When you think of Montana, the first things that come to mind are probably its national parks. Yellowstone was the first national park ever created and for good reason, too. Glacier National Park is its slightly lesser-known but still equally beautiful little sister, which spans two countries as it spills over into Canada.
Montana is a bit out of the way for most so for those taking the time, effort, and money to make the journey out here, they want it to be worth their while. And if you’re only going to get out here once in a lifetime, visiting its most famous landmarks makes sense.
But if you already live out west or you prefer to take the road less traveled, then little-known Trout Creek, Montana should be high on your list.
Conveniently located off of the scenic Highway 200 which connects Idaho to Montana, Trout Creek is but a little dot on the map. You could almost say “blink and you’ll miss it” except that you won’t be blinking, you’ll be staring wide-eyed and open-mouthed at the surrounding beauty as you cross over the bridge that spans the Noxon Reservoir and creates a breathtaking entrance to this little town.
A welcome sign greets you and announces that Trout Creek is the “Huckleberry Capital of Montana”. This is indeed true and this status culminates in an annual Huckleberry Festival every August celebrating the deliciously sweet purple berry. Signs at the local shops and restaurants invite you in to buy their “huckleberry products” or tempt you with their “huckleberry milkshakes”.
What makes Trout Creek special as well, though, is its prime location right on the Noxon Rapids Reservoir. The reservoir was created by damming up the Clark Fork River between Thompson Falls and Noxon, MT. The Clark Fork is at its widest point here and is just as deep as it is wide in some spots, reaching as far as 100 feet down.
If you’re into water sports, boating, or fishing of any kind, this is the place for you. Not only is it supremely gorgeous, but due to its “best-kept secret in Montana” status, barely anyone knows about it. Even on the most spectacular summer days, you’ll only see a handful of other boats out on the water. No overcrowded boat ramps, no getting run over by mindless jetskiers, no commercial tour companies clogging up the reservoir.
I’m fortunate enough to call this place home 6 months out of the year. My husband and I run a boat rental business in Trout Creek which keeps us pretty busy most days, but I did manage to get out a couple times this summer with some friends to do some light, scenic paddling in the kayaks.
There are lots of little inlets that you can put in at if you know the roads to get to them. I put in at the eponymous Trout Creek inlet with a friend in my Old Town Otter. There was already one group there taking a break from their kayak excursion for the day.
We went back towards the mouth of the feeder river as far as we could go. Being somewhat late in the summer it was very shallow and we couldn’t make it back too far before it got too shallow to carry on. It was so clear in these parts you could see the fish darting beneath your kayak, including some smallmouth bass and perch. The Noxon Reservoir is known for its awesome pike and largemouth bass fishing, as well, however.
We headed back out to the main inlet whose boundary is marked by the railroad bridge that crosses the mouth as it empties into the reservoir. We paddled up to a local beaver dam just as one of the many daily trains was passing by.
One of the reasons I fell in love with the area was because of the trains that travel daily through the county. They snake their way along the river, crisscrossing it at various points over specially constructed bridges.
Far from being an obnoxious annoyance, the trains evoke a feeling of a different time and place with a languid whistle echoing in the distance. They are a welcome sight as you cruise the waterway by boat or by kayak.
After a short but sweet, relaxing hour of paddling through the inlet, my friend and I have to head home to take care of responsibilities. She to feed her horses and me to welcome back another renter after a day’s outing.
There are no geysers or hot springs in Trout Creek. But neither is it overcrowded or overpriced. The state record largemouth bass was pulled out of the Noxon Reservoir. There are ATV, snowmobile, and hiking trails galore. Hunters converge in the area every season for bear, turkey, deer, and elk. Not to mention the numerous trout streams fed by area waterfalls that dot the county.
You don’t have to go to a busy national park to experience nature in its pristine glory. Load up the kayak, grab the fishing rods, pack up the tent and get off the beaten path to Trout Creek. The Huckleberry Capital, gateway to nature, and best-kept secret in Montana awaits you!
Related: Looking for warmer climates? Check out a fun, Florida destination for you and your kayak.