Flathead Lake, Whitefish Lake, and Swan Lake are the prime contenders when it comes to the best and most-visited lakes in the Flathead County region.
That’s not to say there aren’t any other decent waters in the vicinity—there are reportedly 500 or more—and some are rewarding enough to keep you going for days on the recreation front.
Little Bitterroot Lake is one such destination, and it can be found tucked within the forested foothills behind the small Montana town of Marion, located just southwest of Kalispell.
Recreation is plentiful at Little Bitterroot Lake, and fishing, swimming, or just relaxing and taking in the tranquil beauty of the lake is what draws many visitors.
There’s a famous hiking route by way of Lupine Lake Trail, and the lake’s shallow waters are commonly fished from canoes or such.
Considering that the Lost Trail National Wildlife Refuge is also not too far from here, in many ways you could say that the large mass tourist-free Little Bitterroot Lake is a dream vacation spot.
In fact, this scenic little spot in Montana is a great place to escape from the crowds if that’s your thing.
The area around the lake is almost completely under private ownership and compared to some of the much bigger, previously-mentioned lakes, you might find yourself wondering where all the people are at certain times at this year-round destination.
Little Bitterroot is a 3,000-acre lake with over 11 miles of shoreline and average depths of over 100 feet.
Visitors venturing along the lake’s western shore will find easy-access concrete boat ramps and a small public park with restrooms. This is an ideal spot for a great day on the water without feeling pushed for space–however, you choose to take advantage of it.
The lake can be accessed just to the north of Highway 2. From the direction of Kalispell, head west for 23 miles to Marion, where you need to take a turn north–off Highway 2–and onto FSR 538 for 6 more miles on Pleasant Valley Road.
When you arrive at a fork on this road, turn left onto Bitterroot Drive which takes you right to the lake in less than another two miles.
Little Bitterroot Lake Stats
- 2,969-acre lake
- One campground
- Open year-round
Main Attractions at Little Bitterroot Lake
The water itself and the tranquil natural surroundings are undoubtedly the main draws for many visitors to the lake.
There are a variety of nearby campgrounds in Marion within reach of the lake and the accompanying recreation opportunities that the lake and its surrounding area are a gateway to.
Many people are pleasantly surprised by the lack of crowds at this lake and start checking out the options and possibilities for camping once they realize how peaceful the area is.
There are camping options in some corners of the Little Bitterroot Lake, but there is more choice in the nearby vicinity of Marion.
Here are a few of the best options depending on what distance you want to be from the lake and what kind of amenities you prefer.
On the northern end of the lake, you can find the Lions Youth Camp with its rustic lodges and cabins as well as various facilities for events like weddings and such.
The McGregor Lake Campground near Marion is a great option if you want to be surrounded by lakes as this one is also within the famous Thompson Chain of Lakes and in a spot about midway between Kalispell and Libby.
McGregor Lakes RV is another option if you are bringing your home with you for a few days. Moose Crossing is a traditional campground in West Marion with cabins and various other amenities.
You can check out more camping options in the Bitterroot National Forest HERE.
Things to do at Little Bitterroot Lake
At 4.6 square miles, Bitterroot Lake is smaller in size than many of its neighboring bodies of water in Montana.
However, the lake does allow all types of watercraft including motorized and non-motorized, and there is a distinct lack of high-volume or high-speed traffic on much of the water here.
The majority of boating here is simply for leisure or fishing and there is no major congestion–which is a delight for both anglers and swimmers.
The boat ramp on the southwestern side of the lake makes launching a bit easier, as there is scant shore access.
Many anglers choose to scour the deeper depths from a boat in hopes of snagging a larger fish. The species common to these waters include Kokanee, Rainbow Trout and Yellow Perch, along with the odd rarer breed.
Finding a spot near the dam on Little Bitterroot Lake is a popular tactic used by many fishermen trying to snag a giant rainbow trout.
The Lost Trail National Wildlife Refuge is close to Marion and north of Kalispell, set in a natural landscape that provides the perfect environment for many unique species of plants and trees.
Located close to Marion, the environment is ideal for birds—hundreds of species in fact—not to mention Montana big game like grizzlies, elk, gray wolf, and moose.
In fact, even a brief list of some of the animals and other wildlife found at the refuge is on the extensive side, and it is likely to include: mule deer, white-tailed deer, black bear, badger, lynx, marten, bobcat, wolverine, and then some, as well as birds like wood duck, sandhill crane, Canadian geese, green-winged teal, heron, red-tailed hawk and great horned owl.
The refuge is best accessed by taking Highway 2 to Pleasant Valley Road, then the right fork after another mile, continuing on the blacktop to the graveled road.
This road stretches for approximately 13 miles more to bring you to the refuge.
Hiking Trails at Little Bitterroot Lake
Lupine Lake Trail is a 3-mile route that links to a much longer trail and also leads into some great recreational areas where the paved road ends at Little Bitterroot Lake.
The trail is used for multiple purposes which include various motorized vehicles, and the popular, though much longer connecting route winds through the scenic Pleasant Valley for 9 miles before ending at Lupine Lake.
The trail is generally considered to be moderately challenging and takes most walkers an average of 2.5 hours to complete.
If you fancy trekking across a far less-maintained trail system—in fact a non-existent one—dive into the Lost Trail Wildlife Refuge where there is nothing more civilized than a couple of gated roads—which incidentally are great for hiking or biking–and the open landscape means you can wander virtually whichever way suits you.
Just bear in mind that this area is populated by wildlife so don’t forget to keep your eyes peeled.