The Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest's 3.35 million acres make it the largest national forest in Montana, covering parts of eight southwest Montana counties. Administrative offices representing seven ranger districts are located in Butte, Dillon, Philipsburg, Deer Lodge, Whitehall, Ennis, Sheridan, Wise River, and Wisdom.
The combined forests, individually proclaimed by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1908, now encompass a dozen+ mountain ranges, the Anaconda-Pintler and Lee Metcalf Wilderness Areas, Georgetown Lake, the Discovery and Maverick Mountain ski areas, and the ghost towns of Elkhorn, Granite and Coolidge. Both the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail and the Nez Perce Historic Trail traverse the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest. Two driving tours—Lemhi Pass and the Pioneer Mountains Scenic Byway—provide scenic auto access.
The Beaverhead-Deerlodge Forest provides habitat for 246 birds, 85 mammals—including grizzly bears and wolves—and 15 reptiles and amphibians. Fifty campgrounds, 25 cabins, and hundreds of miles of hiking, horse, bicycle, snowmobile and cross-country ski trails for human access.
The Bitterroot National Forest encompasses 1.6 million acres in Montana and Idaho, almost half of which is made up of the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness, the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness, and the Anaconda-Pintler Wilderness.
The Bitterroot offers winter sports from downhill skiing and snowboarding at Lost Trail Powder Mountain to cross country skiing, snowshoeing, and snowmobiling at Skalkaho Snowpark, plus almost endless backcountry opportunities. From spring through fall, the Selway, Snake, Salmon, and Middle Fork of the Salmon are nationally popular whitewater destinations. Hikers have 1,600 miles of trails to choose from in the forest's two defining mountain ranges: the Bitterroot, and the Sapphires.
The Bitterroot's four ranger districts (Stevensville, Darby, Sula, and West Fork) manage more than 35 campgrounds and picnic areas, and 8 rental cabins and fire lookouts.
Forty-three acres on the shore of Hauser Lake, near Helena. A concrete boat launch with dock gives fishermen access to Hauser's kokanee salmon and trout. Max. trailer length is 35 feet. Black Sandy is a popular put-in for weekend boaters, fishermen and water skiers
Potable water, toilets, picnic facilities and a dump station accommodate RVers (no hookups) and tent campers on 33 sites.
Cameron Lake greets road-weary travelers at the end of the scenic Akamina Parkway in Alberta's Waterton Lakes National Park. Visitors can rent boats for a casual paddle, enjoy a picnic, or visit the interpretive center. During the summer, there's a shuttle service from the Waterton townsite to the lake for hikers tackling the Carthew-Alderson trail.
The tiny town of Elkhorn enjoyed a silver-mining boom from the 1880s until 1890, when silver went bust and 2,500 residents dispersed. Two publicly owned structures remain from those days: Fraternity Hall and Gillian Hall, both registered on the Historic American Buildings Survey.
There's no camping at Elkhorn, and few if any services in the remainder of privately owned Elkhorn. Take a camera, take a walk through the past, and be aware of private property.
Finley Point State Park, carved out of pine forest on the southeastern shore of Flathead Lake, offers a boat ramp and 16 boat slips up to 25 feet long (the maximum trailer length) to facilitate boat access to Flathead's water skiing, party-barging, and kokanee and lake trout fishing.
Sixteen RV sites (with 30-amp electrical hookups) and two tent-only pads accommodate campers with full services from May 1 to September 30. Limited services camping and the boat ramp remain open through mid-November. Firewood is for sale in the park, and bear-resistant storage lockers, a boat sewage dump, and potable water are available as well.
Camping fees are charged, and be aware that a joint state/tribal fishing license is required to fish from Finley Point.
The Flathead National Forest covers 2.3 million acres, about 1 million acres are designated wilderness. The Forest provides habitat for approximately 250 species of wildlife and 22 species of fish. The forest contains 1,700 miles of roads and 2,800 miles of hiking trails.
The Flathead National Forest also has 34 campgrounds and 11 cabins for rent in the forest, and maintains local ranger district offices in Bigfork, Hungry Horse, and Whitefish.
Just off I-90 west of Missoula, Frenchtown Pond is a 5-acre spring-fed lake with a maximum depth of about 10 feet. A popular swimming hole and protected practice spot for beginning kayakers and canoeists, the pond also draws triathalon-training swimmers, summer splashers, snorkelers and newbie windsurfers. In winter, the pond makes for easy-access ice skating.
Every year on Labor Day Weekend, the parks hosts the Garden City Triathalon, with multiple events for adults and kids.
