Salmon Lake, Montana

The delightful Salmon Lake is located in a state park of the same name in the western region of Montana.

Just over 30 miles northeast of Missoula, this natural and scenic little spot is set between 2 different mountain ranges by way of the Mission and Swan Ranges.

Salmon Lake is one of a handful of naturally-formed lakes in the ‘chain’ of lakes in this stretch of Montana, located along the Clearwater River.

Some of the other lakes in the chain, including the nearby Seeley Lake, are formed by the river flowing southward which eventually reaches the Blackfoot River at Clearwater Junction.

Immediately adjacent to Montana 83, this park serves as one of the main access points to the Clearwater River Chain-of-Lakes.

All of the lakes are worth a visit, but the size and pristine natural features of Salmon Lake make it a somehow more picturesque and tranquil cut above some of the other more populated water bodies.

This is the ideal setting from which to enjoy relaxed water-based recreation like boating, fishing, and swimming, and it also serves as a top spot to catch some decent wildlife viewing opportunities.

Salmon Lake State Park is the designated state park area where Salmon Lake is situated, and it features a campground, day-use facilities, and a boat launch right next to the lake.

A lot of birding goes on around these parts, and Seeley Lake, which is just 5 miles south of the state park, has a Spring Loon Festival which offers a few unique angles and sights on birding.

Salmon Lake State Park operates by way of a Summer Season which sees it open through the summer until late October.

Winter Season is considered as Nov 1 – April 30 when the area is closed to all motorized traffic and the park accepts walk-in visitors only, for the day-use facilities only as no overnight camping is permitted throughout this period.

The campground is open from May through September/October, and the Day Use Area is open between May and the end of November, according to the weather conditions in some instances.

Getting to Salmon Lake State Park couldn’t be easier as it is right on Highway 83. When you get close the lake is about 7 miles north of the Clearwater Junction between Highway 83 and Highway 200.

The entrance to the park is very easy to spot on the west side of the highway.

salmon lake

Lake Salmon Stats

  • 42-acre state park
  • 630-acre lake
  • 24-site campground
  • Open year-round

Main Attractions at Lake Salmon

Camping and the water sports options are probably the main draws to this neck of the woods. The woodland setting of the state park is heavy on western larch, ponderosa pine, and Douglas-fir.

If you are thinking of heading this way and doing a spot of camping it is wise to consider that Salmon Lake State Park is one of two in the region which historically have the highest numbers of visits of any state parks in the Missoula area.

So it is recommended you make any camping reservations as far in advance as possible.

Ranger programs are offered on weekends and weekdays during warmer months from June through early August–in the park’s amphitheater.

You can fish, picnic, launch your boat, water-ski, follow interpretive signs, and plenty more in this woodland setting. Any other recreation options are a matter of personal choice–whether you’re fishing the clear waters of the lake or water skiing the day away.

The scenic backdrop makes for an idyllic ambiance regardless of what you are doing—or not doing!

It’s also a great place for some real tranquil relaxation. The park offers camping, boat ramps, picnic shelters, toilets, water, and various other amenities.

If that’s not enough to keep you occupied or satiate your desire for activity, just up the road is the Seeley Lake with its own Lake Center and Museum, which features exhibits and displays related to natural resources, logging, and Forest Services in the area.

Things to do at Lake Salmon


The 24-site campground is set in a woodland scenario complete with Ponderosa Pine, Western Larch, and Douglas Fir.

There is also a hike-bike site complete with bike racks, set up to accommodate around 10 tent spaces and featuring fire rings, lockers, and potable water. About half of all the sites have electrical hook-ups and many are ideal for recreational vehicles.

Online reservations are accepted, and always make sure to check availability first if you can.

The Lake Salmon Campground is open from the beginning of May and October end, and fees range between $4.00 and $34.00 per night according to the current amenities available and the season.



Salmon Lake has a decent reputation when it comes to fishing, and any potential anglers can expect to encounter a diverse fish population.

We are talking a combination of kokanee salmon and rainbow trout, northern pike, yellow perch, brown trout, bull trout, and westslope cutthroat trout along with largemouth bass, mountain whitefish, and pumpkinseed all found in the lake which is annually stocked by FWP, especially with the slightly unusual kokanee.

Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks stocks the lake with kokanee almost every year and this is a great place to seek this uncommon salmon.

Generally, any fishing pressure is mild but the lake sees its fair share of high-volume fishing at various times throughout a typical year.

If you are looking for some quality western Montana fishing both Salmon Lake and Clearwater River offer up some decent odds.

Wildlife Viewing and Birding

wildlife viewing

There are great opportunities for birding both in and outside of the state park. Some of the species that are often glimpsed in these regions include bald eagles, osprey, red-necked grebes, blue herons, common loons, common waterfowl, and plenty of others.  

Salmon Lake’s tree-lined banks, located at moderate elevations less than 4,000 feet, have much potential habitat and variety for birds. And large numbers of birds do frequent the area which in turn brings in the birders.

They may be looking for anything from the awesome-looking bald eagles that are commonly spotted to the exotically-colored songbirds—or maybe just leaving it to fate and seeing what pops up.

Salmon Lake–along with Seeley Lake–is reportedly one of the best places in Montana to keep track of the large and shy common loon, known best for its call.

Loons are large and rather shy birds that are best known for their exotic calls. The Loons nest on the lake every year and can be glimpsed most likely at dawn and dusk.

Hiking Trails at Salmon Lake

Take a hike along the shoreline of the lake or head out into the forest along with one of the many trails that connect to other options.

There is no major hiking trail as such around the lake but there are certainly plenty in the very near vicinity.

Wilderness and Jones Pond Circular Trail

Enjoy this 2.3-mile loop trail that is generally reported as moderately challenging. The route takes most walkers the best part of an hour to complete, and this is a great trail if you are birding or camping in the area.

The trail is open year-round depending on weather conditions and dogs are welcome as you’ll see from the permitted off-leash areas.

Morrell Falls National Recreation Trail

This 5.5-mile out-and-back trail is close to Seeley Lake and is generally considered an easy route. On average most people are looking at a couple of hours to complete this one, and it is a popular trail used for multiple purposes.

The best times to visit this trail are June through October, and there is a waterfall at the end of the trail that looks amazing any time of the year.

Dogs are welcome and are allowed off-leash in some areas. A nice and easy, scenic hike with the dogs!

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