Swan River State Forest, Montana

The Swan River State Forest is a protected portion of land to the East of Flathead Lake. The area consists of approximately 42,000 acres, making it the second-largest of the seven State Forests in Montana. The Montana Legislature designated the land as a protected State Forest by law in 1925.

The Forest is around 18 miles from Swan Lake and roughly 5 miles from Flathead Lake. Though it takes around 53 minutes and 35 miles to reach the latter by car, as there is no direct route.

Swan River State Forest Stats

  • Swan River State Forest covers approximately 42,000 acres (16,996 ha).
  • It is open year-round.
  • Swan River State Forest is surrounded by the Flathead National Forest, which covers an incredible 2.4 million acres (971,245 ha).
  • It is roughly 18 miles from Swan Lake.
  • The forest has an elevation of 4,475 feet.

Main Attractions

The Swan River

swan river
Image: Troy Smith

The titular Swan River runs through the State Forest – it’s one of the fast-moving sections of the river, running between Gray Wolf Lake and Swan Lake for 35 miles.

The Swan River is difficult to access, as roads and trails leading to the riverbank are pretty limited. But once you reach the meandering river you are treated to lovely views and fertile waters.

Cutthroat, rainbow and bull trout are all found in the river, as well as Mountain Whitefish. It’s a great place to fish – and thanks to the difficulty accessing it, the Swan River is nearly always deserted.

Woodward Point

Woodward Point isn’t the largest mountain summit in Montana by any stretch of the imagination: it only reaches a height of 4,813 feet. But this does make the mountain one of the easier options to climb. Once reaching the summit, you get the chance to witness panoramic views over the Swan Valley.

Metcalf Lake

Only a few miles from the Swan River, Metcalf Lake is a serene and isolated spot to enjoy some well-earned solitude. It’s ideal for fishing, as the remote location ensures there will be little competition from others.

With all 14 acres of the lake practically kept all to yourself, you get a free pass at catching the cutthroat trout, brook trout, and rainbow trout found in the lake.

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.



The gorgeous scenery of the Flathead area is always a joy to explore. Hiking is the most popular way to roam the wilds of Montana – whether you’re inexperienced and following marked trails or making your own route.

The Swan River State Forest has sweeping vistas of the Swan Mountains on one side, and the Mission Mountains on the other. It’s a beautiful place to explore on foot.


There are few places in the world better for fishing than Montana. Where else can you enjoy the beauty of the Rocky Mountains, rivers overflowing with fish, and a slice of freshly baked huckleberry pie all at once?

It’s a fantastic area for trout fishing in particular, with cutthroat, rainbow, bull, and brook trout all commonly found in the waters of the Swan Valley. Whether you’re fly-fishing a small stream or heading to the bigger bodies of water like Metcalf Lake or the Swan River, you’re sure to have a fantastic experience.


There are no hotels to be seen in this remote part of Lake County. It’s a true Montanan wilderness – if you want to stay in the area overnight, you’re going to have to camp. With the stars overhead and mountains as the backdrop, it’s a gorgeous place to set up for the night.

If you’re looking for official campgrounds, Soup Creek Campground, Point Pleasant Campground, and Cedar Creek Campground are your best bet.

Swan Mountain Llama Trekking

A little more on the unusual side of Montana’s possible recreational activities, llama trekking is a fun way to explore the Swan Valley’s natural beauty with a furry companion.

You can go on a wide spectrum of treks – from multi-day marathons for experienced hikers to a few hours walking for novices. Find out more information here.



Sprunger Whitney Trail

This family-friendly trail is only 2.1 miles long but offers a beautiful little snapshot of the Swan Valley. It was built by the Friends of the Wild Swan. You can manage this trail easily even if you have a relatively low fitness level.

Little Napa Lookout

You can hike up to the Little Napa Lookout for stunning views of the Swan Mountains and Mission Mountains. The trek is fairly easy-going – it’s a 4-mile walk there and back. The ground is pretty even and the elevation gain on the hike is around 540 feet.


Nestled in the stunning Swan Valley, the Swan River State Forest is the second largest of Montana’s State Forests.

Flanked by the Swan Mountains on one side and the Mission Mountains on the other, the forest offers some particularly scenic hiking and fishing opportunities within its borders. It also gives visitors the chance to try one of the state’s more unusual outdoor activities, by joining the Swan Mountain Llama Trekking company and exploring the wilderness with a furry companion.

The forest is located conveniently close to some of Montana’s most popular vacation spots; Flathead Lake is only a fifty-minute drive away.