One of the oldest national preserves in the nation, the Lewis and Clark National Forest covers 1,863,788 acres of west-central Montana. It is divided into seven sections; those on the eastern side consist of grass and scrublands with occasional areas of woodland that are often rented to local farmers as cattle range. The western side of the forest, which straddles the Continental Divide, preserves vast woodlands covering the foothills of mountain ranges, much of which is declared Wilderness Area. The elevation of this forest ranges from 4,500 feet in the eastern scrublands to 9,362 feet at the summit of Rocky Mountain Peak. Since the land was set aside as a forest preserve in 1897, encroachment by human development has remained at a minimum.
The Memorial Falls Trail is a loop that reaches a beautiful waterfall before returning to the initial trailhead. Sections of the trail elevate slightly but not enough to discourage children or adults. The path runs beneath a dense forest to the waterfall, where the canopy opens to allow sunlight to glint off the spray.
Length: 1.0 miles
The Devil’s Glen Trail is an in-and-out pathway that begins with a narrow rocky path running beside a private road for a mile before it opens to incredible views of Steamboat Mountain to the north and the Twin Buttes to the south. Beautiful limestone cliffs line the path that runs beside a creek leading to the Dearborn River.
Length: 6.1 miles
The Windy Mountain Loop Trail climbs slowly along Briggs Creek until it reaches a small saddle — the gateway to Windy Mountain Pass. Hikers often break away from the trail here to ascend the summit of Windy Mountain to get a fantastic panoramic view of the surrounding countryside. The trail then descends along Thain Creek to bring you back to the trailhead.
Length: 8.8 miles
The Casey Meadows Trail is an in-and-out pathway that gradually climbs the entire way. There are several creek crossings along the path, but the water is shallow. Wildflowers cover the hillsides during the spring and summer months. The end of the trail brings rewarding views of the surrounding country.
Length: 8.1 miles
The Mount Wright Trail is a grueling uphill stretch with intermittent switchbacks that climb 3,264 feet. The entire trip is at an elevation of over 5,000 feet. There are no trees to speak of and no running water, so you’ll need to carry your own. While the hike is harsh, the views are incredible, especially when you reach the summit of Mount Wright.
Length: 7.6 miles
Angling is excellent in the Lewis and Clark National Forest. Along with the 16,000 miles of streams that drain into this area, hundreds of unpublished natural (and a few human-made) lakes are full of fish who have seldom seen a baited hook or fly.
Geocaching is allowed almost everywhere on the eastern division of the Lewis and Clark National Forest. However, it is discouraged in the western section, and it is outlawed in Wilderness Areas and the Badger-Two Medicine Area. In addition, only members of the Native American Blackfeet tribe may hunt, chop wood, or otherwise enter the Badger-Two Medicine Area. It is reserved for their purposes only and is considered a sacred site protected by the Treaty of 1896.
The wildlife in Lewis and Clark National Forest includes many predatory species no longer seen in other areas. For example, grizzly bears, mountain lions, lynx, black bears, and gray wolves live in this area. Other wildlife, such as mountain goats, bighorn sheep, elk, and deer, are subject to restricted hunting. Many protected birds, like the peregrine falcon, bald eagle, and blue grouse, call this forest home.
Stargazing is terrific in the Lewis and Clark National Forest. Even in the lower elevations on the eastern side of the forest, the night sky lights up like an intense light show. In the foothills and on the mountain slopes that make up much of the western side of the forest, spending the night in a clear spot rewards campers with an incredible display of the Milky Way.
Address: 1220 38th Street North, Great Falls, MT 59405
Fee: Entry Fee (per person) There is no entry fee.
Though the Lewis and Clark National Forest was set aside as a preserve in 1897, several roads were constructed by logging and mining concerns. The United States Forest Service maintains many of these roads to provide access in emergencies or forest fires. RVs travel these roads with ease, making RV camping a real possibility in the forest. Boondocking or dispersed camping is allowed and encouraged. Local hikers, anglers, and hunters use RVs in this forest because of their comfort levels and the ability to quickly pick up stakes and move to another area.