THE BEST OF THE BITTERROOT VALLEY

Famed for its world-class fly fishing and hunting, the Bitterroot Valley in Montana offers recreation year round for visitors and locals alike. Whether it’s downhill skiing at Lost Trail Powder Mountain or fishing the spring skwala hatch on the Bitterroot River, there is something for everyone in this scenic valley.  

Located 30 minutes south of Missoula, the Bitterroot Valley sits between the Sapphire and Bitterroot Mountain Ranges along 96 miles of the Bitterroot River. Eight small towns, each with their own charm, provide excellent dining, shopping and activities for the authentic Montana experience. With endless opportunities for recreation, Western Ranch Brokers has gathered a list of our favorite things to do in the Bitterroot Valley.

Photo by Bitterroot Chamber of Commerce, https://bitterrootchamber.com/living-here/

FISHING

There is no shortage of fishing opportunities in the Bitterroot Valley—with 14 fishing access points accessing over 90 miles of the Bitterroot River, anglers have plenty of chances to catch rainbow, brook, cutthroat, bull and brown trout.  

  • The West Fork of the Bitterroot River, below Painted Rocks Reservoir, runs clear and cold all year, and is a great place to use a dry fly for sizable rainbow and brown trout, up to 22 inches. 

  • Home to smaller but plentiful cutthroat trout, the East Fork of the Bitterroot River is another dry fly spot. Its narrow width and decreased fishing pressure make it ideal when the water levels are high early in the summer and later in the fall. From the headwaters of the East Fork to Sula, there is easy access to this section of the river along East Fork Road and most of the flow is through national forest land.
  • For a one of a kind experience, fish the skwala hatch, typically the first week of April.  Active skwalas, and actively feeding trout, can be found from the confluence of the Clark Fork River upstream near Stevensville and on up to Hamilton, Montana.
  • More world-class fly fishing lies within a few hours drive from the Bitterroot Valley, including the well known Clark Fork, Big Hole, Blackfoot Rivers and Rock Creek.

HIKING/BIKING

More than 10,000 square miles of public land are host to numerous hiking and biking trails in the Bitterroot Valley. Explore the Bitterroot Mountains, Sapphire Mountains and the Bitterroot National Forest with numerous hiking and biking trails for all levels.

  • Just south of Darby, start the 6 mile hike to Trapper Peak, reaching an impressive 10,157 feet in elevation and the Bitterroot Mountains’ highest point.  Several routes of variable difficulty lead to the top, but the steep climbs are best for experienced hikers. Those who take on the challenge will be rewarded with spectacular views.
  • Popular for all levels of hikers, the Blodgett Canyon Trail near Hamilton is a 2.8 mile out and back trail—perfect for an afternoon hike with plenty of picturesque views of Blodgett Canyon, the Bitterroot Valley and Sapphire Mountains.
  • Extending 50 miles from Missoula all the way to Main Street in Hamilton, the paved Bitterroot Trail is suitable for walkers and bikers and is one of the best ways to tour the area. Along the trail, Travelers’ Rest State Park is the historically verified point where Lewis & Clark camped on their expedition to the Pacific. Note that the trail is uphill if you start in Missoula! 
  • The Lolo Hot Springs trail, part of the TransAmerica Bicycle Trail, starts in Lolo and ends 25 miles later in Lolo Hot Springs where you can take a relaxing soak in the hot springs before the ride back.  

OUTDOOR RECREATION

The Bitterroot Valley offers year-round recreation, with summer hiking and biking trails becoming ski and snowmobile routes in the colder months.

Painted Rocks State Park, Photo by Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, https://fwp.mt.gov/painted-rocks
  • Named for the green, yellow and orange lichen covered rock walls, Painted Rocks State Park has a 565 acre lake, popular for boating, swimming and paddle boarding. Lake Como, just north of Darby, is another beautiful backdrop for swimming and other water sports.
  • Hit the slopes at one of the many winter recreation areas including downhill and cross country skiing at Lost Trail Powder Mountain or experience the backcountry on Trapper Peak. Explore over 100 miles of trails perfect for cross country skiers and snowmobilers around the Lolo Pass and Skalkaho Snowpark areas.
  • Wildlife enthusiasts have plenty to explore at one of the many wildlife areas. The Bitterroot National Forest, Lee Metcalf Wildlife Refuge, Three Mile Wildlife Management Area, Teller Wildlife Refuge, or Calf Creek Wildlife Management Area are home to a variety of species from big game to waterfowl and game birds.
  • A hunter’s paradise, the 1.6 million acres of Bitterroot National Forest provides refuge for several big game species such as elk, bear, white-tailed and mule deer, mountain lion and moose. Elk and deer are the most commonly hunted game animals; permits for Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep, Rocky Mountain Goat and Moose are limited.  

CULTURE

Rich with history, the communities within the Bitterroot Valley are still thriving with arts and culture. Take a break from your outdoor adventures to enjoy a variety of dining experiences or explore the local breweries.

  • Immerse yourself in the local art scene in Hamilton at one of the many galleries or catch a live performance at the Hamilton Players Theater. “Copper King” Marcus Daly chose to build his 24,000 square foot summer home here. The 25 bedroom, 15 bathroom Queen Anne style mansion is now a museum and open to the public for tours.
Old West Gallery, Gifts, Antiques and Candy. Photo by Donnie Sexton, https://www.visitmt.com/
  • Darby, Montana is the location for the popular television series, “Yellowstone”. Although the Chief Joseph Ranch where the show is filmed is not open to the public, you can still get a feel for life in the West in downtown Darby, where charming wood clad buildings line the main street. Don’t miss the block long Old West Candy and Antiques Gallery for antiques shopping and some nostalgic sweets.
  • Dine at one of the local restaurants in the Bitterroot Valley, from casual fare at Memories Café or the Wild Mare, to fine dining at Lolo Creek Steak House. Other restaurants to put on your list include the Mission Bistro in Stevensville, Caffe Firenze in Florence, and Cowboy Troy’s in Victor.
  • Relax with a locally brewed beer after a day of adventure in the valley at Highground Brewing Co. in Hamilton, Blacksmith Brewing Company in Stevensville, or at Lolo Peak Brewery in Lolo. Sip on something a little harder at the newly opened Lolo Creek Distillery behind the steakhouse.

Looking to become more than just a visitor to the Bitterroot Valley? Contact Western Ranch Brokers to learn more about our available properties in this scenic and adventure-filled valley including Bitterroot Overlook on Eight Mile Creek, West Fork River Camp and an off-market listing.