In 1964, Congress established the National Wilderness Preservation System and designated the first Wilderness Areas in passing the Wilderness Act. Wilderness protects the habitat of numerous wildlife species and serves as a biodiversity bank for many species of plants and animals. Wilderness is also a source of clean water. It has long been used for science and education as well as for higher education purposes, providing sites for field trips, study areas for student research, and serving as a source of instructional examples. Recreation is another obvious appeal of wilderness, and wilderness areas are seeing steadily increasing use from people who wish to experience freedom from the Nation's fast-paced industrialized society.
At 2.3 million acres, and over 270,000 acres of State and private land within the boundaries, the Flathead National Forest is an adventurer's dream. The Bob Marshall, Great Bear, and Mission Mountains Wildernesses are all smaller management sections that add up to the whole. Flathead Wild and Scenic River, Jewel Basin Hiking Area, and Coram Experimental Forest are also within the boundaries of this national forest. Jewel Basin is a 15,000 acre hiking area maintained exclusively for hiking and camping. Maintained by the Bigfork, Kalispell, and Hungry Horse Ranger Districts. There are 34 developed campsites, 2,600 miles of hiking trails and 200 miles of designated National Recreation Trails, 1,700 miles of road and some of the best huckleberry picking in Montana. The Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex is one of the largest intact ecosystems in the lower 48 states. 250 species of wildlife and 22 species of fish and a rare plant named Water Howellia all claim this area as a home.
Created in 1906 when two million acres were put aside, the Lolo National Forest now includes former national forests originally named the "Cabinet," "Hell Gate,""Missoula," and "Selway" National Forests. "Lolo" probably evolved from "Lou-Lou", a pronunciation of "Lawrence," a French-Canadian fur trapper killed by a grizzly bear and buried at Grave Creek. The Lolo National Forest is home for 17 conifer and five hardwood tree species, over 300 bird species, at least 20 fish species, over 60 mammal species and an estimated 1,500 plant species, including 250 non-native plant species. Record-sized trees can be found in this expansive area, such as the Montana Champion Ponderosa Pine located in the Fish Creek drainage and a national co-champion Western Larch near Seeley Lake. The highest point in the area is Scapegoat Mountain which sits just over 9,200 feet. There are over 100 named lakes and nearly 1,000 named streams including five major rivers. Ranger district offices are located in Missoula, Ninemile (located near Frenchtown), Plains, Seeley Lake, and Superior.
Encompassing 1.6 million acres that includes the Bitterroot and Sapphire Mountains, half of the forest is dedicated to the largest expanse of continuous pristine wilderness in the lower 48 states -- the Selway Bitterroot, Frank Church River of No Return, and the Anaconda Pintler. Home to Trapper Peak at 10,157 feet, and more than 1,600 miles of trails, forty-seven percent of the Bitterroot National Forest (743,000 acres) is part of the Anaconda-Pintler, Selway-Bitterroot, and Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness. The area was occupied by humans for at least 8,000 years, and has a segment of the Nez Perce National Historic Trail, known also as the "Nee-Me-Poo", can be hiked on the Sula Ranger District. In 1907, the Bitterroot Forest Reserve and others became National Forests with the creation of the Forest Service.
Ranger District offices are located in Stevensville, Darby, Sula and West Fork.
Totaling 2.2 million acres, an area nearly three times the size of Rhode Island, the Kootenai National Forest spans across state borders that leave 50,384 acres within the State of Idaho. Fifteen species of conifers alone can be found here, including Ponderosa, Lodgepole, and Juniper, as well as Douglas-fir, Engelmann spruce, Larch, and Grand Fir.
Sitting at 8,738 feet and located in the Cabinet Mountain Wilderness, Snowshoe Peak marks the highest point in the national forest. With a collection of mountain ranges, including the Whitefish Range, Purcell Mountains, Bitterroot Range, Salish Mountains, and Cabinet Mountains, the Kootenai National Forest holds much land to be explored. Two major rivers, the Kootenai and the Clark Fork, along with several smaller rivers-Yaak, Fisher, Tobacco and Vermillion-and their tributaries flow through this area. Cabinet Gorge and Noxon reservoirs, plus two hydro-electric dams on the Clark Fork are a small mark on the area by man's hand. Libby Dam on Kootenai, created Lake Koocanusa, a 90-mile-long reservoir with excellent rock climbing on the north end at Stone Hill. The elevation of the Kootenai River as it leaves the forest and the state is 1,862 feet, the lowest point in Montana. With over 100 lakes, including 1,240-acre McGregor Lake, anyone would be hard-pressed to be bored in this expanse.
Stillwater State forest is the oldest and currently the largest state forest in Montana in February 2009. Approximately 93,000 acres lie in the main section of the forest. There are dispersed recreation opportunities such as hiking, fishing and hunting. During the winter a large section of trail is groomed for snowmobiling, skiing, dog sledding and other winter recreation.
This small state forest is tucked in the Flathead Valley. Coal Creek State Forest is about 15,000 acres. It may be small, and you may have to take forest service roads to get here, but the view is beautiful. Half of the forest burned down in 2001 with the Moose Creek fire, but natures cycle continues to rebuild this serene forest.
Common recreation here includes hunting and fishing, but there are no campgrounds or developed recreation areas.
The Clear Water State Forest is constantly changing in size. Due to land trading and land purchasing it is continuously growing. This state trust land is used for various recreational activities. Whether you are looking to go big game hunting, hiking or simply bird watching, this forest has an abundance of opportunity.
