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The Bitterroot Valley lies in a north/south protected valley with its own distinctive climate apart from the rest of Montana. Microclimates can be found throughout the valley because of the variety of elevations and bodies of water. Spring varies with its entrance, residents can get taste of early warm weather, although temperatures fluctuate greatly between March and May. June brings most of the precipitation which is much needed as the valley heads into the heat of July and August. These warm summer days often stretch well into September. Fall brings a beautiful display of colors as the temperatures drop and the days get shorter. Snow comes early in the mountains here; the west side usually will have somewhat more snow than the east side and traditionally the East Fork and West Fork areas, south of Darby, will receive a larger snow depth due to the higher elevations.

The Bitterroot Valley has a dry climate and an average low humidity factor with an average rainfall of 13.3 inches per year. The west side of the valley generally has more pine trees and shallower soil and with a view of the Sapphire Mountains to the east. the east side of the valley is slightly warmer with deeper soil and the view is of the Bitterroot Mountain range. The valley floor generally has the most productive soil and has a view of both mountain ranges. Growing season 130-150 day Average Frost Free Period is May14-Sept.20,Zone5-6.

Climate and Topography
Month Avg. Minimum Avg. Mean Avg. Maximum
January 17° 25° 35°
April 32° 48° 60°
July 50.5° 68° 84.7°
August 48.9° 66° 83.1°
Population
Area 2000 Census 1999 Estimate 1999 Census
Montana 902,195 882,779 799,065
Ravalli County 36,070 35,811 25,010
Darby 710 1089 708
Hamilton 3705 4829 2901
Pinesdale 742 1052 668
Stevensville 1553 2187 1284
scroll divider Map of the Bitterroot Valley

The Bitterroot Valley is 25 miles wide, 96 miles long, 2394 square miles land area, and 6 square miles inland water.

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Local Activities

Fishing:

Cold, clear mountain streams, quiet lakes and secret “cricks” offer solitude, spectacular scenery and World Class Trout Fishing. This entire experience is what fishing in the Bitterroot River is all about. With its gentle currents and easy wading. “The Bitterroot” is the ideal trout stream, offering the angler unsurpassed fishing. Native to this river are species such as Brook Trout, Brown, Bull, Cutthroat, cutthroat/rainbow cross and Rainbow Trout as well as Mountain Whitefish. State fishing access sites along the Bitterroot River are spaced at five to ten mile intervals, allowing wading anglers key entry points and providing floaters with options for full or half-day trips.  The high alpine lakes of the Bitterroot Mountains also offer superb fishing, some requiring a bit of a hike to get too, but well worth it. The largest of these lakes and most popular recreation area for water sports is Lake Como, easily accessible it contains both cutthroat and rainbow trout. Other smaller streams such as Skalkaho Creek and Bear Creek offer Native cutthroat, some Brown trout and Mountain Whitefish. Most streams in the valley pass through some private land, Montana law allows the public to make recreational use of rivers and streams between the ordinary high water marks. Anglers can wade a stream, walk along the bank below the high water mark or float fish on any waters large enough to carry a boat. Fishing is a year round sport in Montana with Summer being the high season. Most waters are in prime condition, free of spring runoff from late June through October. Some anglers like to get a head start in March or April before runoff. Alpine Lake fishing is confined to the summer months, here in the Bitterroot Valley. Water freezes lower lakes in December and doesn't let go until March or April, making ice fishing a popular sport. Montana's great fishing is the result of climate, geography and geology. Aggressive conservation efforts are practiced to protect the habitat of wild trout and other species that thrive in these waters.

Hunting:

In Montana it's been said there are only three seasons; summer, winter and hunting. There are few places in the world where our hunting heritage is well respected and well represented as in Montana. The High country thrill of stalking elk in the Rockies on a crisp fall morning with a fresh sprinkling of powder snow is an awesome experience. The Bitterroot Valley offers the big game hunter an abundance of wild game, including deer, elk, moose, bighorn sheep and a variety of smaller animals.

Bird Watching / Wildlife Refuge:

Just north of Stevensville, along the Bitterroot River, lies the Lee Metcalf Wildlife Refuge. the refuge was named for former Stevensville resident, the late Senator Lee Metcalf, who was instrumental in acquiring the land. The area is a delightful place for observing and photographing wildlife, such as deer, coyotes, pheasants, grouse, osprey, songbirds, Canada geese, trumpeter swans, blue heron, and a variety of other waterfowl and small animals. The 2800 acre wildlife refuge has a picnic area, two interpretive trails and several foot trails providing access to the river. Fishing is allowed in this area, but not on the refuge ponds. Public hunting for deer and waterfowl is permitted in portions of the refuge, subject to federal and state regulations.

Winter in the Bitterroot Valley:

Winter in the Bitterroot Valley is a season of exhilarating recreation and snug nights by the fire. As the first snowfall blankets the ground, the scene becomes one of profound beauty and wonders. Elk, deer, bighorn sheep and other wildlife move down to the lower elevations, making winter the best season to view much of Montana's abundant wildlife. Snow creates a perfect stage in Montana's back-country, making it easy and fun to identify animal tracks imprinted in the snow. Perfect powder snow and brilliant blue sky are some reasons why people say Montana is at its best under a blanket of snow. These are, of course, skiers, snowboarders and snowmobilers.

Lost Trail Powder Mountain Ski Area: At Lost Trail Pass, elevation, 7,000 ft., you'll find Lost Trail Powder Mountain Ski Area and Lodge Base. The ski area, now over 60 years old, has the best snow depth (over 300 inches) and the highest quality snow found in the northwest. On the average, Lost Trail has 85-90% sunny days, with temperatures averaging 20 degrees. Lifts transport fun seekers up 1200 feet from 6,800 feet to the top of the mountain at 8,000 feet. Choose from a total of 38 trails, with 18+ well-groomed runs extending from Montana into Idaho. Skiing on “natural” snow at elevations above 6400' gives the skiers groomed runs along with western powder, like no other area has available.

For cross country skiers, the Bitterroot Cross Country Ski Club maintains the Chief Joseph Ski Course. Trails are groomed Thursdays, and there is a parking area along U.S. 43.

The Lost Trail Winter Park Area also offers great mileage for the snowmobiler. through Forest Service road systems, open parks, meadows, and rolling hills with little danger of avalanche. Snows come early and stay late in April, so if you're looking for real outback adventure this is the remote area for you.

Other downhill ski areas within 1-1/2 hours of Hamilton: Montana Snow Bowl North of Missoula, 30 runs, 20% beginner, 40% intermediate, 40% advanced, 700 acres of extreme skiing.

Marshall Mountain North of Missoula, 22 runs, 15% beginner, 65% intermediate, 20% advanced.

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