Sluice Boxes State Park is about as primitive as state parks get—there are no RV hook-ups, no firewood concessions, just a vault toilet near the trailhead and a warning to hikers: the 8 northernmost miles of Belt Creek Canyon that make up the park are undeveloped, steep, climatically unpredictable, and not much suited for fair-weather hikers.
Visitor access to the park is provided by the abandoned railway grade that once served the canyon's placer miners and prospectors. You'll have to ford Belt Creek, which is not something you want to try during spring runoff, so hikers generally tackle Sluice Boxes from mid-July through September, when the water is less pushy.
Unmaintained trails provide access to the creek for fishermen and adventurous floaters, who should be practiced and competent before messing with Belt Creek's cold, rocky flow.
Sluice Boxes features no developed campsites, and a backcountry camping permit is required of overnighters. Get permits from the FW&P office in Great Falls, at 406-454-5840 or 406-454-5857.
Congress designated the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness in 1975. Over 920,000 acres of the wilderness area coincide with Montana's Gallatin, Custer, and Shoshone national forests. Just over 23,000 acres of the wilderness lies in Wyoming. The Absaroka-Beartooth, just north of Yellowsyone National Park, is considered an integral part of the 20-million-acre Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.
The wilderness consists of two distinct mountain ranges. The Absaroka, named for the Crow people, is the more fertile range, densely forested with spruce, fir, and pine, and frequented by bighorn sheep, mountain goats, elk, deer, moose, marmots, coyotes, wolves, black bears, grizzlies, and Yellowstone cutthroat trout. Fauna thins out in the higher-elevation Beartooth Range, which features treeless plateaus, steep canyons, small alpine lakes, and Montana's highest point: 12,799-foot Granite Peak.
The Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness's 700-mile trail system is most often accessed via the Beartooth Highway, US 212, from Red Lodge or by forest access roads off of US 89 south of Livingston.
Ackley State Park is 160 acres of campground and shoreline surrounding Ackley Lake, near Lewistown, in dead-center Montana. Ackley Lake, name for a local pioneer, is stocked with rainbow trout, and 10-15-inch fish are common.
Fifteen campsites (primitive, tent, and RV), two boat launches, vault toilets, fire rings, grills and picnic tables are available at this pack-in/pack-out park. There are no fees for camping, and no potable water is available on-site. Maximum trailer length is 24 feet.
The Wilderness's 158,615 acres straddle the Continental Divide and are jointly managed by the Beaverhead-Deer Lodge and Bitterroot national forests. Sixty miles of the 3,100 mile Continental Divide National Scenic Trail cross the Anaconda-Pintler.
Elevations in the wilderness range from 5,100 to 10,793 feet. West and East Goat Peaks, Warren Peak, Mount Evans, and Fish Peak, among other 10,000-foot-plus peaks, are considered climbable without technical equipment. Mountain goats and bighorn sheep are common in the wilderness, which is also home to black bears, rare grizzlies, moose, elk, mule deer, wolves, and wolverines.
Hiking trails are extensive. Mort Arkava's book Hiking the Anaconda-Pintler Wilderness traces 48 routes. Be aware that water can remain frozen and snow remain a threat in the high backcountry even in mid-summer.
Also be aware that with so much mega-profile Montana backcountry available in Yellowstone and Glacier national parks, the Anaconda-Pintler Wilderness—splitting the distance between those two tourist magnets and relatively remote from Montana's urban centers—is little used. The opportunities for solitude are spectacular.
Access is limited. The O'Hair Ranch charges a rod fee and encourages anglers to hire local guides to track the creek's abundant brown, rainbow, and Yellowstone cutthroat trout.
Midges, scuds, and eggs are recommended for winter fishing; baetis, midges, and sculpin in spring; PMD's, hoppers, crickets, and beetles are popular in the summer months; baetis and midges in the fall.
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.
This 65-acre park on the Clark Fork River just upstream of Missoula offers tent camping sites, RV hookups, and tipi rentals in season, plus an interpretive trail, the standard assortment of fire rings and bathrooms and picnic tables, and an amphitheater offering interpretive programs on Friday evenings during summertime.
Beavertail Hill State Park is closed in winter.
Beavertail Hill is also a good launch or take-out for canoeists exploring the Clark Fork. Be aware of downed trees across the river. The next take-out downstream is at Rock Creek.
Big Arm State Park is a 217-acre site on Big Arm Bay, on Flathead Lake's western shore. Big Arm is a popular launch point for visitors headed to nearby Wild Horse Island.
Amenities include flush and vault toilets, tent and RV campsites, bear-resistant storage lockers, boat trailer parking, public phone, picnic tables, potable water, grills and fire rings, firewood, and coin-operated showers. A yurt is available for rent as well.
Activities include fishing, board sailing, boating, swimming, bicycling, scuba diving, and water-skiing.
Full-service camping is available May 1 to September 30, with limited services available through mid-November. Be aware that a Confederated Salish & Kootenai Tribal fishing license, available in Polson, is required to legally fish at Big Arm.
Big Spring Creek flows out of Big Spring, the third-largest freshwater spring in the world, pumping 50,000 gallons per minute. One of the cleanest streams in the U.S., Big Spring serves as Lewistown's unpurified municipal drinking water supply and as a source for several brands of commercial bottled water. The creek runs approximately 30 miles from the Big Springs Trout Hatchery at its headwater through Lewistown before joining the Judith River northwest of town.
The Big Springs Trout Hatchery, seven miles southeast of Lewiston, is the largest coldwater hatchery in Montana, producing up to 130,000 pounds of fish annually to stock some 100 Montana waters with rainbows, Yellowstone cutthroats, brown trout, and Kokanee salmon
Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks maintains six seasonal public fishing access sites along Big Spring Creek. Caddis hatch January through mid-September; Pale Morning Dun July through August; and Baetis March through May.
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.
The Bob Marshall Wilderness, the 1,009,356-acre centerpiece of a complex including Great Bear and Scapegoat wilderness areas, was designated in 1964, and named for forester, conservationist, and Wilderness Society founder Bob Marshall (1901–1939).
"The Bob" is one of the most expansive untouched ecosystems in the world, and hosts the densest population of American grizzly bears outside of Alaska.
The Bob's signatured feature is the Chinese Wall, a 1,000-foot-high escarpment running 22 miles up the 60 miles of Rocky Mountain spine encompassed by the wilderness. The north and south forks of the Sun River and the middle and south forks of the Flathead also rise in the Bob. Rafting the Flathead's middle fork is possible for those willing to pack or fly in, and is best in late summer. The Flathead's middle fork offers some of the state's wildest whitewater, especially during peak midsummer flows. Rafters generally put in at Schafer—the only landing field in the complex that's publicly accessible.
Early rifle season starts mid-September, and hunters show the fertile wilderness heavy use. More than 50 professional outfitters and guides operate in the wilderness.
For hikers and horseback riders, over 1,000 miles of trails dig deep into the Bob proper. The wilderness can be accessed via U.S. Highway 2 to the north, U.S. 89 and 287 to the east, and Montana Highway 200 and 83 to the south and west. Towns with services bordering the wilderness include Swan Lake, Seeley Lake, Lincoln and Hungry Horse to the west, and Augusta, Choteau and Dupuyer to the east.