Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest
Down a trail in Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest
At 3.32 million acres, Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest is the largest National Forest in Montana. There are Forest Service offices in Butte, Philipsburg, Dillon, Whitehall, Boulder, Ennis, Deer Lodge, Wise River, Sheridan, and Wisdom. The Lee Metcalf and Anaconda-Pintler Wilderness Areas are located here. In season, there is excellent downhill skiing available near Anaconda at Discovery and near Dillon at Maverick Mountain. There are quite a few cross-country ski trails available, too, in season.
The Beaverhead and Deerlodge National Forests were designated by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1908. They were administratively merged in 1996. In the original declaration, the Deerlodge was then called the Big Hole Forest Reserve. Roosevelt primarily set the land aside to stop the Anaconda Copper Mining Company from clear-cutting the entire upper Big Hole River watershed. Between the smoke pollution from Anaconda's smelter and the horrific erosion resulting from Anaconda's logging operations, that whole area of Montana was quickly being destroyed.
Lewis & Clark crossed this region of mountains and forest in 1805 and worked their way to the top of Lemhi Pass (7,323'). From there they caught their first glimpse of the Columbia River watershed. In crossing that pass they crossed what was then the western boundary of the United States. In descending the other side, though, they came to the Salmon River in some nasty, torturous countryside and quickly realized this was not the way west for them.
About 2/3 of the forest lands are actually treed, with Ponderosa pine, juniper, and several species of spruce and fir predominant. The rangeland areas that make up 1/3 of the forest are a mix of native grasses, sagebrush and various cold-tolerant cactus. Elk, mule deer, bighorn sheep, moose, black bear and pronghorns are found almost everywhere but the lynx, grizzly bear, gray wolf, bald eagle and Arctic grayling are a bit more reclusive.
Comet and Saddleback Mountains
The Continental Divide National Scenic Trail and the Nez Perce Historic Trail both pass through the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest. Elkhorn, Coolidge and Granite, three ghost towns from Montana's boom and bust mining history also still stand in the woods out here. The Forest offers a lot of great scenery, many good fishing lakes and 50-some small-to-medium size campgrounds. There's also more than 1,500 miles of trails in the woods, many of them reaching the summits of the highest mountains in the area, just above 11,000'.
South Meadow Lake
The Montana side of Lemhi Pass