What's open, what's not on the Bitterroot Forest
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What's open, what's not on the Bitterroot Forest

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Memorial Day weekend marks the traditional kickoff of the summer season. The 1.6 million-acre Bitterroot National Forest offers unmatched recreational opportunities, including nearly 250 campsites in 26 campgrounds, hiking on more than 1,800 miles of trails, boating, biking, horseback riding and more.

Forest officials hope visitors will incorporate the following safety tips, along with the status of campgrounds, trails and roads, into their adventures during the upcoming Memorial Day weekend.

Forest Public Information Officer Tod McKay said this is the weekend for forest users to bring their patience.

“Along with your camping and hiking gear we are really asking the public to pack their patience and remain flexible this weekend,” McKay said. “More so than normal we are expecting full campgrounds and heavy traffic on our forest roads and trails because with the current situation people have been itching to get out.”

He recommends driving defensively and having a backup plan in case your favorite camping site is full when you arrive.  

With the efforts to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, McKay recommends people bring along their own cleaning supplies and wipe down shared areas like picnic tables and benches.

“Our staff will do the best job we can to keep areas clean and disinfected, especially bathrooms,” McKay said. “Everyone should bring their own. Better safe than sorry right now.”

McKay said all but three campgrounds will be open. Those remaining closed are the Spring Gulch campground (off of U.S. Highway 93 just before the Sula store; it's closed due to flooding), the Three Frogs Campground at Como (has hazardous trees down and other maintenance needed) and Twin Lakes up Lost Horse (still has snow).

“People can’t wait to get out the woods and people will be lining up Friday morning out at Como because that lower Como campground has camper hookups and only 11 spots,” McKay said. “That’s why it is really good to have a backup plan. People just need to be patient.”

Key safety messages

• Due to COVID-19, visitors are asked to stay as local as possible when choosing a site to visit and to pack out everything they bring, especially trash.

• Avoid congregating at trailheads and parking areas and refrain from gathering in groups of 10 or more as per Gov. Steve Bullock’s orders in place until June 1. Visitors are also urged to take precautions recommended by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, along with local health and safety guidance.

• Be prepared for changing weather conditions. Temperatures at night are still cool and isolated showers are in the forecast.

• Many campgrounds and hiking trails are located near streams that are running extremely fast and high. Please be cautious around flowing waters and especially at creek crossings.

• Expect heavier traffic than normal on forest roads and trails over the holiday weekend. Drive defensively and notify the Forest Service of any flooding conditions, plugged culverts, downed trees or road damage, so repairs can be made.

• Stay away from soft and muddy roads as this is unsafe and can damage the roadbed, leading to expensive repairs. Driving around snowdrifts can damage vegetation and soil.

• Please stay on designated routes. Free Motor Vehicle Use Maps (MVUM) are available at all Bitterroot National Forest offices and online. The maps show designated routes for motorized recreation users.

• Bring potable drinking water as some campground water systems have not been opened yet.

• Never leave a campfire unattended and make sure your coals are cool to the touch before you leave.

• Be extremely careful when traveling and camping around areas of dead trees including burned areas or beetle-killed patches.

• Contact your local Forest Service office to find out if your favorite campground is open. See list below of campgrounds/recreation sites. Certain services may still be unavailable, so visitors are asked to plan accordingly and remain flexible. Please contact the appropriate Ranger District for the latest updates and conditions.

Darby/Sula Ranger District – 406-821-3913

Lake Como Recreation Area:

• Lower Como Campground — Opening May 22 with 11 pull-through sites, water, electrical, accessible toilets, and garbage service. No reservations — first-come, first-served site selection. $16/night.

• Three Frogs Campground — Currently closed, tentative opening date is June 15.

• Lake Como Picnic Area and Trailhead — Open

• Lake Como Beach — Open. Swim lines installed after Memorial Day.

• Lake Como Boat Launch — Open. Dock will tentatively be installed by May 29; call the Darby District for updates.

• Rock Creek Horse Camp — Open with 11 campsites, hitch rails, feed troughs, accessible toilets and garbage service; no water. No reservations — first-come, first-served. $8/night.

• Three Sisters Group Site — Currently closed, tentative opening date is June 1.

• Woods Cabin — To reserve the cabin visit the National Recreation Reservation System, www.recreation.gov or call 1-877-444-6777.

• Recreation Passes/Day Use Fees — Required beginning Saturday, May 23. Cost of the passes are $5/vehicle or $30 for a season pass and are available at area retailers: Mr. T’s and People’s Market in Darby; Angler’s Roost, Lone Pine, Town Pump South, Bob Ward’s, Riverside in Hamilton. Day passes are also available on-site at the recreation area. Day use fees are charged at Lake Como from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend.

