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Helena National Forest

Located in west-central Montana, the Helena National Forest surrounds Montana’s Capital City and offers nearly one million acres of distinctive landscapes.

The Lewis and Clark Expedition of 1804-1806 spent many months traveling through the varied scenery of Montana. Many areas of the landscape along the expedition’s route on the Helena National Forest look much the same as in 1805-1806. Visit the routes of the famous explorers on public lands in this area.

Almost eighty miles of the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail stretch through the Helena National Forest, extending from the Scapegoat to the adjacent Deerlodge National Forest. Much of the area along the Divide is rich in mining history, and the town of Helena owes its origins to the discovery of gold in 1864.

The Big Belt Mountain Range lies east of Helena, extending south to Townsend. The Gates of the Mountains Wilderness area is situated on the north end of the Big Belts and takes its name from the distinctive cliffs along the Missouri River noted in the journals of Lewis and Clark. Much of the Big Belts are dissected by rugged limestone canyons and provide scenic enjoyment for hikers and motorists.

South of Helena, the Elkhorn Mountains are home to the only designated Wildlife Management Unit in the National Forest System.

Throughout the Forest you’ll find a variety of opportunities to mountain bike, ride off-highway vehicles, hike, horseback ride, cross-country ski and snowmobile on the 1,000+ miles of developed trails. The Helena National Forest offers some wonderfulbackcountry roads that offer many different landscapes for visitors to explore. (Before you venture out on your scenic drive, make sure call the local Forest Service Office for weather and road conditions.)

When planning your trip, check out the directory of campgrounds and picnic areas. Additionally, there are seven administrativecabins available for public use on the Helena National Forest. These rustic cabins, rented for a small fee, offer a unique opportunity for primitive lodging.

In 2015, the Helena National Forest and the Lewis and Clark National Forest were combined into one forest, the Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest.

First-timer’s Adventure

The Helena National Forest maintains two recreation sites within the Gates of the Mountain canyon. These are only accessed via boat or foot. Meriwether Day Use area serves as a short stop for the commercial boat tours. Take a picnic lunch and catch a later boat back to the boat club




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Research campground locations and amenities at the U.S. National Forest Campground Directory. The Web site is full of pictures and detailed descriptions to help you plan your next trip.

If you want to experience a guided recreation trip in a National Forest, visit Adventure Vacation to learn about whitewater rafting, canoeing, kayaking, horseback riding, camping, hiking and fishing trips.


Visit the National Forest Store to see what maps are available for this Forest and others you may want to visit.