- Ranges of high, craggy peaks mark the Kootenai National Forest with Snowshoe Peak in the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness at 8,738 feet, the highest point. The Whitefish Range, Purcell Mountains, Bitterroot Range, Salish Mountains, and Cabinet Mountains are all part of the rugged terrain radiating from the river valleys. In the north-central part of the Forest, the land is more open with gently rolling timbered hills lying in the shadows of the Whitefish Range.
The Forest is dominated by two major rivers: the Kootenai and Clark Fork, along with several smaller rivers and their tributaries. Two dams on the Clark Fork have created the Cabinet Gorge and Noxon Reservoirs within the Forest boundary. Highway 200 parallels these reservoirs as it crosses the Forest. The Kootenai River is bridled by Libby Dam, creating Lake Koocanusa, a 90-mile-long reservoir reaching into Canada. Lake Koocanusa, 16 miles north of Libby, is almost totally encompassed by Forest land with Highway 37 following the east shore to Rexford, and a Forest road along the west shore to within a few miles of Canada. The elevation of the Kootenai River as it leaves the Forest and the State is 1,862 feet, the lowest point in Montana.
The Yaak, Fisher, Tobacco, Bull, and Vermillion Rivers are smaller rivers within the confines of the Forest. There are 141 lakes located within the Forest boundaries that range from small alpine lakes to 1,240-acre Bull Lake.
The Ten Lakes Scenic Area offers scenery and solitude. With the Canadian border on one side, the Ten Lakes Area is dominated by a high ridge of the Whitefish Mountains. Alpine glaciers carved deep scallops, or cirques, and high, rim-rocked basins which shelter numerous area lakes.
The Northwest Peaks Scenic Area, close to both the Canadian and Idaho borders, is reached by Forest roads extending from U.S. Highway 2 and State Highway 508. As part of the Selkirk Range, lofty peaks and deep valleys provide primitive recreation opportunities.
The Ross Creek Scenic Area is reached by 4 miles of Forest road from State Highway 56. The area is a grove of ancient Western Red Cedar trees growing along the banks of Ross Creek with a self-guided nature trail forms a winding loop through the grove.
Kootenai Falls on the Kootenai River, adjacent to U.S. Highway 2 between Libby and Troy, is a major scenic attraction. Other falls on the Forest include Yaak, West Fork Yaak, Vermillion, Little North Fork,
Pinkham, Sutton, Ten Mile, Turner, Falls Creek, and Ross Creek.
The 94,360 acreCabinet Mountains Wilderness covers mountainous, rugged terrain and runs north/south through the center of the Forest. More than 20 trails leading into the Wilderness give access to dozens of small lakes, ridgetop panoramas, and alpine meadows. There are five National Recreation Trails on the Forest with a combined mileage of approximately 70 miles.
Recreation - Camping: 40 campgrounds, 696 units. Open mid-April through September; some year-round.
Lookout Rental: For those who would like to enjoy a mountain top experience, six lookouts are available to rent on a recreation basis.
Hiking, backpacking: 1,440 miles of trails. Over 300,000 acres of unroaded backcountry are available to recreationists.
Hunting: Elk, deer, black bear, mountain sheep, mountain goat, moose, grouse, and water fowl.
Fishing: Good fishing in streams and lakes. Montana's record small mouth bass was caught on a Forest lake. Koocanusa Reservoir is an excellent kokanee salmon fishery.
Swimming: Most lower elevation lakes are nice for swimming; several of the larger lakes and reservoirs have developed beaches with picnic tables, shelters, and toilets.
Boating: Power boating with ramps on all the larger lakes and reservoirs.
Floating: Parts of the Kootenai, Fisher, and Yaak Rivers should present no problem to experienced floaters in canoes, rafts, or boats.
Skiing: Downhill skiing on Turner Mountain, 5,952 feet elevation, with a 2,400-foot vertical rise, 5,600-foot T-Bar lift, is located 22 miles from Libby. Cross-country skiing with groomed trails and unlimited opportunities is offered on numerous backcountry roads.
Snowmobiling: Over 153 miles of groomed snowmobile trails.
Climate - Temperatures and precipitation on the Forest vary with elevation. Summers tend to bring moderate to warm temperatures with clear days. Summer highs are normally in the 70's and 80's with relatively cool to cold nights. Winter brings cold temperatures with ample snow for winter recreation activities. Winter temperatures frequently drop well below zero but clear, crisp days are common. Snowpack normally remains in the high elevations well into June or even July making some areas inaccessible until then.
The Kootenai National Forest is located in the extreme northwest corner of Montana, bordered on the north by Canada and on the west by Idaho. A small portion of the Forest is located in Idaho. Access into the Forest is available from U.S. Highways 2 and 93, and Montana State Highways 37, 56, 200, and 508. The Forest Headquarters is located in Libby.