Lolo National Forest
Rock Creek flkowing over large boulders in lolo national forest of Montana
 


 


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The Lolo National Forest is one of the larger national forests in the system encompassing 2 million acres of spruce, fir, western red cedar, larch, whitebark pine, waterfalls, rivers and forested peaks. The overall atmosphere is inviting and lush compared to national forests east of the divide. On the Lolo, you will find rolling mountains thick with pine, fir and cedar. There are less alpine openings compared to the other areas of the state, but the Lolo is more diverse overall thanks to more moisture throughout the growing season. Because of this, the Lolo has the largest specimen of Western red cedar in the state of Montana. These trees can grow to 200 feet tall and 8 feet in diameter! Quite simply, these are the biggest trees in Montana. The Lolo National Forest is also rich with wildlife such as elk, moose, wolves, black bear, eagles, owls, mountain goats mountain, lion, pine marten and bighorn. Areas such as the Rattlesnake Wilderness and the Rattlesnake Wilderness have grizzly bears, although they may be present in any part of the forest. There have been several sighting of grizzly bears in Rock Creek and the Great Burn in recent years.



The highest peak in the Lolo National Forest is Scapegoat Mountain at 9,186 feet. This peak is located in the remote and wild Scapegoat Wilderness which is part of the fantastically wild Bob Marshall Wilderness complex. About 70,000 acres of the Scapegoat Wilderness are in the Lolo National Forest. Other wilderness areas include the 28,135 acre Welcome Creek Wilderness and the 32,976 acre Rattlesnake Wilderness. There is also a great deal of unprotected roadless land in the Lolo including the fantastic Great Burn roadless area northwest of Missoula off the Fish Creek drainage.

The Lolo National Forest was created in 1906 based on a combination of four other smaller national forests. Over time, other now defunct forest were added to the Lolo ultimately growing the national forest to its current huge 2 million acres.

The camping enthusiast has it made in the Lolo National Forest with a dozen improved campgrounds. The hiker has 700 miles to choose from and unlimited off trail possibilities. Those interested in boating have over 100 lakes and several large rivers to choose from such as the Clark Fork, Bitterroot, Clearwater, Rock Creek and the Blackfoot. No matter your recreational preference, the inviting Lolo National Forest has something for you. This is beautiful country.

 

Lolo National Forest Facts:

Total acreage: 2,000,000 acres
Square Miles: 3,125
Highest point: 9,186 feet (Scapegoat Mountain)
Lowest Point: 2,400 feet (Clark Fork northwest of Missoula)
20 varieties of fish
Flora: 1500 native species
Mammals: 60 species
Birds: 300 species(30 varieties of ducks)
Wolves: yes
Grizzly bear country: yes
Scapegoat Wilderness: 920,343 acres
Welcome Creek Wilderness: 28,135 acres
Rattlesnake Wilderness: 32,976 acres
Waterfalls: over 100 throughout forest
Biggest tees in Montana
Picnic areas: 15
Boat access points: 11 motorized
Drive-in campgrounds: 27, 12 improved
Trails: 700 miles
Visitation in 2009: Unknown

bighorn ram makes weird face into camera
A Lolo National Forest bighorn mugs for the camera.

Lolo National Forest Montana FAQ:

How is the boating on the Lolo National Forest?
Excellent. Check out these motorized boating areas: Cascade, Ferry landing, Fishtrap Lake, Big Larch, Big Nelson, Lake Inez, Lakeside, River Point, Seeley Lake and Lake Alva. The Chain of Lakes in the Seeley area is the "go to" place for water skiing.

What about equestrian activities in the Lolo National Forest? Slowey campground and Clearwater Crossing campground both allow horse camping, and so does Monture Creek campground in the Seeley Lake area. All three also have horseback trails in the immediate area. Be sure to check out these areas for horse riding. In the Missoula area: Blue Mountain Recreation Area, Rattlesnake Recreation Area and Wilderness. In the Plains/Thompson Falls area: Ferry Landing picnic area, Ben Guard Station. In the Seeley Lake Area: Morrell Falls National Recreation Trail #30, Scapegoat Wilderness and Monture Creek campground.

