Established in 1897, making it one of the first national forest preserves, the 2,800-square-mile Lewis and Clark National Forest spans 13 counties, eight mountain ranges, five ranger districts, and an interpretive center in Great Falls. Portions of the Great Bear, Bob Marshall and Scapegoat Wilderness Areas fall within the forest, which also borders Glacier National Park to the north.
The expansive forest is loosely split between the higher, wetter, western Rocky Mountain division of primarily spruce, fir, larch and pine, and the dryer, eastern, Jefferson Division dominated by grass and scrublands punctuated with ponderosa and lodgepole. Mountain goats, bighorn sheep, elk, mountain lions, lynx, and wolverines are common close to the Continental Divide, while black bears and deer are found throughout. Grizzlies tend to to stick to the forest's more remote wilderness portions.
More then 1,600 miles of rivers and streams, especially in the higher-altitude western portions of the forest, are home to rainbows, brook, and westslop cutthroat trout. Fly fishing is exceptional, especially on the Smith River, where float permits are required year-round. Permits are granted via Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks lotter, with an application deadline in mid-February.
Winter sports are well represented on the forest, which offers dog-sledding trails, groomed snowmobile trails, sledding areas, 7 cross-country ski and snowshoe areas, and both Teton Pass Ski Area (west of Choteau) and Showdown Ski Area (south of Great Falls).
Almost 1,500 miles of hiking trails access more than 30 campgrounds and 9 rentable cabins and fire lookouts.