- The Kootenai River offers many opportunities for all kinds of outdoor recreation
- Highway 37 in Montana follows the river for much of its length
- Catch the rare Columbia River Redbands on this river
- Go canoeing or kayaking on the lower tributary of the Kootenai
The Kootenai River originates in Kootenai National Park in British Columbia, Canada and flows nearly 485 miles through Montana and northern Idaho and then back into Canada. Eventually this mighty river joins the Columbia River.
Although the Libby Dam creates erratic flows, it generally keeps the Kootenai River flowing clear even during the spring run-off. Flows also run fast and cool all summer while other Montana rivers slow down and warm up.
From Libby, Montana (on US Highway 2 west of Kalispell), you can reach the Libby Dam and the Kootenai River by taking Highway 37. This road follows the river for much of its length and you can just park along the road to access the water. You can contact the Kootenai National Forest office for more information at 506 US Highway 2 West Libby, MT 59923 or call them at 406-293-6211.
The Kootenai River, Montana is accessible the year round, but the best fishing is from mid-June into November. Winter activities are available near the river and Libby Dam.
As the second largest tributary to the Columbia River, the Kootenai River has a reputation for intimidating even the most skilled anglers. Its sheer size, deep waters, and raging rapids make wading difficult except during extremely low flows.
- How to Fish the Kootenai: To get any bites, you’ll have to float fish. Many people fish from the banks and islands or use drift boats and float tubes. Before you plan to fish the Kootenai River, it is best to check the status of the water flows.
- Fishing seasons: Kootenai River fly-fishing is usually done year round but the best time to fish is during June through August. From January through March, most anglers use small Blue-Winged Olives (BMOs). As spring warms up, the Stoneflies hatch, along with the Caddis and Mayflies. Many anglers find Elk Hair Caddis and yellow Stimulators to be successful flies. During the summer, you’ll see a hatch of Craneflies and another hatch of Stoneflies. Use long leaders and efficient casting. In the fall there will be a hatch of October Caddis.
- Fish species: Westslope cutthroat trout, bull trout, Kokanee salmon, rainbow trout, whitefish, and white sturgeon. This is the only river where you can catch a native rainbow called the Columbia River Redbands.
- Popular fishing spots: Immediately below the Libby Dam, located 18 miles north of Libby, Montana, the trout fishery begins. There is approximately 40 miles of guidable water from the Libby Dam to the Idaho border. Try casting a mile or two downstream of Libby Dam where the large fish feed on flies, fish, and the remains of fish that get caught in the turbines of the dam.
As the Kootenai dips in elevation sharply between its headwaters and the Columbia River, you’ll find some rapids that offer exciting whitewater rafting, particularly between Libby Dam and Bonners Ferry in Idaho. Jennings Canyon is the place to go. Here you can experience some great Class I to IV waters.
Kootenai River MT boasts some quiet side-channels for terrific canoeing and kayaking. Try the Slocan River, the lowermost tributary of the Kootenai.
For a nice hike that isn’t too difficult, you can hike on a forest trail from the parking lot near Kootenai Falls to a swinging bridge. The trails in Kootenay National Park where the river flows offer miles of the sights and sounds of nature.
Around this river you can enjoy the wildlife, such as mountain sheep, deer, osprey and eagles. A few miles down from the town of Libby, you can see the islands where ducks and geese migrate.
The winter months offer great landscapes for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.
David Thompson, a Canadian explorer, was the first white man to come to the Kootenai River in the early1800s. He was searching for the source of the Columbia River.
In 1863, when a gold strike occurred, three to ten thousand men came to the area and built the town of Fisherville. Later, the town had to be moved because it was found to be sitting on top of one of the richest deposits of gold.