We have a large group. What about picnicking? You are in luck! The Lolo National Forest has six group picnic areas. They are Earl Tennant and Fort Fizzle in the Lolo Creek area, Pattee Canyon in the Missoula area, Grand Mernard in the Ninemile area, River Point in the Seeley Lake area and Trout Creek campground in the Superior area. For those not interested in group picnicking, the Lolo National Forest has fifteen regular picnic areas. They are Earl Tennant, Lolo Creek, Historic Lolo and Fort Fizzle in the Lolo Creek area, Pattee Canyon in the Missoula area, Grand Menard in the Ninemile area, Ferry Landing in the Plains Thompson Falls area, Grizzly campground and Valley of the Moon Nature Trail in the Rock Creek area, Big Larch, Big Nelson, Lake Avla, River Point and Seeley Lake in the Seeley Lake area and Trout Creek in the Superior area.

How is the biking in the Lolo National Forest? It's great. Besides biking on the hundreds of miles of forest road, there are designated biking areas. For mountain biking you have the Blue Mountain Recreation area, the Rattlesnake Recreation area and the Pattee Canyon Recreation area near Missoula. In the Ninemile area you have Kreis Pond. Morrell Falls National Recreation Trail #30 in the Seeley Lake area also has mountain biking. The Savenac Historic Tree Nursery in the Superior area also has mountain biking.


Are reservations required for the Lolo National Forest? No. You can freely enter the forest without paying a fee. There are however some day use areas where a fee is required. Also, you will want reservations for the rental cabins. The Lolo National Forest has six rental cabins available and you can call 406-329-3814 to reserve them. They are West Fork Butter lookout in Lolo Creek, Cougar Peak Lookout and Bend Guard Station in the Plains/Thompson Falls area, Hogback Homestead and Morgan-Chase Homestead in the Rock Creek area, and the Monture Guard Station cabin in the Seeley Lake area.

What are the fees in the Lolo National Forest? There are fees for cutting Christmas trees in the Lolo. They are $5. You also need to have a permit and pay a fee for cutting firewood in the forest. This is $5 per cord with a minimum purchase of four cords and a max purchase of twelve cords. You can also collect berries and mushrooms in the forest for free as long as they are for personal use. If you are selling them, you need a permit. Another fee is the Lolo Pass Winter Recreation area. This is $20 and good for the year. Other fees you might encounter would be your standard camping fees and possibly some day use fees at the most popular areas. It's always a good idea to keep a few small bills on you if planning to camp. More than likely no one will be there to give you change.

car and road with huge trees
A Lolo forest road winds through old growth ponderosa pine.

The Lolo National Forest is in-between Glacier and Yellowstone. Why don't I just go there? Those are both outstanding parks with beautiful scenery, but the Lolo offers a nice change of pace and far less people. Visitors interested in escaping crowds of people but who are still interested in a mountain and forest camping experience will find the Lolo very desirable. Fishermen will also enjoy having large sections of rivers and lakes to themselves.

What is the best time to visit the Lolo National Forest? I prefer summer and fall. If you like to snowshoe or ski, obviously winter would be your choice. For wildlife photography, camping and fishing I find summer/fall to be the best experience.

Are dogs OK in the Lolo National Forest? Yep! National Forests have less strict rules regarding pets. However, your pet must be on a leach in picnic areas, day use areas, developed campgrounds and wilderness areas. Otherwise they can roam around to their liking. I would be careful though as the Lolo is wolf and mountain lion country. It's always the best idea to not let your pet out of sight.

How long can you stay in the Lolo? As long as you want. Just make sure to not stay in the exact same campsite for long periods of time.

How long does the snow last in the backcountry? Try late June. The mountains of the Lolo are not as high as other parts of the state and the temps are slightly warmer.

What is the best part of the Lolo National Forest? If I had to choose, it would be The Rock Creek valley, the Seeley Lake area and the Scapegoat Wilderness. All of it is beautiful though and worthy of your time. Rock Creek is magnificent with great camping. The Seeley Lake area is the place to be if you want to power boat or canoe as it is blessed with numerous low elevation drive-in lakes ringed by thick forest. The Scapegoat Wilderness is remote and rugged hiking country.

What do the campgrounds look like? You can see them for yourself here. Parkcamper.com has the most detailed camping information on the internet, both in terms of visual and text. You get the complete package. Also, if that's not enough we offer video campground tours which are coming soon for the Lolo National Forest.

