A reservoir of recreation

Story by Clare Menzel | Photography by Greg Lindstrom
Lake Koocanusa might be best known for its rock climbing, but opportunities abound for all sorts of recreationalists who visit this 90-mile-long transboundary reservoir. You’ll likely be rewarded if you wet your line, as this healthy fishery is home to large populations of native westslope cutthroat and rainbow trout. Use the Koocanusa Bridge, Montana’s highest and longest bridge, to access scenic paved roads and hiking trails on the west side of the reservoir, or continue along the eastern side on MT Highway 37 for more beautiful vistas. If you’re on two wheels, the Tour de Koocanusa ride is a local’s favorite that uses the bridge to complete an 83-mile clockwise loop reaching almost all the way to Rexford from the foot of the reservoir, in Libby. All along Koocanusa, there are multiple access points to swim, boat, picnic, and relax. And yes, any climber worth their salt should spend some time with the routes at Stone Hill, many of which are directly accessible from your vehicle. Climbers will find compelling geology including sharp edges, vanishing cracks in the quartzite, steep slabs, and horizontal roofs.

When it comes time to lay your weary head, take your pick between Forest Service campgrounds to pitch a tent or park your RV. Or, if you’re planning far in advance, you might consider renting the Webb Mountain Lookout, perched atop a rocky 5,988-foot summit on the west side of the reservoir. From the wraparound deck, take in the sunset over the Kootenai National Forest, and then stargaze all night long. You could try to sleep in—but more likely, you’ll wake with the sun and watch the narrow reservoir catch the morning light.

Getting there From Whitefish, drive about 50 miles on U.S. Highway 93 north to Eureka. North of downtown, turn left on MT Highway 37 south. You’ll reach Rexford, and the reservoir, in about 15 minutes.