The Lake Koocanusa Scenic Byway
The Lake Koocanusa Scenic Byway, which is a federally designated National Forest Scenic Byway, is a paved sixty-seven mile drive in Northwest Montana that runs between Eureka and Libby. Open year-round, the drive meanders along the eastern shoreline of the massive Lake Koocanusa, created by the building of Libby Dam on the Kootenai River.
Highlights of the Lake Koocanusa Scenic Byway include excellent views of the Whitefish Range from the Tobacco Valley outside Eureka, sweeping vistas of Lake Koocanusa and the surrounding mountains of the Purcell and Salish Ranges, Libby Dam and the Kootenai River. The town of Eureka, which is the eastern starting point for the drive, is also a fun and attractive town to visit, too.
Beginning in Eureka, the Lake Koocanusa Scenic Byway heads west on Highway 37, a paved State highway. The drive meanders through the rolling, open country of the Tobacco Valley. Soon the route passes through the small town of Rexford, and the open fields of the Tobacco Valley give way to the forests and small mountains of the Salish Range.
A few miles beyond Rexford, Highway 37 reaches the eastern shore of Lake Koocanusa, which it follows closely for the next forty-plus miles until reaching Libby Dam. This stretch of the Lake Koocanusa Byway is, by far, the most scenic. The lake is frequently visible, and the large size of the lake allows for sweeping vistas of the Salish and Purcell Mountains. Numerous pullover spots also exist and are excellent places to stop for pictures, or just for a picnic.
Another highlight of this segment of the drive is the Koocanusa Bridge, the longest and highest bridge in Montana. With a length of 2,437 feet long, and standing more than 270 feet (depending on water levels) above Lake Koocanusa, the views from the top of the bridge are excellent. A small parking area is available off the highway, and sidewalks on the bridge allow passers-by to stop and walk out onto the middle of the bridge. Those looking for a find spot to photograph Lake Koocanusa should definitely plan to stop here.
After meandering along the eastern shoreline of Lake Koocanusa for forty miles, the byway reaches Libby Dam. With a height of 422 feet and a length of 3055 feet, Libby Dam is large, even by western standards. At the base of the dam are a visitor center and a recreation site. During the summer months, tours are available of the dam. Those in search of trophy trout will also want to stop at the dam, as the Kootenai River immediately below Libby Dam is home to some of the state’s largest rainbow trout.
Beyond Libby Dam, the Lake Koocanusa Byway closely follows the Kootenai River. The waters of the Kootenai River have excellent trout fishing, although the large size and swift flows of the current limit shore fishing. Between Libby Dam and the byways end in Libby, numerous designated and informal pullover spots exist.
Overall, the Lake Koocanusa Scenic Byway is a scenic route through far Northwest Montana that rewards visitors with both scenic and interesting sights. Traffic on the road varies depending on the time of year, but traffic is generally light to moderate. Numerous recreational activities are available in the region, including fishing, boating, camping, off-road exploration and hiking.
- Length: 60 Miles
- Highlights : Lake Koocanusa, Libby Dam, Kootenai River, Libby, Eureka, Tobacco Valley
- Road Type : Paved.
- Nearby Towns : Eureka, Libby
- 4wd needed? : No.
- Traffic : Light to moderate.
- Trailers? : Yes.
- Season : Year-round.
Map of the Lake Koocanusa Scenic Byway
The map below shows the route and location of the Lake Koocanusa Scenic Byway in Northwest Montana. The drive runs between Eureka and Libby on Highway 37. The route closely follows the Kootenai River and the eastern shoreline of Lake Koocanusa.
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