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Big Hole River, Montana

The Big Hole River is a large river in Montana that starts at Skinner Lake near the Idaho border and ends near the Jefferson River.

Spanning about 153 miles, Big Hole River is quite big and provides scenic views of the mountains. The river offers a chance to see a variety of gorgeous sights of nature, including scenic valleys, mountains, and more.

In addition to providing great views, the river is also quite popular for recreational activities, in particular fishing.

This area may not provide a lot of activities you’d expect from big cities like nightlife and a plethora of restaurants due to the cities having smaller populations, but when it comes to the outdoors, the opportunities are endless.

There’s hiking, fishing, camping, and more to do near the Big Hole River. There are also some nice lodges and hotels to stay in near the Big Hole River.

Both towns Jackson and Wisdom nearby offer plenty of good accommodations for visitors. Overall, this is a great area to visit for anyone looking to enjoy the beautiful nature Montana has to offer visitors.

History of Big Hole River

history of big hole river
Image: Nicolas Henderson

The Big Hole River and its surrounding area were a popular trade route for Native Americans and a place to forage.

However, no one stayed in the area year-round due to the harsh winters in the area. Later on, the area was popular with trappers in the 1800s. Notably, Lewis & Clark also traveled through this area.

The Big Hole River began to be settled by miners and homesteaders in the mid-1800s to early 1900s. A.J. and Hattie Noyes were the first homesteaders in the valley, and they settled in Crossings, now known as the town of Wisdom.

With the gold rush, more people began to move to Montana and near the Big Hole River. With meat becoming wanted by miners, ranchers also started moving to the area. Today, many of the ranches that started then are still operating today.

Although the history of the Big Hole River is relatively peaceful, there was one infamous violent event. The day of August 9, 1877, the U.S. Army attacked the Nez Perce tribe. The Nez Perce were able to flee the battle, but many people were lost in the battle.

Today the battlefield is preserved and is now the Big Hole Battlefield National Monument.

Today Wisdom and Jackson both have rather small populations but a thriving rancher community. The areas remain popular with tourists for outdoor recreational activities.

Geography & Stats

geography and stats
Image: TravelingOtter

The Big Hole River is about 153 miles long, making it somewhat large. It starts at Skinner Lake and ends at Jefferson River. The watershed drains about 2,800 sq miles.

The valley is in a high-altitude area and is surrounded by mountains. It is about 6000 feet above sea level. Because it’s so high up, the valley is quite cold even in the summer months.

The river flows through the mountains for a bit and then makes its way through the Big Hole valley for about 60 miles. Then it goes eastward and enters a canyon. At this point, the velocity of the river has picked up and there are a few rapids.

After traveling through the canyon, the river goes South past the small town Divide. This area is surrounded by cottonwood trees. 

Then after 25 miles, the river flows northeast and flows into the Jefferson River.

Due to the moisture of the area, Big Hole River is also known for having quite a few mosquitoes. Visitors will want to plan on bringing bug spray to avoid an unpleasant trip.

The Big Hole River is also famous for being the last area in the United States with native fluvial Arctic Grayling.

Activities & Attractions

Camping

Many people like to camp near Big Hole River well fishing or simply sightseeing. There are quite a few good campsites near the river.

Maiden Rock Campground is a popular campsite for visitors, with nearby access to Maidenrock Fishing Access Site, a popular fishing spot at Big Hole River.

If you’re looking for somewhere that allows RVs, you might consider Big Hole River Park in Wisdom. This RV park is near the river and also the mountains where there are plenty of activities to do including hiking, biking, and mountain climbing.

Don’t forget to pack bug spray as there are quite a few mosquitos near the river!

Big Hole National Battlefield Monument

This is a great area to visit if you’re interested in history. The area has a few trails to walk through and a visitor center detailing the history of the area.

This site once hosted a battle between the U.S. Army and the Nez Perce tribe. The army ambushed the tribe and many people in the tribe were lost, although the Nez Perce were able to flee.

The visitor center here offers a twenty-minute video that visitors can watch that goes into more detail about the battle.

A grim but important part of Montana’s history, this area offers a chance to learn more about the infamous battle.

Fishing

fishing
Image: Latham Jenkins

Fishing is an extremely popular activity at Big Hole River. In particular, fly fishing is quite popular on this river.

The river is home to rainbow and brown trout. There is also brook trout fishing in some areas of the river. Rich with scenery and wildlife, fishing here can be quite relaxing.

June is usually considered the best time to fish here, with the water being less muddy and more clear. There are three different sections in the river, the lower, middle, and upper.

Each offers a different experience. Wise River and Divide are considered to be good access spots for fishers.

Big Hole River Facts

  • The Big Hole River was named by settlers for being surrounded by the highest and widest of the broad mountain valleys in western Montana
  • The area was used as a trade route for many Native American tribes including the Nez Perce, Shoshone, Coast Salish, and Blackfeet
  • It is the last habitat for fluvial Arctic grayling in the United States
  • The river has Class I water
  • There are approximately 3,000 fish per mile at the Big Hole River

FAQ’s

How deep is Big Hole River?

The average water level is roughly four feet.

How long is Big Hole River?

It is about 153 miles long

How wide is Big Hole River?

There is no exact data on how wide the river is, though it is considered to be quite wide for the majority of it

Where does Big Hole River start?

The river starts at Skinner Lake

Where does Big Hole River end?

It ends at Jefferson River

Which way does Big Hole River flow?

It flows south for the majority of it, going eastward towards the Jefferson River.

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