Exploring Flathead National Forest

By Beacon Staff

It’s hard to believe someone could be lacking for things to do in the Flathead Valley, especially during the brief-but-magical summer months when Mother Nature throws a warm blanket around us all and invites us to explore her playground. Whatever your interests, budget or available time, there is an adventure awaiting you on the 2.4 million acres of Flathead National Forest. Whether you prefer the solitude of hiking in the wilderness or the camaraderie found at popular boating and picnic areas, the Flathead National Forest offers a multitude of recreation opportunities for all.

Three of the forest’s ranger districts are easy to access from the Columbia Falls and Hungry Horse areas. The Glacier View Ranger District is home to the rustic North Fork area and is bordered on the east by the North Fork of the Flathead River and Glacier National Park. Located near the western boundary of Glacier National Park and northeast of Flathead Lake, the Hungry Horse Ranger District contains the Hungry Horse Dam and Reservoir, which is a popular recreation site and important nesting habitat for bald eagles. The Spotted Bear Ranger District contains the Spotted Bear River, Great Bear and Bob Marshall wildernesses, and the South Fork of the Flathead River.

Between these three distinct areas there are more than 20 camping areas, seven cabin rentals and one lookout rental, which all provide varied accommodations and access. If you’re looking to get even more in touch with the forest, just find a great spot and throw down the bedroll. There are many day-use areas in at the developed campgrounds that have picnic tables for your use. Some of the more popular day-use sites are located along the Hungry Horse Reservoir and at the Big Creek Day Use area up the North Fork. Many of the campgrounds around the reservoir have been upgraded in recent years, including Murray Bay and Riverside which were just finished this month. There are also smaller free sites in more remote areas like the Spotted Bear Ranger Station.

The northeastern part of the forest contains wilderness areas, impressive mountain ranges, lakes, wild and scenic rivers, campgrounds, picnic areas and cabins. Many of the forest’s 2,249 miles of trails are in this area and access mountain lakes, peaks and valleys as well as winding along river bottoms. A variety of users enjoy the Flathead Forest trails, including hikers, bikers, horse riders, all-terrain and off-highway vehicle riders, snowmobilers and motorcycle riders. The Hungry Horse motor-cross area gives motorized users a place to ride as well as seasonally open forest roads that offer hundreds of miles of roads. Many of these roads are rarely used so it gives you a sense of solitude and a safer riding surface.

The Flathead National Forest offers a multitude of recreational opportunities on the local rivers and lakes. From large lakes like the Hungry Horse Reservoir and Big Salmon Lake in the Bob Marshall Wilderness to the many front country lakes you’ll find boat launches, docks and camping nearby. The newest boating area for larger boats is the Doris Boat Launch located on the west side of the Hungry Horse Reservoir. Whether you want to brave world class rapids or take a lazy float, the Three Forks of the Flathead River can accommodate your rafting and small craft adventures. Fishing opportunities from streams to rivers to lakes abound. The Flathead National Forest is uniquely known for its native fisheries, particularly bull trout and westslope cutthroat trout.

That is just a glimpse at the numerous recreational opportunities in the northeast area of the Flathead Valley. Check out the Flathead National Forest website, http://www.fs.usda.gov/flathead, for more recreation opportunities. Information is organized by districts or activity type. Note the area on the forest you’d like to stay or explore under the right column heading ‘Areas & Activities’, ‘Find an Area’ and select the district that covers that area, and then view/select the available recreation activities. Or, choose an activity under the Recreation heading on the left side of the webpage and see where on the forest it is offered. Either way, you’ll find exceptional recreation opportunities on the Flathead National Forest.

Wade Muehlhof is the public affairs officer for the Flathead National Forest.

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