Located along the Clark Fork River in the gorgeous and rugged Clark Fork Valley, Thompson Falls State Park is a quiet but picturesque treasure that offers camping, an accessible fishing pier, swimming, a children’s pond, and extensive hiking.
Two miles northwest of Thompson Falls proper, this mature pine forest is the perfect spot to visit for relaxation and a weekend getaway – for solo travelers, couples, and families alike.
While originally Ktunaxa and Kalispel land, the Thompson Falls area has a special connection to the Salish Indians due to its founder, fur trader David Thompson, who established this river valley town’s first trading post called the Saleh House.
The state park was established as recently as 1960, now including the Thompson Falls Trail along with its gorgeous lake.
Looking back to the 19th century, the railroad brought buzz and success to the area in the early 1880s, but it was the Gold Rush that really cemented Thompson Falls in the American consciousness – enough that a town was formed in 1901.
These days, Thompson Falls is a tight-knit southwestern Montana mountain town with its own sparkling dam and state park weekend warriors (And their David Thompson Days celebration is unmatched!).
If you’re looking to camp at Thompson Falls, you have 18 spacious campsites to choose from – some closer to the river than others – as well as established fire pits and firewood for sale (Sometimes you’ve got to make room for bikes and kayaks!).
In addition, Thompson Falls State Park is big enough to accommodate trailers, but only with a maximum trailer length of 30 feet.
Surrounded by stunning aerials like Cherry Peak, Big Hole Peak, and the Lolo National Forest, this rugged, all-encompassing landscape is what Montana adventure is all about: the thrill of exploration.
Get that firewood ready, and let’s get into some of our favorite nearby sites and recreational activities!
Thompson Falls State Park Stats
- Size: 36 acres
- Season: Year-round
- Hours: Year-round
- Nearest Body of Water: Clark Fork River
- Number of Campsites: 18
- Number of Picnic Sites: 18
- Wheelchair Accessible: Yes
Thompson Falls State Park isn’t the only attraction in this beautiful town of a little over 1,000 people. There are a surprising number of fun activities in the area for locals and travelers on their way to the Lolo National Forest.
Let’s take a look at some of the most exciting attractions in and around Thompson Falls. We think you’re going to like the first one – it’s a jaw dropper!
Thompson Falls Dam
Let’s make one thing clear: there’s no way you can miss this gorgeous, gushing dam!
While the Thompson Falls Dam was originally a natural waterfall that got a real glow up in 1915, it’s now a well-connected complex of four dams right in the center of the town on the Clark Fork River. All the better to selfie with, my dear!
If you’re up for a bit of extra walking, we recommend taking the 1-mile trot along the Thompson Falls Dam Trail that provides amazing views of the dam.
Act like a local and pack a picnic for your Island Park destination, which also incorporates other smaller trails like Mule Pasture Loop, a small forested 0.5-mile trail. Happy trails!
Koo-Koo Sint Bighorn Sheep Viewing Site
You’re probably wondering what “Koo-Koo Sint” means. Happens to the best of us! Remember the fur trader, David Thompson, who the town was named for?
This was the indigenous tribes’ name for David Thompson, meaning “the man who looks at the stars,” or “stargazer.” But more than that, it’s an incredible opportunity to view bighorn sheep in their natural habitat just off of Highway 200.
Since it’s part of the greater Lolo National Forest, this area has plenty of interpretive signs and information on these gentle creatures. Just don’t get too close to these social creatures! That selfie is specifically for the Thompson Falls Dam.
Then, head back into town for a Family Tradition Imperial IPA at Limberlost Brewing Company. We also love their Grumpy Neighbor Huckleberry Snow Ghost Hard Seltzer for a summertime refresher!
Old Jail Museum
We have a thing for small-town museums, it’s true – and this one is no exception. It’s not every day you get to enter a former jail, especially one that’s been transformed into an informational playground.
As one of the oldest buildings in Sanders County, the Old Jail Museum has a certain reverence to it – and a whole lot of untold secrets. Like a cat, it’s lived multiple lives as a jail, sheriff’s office, and sheriff’s residence.
Our favorite part of the museum is the old glass negatives of people from Thompson Falls’s past. It’s fascinating to think about life in small-town Montana during the Gold Rush craze, through flu epidemics, and out the other side. While you’re there, check out the fantastic photography by E.J Frazier!
Be mindful that it’s open seasonally from May to September and open from noon until 4 pm, but if you come to Thompson Falls at another time of year, the building is still beautiful to view from the outside on your way to the dam.
Thompson Falls Community Trails
One thing we love about Thompson Falls is its well-connected community of nature trails. Put on your hiking trails and let’s get going!
