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The Bob Marshall Wilderness is often referred to as the "crown jewel" of America's wilderness areas. Nearly fifty years ago, 950,000 acres of high mountain lakes, crystal clear rivers, remote valleys and high, alpine meadows were set aside for protection - destined to remain forever wild. In the 1970s, the federal government added the Scapegoat Wilderness (the southern portion of the wilderness complex) and the Great Bear Wilderness (the northernmost area of the wilderness, nearly to the boundary of Glacier National Park), creating a total wilderness complex of a million and a half acres.
Indians, mountain men and explorers over the years have used many routes to travel through the country known as the Bob Marshall Wilderness. Today, main trails are kept open from June through November by Forest Service trail crews, area outfitters and guides.
In the summer, outfitters use a variety of entry points, often criss-crossing the wilderness on trips lasting up to 10 days.
On the western edge of the Bob Marshall, Gordon Pass near Holland Lake in the Swan Valley is a well-maintained route used by backpackers and outfitters alike. Pyramid Pass near Seeley Lake has for years provided access to the Young's Creek area and the headwaters of the South Fork of the Flathead River.
On the southern edge of the Wilderness Complex, good access trails begin near the Monture Guard Station, the Lake Creek and North Fork of the Blackfoot trailheads.
A popular entry point along the Rocky Mountain Front on the eastern edge of the Bob Marshall is just past Benchmark, not far from Augusta. Other access points from the east include the trail near Gibson Reservoir, or farther north at Birch Creek. Northern access to the Bob Marshall is gained near the Spotted Bear Ranger Station, where trailheads for Lodgepole Creek, Spotted Bear River and the South Fork of the Flathead River begin.
Many of the outfitters who guide summer trips which begin in the southern half of the Wilderness, travel north or northwest and come out at Holland Lake in the Swan Valley; Spotted Bear Ranger Station on the northern edge of the Bob Marshall; Schafer Meadows, also on the northern tier near the Great Bear Wilderness (there's an airstrip here); Benchmark; Gibson Reservoir or Birch Creek along the Rocky Mountain front. Likewise, many summer trips start near Holland Lake in the Swan Valley and travel north, east or south.
The main trails of the Bob Marshall Wilderness all lead into or out of the South Fork of the Flathead River valley. This valley is wide in places, and big Salmon Lake - the largest in the Wilderness - is perhaps one of the most popular destinations in the backcountry. Outfitters have been packing into the South Fork area since the 1920s when the "rich and famous" from Hollywood and elsewhere came here for adventure and to get away from the pressures of city life. The South Fork is the heart of the Wilderness area and many historic landmarks are accessible from here.
One of the most spectacular sights in the Bob Marshall is the Chinese Wall. Also known as the Lewis Overthrust, this wall is the result of the geologic upheaval in which Montana split "wide open" from Glacier Park on the north nearly to Yellowstone Park on the south. As the earth's crust split, the west side tipped up like a roof; the east side slid under the "roof" for nearly 20 miles, forming the Chinese Wall. From the Haystack Mountain area west of the Continental Divide, the view of the 1,000-foot high Chinese Wall is virtually unbroken for nearly 20 miles. The Chinese Wall is home to many mountain goats and mountain sheep. Eagles also make these high cliffs their home, and often glide in the wind currents.
You'll find rugged terrain in the Scapegoat Mountain area at the southern end of the Wilderness Complex, but you're also likely to see abundant wildlife including elk, deer, bear and mountain goats. The mountain was named by a surveyor who had difficulty mapping the area in the late 1800s.
Bob Marshall was a forester, author, explorer and leader in the protection of wild lands throughout America. Before Marshall's untimely death, he spent days, weeks and months hiking the unmapped country known as the South Fork of the Flathead River. By the late 1930s, he had laid out initial plans for the designation of the Wilderness area, which included three separate primitive areas: South Fork, Sun River and Pentagon. Marshall was outspoken about the need for protecting wild lands. Today, he is also looked upon as the moving force behind the creation of the Wilderness Society, which still leads the fight for continued protection of our Wilderness areas.
Marshall convinced federal officials and lawmakers that wilderness should be protected. In 1940, shortly after he died, the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture designated as wilderness 950,000 acres surrounding the South Fork of the Flathead, the Sun River Game Preserve, and the Continental Divide.
In 1964, The Wilderness Act was passed by Congress and the Bob Marshall Wilderness received statutory wilderness protection as a part of the National Wilderness Preservation System. Today, more than 750,000 acres of undeveloped, roadless areas still surround the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex.
The high mountains of the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex rise to over 9,000 feet, the highest being Rocky Mountain on the Eastern Front at 9,392. Holland Peak, part of the "Swan Front" on the western edge of the Wilderness, rises to 9,356 feet. In the southern portion of the complex, Scapegoat Mountain towers above that wild country at 9,204 feet.
The valley floors throughout the Wilderness average 4,000 feet in elevation. The Continental Divide, which stretches more than 60 miles along the length of the Wilderness, separates the Bob Marshall into several large headwater drainage areas. Wildlife
The Bob Marshall Wilderness is home to elk, whitetail and mule deer, and provides critical habitat to the endangered grizzly bears and gray wolves. Canadian lynx, bobcat, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, wolverines and cougars are also found in the area, along with smaller mammals such as beaver, river otters, snowshoe hares and marten. There are dozens of birds who call this area home, especially in the summer. Bald eagles, falcons, hawks, owls, grouse, woodpeckers - they are all abundant here. In camp areas, you'll find Steller's jays, Clark's nutcrackers, camp robbers, chickadees, nuthatches and more.
Sun River Game Preserve Hunting is not allowed on this game preserve, which lies on the eastern edge of the Bob Marshall Wilderness. It was established in the late 1920s as a refuge for elk, deer, grizzlies and other wildlife, and remains an important winter range area for elk herds.