Plains, Montana

The small, Western Montana town known as Plains is located in Sanders County.

It was originally established as Horse Plains due to its historical connections to wild horses, although the name was shortened to Plains later on once the US Postal Service had established its presence in the region in 1905.

The town was known as Horse Plains until 1883 when the Northern Pacific Railway first passed through, and the post office was moved into town from its location at the old Clark and Lynch Ranch.

The valley where the town is located has a climate close to Pacific Maritime, largely due to the protection from the elements of the surrounding Cabinet Mountains to the north, the Bitterroot Range on the west side, and the Mission Range on the east. So this is not necessarily the best place in Montana to seek out cross-country skiing as there’s simply not enough snow!

The lack of snow is the reason the Native Peoples prevalent in the region before the formation of the town wintered their horses on the valley’s abundant grass supplies.

Horses can actually still be seen wandering this rich area of land–not wild ones though–and cattle farming is also a large contributor to the local economy in Plains.

The peaceful valley area of Plains stands as a prime example of quiet and idyllic Western Montana life. The area is located in the Lolo National Forest and is incredibly scenic, with a regional ranger district office for the forest being located in Plains.

The Clark Fork River is straddled by the town and separates the residential and downtown areas from the fairground regions.

The entire area is home to lots of different wildlife and Bighorn Sheep are particularly prominent in the area, to the point where there is a special sheep viewing area outside of the town in the direction of Thompson falls.

The Best Hotels in Plains

Recreation Activities

recreation activities

Outdoor recreation opportunities abound, including hiking and golf, and with the Clark Fork River flowing through this terrain, you’ll find ample recreation. Nearby is the Koo-Koo-Sint Bighorn Sheep Viewing Site, with premiere viewing during November and December.

You can explore over 2,500 miles of trails in the Lolo National Forest, which includes a few campgrounds, not to mention access to the Clark Fork River for fishing and boating. There are also a few unique trails with decent views in the area.


Big Hole Peak is a moderately challenging, 5.9-mile out & back trail. The route is well-maintained and also includes some great views. There is a lookout post at the summit along with the possibility of a few mountain goats.

Baldy Lake Trail is a 5.3-mile, out & back trail considered somewhat challenging by most hikers. This is a great hiking route for anyone who prefers exploring trails with few other people. The trail starts out double-wide and turns uphill into a single track that features boulder fields along the way.

The summit provides some great views, and you can make your way down to Baldy Lake if you are okay with the steep, 600-foot descent—not forgetting that you’ll need to climb back up!

Banana Lake is a short, 1-mile out & back trail generally considered moderately challenging, despite the length. This is a great hiking trail where you will be unlikely to encounter many other people along the way.

There is also the 10.7-mile Baldy Mountain Trail which is long and challenging with continuous elevation.


Koo-Koo-Sint is a Bighorn Sheep Viewing Site that provides the opportunity to see the sheep grazing away in a meadow. It’s usually most likely to see the animals in November and December but they are still visible from October through May.

At the viewing site, six interpretive signs describe the natural history of bighorn sheep, their habitat, and the geology of this valley, which has the Clark Fork River running through it.


The Clark Fork River is excellent for trout fishing and recreational river floating. The best fishing on the river is found between its origin and the confluence with the Flathead River near Paradise.

As well as the excellent, if not scattered trout fishing, the Lower Clark Fork just below Plains, also has some great pike fishing, with many of these fish exceeding twenty pounds. The river is actually really large below Plains, so many anglers use motorboats to access the most productive river areas.

If you would rather try your hand at some lake fishing, the Bass Pond is a lake located just 10.4 miles from Plains. Whether you’re fly fishing, baitcasting, or spinning, your chances of getting a bite here are reportedly quite good.

Siegel Creek and Wallace Creek are both decent streams for fishing and are located10 miles from Plains, and Cascade Falls is just 11 miles from Plains and is ideal if you are looking for some decent cutthroat trout fishing, along with the nearby Cascade Creek and Cascade Falls.


Cascade Campground is a 10-site affair along the Clark Fork River in St. Regis and it is one of the nearest to Plains, in the Lolo National Forest. Campground St. Regis is also quite near and this is a fairly large, 64-site campground.

The Nugget Resort is another great location and RV park in St. Regis with all the amenities you could wish for as well as cabins, etc.

If you don’t mind staying a bit further out there are also plenty of campgrounds around the Thompson Falls region, as well as in Hot Springs and Ronan.

Accommodation–Hotels and Lodging

There is little by way of formal accommodation in Plains and again you’ll probably have way more options if you look at some of the nearest towns like Hot Springs which is only 10 miles away, as well as Polson and Saint Regis are about 25 miles away.

Special Events in Plains

special events in plains
Image: Forest Service Northern Region
  • JuneSanders County Yard Sale-ing—fill up your truck and head out to the annual yard sale extravaganza in the last week of June.
  • JunePlains Day Parade—typically an annual event when the streets are filled with parades and other revelry.
  • Aug/SeptSanders County Fair—annual event featuring activities like a rodeo and a demolition derby

Activities and Other Points of Interest Near Plains

Forests/State/National Parks/Wilderness Areas

Museums/Historic Items

Nearby Towns/Cities

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