DescriptionBeaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest is part of the huge complex of national forests occupying most of southwestern Montana. In 1996, Deerlodge National Forest's 1,194,124 acres (nearly 100 square miles) were combined with Beaverhead National Forest to form an outdoor recreation area encompassing more than 3.3 million acres.
Glaciated peaks rise from broad valleys in the area to form some of Montana's most majestic ranges—the Anaconda, Bitterroot, Beaverhead, Flint Creek, Gravelly, Highland, Madison, Tobacco Root and Sapphire. Mountains in these ranges are among the loftiest in the state; more than 40 surpass 10,000 feet. Mount Evans rises to 10,604 feet, and several more, including Hilgard Peak, exceed 11,000 feet.
From the snowpack of these ranges spring the Big Hole, Beaverhead and Ruby rivers, which form three major tributaries of the Jefferson River. The high country also supplies some of the tributaries of the Madison River. The Clark Fork River flows from its headwaters west of the Continental Divide to Idaho's Lake Pend Oreille.
Through this maze of mountains and river valleys Sacagawea led Meriwether Lewis and William Clark in their search for a passage to the Pacific. This was the land of Sacagawea's people, the Shoshones, who re-provisioned and led the expedition over Lemhi Pass in 1805 and north to a final passage to the West. Despite the inroads of progress—lumbering, mining and ranching—much of the forest's lands have changed little since Lewis and Clark's visit.
Within the forest are portions of the Anaconda-Pintler and Lee Metcalf wilderness areas and a large number of roadless tracts. Typical features of roadless areas are glacial lakes, trout streams and rugged mountain vistas.
The Anaconda-Pintler Wilderness straddles 30 miles of the Anaconda Range and the Continental Divide. The land gradually rises from dense stands of lodgepole pine to open parks dotted with lakes, culminating in jagged peaks in the heart of the range. Anglers prize the clear mountain streams and alpine lakes for their abundance and variety of trout.
Another major area is the Taylor-Hilgard portion of the Lee Metcalf Wilderness. This unit is one of the four portions of wilderness along the spine of the Madison Range, which lies just northwest of Yellowstone National Park. Soaring peaks, knife-edged ridges and alpine lakes are characteristics of this popular area. Bird-watchers will find more than 260 species frequenting a variety of habitats in the forest. The region provides winter range for bighorn sheep and mountain goats and a home to grizzly and black bears, mule deer, mountain lions, elk and moose.
The bald eagle nests in the southeastern Gravelly Range and winters along the Red Rock, Ruby, Jefferson, Madison, Big Hole and Beaverhead rivers. Most migration and wintering activities occur in the large river valleys adjoining the forest. The gray wolf is an occasional visitor to parts of the Continental Divide southwest of Dillon. Grizzly bears occupy portions of the Madison Range within the Lee Metcalf Wilderness and are occasional visitors to the Tobacco Root Mountains and the Gravelly Range.
The forest offers fishing streams, hiking trails, groomed snowmobile trails, developed campgrounds and sites for motorized boating. Visitors can explore many old mines near Deer Lodge, plus the ghost town of Elkhorn, near Boulder, an 1880s mining town with a few corporeal residents. Fifteen miles west of Anaconda on SR 1 is Georgetown Lake, one of the area's busiest recreation sites, partly due to its excellent fishing. Snowmobiling and cross-country and downhill skiing are available at Discovery Ski Area, north of Georgetown Lake, and at Maverick Mountain near Dillon.
Detailed information about campgrounds and recreational opportunities is available at the district ranger stations in Butte, Deer Lodge, Dillon, Ennis, Philipsburg, Sheridan, Whitehall, Wisdom and Wise River. For further information contact the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest Supervisor's Office, 420 Barrett St., Dillon, MT 59725; phone (406) 683-3900.