Flathead National Forest

The Flathead National Forest is a national forest located in the western portion of the U.S. state of Montana. It covers 2,404,935 acres of which about 1 million acres is designated wilderness. It gets its name from the Flathead Indians who resided in the area. The forest can be found in the Rocky Mountains with elevations ranging from 4,500 to 8,500 feet. The forest offers habitat for about 250 species of wildlife and 22 species of fish. This includes the threatened grizzly bear, bald eagle, lynx, bull trout, a rear plant called water howellia, and the endangered gray wolf.

The Flathead National Forest is edged by Glacier National Park and Canada to the north, the Lewis and Clark National Forest and Glacier to the east, the Lolo National Forest to the south, and the Kootenai National Forest to the west. The wilderness areas in the forest are the Bob Marshall Wilderness Area, Great Bear Wilderness Area, and Mission Mountains Wilderness Area. Other uniquely-designated areas in the forest include Flathead Wild and Scenic River, Jewel Basin Hiking Area, and the Coram Experimental Forest. Some 270,000 acres of non-federal land are included also in the boundaries drawn for the national forest. This includes private land, commercial forest and all or part of Swan River State Forest, Stillwater State Forest and Coal Creek State Forest.

Commercial activities in the non-wilderness portions of the forest include timber harvesting, two downhill ski resorts and a small amount of cattle grazing. Individuals can pick less than 10 US gallons of berries without a license. Bigger amounts of berries, firewood, and Christmas tree cutting and mushroom or mineral gathering in wilderness areas necessitate licenses.

The forest contains 1,700 miles of roads, a lot of which are primitive fire roads and 2,800 miles of hiking trails.

About 38 miles of the Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail are located within the Flathead National Forest.

While camping is permitted anywhere within national forests without a license, Flathead National Forest also has 34 campgrounds with some facilities. The largest campground has only 40 sites and 2 campgrounds have only 1 site each. The majority of campgrounds don’t have running water. There are 11 cabins for rent in the forest as well.

The forest lies mostly in Flathead County, but smaller areas extend into 5 other counties. In descendant order of land area they are Powell, Missoula, Lake, Lewis and Clark, and Lincoln counties. Forest headquarters can be found in Kalispell, Montana. There are local ranger district offices located in Hungry Horse, Bigfork, and Whitefish.

Image Caption: United States Forest Service photo of Big Salmon Lake, Bob Marshall Wilderness, Montana. Credit: United States Forest Service/Wikipedia