Kootenai National Forest Activity Guides:
Kootenai National Forest Trails:
Kootenai National Forest
Kootenai National Forest Overview
Nursed by a moist Pacific maritime climate found in few other places in the generally arid state of Montana, the Kootenai National Forest is lushly overgrown with trees. Fifteen species of conifers alone can be found here, including ponderosa, lodgepole, and juniper, as well as Douglas-fir, Engelmann spruce, larch, and grand fir. The tenacious whitebark pine clings to the high, rocky folds of the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness, while hushed cathedrals of giant hemlocks and western red cedars rise above the forest floor.
The Kootenai, located in the mountainous terrain of extreme northwestern Montana, holds a variety of landscapes for explorers. The pathways that skirt the magnificent 8,000-foot peaks of the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness, as well as the striking collage of cliffs, spires, and canyons at Bull Lake and Marten Creek, provide impressive views. But first-time visitors to the Kootenai would be remiss if they didn't devote at least some of their time to unhurried ambles through its exquisite forests. For a sampling of stately ponderosa—the pine that John Muir said "gives forth the finest music to the winds"drive the Tony Peak Road southeast of Libby or along Lower Bristow Creek on the western edge of Lake Koocanusa.
Hikers will find stands of alpine larch on Northwest Peak in the 19,000-acre Northwest Peaks Scenic Area, while grand old firs line the Fisher Mountain-Tepee Lake Trail. The gnarled whitebark pine greets walkers in the beautiful 15,700-acre Ten Lakes Scenic Area. And finally, for a taste of one of the grandest trees anywhere on the continent, head for the Ross Creek Cedar Grove.
Backpack Montana's Skyline
The Skyline National Recreation Trail System meanders through timberland and up mountains. Climb the Quartz Mountain, through subalpine fir and spruce woodland, and eventually on to O'Brien Mountain. Once you ascend to the tri-peaked Skyline Mountain, you will be able to see a full panorama of the Kootenai's ranges and river valleys.
Wander the Ross Creek Cedar Grove
The 100-acre Ross Creek Cedar Grove is one of the loveliest, most ethereal forests to be found in any of the Rocky Mountain states. Its 0.9-mile self-guided nature trail winds past giant red cedars up to eight feet in diameter and 175 feet in height and passes a tapestry of other plants common to the Kootenai, including mountain maple, hemlock, grand fir, ferns, violets, wild ginger, showy devil's club, and trillium.
Bike Fisher Divide
Maneuver past Ponderosa Pine, Larch and Douglas fir, wildflowers and around beautiful mountains. Highlights of the trail include its views of the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness, whose summits extend up to 8,000 feet in the air. Keep a watchful eye out for elk, moose, black bear, whitetail and mule deer.
Fish the Kootenai
The Kootenai River is known by anglers to have some of the best rainbow trout fishing in the state of Montana. Other great fishing destinations within the forest include Koocanusa, where you can find some of the best Kokanee salmon fishing in the northwest. Some low-elevation lakes contain rainbow, cutthroat, brook, and lake trout, as well as largemouth bass, northern pike and yellow perch.
Float the Yaak
The word "yaak" refers to the Native American word meaning "arrow," which refers to the darting, fast nature of the river. This raft, canoe and kayak route weaves from Upper Ford through the Kootenai's lush pine forests, and to Whitetail Creek. Shorelines show off fabulous spring wildflowers and berries.
Ski Libby Ranger District
During Montana's colder seasons, the Libby Ranger District offers some great cross-country and alpine skiing. Both trails at Bear Creek and Flatiron Mountain are maintained and groomed. Back roads offer unlimited possibilities. Alpine skiing is available at Turner Mountain, within close proximity to Libby.
Ride the Ten Lakes
The Ten Lakes Scenic Area has several wonderful equestrian paths. Travel past Poorman and Green Mountains. Ride on the Therriault Pass, and eventually to the pristine, blue waters of the Therriault Lakes. Lush meadows, multi-colored wildflowers, huckleberry, and scented pines scatter the trail. Ah, the West.
Watch out for Wildlife!
Be sure to keep your eyes open so you don't miss the Kootenai's collection of mountain animal life. Moose, mountain goat, mountain lion, bobcat and lynx all roam the more rugged areas. Although you may not see all of these creatures, be sure that each one is looming in the fir shadows. Birding is a popular pastime—over 191 species have been recorded. Black bears and grizzly bears are both inhabitants of the area, so be sure to exercise bear safety.
Camp at Bad Medicine
This camp is nestled in the heart of big cedar country—where the trees grow up to eight feet in diameter and 175 feet tall. The campground's upper and lower loops provide scenic sites and easy accessibility to nearby Kootenai attractions including the Ross Creek Cedar Grove Scenic Area, which is a short one-mile hike away. The campground offers nearby salmon, trout, bass and perch fishing.