• Black Bear Campground — Open with six campsites and accessible toilet. No water. Pack-it-in, pack-it-out garbage. No reservations. First-come, first-served.

• Skalkaho Pass (State Highway 38) — Currently closed. For the latest road information, visit www.mdt.mt.gov or Dial 511.

• Lost Horse Road — only accessible 6 miles beyond the intersection with Lick Creek Road. The road is closed to motorized vehicles beyond the gate due to soft road conditions and snow at higher elevations.

• Spring Gulch Campground — Currently closed due to spring flooding on the East Fork of the Bitterroot River. Contact the Ranger District for latest conditions and reopening updates.

• Indian Trees Campground – Opening May 22 with 15 campsites, water, garbage and accessible toilet. Camp host on site. $10/night. To reserve campsites, visit www.recreation.gov.

• Warm Springs Campground — Opening May 22 with 11 campsites, garbage and accessible toilet. No reservations – first come, first-served site selection. $8/night.

• Martin Creek Campground — Open with seven campsites, water and accessible toilet. Pack-it-in, pack-it-out garbage. No reservations; first-come, first-served site selection. $8/night.

• Jennings Campground — Open with four campsites and accessible toilet. Pack-it-in, pack-it-out garbage. No reservations; first-come, first-served site selection.

• Crazy Creek Campground — Opening May 22 with seven campsites, water and accessible toilet. Pack-it-in, pack-it-out garbage. No reservations; first-come, first-served site selection. $8/night.

• Crazy Creek Horse Camp — Open with seven campsites and accessible toilet. No water. Pack-it-in, pack-it-out garbage. No reservations; first-come, first-served.

Stevensville Ranger District: 406-777-5461

Bass Creek Recreation Area:

• Charles Waters Campground — Opening May 22 with 26 campsites and accessible toilet. Camp host on site. Potable water and trash services available. No reservations — first-come, first-served site selection. $10/night.

• Larry Creek Group Camp — Available for reservation through the National Recreation Reservation System; www.recreation.gov or call 1-877-444-6777.

• Blodgett Campground — Opening May 22 with five campsites and accessible toilet. No water, pack-it-in, pack-it-out garbage. Camp host on site. No reservations; first come, first-served site selection.

• Gold Creek Campground — Open with five campsites and accessible toilet. No water, pack-it-in, pack-it-out garbage. No reservations; first come, first served site selection.

West Fork Ranger District, 406-821-3269

• Rombo Campground — Opening May 22 with 13 campsites, water*, garbage, and accessible toilet. Camp host on site. To reserve campsites, visit www.recreation.gov. *Drinking water will not be available throughout the campground. Water will be available at one location at the entrance of the campground. We are working on replacing the water system. $8/night.

• Alta Campground — Opening May 22 with 14 campsites, water, garbage and accessible toilet. Camp host on site. To reserve campsites, visit www.recreation.gov. $8/night.

• Sam Billings Campground — Open with 12 campsites and accessible toilet. No water. ‘Pack it in, pack it out’ garbage. No reservations – first-come, first-served.

• Slate Creek Campground — Front loop is currently open. Check with Ranger District for latest conditions on the back loop. No water. ‘Pack it in, pack it out’ garbage. No reservations — first-come, first-served.

• Fales Flat Campground — Open with three campsites and accessible toilet. No water. Pack-it-in, pack-it-out garbage. No reservations in the campground; first-come, first-served. To reserve the group site, visit www.recreation.gov.

• Nez Perce Pass to Paradise Campground — Open, but single-lane travel only and packed snow near Nez Perce Pass. Four-wheel drive recommended. Contact the West Fork District for latest road updates for Magruder Road Corridor to Paradise.

There is a 16-day stay limit for the Bitterroot National Forest, except for the portion of the Frank Church Wilderness in Idaho.

A Food Storage Order is also in place for the Anaconda-Pintler Wilderness, located on the Bitterroot and Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forests. The purpose of the food storage order is to minimize adverse interactions between bears and humans.

The Bitterroot National Forest offers visitors a unique recreational experience at one of our rental cabins and lookouts. There are three rental lookouts that provide stunning views of the Sapphire, Bitterroot and Anaconda Pintler mountain ranges. Four rustic cabins offer a serene and relaxing getaway. Reservations can be made six months in advance at www.recreation.gov.

Please be aware that rentals and lookouts will not be cleaned in between use. As in previous years, it is up to the individual renters to bring their own cleaning supplies and to clean before and after use of the site.

For more information about rentals, campgrounds, and road and trail updates, visit us at www.fs.usda.gov/bitterroot and click on ‘Recreation’.

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With Independence Day coming, the City of Hamilton is actively seeking contributions to fund the 4th of July fireworks display. To contribute, mail a check to: City of Hamilton, 223 S. 2nd Street, Hamilton, MT 59840 or participate through a retailer or community fundraising project.

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