forest country provides habitat for endangered gray wolves and threatened grizzly bears. The Flathead Wild and Scenic Rivers, a favorite of white-water rafters, and the Swan River, dissect the beauty of the Mission, Swan, and Flathead Mountain ranges. Glaciated peaks and alpine lakes beckon summer users to hike, camp or fish. Fresh powder challenges the alpine enthusiast on Big Mountain Resort, while nordic skiers and snowmobilers seek the solitude of the backcountry. Try the undiscovered Flathead year-round.
Yellowstone! Gallatin! Madison! The headwaters of these rivers, world-renowned for “blue ribbon” trout fishing, flow through the heart of some of Montana’s most spectacular public lands…the Gallatin National Forest. Located just north of Yellowstone National Park, the 2.1 million acre Gallatin is rich in wildlife, scenic alpine vistas, rugged wildlands, and a spectrum of recreation opportunities. Forest visitors can enjoy wildflowers, trout fishing, big game hunting photography, alpine and nordic skiing, snowmobiling, camping, backpacking, river floating, horseback riding and more!
Montana’s “Capitol City Forest”, the Helena National Forest, provides a rather open atmosphere to the visitor, with many grassy parks interspersed amidst lodgepole pine and Douglas-fir forests. Highlighting the forest, and Gates of the Mountains Wilderness, remains as impressive a sight as when Lewis and Clark described them on their journey up the Missouri River. Mountains of the Continental Divide and spectacular alpine scenery characterize the Scapegoat Wilderness and the western portion of the forest. Wildlife and recreational values dominate in the Elkhorn range, southeast of Helena, Montana. Montana’s rich mining and ranching history are an important part of the Helena National Forest.
Idaho Panhandle National Forest
The Idaho Panhandle National Forests lie in beautiful North Idaho, where quaint villages snuggle up against soaring peaks or hug the shores of deep blue lakes. Backcountry trails guide the traveler through evergreen forests to remote lakes and spectacular views. Quiet country lanes take the motorist by abandoned mining towns, and trace Civil War era military wagon roads. Over 4,000 miles of rivers and vast lowland lakes challenge the whitewater rafter. Glassy-quiet runs beckon the canoeist to travel where steamboats once carried miners with dreams of riches gouged from the earth. The powder snows delight skier and snowmobiler. The Idaho Panhandle National Forests – a natural experience!
The Kootenai National Forest lies in the northwest corner of Montana. Its high craggy peaks, deep canyons and mixed conifers stretch from the Canadian border to the Clark Fork valley. Several U.S. and State Highways allow easy access to some of Montana’s scenic treasures: the Purcell Mountains, the Yaak River, Ross Creek Scenic Area Giant Cedars, the Kootenai River, Lake Koocanusa, and Libby Dam. Where roads stop, wilderness begins. The heart of the Kootenai is the Cabinet Mountain Wilderness, where majestic peaks tower over the surroundings. The Kootenai is a great place to go to get away from it all!
Like two forests in one package, the Lewis & Clark National Forest of west central Montana has two distinct divisions. The rugged mountain peaks of the Rocky Mountain Division often hold snow for 10 months of the year. This long backbone of a mountain range stretches south of glacier National Park with seemingly endless paralleling ridges and valleys. The six mountain ranges of the Jefferson Division appear to be islands of forest dotting expanses of wheat and ranch lands.
The Lewis & Clark National Forest Historical Trail Interpretive Center in Great Falls, Montana offers exhibits and trails that bring the early history of the Northwest vividly to life.
The Lolo National forest surrounds the western Montana community of Missoula. The crest of the Bitterroot Mountains divides Montana from Idaho and serve as the forest’s western boundary. The Continental Divide through the scapegoat wilderness defines the forest’s eastern boundary. Four major rivers and their streams offer some of the best fishing in the Rocky Mountains. The topography varies from remote, high ridges to smooth rolling meadows. The Rattlesnake National Recreation Area offers many recreation opportunities right on the edge of Missoula, Montana.
In the heart of north central Idaho, rugged peaks, deep canyons, dense forests, and remote wildernesses comprise the Nez Perce National Forest. To whitewater enthusiasts the Snake, Salmon, and Selway River mean adventure. These rivers also provide streamside visitors with good steelhead runs, fine camping and picnicking, and spectacular scenery. Due in large part to dramatic elevational differences, the forest supports a wide variety of vegetation, from cedar groves to desert ecosystems. These extremes support numerous and diverse wildlife populations. The Seven Devils Area of the Hells Canyon National Recreation is on the Nez Perce National Forest.