The Swan River State Forest stretches across 40,000 acres in the Swan Valley. As a state trust land, this forest prides itself on the money it raises for K-12 schools. They raise 10% of the schools yearly funding through recreation licenses. In the forest there are 3 undeveloped campgrounds, and plenty of opportunity for recreation.
Sula State Forest is just over 13,000 acres. In 2000 fire season approximately 9,000 acres burned. The forest service planted over a million seedlings so there are an abundance of adolescent trees around 4'-5' tall. Primary recreation in the area revolves around hunting. Archery and rifle season are popular times for the area. The area has one Forest Service Road, Road 331. Camping is available within 200 feet of Road 331 for up to three days. Keep in mind that the forest horseshoes around a block of private land that includes Shining Mountain Ranch and Sula Peak Ranch.
Designated in 1964 and encompassing 1,009,356 acres, "The Bob" is one of the most completely preserved mountain ecosystems in the world. The Chinese Wall (a huge escarpment) has an average height of more than 1,000 feet and is 22 miles long. The Bob contains more than 1,000 miles of trails and boasts elevations of more than 9,000 feet.
Created in 1978 and totaling 286,700 acres, more than 300 miles of trails and elevations to 8,705 feet on Great Northern Mountain. The Upper Middle Fork of the Flathead River rises here and runs wild and scenic through the area for about 50 miles, raging below cliff faces and over boulder-strewn rapids in what some refer to as Montana's wildest waterway.
Set aside in 1972 with 239,936 acres, the Scape Goat Wilderness is home to massive limestone cliffs that dominate 9,204-foot Scapegoat Mountain, an extension of the "Bob's" Chinese Wall (see previous). Containing 14 lakes and 89 miles of streams, hundreds of miles of trails, and the 9,400 foot tall Red Mountain.
Designated a wilderness in 1964 and containing 94,272 acres, the Cabinet Mountain Wilderness was originally declared a Primitive Area in 1935, but was reclassified in 1964 with the passage of the Wilderness Act. Early French explorers who observed the mountains said the range resembled a series of closets or cabinets. Containing more than 20 hiking trails, 85 small lakes, and elevations to 8,738 feet at Snowshoe Peak.
Created in 1975 and boasting 73,877 acres, the Mission Mountain Wilderness first organized exploration was in 1922. Originally designated a Primitive Area in 1931, and expanded in 1939 with an average elevation of 7,000 feet. With 45 miles of mostly steep trails, and rugged hikes; a permit is needed to access the tribal wilderness adjacent to the wilderness.
Recognized as needing wilderness area designation, the Rattlesnake Wilderness was created in 1980 with 32,976 acres. Beginning only four miles north of Missoula, the National Recreation Area that sits just south of the wilderness border is a popular, heavily used area for hikers, bikers and dog-walkers. The area has elevations up to 8,620 feet on McLeod Peak and eight trailheads. The Rattlesnake Creek is a municipal watershed for the City of Missoula.
The northern boundary of the wilderness abuts the South Fork Jocko Tribal Primitive Area, upon whose sacred ground only tribal members are allowed.
Created in 1964 with 1,340,502 acres, the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness has less than one-fifth of the area (251,443 acres) in the state of Montana; the rest resides inside of Idaho. The third largest wilderness in the Lower 48 surpassed in size only by California's Death Valley Wilderness and Idaho's Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness, this vast wild land is one of the roughest mountain areas on earth, with more than 100 lakes offering excellent trout fishing.
Designated a wilderness in 1978, Welcome Creek encompasses 28,135 acres with ridges so steep and valleys so narrow and uneven that finding a flat spot to pitch a tent can be tough in much of the area. With no lakes in its boundaries, this rough and rugged country has 25 miles of steep trails, with the main travel route being Welcome Creek Trail-a brushy, rocky trail that crosses the wilderness area for about seven miles.
Horses are allowed anywhere on National Forests unless posted otherwise. You do not have to ride your horse only on established trails and roads; you can ride anywhere. You may take horses into Wilderness areas; however, certain trails and trailheads may not be well suited to horse use. Please do not tie horses to trees for long periods; use hobbles or high-lines instead. Avoid wet, muddy trails to minimize damage from horse hooves.
In many Wilderness Areas, developed campgrounds, picnic areas and day use areas, dogs are required to be on a leash. Most other areas within the National Forests do not require your dog to be on a leash, but they should be under your control at all times. We recommend that you keep your dog on a leash when you are around other forest users, other dogs, or are in bear country.
You must have a permit to remove any minerals or wood products from the National Forest. (Rocks, wood, pinecones, mushrooms, etc)
A Wilderness Visitor's Permit is required for overnight visits in designated wilderness areas. Only one permit is required for trips that are continuous and pass through more than one Wilderness. One permit is required per trip per group. Your permit doubles as a campfire permit while in the Wilderness. You may obtain a wilderness permit at the local Ranger station or the Supervisor's Office. It's a good idea to call for current conditions.
Firewood Cutting permits may be purchased at your local Forest Service Office. The cost for firewood cutting permits varies per Forest. The permit allows you to cut down standing dead or downed timber on National Forest and Bureau of Land Management lands within Montana and Northern Idaho. Firewood obtained under this permit is intended for personal use only. It may not be used for commercial resale. Any additional restrictions will be listed on each permit.
Each year from mid-November through December, your local Forest Service Office sells permits that allow you to cut a fresh Christmas tree on National Forest Lands. Fees for the permit vary at each local office. The permit allows you to cut one tree for your holiday festivities. It also helps the Forest Service thin tree stands that have a concentration of smaller trees.
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