Clearwater State Forest, Montana

Clearwater State Forest is a protected portion of land close to the Blackfoot River and town of Clearwater. The area consists of approximately 18,076 acres, and is one of the seven designated State Forests in Montana. The Montana Legislature designated the land as a protected State Forest by law in 1925.

Clearwater State Forest is around 6 miles from Clearwater and 2 miles from Greenough. It is close to a handful of National Forests; Flathead is to the north, Lolo to the west and the Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest is to the east.

Clearwater State Forest Stats

  • Clearwater State Forest covers approximately 18,076 acres (7,315 ha).
  • It is open year-round.
  • It is roughly 34 miles from Missoula – which takes 38 minutes by car.
  • The forest has an elevation of 3,802 feet.
  • It is located in Missoula County.

Main Attractions

Blackfoot River

blackfoot river

The Blackfoot River, of A River Runs Through It fame, runs for 130 miles through western Montana. It cuts through the Clearwater State Forest

The river is, of course, famous for its excellent fly fishing. Brown trout and rainbow trout are the species most commonly caught in the river, but if you’re fortunate, you might find cutthroat and bull trout as well.

The meandering river is the perfect place to escape the rush of modern life for a while.

Elk Creek

elk creek

If you want to try out something a little less intimidating than the river, head to Elk Creek.

It is, as always, a picturesque setting to fish. Small creeks can be trickier to access and a bit hit and miss, which is something to bear in mind. Even if you leave without catching a single fish, your time hasn’t been wasted – you managed to enjoy a few hours of peaceful solitude in Montana’s beautiful wilderness.

Recreation Activities

As is true for all State Forests in Montana, a Recreational Use License is required for any recreational activity on state trust land. This includes hiking. You can purchase a license here.


Hiking is hugely popular in Montana. You only have to step outside and look around you to see why. North-western Montana is particularly scenic, with views over the Rocky Mountains, alpine forests, and untamed wilderness.

The Clearwater State Forest is a landscape undisturbed by modern developments. Thanks to its protected status, you can enjoy a ramble through untouched woodland. There are very few official trails to follow, but all except the most inexperienced should have no trouble hiking in Clearwater State Forest.


Seasoned and novice anglers alike flock to Montana for a chance to experience the magic. Rushing rivers or trickling streams: the state has a countless number of outstanding fishing options.

It’s not just about the fish – though, with a phenomenal variety of trout species alone, it’s certainly a factor – Montana appeals to so many because of its slower pace of life and breathtaking scenery.

The Blackfoot River is the clearest example of this and cuts right through the Clearwater State Forest. You can enjoy some quiet solitude fly fishing on the river famous for reconnecting the soul with nature.


During the few months a year that Montana reaches balmy temperatures, there’s nothing better than setting up camp and enjoying a night out under the stars.

Wild camping isn’t for everyone, but the adventurers at heart will find plenty of land to roam and choose from here. There aren’t any official campgrounds close to Clearwater State Forest, but the Clearwater Crossing Campground is only a 10-minute drive away.


Hunter Point Lookout Tower

hunt tower near forest

For jaw-dropping views over the landscape and the Blackfoot River, you can hike up to the Hunter Point Lookout Tower. The trail is pretty easy-going and shouldn’t take more than a few hours to complete.


Clearwater State Forest is located in Missoula County, only two miles from the small town of Greenough and six miles from Clearwater. It can be reached from Missoula in less than 40 minutes.

The biggest attraction to the Clearwater State Forest is its opportunities for fishing. The Blackfoot River cuts right through the forest; you can live out the lifestyle of A River Runs Through It by fly fishing on its banks. You can give yourself a challenge fishing at Elk Creek or miss out fishing altogether, and enjoy the scenery by simply hiking through the forest.