Lake Koocanusa scenic drive from the Whitefish KOA

 

Lake Koocanusa scenic drive

Lake Koocanusa - a great scenic drive

224 to 235 miles

For unsurpassed mountain beauty and outstanding wildlife watching opportunities, Lake Koocanusa can't be beat. The reservoir is ninety miles long with forty-two miles in Canada and forty-eight in the US. The Kootenai National Forest surrounds Koocanusa's American portion allowing virtually no commercial development along the shores and keeping the excellent two lane highways around the lake peaceful with very little traffic.

Lake Koocanusa - Yarnell Island pic courtesy of LibbyMT.com
Lake Koocanusa - Yarnell Island

In 1989 the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks named the Libby Dam area as an Official Watchable Wildlife Area.  Here a person might see deer, coyote, river otters, moose, raccoons, bald eagles, great blue herons, geese, ducks, trumpeter swans, osprey, hawks, songbirds, or sea gulls. 

The lake is home to a variety of fish including: rainbow trout, west slope cutthroat trout, brook trout, kokanee salmon (blue back), ling (burbot), whitefish and kamloops (a strain of rainbow trout).

The US Corps of Engineers formed Lake Koocanusa with the completion of the Libby Dam in 1975.  The name "Koocanusa" was the winning entry of a lake naming contest and was synthesized from the first three letters of the Kootenai River whose waters formed the lake, "can" for Canada, and "usa" for the United States. 

There are three routes available for travellers wanting to visit and enjoy Lake Koocanusa.  The first circles the lake. The second travels down the east shore and then cuts northeast through the mountains, while the third returns to Whitefish via US Highway 2.   All three routes begin at the Whitefish KOA Kampground.  Don’t forget to start the day with your free hot breakfast at Buffalo Bob's, and while you're at it you might want to purchase a lunch to take with you into the wilderness.

Your route for the trip:

57 miles

  • Drive north on US Highway 93 through the towns of Whitefish, Olney, Stryker, Fortine and Eureka to Montana Highway 37.

67miles

  • Drive south along the shore of Lake Koocanusa on Highway 37.  Keep your camera and binoculars handy as you watch for wildlife along the road.  Stop here and there to cool your feet in the lake.  Spend some time at the visitor’s center on the South end.

Option 1

43 miles

  • When you've reached the southernmost end of Lake Koocanusa, head north along the quiet Western shore road.

57 miles

  • Cross the lake when you come to Koocanusa Bridge and head back the way you came to your home base at the Whitefish KOA.

Option 2

59 miles

  • From the southern end of the lake go south on the Fisher River Road for about twelve miles. Then follow the road going North East through the forest following the original route of the old Great Northern Railroad.  (The tracks now belong to the Burlington Northern Railroad and are part of their Northern route.)  You may see an occasional train along this drive but nothing else except Mother Nature at her finest.

39 miles

  • Continue past Trego to rejoin Highway 93 and head back south to the Whitefish KOA.

Option 3

111 miles

  • The longest route home is also the one with the best roads. Continue west from the southern end of the lake about fifteen miles to the town of Libby, Montana.  Turn East on US Highway 2 and ride to Kalispell.  Turn North on US Highway 93 in downtown Kalispell.
  • Return to the Whitefish KOA.

 

 

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