The Thompson River State Forest is located in the northwest of Montana, nestled in the Lolo National Forest, less than two hours from Flathead Lake.
The protected State Forest covers 14,628 acres and is predominantly populated by pine trees. It has been a protected area since 1925, when a law was passed by the Montana Legislature.
Montana’s northwestern corner is one of its most scenic – the Thompson River State Forest is no exception.
Thompson River State Forest Stats
- The Thompson River State Forest covers approximately 14,628 acres (5,919 ha).
- It is open year-round.
- The Thompson River State Forest is partially surrounded by the Lolo National Forest, which covers a massive 2 million acres (809,371 ha). It is also close to the Flathead National Forest.
- It is roughly 60 miles from Flathead Lake.
- The forest has an elevation of 3,399 feet.
The Thompson River
The Thompson River is a relatively slow-moving river that runs through the State Forest. The river is a tributary of the Clark Fork River, joining the waterway close to Thompson Falls.
Despite many parts of the river being difficult to access, it is a reasonably popular location for fishing. As always, the easiest parts of the river to access are usually the busiest.
You can catch rainbow trout, cutthroat trout, whitefish, and brook trout fly-fishing the Thompson River – if you fish further downstream, close to the Lower Clark Fork, you could even catch bull trout.
The dense pine forest and mountainous backdrop make this a particularly scenic place to visit, and many people fish here for this reason alone.
The small creeks and rivers leading off from the Thompson River are also worth a try – particularly Little Rock Creek and the Little Thompson River.
Baldy Mountain is part of the Cabinet Mountain range in the iconic Rocky Mountains. With outstanding views over the valley, it is a popular hike only a short distance from the Thompson River State Forest.
The hike up Baldy Mountain is stunning but intense. You climb 1,500 feet to the summit (7,464 feet) from the trailhead in a 2-mile ascent. Besides lovely views, you will also find wild huckleberries on Baldy Mountain – perfect for a mid-trail snack.
Another peak in the Cabinet Mountain range, Thompson Peak has a summit of 7,451 feet. Other mountains in the area include Cook Mountain and Little Thompson Peak. All of these are a subset of the Rocky Mountain Range.
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 northwestern Montana is some of the finest in North America. Hiking is a fantastic way to explore some of Montana’s most remote wildernesses – whether you’re experienced or not, you can find a route to suit your abilities.
The Thompson River State Forest is a beautiful place to explore on foot. Wandering alongside hidden creeks and through alpine forests in the shadow of mountains – it’s hard to imagine places better suited to hiking.
Whether you’re looking to fish in a river or the smallest creek, there are dozens of waterways to test out in the Thompson River State Forest. Access is mixed – many parts of the Thompson River are easy to reach, but others can be a little more treacherous.
Thanks to a fairly gentle current, the river is ideal for fly-fishing. Cutthroat, rainbow, whitefish, brook and occasionally bull trout are all found in the waterways of the Thompson River State Forest.
The closest hotels to the Thompson River State Forest are in the Thompson Falls area. If you want to be closer to the forest, you’re going to have to camp. For obvious reasons, this is only possible in the warmer months of the year. With such beautiful scenery, it is worth experiencing staying outdoors for a night.
There are few options if you’re looking for official campgrounds – it is better suited to wild camping. Fishtrap Campground, Copper King Campground, and the Clark Memorial Campground are closest, but still some distance from the Thompson River State Forest.
Climb to the summit of Baldy Mountain for world-class views over the Thompson River State Forest. From the trailhead, the ascent is around two miles long and a 1,500 feet climb.
The trail is usually deserted due to its remote location and takes about two hours for the average hiker to complete.
The Thompson River State Forest, so named for the river that runs through it, can be found in the gorgeous northwestern region of Montana. It borders the Lolo National Forest, as well as the Flathead National Forest – Flathead Lake is less than two hours away by car.
As the forest is situated in an area generally blessed with spectacular scenery, you can enjoy hikes with stunning vistas of rushing rivers, alpine forests, and the Rocky Mountains. Whether you choose to climb a mountain or fish for trout, the Thompson River State Forest is a beautiful place to do so.