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Blackfoot River, Montana

Blackfoot River is situated in western Montana and has become one of the state’s most famous rivers for recreation.

Blackfoot’s headwaters are between Rogers Pass to the north and Stemple Pass to the south. The river then flows westwards across Milltown before draining into the Clark Fork River.

History

Over the years, Blackfoot River has undergone several changes due to mining and flooding. The river meanders through spectacular canyons and valleys formed by the Missoula Floods at the end of the ice age.

In 1975, a dam failure released toxic mine pollutants into the river, killing a large trout population downstream.

Human activities such as mining, logging, irrigation, and grazing caused further damage to the river before restoration efforts in the 2000s.

The first people to settle near the Blackfoot River area were Native Americans. The Salish, Nez Perce, and Pend d’Oreille tribes have occupied this place for about 10,000 years.

Natives used the area for bull trout fishing, summer hunting, and as a trail between the Great Plains and Continental Divide.

The novella, A River Runs Through It (1976) and its 1992 film elevated the river from a trout fishing stream to a popular attraction for fly fishing, rafting, hunting, and camping.

Geography & Stats

geography and stats
Image: Bitterroot

The Blackfoot River is 130 miles (209 km) and begins west of the Continental Divide, 10 miles northeast of the town of Lincoln in Lewis and Clark County.

The river flows westward through the diverse countryside, dropping over 3,000 feet before joining the Clark Fork River. The river’s confluence with the Clark Fork River is about five miles east of Missoula.

The upper half of the river runs slowly through the National Forest land with timbered banks. It also flows through several fishing access sites below Lincoln, including River Junction Fishing Access Site.

After leaving the fishing access site, the river runs with a quick to moderate flow towards the Clark Fork.

The first 12 miles of the river flow is a sparsely wooded plain with a wildlife preserve. This section offers views of wildlife such as bears, elk, deer, and moose.

Blackfoot River runs through a canyon before joining Clearwater River. After leaving Clearwater Junction, the river flows through mountains with designated campsites in the Blackfoot River Recreation Corridor.

After leaving the mountains, the river flows a couple of miles before its confluence with Clark Fork.

Blackfoot’s tributaries include the North Fork, Morrel, Gold Creek, Belmont Creek, Landers Fork, Copper Creek, and Monture Creek. These tributaries join the river at different downstream locations.

Activities & Attractions

The Blackfoot River is a paradise for visitors interested in various recreations through summer and fall. The river and the nearby terrain offer exquisite scenery that attracts thousands of visitors annually.

Attractions

Blackfoot River Valley

blackfoot river valley
Image: Bureau of Land Management

Blackfoot River Valley stretches from the Continental Divide to the confluence of the Blackfoot and Clark Fork Rivers.

Attractions like the Blackfoot River, Helena National Forest, Bob Marshall Wilderness, and the Garnet Mountains are along the valley.

The valley features numerous historical mining camps like Mike Horse, Gould Mine, and Jay Gould. Other historical highlights include the old trail routes and the Blackfoot Valley Historical Museum.

Wildlife, including grizzly bears, elk, moose, bighorn sheep, bald eagles, and pileated woodpeckers, call this valley home.

Milltown State Park

milltown state park

Milltown State Park is over 500 acres of public recreation site situated at the confluence of the Blackfoot River and Clark Fork River.

The park has two main entrance areas, Milltown State Park Confluence Area and Milltown State Park Overlook.

Milltown State Park is where rivers, trails, and rich cultural heritage converge. At the Confluence Area is the interpretive plaza and numerous riverfront trails.

Visitors can explore the history of the trails and river, including the Glacial Lake Missoula floods and the demolished Milltown Dam.

The Milltown State Park Overlook offers a panoramic view of the park, hiking trails, and rivers. It also features picnic tables for visitors’ convenience. From the overlook, visitors can hike for three miles through accessible trails to get to the Clark Fork River.

Each summer, the park attracts hundreds of visitors to escape the excess Missoula heat.

Montana Snowbowl

montana snowbowl

Montana Snowbowl is a fun ski site located eight miles from downtown Missoula. The ski area is about 950 acres and enjoys an average of 300 inches of snow annually.

The terrain is ideal for beginners, intermediate and expert skiers. Expert skiers can begin skiing at the summit of the Big Sky Mountain and head to the base area.

The summit elevation is 7560 feet, with numerous bumps, especially after a good snowstorm.

At the base of the Snowbowl are the ski rental facilities and ski patrol base. Visitors can find affordable accommodations at the Gelandesprung Lodge, a European-style lodge with amenities such as a kitchen, private baths, and hot tubs.

Clearwater Junction

Clearwater Junction is situated at Montana Highway 200 and 83 and serves as a meeting point for travelers from Missoula, Helena, Great Falls, and the Flathead Valley.

On the corner of the two roads sits a picturesque big bull that serves as the major attraction in the area. The bull has been there for about 30 years, attracting thousands of tourists every day.

Activities

activities
Image: Bureau of Land Management

Fly Fishing

Known for trout fishing, the Blackfoot River is a perfect destination for all anglers. Along the river are several fishing access points, such as the River Junction Fishing Access Site and Russell Gates Memorial Fishing Access Site.

Wildlife Viewing

Blackfoot River Valley offers excellent scenery for people interested in wildlife viewing. Visitors can spot grizzly bears, bighorn sheep, elk, and moose.

The valley also offers a perfect habitat for bird species such as snow geese, osprey, bald eagles, golden eagles, and prairie falcon.

Camping

Popular campgrounds near Blackfoot River include Corricks River Bend Campground, Blackfoot Canyon Campground, and Thibodeau Campground.

Camping is prohibited in non-designated areas of the Blackfoot River Recreation Corridor.

Hiking

Milltown State Park affords visitors nearly three miles of accessible hiking trails during summer. You can hike from the Milltown State Park Overlook down to the Clark Fork River and the flood plain trails.

Blackfoot River Facts

blackfoot river facts

  • The Blackfoot River flows approximately 130 miles (209 km) before entering the Clark Fork River.
  • The Blackfoot River is situated northeast of Missoula
  • Montana Highway 200 runs along the Blackfoot River, providing ideal access points.
  • The river is recovering from the damage caused by mining.
  • The best fish to catch in the river is brown trout and rainbow trout, which measure between 10 and 14 inches.

FAQ’s

  • How deep is the Blackfoot River?
    • The depth of the Blackfoot River varies from point to point. The shallowest parts are on the upper half of the river, and its depth increases when various tributaries join downstream.
  • How long is the Blackfoot River?
    • Blackfoot River is approximately 130 miles from its headwaters to its confluence with the Clark Fork River.
  • How wide is the Blackfoot River?
    • The width of the Blackfoot River varies from one part to the other.
  • Where does the Blackfoot River start?
    • The Blackfoot River begins west of the Continental Divide in Lewis and Clark County, just 10 miles northeast of the town of Lincoln.
  • Where does the Blackfoot River end?
    • The Blackfoot River ends at its confluence with the Clark Fork River, about five miles east of Missoula.
  • Which way does the Blackfoot River flow?
    • After leaving its headwaters between Rogers Pass and Stemple Pass, the river flows westward through Milltown before entering the Clark Fork River.

 

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