Quick Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest Facts
Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest is the largest national forest in Montana. It includes 3.36 million acres split between 9 non-contiguous sections. Butte happens to be the largest city near this expansive amount of public land. Since we are based out of Butte, we decided to spend our free time exploring close to home.
Tobacco Root Mountains
We started our journey in the Tobacco Root Mountains. We immediately discovered you need a high clearance vehicle if you want to make it to the trailheads. Thankfully my vehicle has a good eight inches of clearance, but at times it didn’t feel like enough. It made me laugh to think I considered trailhead roads back east unfit in comparison. Our experience with this trail included an abundance of wildflowers, snow in July, and immense solitude. Outside of the trailhead parking lot, where only high clearance trucks were parked, we didn’t see a single person throughout the hike. The feeling that we were the only ones on the trail became a common theme among our hikes. We went back to the Tobacco Roots for one more hike before trying a new mountain range of the forest.
We had been blown away by the views concealed within the national forest boundaries and found ourselves wanting to stay longer at the end of each trip. After a thorough search using satellite imagery, we decided where our first Montana backpacking trip would be. Driving south of Butte on I-15 we entered The Pioneer Mountains. After a bumpy drive and moderate hike, we arrived at our primitive campsite just as a small thunderstorm was passing through. Though this may sound unenjoyable to some, it brought a huge smile to my face. Listening to thunder rolling by while watching raindrops dance along a glass alpine lake was certainly a highlight of this trip. The visual presence and smells that accompany rain are always welcomed in brief periods. We prepared a freshly caught fish dinner before closing our eyes for the night. The following day had more surprises in store for us. We discovered what might be our favorite alpine lake to date, immediately triggering all sorts of ideas for future visits. We returned to the Pioneers multiple times before moving onto a new range. The Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest was swiftly burrowing its place within our hearts.
Anaconda Pintler Wilderness
Our third and latest range for the summer was Anaconda Pintler Wilderness. This is one of two designated wilderness areas partially within the Beaverhead Deerlodge Forest. Though other areas we visited felt like we were in the wild, this one had a more discernable sense of wilderness, mostly because of how we chose to experience it. We were only able to find one online source of information for our selected hike. It included a steep bushwack from the valley floor up to the mountain ridgeline. Our first bushwack in western forests was an experience in and of itself. The anticipation of encountering unfamiliar wildlife flooded our minds. We were both excited and cautious over what we could potentially run into. Our thoughts became a reality when we encountered a black bear while on the marked trail. When we reached the ridgeline the feeling of being ‘out there’ set in more strongly. Shifting rocks below our feet reminded us not many had traveled over them. Though we weren’t able to reach the summit, the journey was one of the most thrilling we had so far. Similar to the prior two ranges, we returned immediately to get a more personalized interpretation of the area.
A Lifetime of Exploration
Though we were only able to visit three out of the nine ranges, plans are set to explore a new section this autumn. We try to take a little time to get to know each area before moving onto the next. We are astonished at the beauty and diversity within the Beaverhead-Deerlodge forest. Each excursion keeps us anticipating our next visit and we are equally excited about what we’ll see during each hike. We feel lucky to be surrounded by so much public land and look forward to years, if not a lifetime exploring the wild through forest and fauna.