Big Hole River Access and Lakes

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Highway 43

The Big Hole River may be reached via Highway 93 from Salmon, Idaho, from Interstate 15 from Idaho Falls to Butte or at the junction with Interstate 90 and Interstate 15 west of Butte.

The Big Hole River parallels Highway 43, which begins at the junction with Highway 93 at Chief Joseph Pass. From the junction to Wisdom is 27 miles. Dillon is 93 miles.

MM 16.5: Big Hole National Battlefield, North Fork of the Big Hole River

The Nez Perce, refusing to accept a re-negotiated treaty in which their people would lose nine-tenths of their reservation, refused to move into the newly-restricted reservation. Tensions mounted, deadlines were mandated and a few young warriors precipitated military reprisals when they killed some settlers. Thus began a journey of flight and a series of skirmishes. The Nez Perce elected Chief Joseph as their leader. At the Big Hole the 7th US Infantry, under the command of Col. John Gibbon, mounted a surprise attack. The Nez Perce tribe suffered the loss of almost 98 members, only a third of whom were warriors. In military terms, the Indians had won the battle, but their loss of horses and provisions would soon exhaust them on their journey of escape. Thirteen hundred miles later, Chief Joseph would surrender to Col. Nelson A. Miles, just 40 miles south of the Canadian border: ?Hear me, my chiefs, I am tired; my heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands I will fight no more forever.?

Lower North Fork Road. Mussigbrod Lake: 18 miles, Pintler Lake: 18 miles. Mussigbrod Lake Campground (USFS) has 10 campsites. The lake fishes well for grayling and brook trout, but be prepared for ugly drawdown during the summer. Pintler Lake offers much more in scenery, good fishing from a boat and a small campground. The lake is a little over 30 acres and does not offer good fishing from the shoreline due to plant growth.

MM 26: Junction with Highway 278 to Dillon, Montana. Highway 278 to Dillon Twin Lakes

The route to Dillon leads to Jackson, Montana, which has a commercial hot springs resort. Seven miles south of Wisdom on Highway 278 is the turnoff to Twin Lakes, which is 16 miles from the highway. The lake, actually two lakes joined by a channel, is popular with locals and offers good fishing for rainbows and brook trout. Although large lake trout are present, their numbers seem to be in decline. Twin Lakes Campground has 21 camping sites and a boat launch.

Lower Miner Lake, Upper Miner Lake: From Wisdom to Jackson is 18 miles. Just out of Jackson a half-mile is the turnoff to Lower Miner Lake, which offers 18 campsites and a boat launch. The fishing, however, is only fair as the lake is shallow and suffers from oxygen depletion during the summer and periodic freeze-outs. Upper Miner Lake, along with Rock Island Lakes, offers good cutthroat and brook trout fishing for day-hike fishing in the backcountry. The hike is approximately four to five miles and well worth the hike for the scenery alone. My sons and I have fond memories of catching lots of 9-inch brookies in these lakes.

Note: The last time I visited the area, years ago, the access road from Lower Miner Lake to the Upper Miner Lake trailhead was rough and suitable only for high-clearance vehicles.

Van Houten Lake, a half-mile further from the Lower Miner Lake turn-off, is the access road for Van Houten Lake, which is 10 miles from the highway. South Van Houten campground has three tent sites, while North Van Houten has four tent campsites. The lake is barely 10 acres.

Bannack State Park and Campground. Located four miles down a county dirt road off Highway 278 five miles south of Dillon

Bannack was Montana’s first territorial state capital after a major gold discovery in 1862. A number of buildings remain on Main Street. The campground has 20 campsites for both tents and trailers. Grasshopper Creek runs through the campground and offers fishing for 14- to 16-inch brown trout. The creek runs through miles of ranchland. Be sure to ask for permission.

Highway 43: Wisdom to Divide

MM 26: Wisdom, Montana

MM 42: Squaw Creek has a launch site and parking. This is also the junction with the Lower North Fork Road. Pintler Lake is 10 miles and Mussigbrod Lake is 22 (See MM 23.).

MM 48.7: Fishtrap Fishing Access. This access provides a boat launch, but there is no shade for a picnic.

MM 52. 5: Roadside tables.

MM 54.4: Junction with Highway 274 to Anaconda. Anaconda is 25 miles.

MM 57.1: East Bank Campground. Eight miles west of Wise River. The East Bank Campground offers five campsites with a boat launch.

MM 58: Dickie Bridge Recreation Area Campground. The campground has eight campsites. The first four have tables; the other four sites are primitive. The area also has a boat launch.

Wise River, Montana. Thirteen miles from Interstate 15, Wise River offers services and accommodations. The Wise River nearly dries up some years in its lower stretches. The upper reaches of the river offer fair fishing for smaller rainbows. Following Pioneer Mountains Scenic Byway along the Wise River will lead to many campgrounds.

MM 67.1: Jerry Creek Bridge access and launch

MM 71: Dewey fishing access and launch

MM 74: Old Divide Bridge. If you are floating down to Old Divide Bridge, you must take out at this point, as below the bridge is a dam. The next put-in site is a mile away at the new Divide Bridge.

MM 75: Divide Bridge Fishing Access and Boat Launch. From this point to Melrose and Glen is the most famous stretch of water on the Big Hole. Divide Bridge is 2.8 miles from Interstate 15, Exit 102. The BLM site offers lots of parking as well as 25 campsites.

Exit 102: Divide, Montana. Junction with Interstate 15. Exit 93: Interstate 15. Melrose, Montana is a very small community. The launch site or takeout is right in Melrose at the Salmon Fly Campground. The campground, if you can call it that, is a patch of grass, which is non-designated, close-quarter camping (parking). Six miles further is Maiden Rock Campground. Maiden Rock Campground (FWP) has 30 campsites, which can accommodate 32-foot trailers, and it offers a boat launch. From Melrose you may follow the frontage road south to Browne’s Bridge.