Montana’s Lolo National Forest is on the west side of the Continental Divide, and reaches west towards the Idaho border. The diverse forest surrounds one of the state’s most populated regions, Missoula, with St. Regis and Superior also being in its vicinity along the Interstate 90 stretch.
The national forest’s location affords it a diverse ecosystem that encompasses a wide variety of conifer and hardwood tree species. The maritime climate influences abundant growth, and among the plentiful vegetation some of the trees have reached record-breaking sizes. Alongside over 1,500 known plant species, the wildlife is no less plentiful and is rich in populations of birds, mammals, and fish.
On top of that, there are close to 1,000 wild streams, hundreds of mountain lakes, and five major rivers running through the well-defined scenery in this water-plentiful national forest in Montana.
Some of the numerous peaks that furnish the landscape have elevation ranges from around 2,000 ft. below Thompson Falls near the Clark Fork River, to more than 9,000 ft. Some of the highest regions include Lolo Peak and Scapegoat Mountain within the Scapegoat Wilderness.
National Forest Stats
- 2 million acres +
- Accessible all year round
- Tallest mountain Scapegoat Mountain (9,186 feet)
- Over 30 campgrounds
Seeley Lake is a naturally-formed lake of over 1,000 acres in size. It is one of a handful of Clearwater Valley lakes referred to as the ‘Chain of Lakes,’ all of which are easily accessible from Highway 83 and have decent nearby campgrounds. Seeley Lake has 3 campgrounds with swimming areas which makes it a popular recreational spot in Lolo National Forest.
The lake is also popular for fishing and is well-stocked with rainbow trout, bass, kokanee salmon, and various other local varieties.
Early settlers used these natural springs for their reported healing qualities, and Lolo Hot Springs today means mineral hot springs in a convenient easy-access pool. The springs are less than 30 miles from Missoula and can be reached by heading south on Highway 93 Highway 12, where you turn right and head west for another 25 miles.
You can enjoy the therapeutic qualities of the springs with a soak in the pool, and there are also other activities like volleyball, live music, and a restaurant, and lodging is also available.
The Lolo National Forest offers some of the finest recreation opportunities in western Montana across the whole year. Whether it is fishing, hiking, hunting, biking, wildlife viewing, boating, or camping, as well as winter escapades like cross-country skiing and snowmobiling – you won’t be short on avenues of recreation in this region of Montana.
On two wheels is a great way to navigate the forest. Most of the trails are multi-use anywhere so you can usually bike where you can hike. The trailheads will point this out when not applicable.
Water and fish are both in abundant supply in Lolo National Park, so take your pick from the 100-odd named lakes and 1,000-odd streams. Grab your rod and pick a spot like Welcome Creek or Rock Creek, two fishing sites easy to access and brimming with potential hauls.
Lolo National Forest is a veritable winter playground, with maintained cross-country skiing trails, or you can forge your own path. Here you’ll get the chance to sample fresh powder without the hassle of lift lines, and you can ski down Lolo Pass.
Over 700 trails await you in Lolo National Forest – here are a couple of examples of what’s on offer.
This is a moderate 2-mile hike in the vicinity of Seeley Lake, with impressive views of the Swan Valley. This is a heavily-used trail best accessed between late-Spring and the Fall.
This is an iconic and challenging summit hike with some fantastic views of the forest. The peak of over 9,000 feet can be accessed via a 14-mile round trip that is somewhat difficult.
Depending on whether you head for the North Summit or Lolo Peak, it is somewhere in the region of a 3,000-foot climb. The trail is steep, grades average 23 percent, with 30 to 40 percent grades along some stretches. You will certainly be rewarded with some amazing views the higher you go.
There aren’t actually any well-developed trails to Lolo Peak, but the terrain is quite open, so navigating the route shouldn’t prove too much of an issue. The trail isn’t normally clear of snow until early July, so before that it serves as a popular ski route for many backcountry skiers and snowboarders.
This trail in the Missoula area is a well-trodden day hiking, backpacking, and mountain biking route. The grade is relatively easy-going and the trail is wide, as it runs along a similar line to Rattlesnake Creek.
The main trail includes various side trails and other alternate offshoots that connect to other routes, and the terrain features mainly dry forest tracks. It starts to become more challenging gradient-wise after the first 9 miles, and elevations range between 3600 and 6920 feet. The trail is also multi-purpose and is likely to have mountain biking and other types of activity going on according to the time of year.
Closer to the Thompson falls area, this trail has some historical significance which is explained by various interpretive signs along the way. The Clark Fork Valley River can be viewed from 2 different overlook points along this trail which offers some impressive perspectives on the surrounding area.
The Cascade Campground is the location of the trailhead for this lightly-used route, and it ends on Forest Service Road south of the campground. The route is considered intermediate with grades along the way that vary somewhere between 6 and 20 %, with elevations between 2500 and 600 feet.