We went across the Bitterroot Mountains and enjoyed every minute of it. The Bitterroot Mountains connect Montana and Idaho. U.S. Highway 12 starting in Lolo Montana follows the same path across the mountains as did Louis and Clark. We liked the Lolo Pass area (explanation below) so much that we visited it three times. They had a special thing that wasn’t found anywhere else.
The Bitterroot Mountain Range follows the Montana-Idaho border. The full range runs from Lolo Creek at the north end to the Salmon River in the south. North of the Bitterroot Mountains are the Coeur de Alene Mountains. Here is a link to the story about our 2020 visit to the Coeur de Alene Mountains. Stunning beauty in Northern Idaho
The Bitterroot Mountains, even though it may look like it, are not on the continental divide. The continental divide is further east, running north/south in Montana. Further south, the continental divide follows the Idaho/Montana border. Then the divide turns east towards Butte and Helena. Therefore, Lolo Pass isn’t on the continental divide but rather is part of the western watershed.
The location of the divide may not interest everyone but for me, the direction a river runs, related to the continental divide, interests me. North of Missoula, the Clark Fork runs to the west. Lolo creek runs east and joins the Bitterroot River. The Bitterroot River runs north through the Bitterroot Valley joining the Clark Fork and turning west. On the west side of Lolo Pass, the Lochsa River runs to the west. Eventually, all these rivers join the Columbia River.
The Bitterroot Mountains are on the west side of the Bitterroot Valley. In our last post, we discussed how we enjoyed the Bitterroot Valley. Here is a link to that post. Bitterroot Valley During our week exploring the Bitterroot Valley, we were actually staying at the edge of the Bitterroot Mountain range.
Lewis and Clark
Going across the Bitterroot Mountains isn’t something new. The native Americans used the same route. They showed it to Lewis and Clark. Lewis and Clark traveled north along the Bitterroot Valley until they got to a place now known as Lolo on Lolo Creek south of Missoula. After they stayed at this camp, they climbed west up Lolo Creek over Lolo Pass and then followed the Lochsa River westbound across Idaho. The biggest problem Lewis and Clark encountered during their crossing was that they didn’t leave Lolo and head west until September. They got what anyone familiar with the area expects, snow.
At the top of Lolo Pass, there is a visitors center complete with a nature walk through a beautiful mountain top meadow. Most of the pictures in this blog post are from this area.
After crossing Lolo Pass we then descended Highway 12 westbound and stayed about twelve miles from the top of the pass at the Powell Campground.
Selway Bitterroot Wilderness Area
North of Lochsa River is part of the Nez-Perce Clearwater National Forest. This forest is distinct from most of the mountains south of Lochsa River which is mostly a wilderness area. The biggest difference between these two mountain areas is that the forest allows logging and the wilderness area does not. At my level, the biggest difference is that the forest allows travel with motors and the wilderness area does not.
We “attempted” to use our Subaru Forester to explore the back roads but honestly, it was a very slow drive for miles over very rough roads. After getting a few nice pictures we turned back. Next week I will show off some of the pictures.
Locals coming to this area with off-road toys have a much easier go on the back roads and lots of fun exploring.
We had a very nice trip across the Bitterroot and spent a week at the Powell Campground. This campground is a National Forest campground west of the Lochsa Lodge. The two (lodge and campground) coupled with the ranger station comprise the town of Powell. There isn’t anything else, but it is a town with its own zip code (59847).
What we didn’t have
This route is remote. For about one hundred miles there are no cell phone towers. Not one. It doesn’t matter which major carrier you have. T-Mobile, AT&T, and Verizon do not cover this area.
There are two locations with marginal Wifi service, the closest one for us was the Lochsa Lodge. The Wifi at the lodge is based on a satellite and is very slow. The Lolo Pass Visitors center also had Wifi with an even slower connection.
Next week I will discuss our stay surrounded by roadless mountains on the Lewis and Clark trail while going across the Bitterroot Mountains and descending westbound along the Lochsa River.