Start with the Powerhouse Loop Trail, which is 2.3 miles of beauty, and continue along to the State Park Trail (1.4 miles) – both of them take you along the Clark Fork River from the town center to the state park, and back.
These trails work well in the hotter summer months due to their shade, and they’re extremely family-friendly for cooler months to get stir-crazy kids out of the house.
Don’t be surprised if you find runners or bikers on the trails – sharing is caring!
And the real crown jewel for dog lovers is Thompson Falls Dog Park, after which we recommend local staple Minnie’s Montana Cafe for one of their classic turkey sandwiches and a fizzy drink.
While we love Thompson Falls State Park, there’s so much to do in the area to get your heart racing – hey, or lounging on a float. You do you! Here are some of our favorites:
Hiking & Biking
Being so close to the Lolo National Forest, there are plenty of hikes to be had along the Thompson Falls area. We’ve already examined the community trails, but there are much bigger fish to fry once you head out into the mountains.
Our favorite is Priscilla Peak, which is physically taxing and demands a rewarding beer. If you’re looking for something consistently beautiful but a bit easier, we recommend Graves Creek Falls just a bit north of Thompson Falls. It’s absolutely gorgeous!
One of the best places to bike in the area is Lower Dry-Wilkes Divide, which features a gradual descent down to Dry Creek – in other words, it’s steep, fast, and thrilling.
But for a bit of an easier ride, check out Gold Rush, which will take less than an hour and a half to complete. Even though it’s on the narrow side, Gold Rush will open you out into a creek bottom. Ending with water – just the way we like it!
Swimming & Fishing
Head a bit southeast of Thompson Falls and you’ll get to two of our favorite beaches, River Beach and Public Beach, and if you go a bit further you’ll hit Quinns Hot Springs.
But between Four Lakes Loop and other natural bodies of water, you won’t have to go far to cool off, unless you really want to.
While Thompson Falls State Park has plentiful opportunities to channel your inner fisherman (or fisherwoman!), Noxon Reservoir is a fantastic hangout for catching pike and bass.
Also worth checking out: Clark Fork Trout. And here’s a local secret: head back over to Minnie’s Montana Cafe to purchase some flies for your next fly fishing adventure.
To head back to Gold Rush for a moment, we love Gold Rush Campground for its privacy, small creek, and close proximity to Thompson Falls State Park.
Don’t expect a glamping experience there, but trust that it’s remote and deeply restorative.
Another crowd favorite is Copper King Campground just a bit east of the state park, featuring five peaceful but convenient campsites. Did we mention it’s free?
Beyond these two nearby favorites, you’re bound to find other campgrounds via hiking spots, but our favorite is Thompson Falls, State Park. Cozy and homey.
Four Lakes Loop – Length: 8.3 miles
We’ve already gone over the Thompson Falls Community Trails and the Island Park hike at Thompson Dam, but there are other opportunities to explore Big Sky Country.
At 8.3 miles, the Four Lakes Loop is relatively challenging, unlike the community trails. You probably won’t find many people going here for a quick jaunt on their lunch break!
Since it’s in Lolo National Forest, you can expect plenty of pines and, naturally, lakes in this 4-and-a-half-hour-long loop (That’s a long lunch break!).
Walk along Four Lakes Loop and you’ll come along Cabin Lake, Porcupine Lake, Frog Lake, and Knowles Lake. Please don’t make us pick a favorite!
For a shorter time, hike to Cabin Lake and back. Oh, and one more thing: don’t forget your bug spray! Mosquitos love lakes as much as we do in the summertime.
Priscilla Peak Trail – Length: 9.4 miles
As the name insinuates, this one is quite the climb. You’ve got to either be in really great shape to go up this peak or be willing to down a few cheeseburger calories afterward (That doesn’t sound so bad!).
The top has incredible views of the surrounding valley, so the gradual uphill climb is worth it. Right?
We’d strongly suggest a hat and loads of water, even more than other suggested trails, because the shade at the beginning of the trail is, um, minimal.
Koo-Koo Sint Trail – Length: 4 miles
Let’s slow down the pace for a moment… You already know what Koo-Koo Sint means, and this out-and-back trail will provide an easy uphill climb after all those calories.
From the top, you can see our friend, Priscilla Peak, as well as Eddy Peak Lookout, but we chose Koo-Koo Sint specifically because it’s easy to feel accomplished and happy after a couple of hours here. Win!
Deer Lake Trail – Length: 6.7 miles
One more to get our hearts pumping! A beautiful hike the whole way through, this Lolo National Forest gem is almost 7 miles of traversing through pines and over rivers.
It’s a pretty steady uphill climb, but it’s worth it for the obligatory dip in the lake (Lake hair, don’t care!). Don’t forget to pack your bear spray!