Fish Creek State Park is located in Montana’s Alberton and is one of the largest state parks in the western region of the state, as well as one of the newest. It is run by Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) who gained control of it and subsequently designated it a state park in 2010.
This state park forms part of a much larger public land complex in the region and is surrounded by the Bitterroot mountain ranges. With that in mind, and considering the clean and clear emerald-tinged pools that run through it, Fish Creek is a highly picturesque Montana state park also packed with wildlife, places to explore, and outdoor activity options.
The state park can be reached off Interstate 90, around 40 miles to the west of Missoula, and although it is quite a recent addition to the list of state parks in Montana, Fish Creek does have a few historical elements to it.
The drainage has been made use of by native peoples for hundreds of years, and it is home to what is reportedly the largest Ponderosa Pine Tree in Montana – ‘Big Pine’.
The magnificent tree is almost 200 feet high and believed to be close to 350 years old after somehow enduring epic fires, floods, logging, and various endeavors related to Northern Pacific railroad history, which affected the landscape in many ways, including through the names of local places.
The park is somewhat undeveloped and primitive in terms of available amenities. With no visitor center or available camping, the landscape has been shaped in many ways by the decades of logging that have taken place in its vicinity, leaving the terrain open to dramatic views of both its past industrial exploits and the current recovery that is occurring.
There is something of a secluded and remote, rustic feel to the park. Within the park’s boundaries, there also remains a maze of former logging roads that stretch for 70 miles or more and can be used either on foot or in some form of motorized or non-motorized vehicle for leisure purposes.
Fish Creek has developed something of a reputation as a decent fishing spot, and the region also contains a variety of habitats for wildlife by way of mammals like moose, elk, black bears, mountain lions, and wolves, along with various bird, amphibian, and reptile species.
The region of the state park contains various access points to Fish Creek, which is a major tributary of the middle Clark Fork River.
You can find the confluence point of the creek and the river in the Alberton Gorge, 50 river miles downstream from Missoula. The main stem of Fish Creek is nine miles long, and it eventually fractures off upstream into numerous feeders like the North, West, and South Forks.
Fish Creek State Park Stats
- 5,600 acres
- Open year-round
- No campsites
- Non-resident fees $4-$8
For the majority of visitors to the park, the main attractions are all about views, wildlife, and fishing. The other outdoor recreational activities are not far behind, but as this is an undeveloped state park there are no amenities or attractions along the lines of historical information or landmarks.
Fish Creek State Park affords visitors a diverse array of outdoor recreational opportunities. You won’t find any available camping options at Fish Creek as the park is just not geared towards it.
What you do get though are day pass-type activity options — like a 3-mile hike, or better still a spot of top-notch white-water rafting along the Alberton Gorge if you’re feeling adventurous.
If you fancy something slightly slower-paced, fishing is actually one of the most sought-out activities at Fish Creek State Park.
Along with the great fishing, there are a few other activity options outdoor-wise like hiking, hunting, picnicking, wildlife watching, and snowshoeing in the winter months.
The water in the park is clean and picturesque, yet surprisingly it goes under the radar of many anglers in and around the area. Fish Creek is a fly angler’s dream, in that it is something of a stronghold for native Montana trout.
After the powerful surge of spring runoff, the crystal water in the creek sweeps through a plethora of smaller runs and various logjam-lined pools. Most of the water is easy to wade into, and you can expect bull trout, westslope cutthroat trout, and populations of wild rainbow and brown trout to be biting in this region.
One of the things that reportedly makes Fish Creek so good to fish from is the absence of pollution or even any tricky conditions. Wide shorelines and ease of access both feature in fishing these waters.
Although there are no designated campgrounds within Fish Creek State Park, visiting anglers often opt to make use of the primitive FWP campgrounds at the Big Pine and Forks fishing access sites. Upstream of the West Fork at Clearwater Crossing you can also find a quiet little campground courtesy of the Forest Service.
White Water Rafting
The Alberton Gorge is a hive of activity in a number of ways, and it is the main spot from which to attempt some rafting.
Due to the lack of formal camping facilities in the park, there is a ranch in the vicinity of the gorge called the Hole-in-the-Wall where many visitors stay. Here you can find lodging and a restaurant, and the ranch organizes white-water rafting trips through the Alberton Gorge.
It provides a few other activity tour options as well by way of guided trail rides, backcountry pack trips, hunts, and angling along the Clark Fork and Fish Creek regions.
Many visitors to Fish Creek State Park looking for some foot action hike up to the Williams Peak lookout. This is one of the park’s most well-known viewing points and features some pretty impressive views of both the Mission Mountains facing northeast and the Bitterroot Mountains to the southwest.
You can also find a map of the park and hiking trails at the Friends of Fish Creek Provincial Park Society site.
The Williams Peak Trail is close to Superior, is slightly less than 3.5 miles, and is rated as quite difficult. This is an out and back trail that includes various opportunities for wildlife watching. The trail is used mainly for hiking, backpacking, and running, and has elevation gains of 1200 feet.
The Superior Vista Trail
Superior Vista Trail is a moderate trail of just over 2 miles in length near Superior. This is an out and back trail with usually light traffic featuring some picturesque scenes.
The pretty little trail is used mainly for hiking and includes some nice elevation gains which overlook the town of Superior. You can get some insights into Superior’s history from the various informative plaques dotted along the way, and take a breather on one of the benches at each vista point.
North Fork Fish Creek Trail
A bit further still down the road from Fish Creek State Park you can access the much longer, 10-mile, North Fork Fish Creek Trail (#103). It begins from Clearwater Crossing Station near Alberton Gorge and ends near the border, and is ideal if you like longer trails and don’t mind a bit of traveling.
This is the most-traveled trail from the direction of the Clearwater Crossing and is popular with both hikers and horseback riders, which accounts for the loose and dusty surface.
This trail joins the North Fork of Fish Creek and follows it nearly all the way up to the Stateline Divide. There is a gradual incline at the beginning and the route will take you into the vicinity of a large established camping area at the six-mile mark.
The trail then crosses Greenwood Creek and French Creek, and at the 10-mile stage, you will encounter a cedar grove and some huge trees, until the scenery broadens and includes views of Crater Mountain.