Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest, Montana

Montana’s Lewis and Clark National Forest is located in the central northern region of the state. It was established in 1897, and now spans a total of seventeen counties. The forest is in the system of the upper Missouri River and contains ten different mountain ranges. The landscape is typically permeated by coniferous forests and grassy meadows surrounded by high mountain peaks.

Around half of the forest also comprises the Bob Marshall and Scapegoat Wildernesses, and in 2015 the Lewis and Clark National Forest was combined with the Helena National Forest, resulting in the Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest.

Close to 100 miles of the Continental Divide Scenic Trail also run through the national forest, between the Scapegoat Wilderness and the Deerlodge National Forest.

The Lewis and Clark National Forest is a prime Montana outdoor recreation and exploration area and provides opportunities for everything from hiking, biking, horseback riding, scenic drives, OHV riding, and camping, as well as a variety of winter activities once the snow falls.

There are multitudes of developed trails in this diverse and expansive outdoor playground, which is also a haven for game hunters and anglers.


National Forest Stats

  • 2,846, 606 acres
  • Accessible year-round
  • Includes multiple mountain ranges
  • Over 30 campgrounds

Main Attractions

Aside from the obvious outdoor recreational activities that the Lewis and Clark National Forest has to offer, there are also numerous other things to do by way of historic tours, education programs, museums, interpretive centers, and a long list of other attractions.

Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center

lewis and clark interpretive center

The Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center exhibits various artifacts and provides information on the area’s most famous travelers and residents from the past. The various galleries provide details of these groups and individuals.

Self-guided tours are available through the interpretive staff, who provide visitors with various angles on the amazing heritage of this region.

Gates of the Mountains

gates of the mountains

Between both Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks, 20 miles north of Helena, the impressive and majestic Gates of the Mountains are located. Undoubtedly one of Montana’s ‘must see’ wonders, the best way to see them is by boat cruise.

The boat cruise lasts a couple of hours and starts 3 miles off Interstate 15, between Helena and Great Falls. The boat coasts through the magnificent, rugged scenery of wooded slopes and the serene, timeless beauty of the Missouri River.

Visitors to this region have retraced the path of Lewis and Clark for over a century, and today the route includes a Marina with private docks, and boat ramps used for the tens of thousands of visitors that come this way annually under normal operating conditions.

Recreation Activities

The national forest offers abundant and diverse opportunities for hiking, biking, camping, fishing, horseback riding, paddling and canoeing, and wildlife viewing. A number of guided tours are available for those who don’t know where to begin, and these tours offer some great insights of both the natural environment and the history related to it.

River Paddle Tours

river paddle tours

Paddle along the lush riverbanks of the Lewis and Clark River and take in the wondrous scenery and abundant wildlife. Journey through stretches of Lewis & Clark’s route and flow with the rhythm of the Missouri River.

Some tours are three-day affairs that feature camping and hiking and are organized by experienced local interpreters of the terrain. Whether gentle paddling or white-water rapids are your thing, a paddle along the Missouri is a great way to experience the national forest.


The national forest has a plethora of easy access camping grounds, and many of them provide other opportunities for activities like fishing and hiking. There are also plenty of decent RV spots with amenities.

Trail Routes


Explore one of the easy hiking trails in Lewis and Clark National Forest that are great for the whole family, or take on a more challenging hike on trails ranging from 8 to 1,475 meters in elevation gain.

Lewis and Clark National Historical Park offers miles of trails that follow various terrains. The majority of these trails feature stunning panoramic views and access to a wide variety of natural ecosystems.  Whatever you have planned for the day, you can find the perfect trail for your next trip to Lewis and Clark National Forest.

Memorial Falls

This is a 1.9 km, a loop-style trail that is fairly easy, with elevation gains of around 100 meters. The trail is close to Neihart and features a couple of nice waterfalls. It is used mainly for hiking, as well as running and bird watching, and dogs are allowed. The trail is best to use sometime between March and October.

Headquarters Creek

This is a 12.6 km loop trail with light traffic that is quite difficult. Near Choteau, the trail features a waterfall and includes a number of other activity options. At its best between July and September, this dog-friendly route is challenging by anyone’s measure, with 1000m elevation gains. However, the effort is well-rewarded by the great views to be had from the top.

Blackfoot Meadows Trail

Blackfoot Meadows Trail is a 16.6 km out and back trail, with elevation gains of less than 300 m. It is suitable for all levels of skill and is located in Elliston. The trail is used mainly for hiking and backpacking, as well as camping, and is best between June and September in terms of weather and conditions. Although dogs are allowed on this trail, they must be kept on a leash.