Vermilion River, Montana

Rebecca Hanlon
Last Updated: March 4th, 2023

Vermillion River, or Vermillion Creek, is a large stream in the Clark Fork River system. While the stream only resides in Montana, the Clark Fork River flows through Idaho and Montana. Vermillion River is surrounded by lush Montana scenery and wildlife in the Kootenai National Forest.

Discover everything there is to know about this popular fishing stream, including its history, geography, and activities perfectly suited for this area.

The Vermillion River – A Complete Guide

History of the Vermillion River

history of the vermillion river
Image: Janusz Sliwinski

Besides the fact that mining operations took place around the Vermillion River system in the 1900s, not much is revealed about the history of this area. However, the forest it resides in and the main branch it veers from provides insight.

Catastrophic floods from the last ice age (about 20,000 years ago) shaped the Clark Fork River system and other geographic features.

If you fast forward to the nineteenth century, the river was home to the Native American Flathead tribe. In 1806, the Lewis and Clark Expedition explored the area around Clark Fork. But it’s a wonder if they ventured across the Vermillion River.

By the late 19th century, people extensively used the Clark Fork River system for the mining of minerals, which introduced an ongoing stream pollution issue.

In modern times, people use the Vermillion River for recreational purposes, such as rafting, kayaking, and fishing. It is also the most significant bull trout spawning stream of the lower Clark Fork River drainage.

Geography and Stats

geography and stats

The Vermillion River is a stream connected to the Clark Fork River system near the border of Idaho in northwest Montana. It is a smaller, lesser-known creek, often mistaken for rivers with the same name.

The Clark Fork receives its headwaters from the Silver Bow Mountains near Anaconda, Montana. It is 479 miles long and consists of three major sections: upper, middle, and lower. The river flows northwest and becomes the lower Clark Fork once it reaches Thompson Falls from the west.

Before reaching the Noxon Rapids Dam, it passes through Trout Creek, which is where the Vermillion River breaks off (about 20 miles from Thompson Falls). The scenery around the stream features a valley (Twenty Odd Gulch) and a plain (Honey Flat).

The Vermillion River has many streams and creeks that break off its branch, and its waters end near the Vermillion Peak (part of the Rocky Mountains) in the Kootenai National Forest.

Activities and Attractions

The Vermillion River is located in a more rural area of Montana. And while it doesn’t provide many tourist attractions, it is an excellent area for recreational activities.



Cougar Peak Lookout

Cougar Peak offers a forest service fire lookout where people can experience breathtaking views of the river valley and the Cabinet Mountains. The lookout is a 14×14 foot-unelevated cabin (it sits on the ground), and you can rent it for the night for $45.

It is only available to rent from early June through early October, and you must bring your own amenities, such as food, water, and bedding. The cabin accommodates two to four people, and the interior consists of a single bed, two chairs, a table, and a wood stove.

Spend a couple of days in this cozy cabin and enjoy spectacular views and other recreational activities like hiking.

Settler’s Grove Interpretive Trail

Settler’s Grove offers an excellent way to explore and connect with nature. Explore an old cedar grove and walk among giant cedar trees dating back to the 1400s. The interpretive trail winds under these great sentient beings and provides wooden footbridges for an easy crossing.

The area suffered a wildfire in 2015, so you may see scorched trees. There is a small, narrow parking area and a vault toilet for visitors. The park management only asks that people be respectful and leave no trash behind.

Gem Peak Lookout

The Gem Peak Lookout is at the end of the southern Cabinet Mountain wilderness and overlooks the Clark Fork River.

In 1921, Gem Peak Lookout was just an open platform tower. However, the ranger district renovated the structure to include a 225-square-foot cabin on top of a 30-foot tower.

The cabin is complete with single beds, a wood heating stove, and an incredible view. Guests must bring their own amenities, including food, water, cooking utensils, and bedding.

You can rent this quaint cabin for $45 a night beginning the end of June.




Bull trout are native to the northwest, and the Vermillion River operates as the most significant spawning stream for this fish species in the lower Clark Fork River system. It is also a fortress for westslope cutthroat trout.

In the Vermillion waters, you will also find rainbow trout, cod, suckerfish, and smallmouth bass.


The Cabinet Mountains, Kootenai National Forest, and Lolo National Forest offer plentiful hiking trails perfect for novice or expert levels.

Near the Vermillion River, you will find the Cataract Creek Trail and the Grouse Mountain Trail, both of which are popular destinations for locals.

Whitewater Rafting/Kayaking

The Vermillion River is a class IV (or wild) whitewater rafting, meaning it requires expert skill to maneuver.

The Vermillion River provides turbulent waters with unpredictable waves and narrow passages. Ensure your rafting party can tackle this thrilling water!

Vermillion River Facts

  • It is part of the Clark Fork River system and is located in the Kootenai National Forest in northwest Montana.
  • Miners introduced pollution into the water in the 19th century
  • The Vermillion River breaks off from the Clark Fork near Thompson Falls
  • There are not many attractions in the area, but you will find lookout towers and ancient trails
  • The Vermillion River provides excellent opportunities for fishing and extreme whitewater rafting



How long is the Vermillion River?

The Vermillion River flows for 22 miles. The depth and the width of this river are unknown.

Where does the Vermillion River start?

The Vermillion River begins near Thompson Falls, Montana, as it splits from the Clark Fork River.

Where does the Vermillion River end?

Its waters end near the Vermillion Peak in the Kootenai National Forest.

Which way does the Vermillion River flow?

The waters of the Vermillion River flow northeast as it breaks away from the Clark Fork. It then makes a southern descent before disappearing into the national forest.


The Vermillion River is a small stream but part of a much bigger river system. The land it inhabits is full of history and fascinating geography.

Much of the area is largely untouched by man and offers a feeling of stepping back in time. Visit this river and experience the great outdoors of Montana.

Have you ever visited the Vermilion River? Let us know in the comments below!

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About The Author

Rebecca Hanlon

Rebecca has been a travel blogger and editor for over 5 years, working with some of the biggest brands in industry. She’s taught English as a foreign language in 5 different countries, and her most fulfilling role was as a tour guide around some of Europe’s finest vineyards. She the one behind the social channels here at Discovering Montana, whilst also finding the time to perform an assistant editor role.

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