The Coal Creek State Forest is a protected portion of land close to the Glacier National Park in Flathead County. The area consists of approximately 20,000 acres and is one of the seven State Forests in Montana.
The Montana Legislature marked the forests as protected land by law in 1925, when they were designated as State Forests. The Forest is around 25 miles from the West Entrance of Glacier National Park and 12 miles from Polebridge.
Coal Creek State Forest Stats
- Coal Creek State Forest covers approximately 20,000 acres (8,093 ha).
- It is open year-round.
- Coal Creek State Forest is situated in the Flathead National Forest, which covers an incredible 2.4 million acres (971,245 ha).
- It is roughly 25 miles from the West Entrance of Glacier National Park.
- The forest has an elevation of 4,357 feet.
Cyclone Lake is easily the main attraction within the State Forest’s boundaries. The 140-acre body of water is an excellent place to fish, particularly if you’re hoping to catch bull or west slope cutthroat trout.
The lake is well-stocked with fish, in part due to low fishing pressure. You will probably find yourself alone if you visit. You can try fly-fishing, but you are likely to have better results with a small boat in the center of the lake.
Besides the fish and wildlife more generally, Cyclone Lake is worth visiting for its stunning views. The alpine lake has some fantastic scenery – the Glacier National Park is a backdrop no one can dismiss.
Winona Ridge North isn’t the highest point in Northwest Montana by any means, but at an elevation of 5,128 feet above sea level, it’s far from the smallest. The views from the ridge are magnificent panoramas of the Glacier National Park; it’s well worth the climb to reach them.
Small Trout Streams
There are a number of small creeks and fishable streams leading off from Cyclone Lake. Though access can be an issue, these streams present the opportunity for people to try out one of Montana’s favorite pastimes: fly-fishing.
Coal Creek and Cyclone Creek are some of the more obvious options, but there are even smaller streams dotted around the forest. The likes of cutthroat and bull trout can be found here if you’re lucky.
Polebridge & the North Fork
While not an attraction within the State Forest itself, Polebridge and the North Fork Flathead River are so close that they can be enjoyed in conjunction.
Off-the-grid Polebridge is a tiny community on the edge of the Glacier National Park; it’s unique for its lack of modern comforts, including electricity and wi-fi. When visiting you have to stop by the Polebridge Mercantile and try their famous huckleberry bear claw.
The North Fork is great for fly-fishing – though you won’t find many ‘trophy-sized’ fish in this section of it, you aren’t likely to have any competition from other anglers. You can fish in complete solitude in this remote area, all while enjoying the picturesque setting of Montana’s prettiest wildernesses.
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.
Fishing is probably the most popular recreational activity in Montana – only horseback riding can really compete in that regard. It’s easy to see why, as both sports give you the chance to explore Montana’s beautiful great outdoors.
Coal Creek State Forest has some excellent options for anglers, who get to fish in practically untouched waters thanks to the remoteness of the setting. Cyclone Lake is the obvious choice, but the small streams are an excellent alternative.
Westcote cutthroat trout, bull trout, and mountain whitefish are all species you can expect to find here.
The North Fork Flathead River isn’t far from the State Forest. It offers a completely different fishing experience to the lake and small streams due to size alone; the variety ensures there’s a perfect option for every angler.
Any place as close to the Glacier National Park as Coal Creek State Forest is sure to be beautiful.
With a backdrop of the snow-capped Rockies and a habitat that consists of lush pine forest and trickling streams, the State Forest is about as picturesque as you could hope for in a hiking location. There are a number of trailheads for smaller hikes – like the one leading to Cyclone Lake – but there are few official trails.
Any hiker with a bit of experience will have no trouble navigating through the forest, however, and there are plenty of well-trodden trails to follow a short distance away.
Demers Ridge Trail
This trail isn’t for novices – it may even prove too much for intermediate-level hikers. While 7.2 miles isn’t an insurmountable distance for most people, the steep climbs on the Demers Ridge Trail make it a challenging hike.
But those who can manage it are in for a treat. The trail runs over Glacier View Mountain, which, as its name suggests, offers spectacular views of the Glacier National Park.
As the trail is a bit trickier than some, it tends to be quieter. You will usually find you have Demers Ridge Trail all to yourself.
Cyclone Peak Lookout Trail
You can hike up to the Cyclone Peak Lookout for sweeping views over the Rocky Mountains and Coal Creek State Forest. The trail is easy to follow and shouldn’t take more than a few hours for someone of reasonable fitness. The total distance is 4.2 miles there and back with an elevation gain of 1,112 feet.
Though all seven of the State Forests boast spectacular scenery, Coal Creek State Forest’s is perhaps the most impressive. Located only 25 miles from the West Entrance of the Glacier National Park and 12 miles from the remote community of Polebridge, the forest is on the doorstep of one of the most beautiful parts of the United States.
You can climb mountains, fish in Cyclone Lake or follow alongside a winding stream within the 20,000 acres of Coal Creek State Forest. Venture just outside the borders to Polebridge to try one of the Polebridge Mercantile’s famous huckleberry bear claws – it’s a detour you just can’t miss.