Frenchtown Pond is also a good spot for fishing with the kids, as the little lake is stocked with yellow perch, largemouth bass and black bullhead catfish.
All boating on Frenchtown Pond is non-motorized, and pets are not allowed in the park at all. Picnic areas with fire rings and grills, bathrooms, a children's playground, drinking water, and an RV dump station are available. Watch for special programs at the park during the summer months.
South-central Montana's 1.8 million-acre Gallatin National Forest, established in 1899, encompasses six distinct mountain ranges and parts of two designated wilderness areas: the Absaroka-Beartooth and the Lee Metcalf. Granite Peak, Montana's highest mountain at 12,799 feet, straddles the border between the Gallatin and Custer national forests.
The Gallatin National Forest is home to grizzly bears, black bears, gray wolves, bald eagles, peregrine falcons, elk, mule deer, bison, moose, bighorn sheep, antelope, mountain lions, and the Canada lynx. The Gallatin River, the Madison River, and tributaries of the Yellowstone River traverse the forest, and plentiful trout make the forest one of the country's premier fly fishing hotspots.
Special attractions include Earthquake Lake, formed in 1959 when a massive quake-triggered landslide sent 80 million tons of rock crashing into a narrow canyon of the Madison River, and the 68-mile Beartooth Scenic Byway (closed by snow in winter).
The Gallatin features more than 2,290 miles of hiking trails, some connecting to trails in Yellowstone National Park. Forty vehicle-accessible campgrounds and 23 rental cabins serve overnighters. Snowmobilers often access the forest via the neighboring town of West Yellowstone.
Local ranger districts offices are in Big Timber, Bozeman, Gardiner, Livingston, and West Yellowstone.
Goat Haunt is a small outpost located at the head of Waterton Lake and serves as a border crossing for backpackers passing through the international boundary that divides Glacier-Waterton International Peace Park. Accessed by foot or boat during the summer, the station is a desolate place in the off-season.
Greycliff Prairie Dog Town State Park is a 98-acre site in southeastern Montana where, through the combined efforts of the Nature Conservancy, the Montana Department of Transportation, and Fish, Wildlife and Parks, a community of black-tailed prairie dogs is protected, preserved, and displayed for the entertainment and education of passersby.
Interpretive displays explain prairie dog ecology, and the pop-up critters are viewable at a distance with binoculars and cameras. Photography and observation are the only viable activities, but kids love prairie dogs, and there are picnic tables on-site, making this a great place for a field trip.
Camping is available a quarter mile away; restrooms are a mile distant.
Dogs—the canine kind—are allowed, but must be leashed for obvious reasons. Please don't feed the prairie dogs.
Hell Creek is an arm of Fort Peck Lake, and a gateway to both boat-camping in the Wild and Scenic Missouri River Breaks, and pleasure boating, water skiing, wind-surfing and walleye fishing on the lake itself. During winter, ice fishing, ice-skating and Nordic skiing are popular. During summer, don't expect isolation.
The park sprawls over 337 acres featuring boat ramps, docks, pay phones, restrooms, water, showers, RV sump stations, a seasonal food concession, picnic tables, fire rings, and hike/bike/interpretive trails. There are 55 campsites, including 45 with electrical hookups. The maximum trailer length is 35 feet.
A small, muddy puddle in the Ninemile Valley, Kreis Pond is the starting point for 25 miles of well-developed mountain biking trails. Lolo National Forest maintains six campsites at the pond. No drinking water is provided, and there's no fee.
Lake Elmo is an urban, day-use-only 64-acre reservoir popular with swimmers, cork fishers, sailboarders, and non-motorized pleasure boaters.
The park offers flush toilets, disabled-access fishing pier, swimming beaches, showers, change rooms, picnic tables, drinking water, a short nature trail, public phone, group shelters, a playground, and summertime concession services (including snack sales and boat rentals).
Also of note, and well used by locals, is Lake Elmo's fenced, 200-square-foot dog park on the lake's west side. Elsewhere in the 120-acre park, dogs must be leashed.
Just seven miles from the summertime bustle of Flathead Lake, Lake Mary Ronan State Park is a good option for weekenders wanting to avoid the crowds.
The 120-acre park has a boat ramp and dock, a group camping site, 27 no-hookup tent sites, and several RV sites with electrical connections and potable water. Firewood, vault toilets, fire pits, grills and bear-resistant lockers are available.
The lake itself is stocked with kokanee salmon, trout, smallmouth bass and perch, and its reputation as a fishing (and ice fishing) lake is excellent. Huckleberry and mushroom hunting in season, canoeing and kayaking, swimming and bird-watching are all viable ways to spend the day at Lake Mary Ronan.