What about crowds? Nonexistent. The busiest times will be July. Rock Creek sees an influx of fishermen during peak insect hatches and can be very busy. Some of the amazing lakes re Seeley Lake can be busy during the summer months, but it's worth it. The rest of the forest is uncrowded, quiet and peaceful. These are the strong points and one of the reasons we always go back.

We only have a day in the Lolo National Forest. What should we do?
This is very tough. If you want to fish, make Rock Creek your top priority. If you want to experience forested lakes you can drive to, get up to Seeley Lake as fast as possible and enjoy that. If you want to hike and only have a half day, just head right from Missoula a few miles north to the Rattlesnake Recreation Area. Here you will see beautiful scenery. There's also a small wilderness area that is home to grizzly bears!

pondersoa pine along road in forest land
Rock Creek road.


What are the wilderness areas in the Lolo National Forest? Please see our hiking page for more information on the great spots.

What are the best campgrounds? Our favorites are the Rock Creek campground complex. They all sit on Rock Creek with great views. Also, there are a few outstanding campgrounds in the Seeley Lake area.

Any dangerous wildlife in the Lolo National Forest? Yes. The Lolo is home to grizzly bears, black bears and mountain lion. These are considered to be possibly dangerous to humans. Keep a strong level of self awareness when hiking and bring bear spray. Do not keep food in tents. Also, do not keep scented items in tents. Practice good solid bear safety rules and you will be fine. Remember, this is their home and it's good to keep a clean camp.

Should we switch campsites often or stay in one place?
I follow a rule of three nights per one move. You can get away with two moves if staying four nights, but I wouldn't go more than that. It takes time to find campgrounds and pack up camp. This can take time away from other activities on a short trip.

How is the Lolo National Forest for young children and teens? Great. There's lots of stuff to do to keep kids busy such as hiking, fishing and wildlife watching. Ghost stories by the campfire are always good. In general, kids should have a great time.

Our kids want to fish. Is this a good place? The Lolo National Forest is one of the best places to fish, period. Think lots of trout. All of the rivers and lakes offer excellent trout fishing. People from all over the world travel to the Lolo specifically for the trout fishing. It's that good.

What about swimming on the Lolo National Forest? Try the Seeley Lake area. There are many fantastic lakes that will hold memories to last a lifetime.

What winter sports can I engage in on the Lolo? The Lolo National Forest has hundred hundreds of miles of snowmobile trails as well as numerous cross country ski trails. These trails are: West Fork Butte Lookout in the Lolo Creek area, Blue Mountain Recreation area, Pattee Canyon Recreation area and Rattlesnake Recreation area around Missoula and Bend Guard Station in the Plains/Thompson Falls area. Hogback Homestead and Morgan-Case Homestead both offer cross country skiing in the rock Creek area and the Monture Guard Station Cabin offers cross country skiing in the Seeley Lake area. These places also allow snowshoeing.

How do we get to the Lolo National Forest? Missoula, Montana is the center of the forest and is serviced by Missoula International Airport. Missoula offers pretty much everything. It's a full sized community with outdoor gear, a hospital, eateries, art shops, a music scene and other attractions. Missoula is a great town.



SUPERVISOR ADDRESS
Building 24
Fort Missoula
Missoula, Montana 59804
406-329-3750

RANGER DISTRICT ADDRESSES
Missoula
Bldg. 24A, Fort Missoula
Missoula, Montana 59801
406-329-3814

Ninemile
20325 Remount Rd.
Huson, Montana 59846
406-626-5201

Plains/Thompson Falls
P.O.B. 429
Plains, Montana 59859
406-826-3821

Seeley Lake
HC-31, Box 3200
Seeley Lake, Montana 59868
406-677-2233

Superior
209 W. Riverside
Superior, Montana 59872
406-822-4233



Top image note: This was taken on Rock Creek in the vedant Rock Creek valley. This was an ultra wide angle 10mm shot which makes the boulders look much smaller than they are. In person, they are huge!



 

Download the Rock Creek Campground Pack for Lolo National Forest in iPod, Quicktime, iTunes, WMP 12 and VideoLan format. See what the campgrounds are really like.

 
   

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