Named after Captain William Clark who with Meriwether Lewis led the expedition to the west in 1804, the Clark Fork of the Columbia River travels 310 miles throughout Idaho and western Montana. Often described locally as two distinct rivers, visitors will discover unique characteristics on its upper and lower reaches.
Recent major efforts to clean up decades of mining pollution have helped restore the river to its natural glory. Home to huge brown trout, rainbow trout, and mountain whitefish, anglers of all ages sing the praises of its whitewater, brushy and grassy banks with both slow and fast currents, and stocked lakes. And the Clark Fork River corridor offers a rich array of other recreational activities for outdoor lovers including hiking, boating, sightseeing, water skiing, hunting, and more.
Start Your Journey at Lake Pend Oreille
The Clark Fork River is the main tributary to Lake Pend Oreille and the gorgeous Clark Fork River Delta, the largest wetland area in the Pend Oreille system. The river provides nearly 80 percent of the water in Pend Oreille – an impressive fact considering this is Idaho's largest and deepest lake at 43 miles long, 1,158 feet deep, and 111 miles of shoreline.
1. Antelope Lake Recreation Area
A short distance from the town of Clark Fork, scenic Antelope Lake is nestled in an idyllic mountain setting and the north area of the Clark Fork River. Trails provide access to the lake for fishing and an abundance of trout, thanks in part to Idaho Fish and Game stocking the lake with catchable size trout throughout the summer. Note: Access to this site requires a four wheel drive vehicle.
2. Cabinet Gorge Dam Overlook
Operated by Avista since 1999, the Cabinet Gorge Dam and its sister dam 10 miles upstream, the Noxon Rapids Dam together provide annual electricity to more than 200,000 households. Located near the Montana and Idaho state line, the overlook provides spectacular vistas of Cabinet Gorge Dam, the Clark Fork River, and surrounding landscape. On-site interpretive signs describe construction of the dam and interesting facts about Glacial Lake Missoula.
3. Big Eddy Recreation Area
Located about six miles east of the Idaho border in Montana on Hwy 200, this campground features five sites with fire rings with attached grills, bear boxes, and picnic tables. Amenities include vault toilets and a boat ramp with a dock. Two day use sites including one with a covered shelter have picnic tables, while fire grills are available near the boat ramp.
4. Two Rivers RV Park & Campground
A one-of-a-kind gem located in the heart of Northwest Montana, this park offers an array of recreational opportunities. The park is located on the Cabinet Gorge Reservoir with access to the water down a short trail. With 25 hooks-ups for RVs and multiple tent sites and ample walking trails, this is an ideal place to enjoy a relaxing vacation. Additional amenities include propane, ice, vending machines, a dump station, free Wi-Fi, a laundromat, full restrooms with showers, and a sand volleyball court.
5. Pilgrim Creek Park
A joint project of Avista and the village of Noxon, this well-developed park is located on the eastern edge of town and the south bank of the Clark Fork River. With a scenic overlook of the river as it journeys into Cabinet Gorge Reservoir, this pretty park also has mature trees and open grassy areas, a pair of baseball diamonds, a picnic pavilion and tables, restrooms in the center of the park, a children's playground, benches, and a simulated Indian encampment by the river bank. This educational display is a good starting point for teaching young children about Native American tribes that inhabited this area. On occasion, the park hosts large events including a blues festival, family reunions, and baseball tournaments.
6. South Shore Recreation Area
Located on the south end of Noxon Rapids Dam, this recreation area offers beautiful views of the Cabinet Mountains. The facilities include 12 campsites with fire rings and a day use area with covered picnic shelter. There is a single-lane gravel boat launch and dock, although the boat ramp is closed during spring run-off. Just up the road, Noxon Rapids Reservoir is considered the best bass fishery in Montana.
7. Water Hill Trailhead
Water Hill Trail #845 starts at Vermilion Bay, climbing to a major ridgeline connecting Water Hill, Cataract Peak, and Seven Point Mountain. Most places on the trail afford spectacular views of Vermilion Bay and the Clark Fork River Valley.
8. Finley Flats Recreation Area
This site offers 15 overnight campsites with fire rings and two day use areas with covered picnic shelters. Amenities include handicap-accessible vault toilets, a boat launch, and dock. A river side hiking trail with beautiful views of the Blue Slide adds to the recreation experience of this popular fishing area. Note: Camp hosts oversee this site during peak use from May through September.
9. River’s Bend Golf Course
Follow the Clark Fork River to discover one of Western Montana's finest golf courses with a par 36, nine-hole golf course. Considered a hidden gem, this course is designed to bring you back to the clubhouse every third hole. The second hole runs along the Clark Fork River and trees abound on every hole, making this course a gorgeous challenge for avid golfers. The fourth hole has golfers teeing off atop a hill and down through a corridor of trees. And the sixth hole is famous for a drop-off to the right fairway – dubbed Igor because it captures many balls on a daily basis.
10. Thompson Falls State Park
With its mature mixed pine forest, this 36-acre park offers a host of attractions including camping, fishing, nature walks, swimming, boating, wildlife viewing, bird watching, a new picnic shelter, three vaulted restrooms, paved roadways, and an improved family fishing pond with accessible fishing pier. The recently expanded non-motorized Thompson Falls Trail runs along the Clark Fork River and connects to the HWY 200 trail into town. The overnight camping area has 18 campsites with picnic tables, fire rings, on-site camp hosts, and a boat launch.
The Clark Fork River offers a rich array of recreational activities for people of all ages and we hope you and your family will enjoy one or many. Please be careful when you’re above and below a dam. Obey all posted warnings and closure signs and never cross the boater safety cable above a dam.
Photo by Ben Tobin @capturing_spokane
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