The Thompson River Backcountry Drive
The Thompson River Backcountry Drive is a 43-mile remote, secluded journey in Northwest Montana. The route runs between Thompson Falls, MT, and US Highway 2, near Happy's Inn and the Thompson Lakes. The drive closely follows the Thompson River for its entire length. Highlights of the trip include the clear waters of the Thompson River, forested mountains, and plenty of secondary roads that are open for exploration..
The drive passes through a region of Montana that has very active logging operations. As such, there are plenty of “logging scars” along the drive and in the mountains that tower above it. Despite this, however, I still find a trip down the Thompson River Backcountry Drive enjoyable. The remote and secluded nature of this part of Montana, combined with the attractive Thompson River (which also has excellent fishing), make this route an enjoyable trip.
The Thompson River Backcountry Drive follows gravel roads for its entire distance. The road is wide and, usually, in excellent condition. The road is also open year-round, weather conditions permitting. However, during the mud season or after heavy rains, two-wheel drive vehicles should stay off this road, especially since the logging trucks have a tendency to leave deep ruts in the road in spots. During the summer months, travelers should expect to encounter rather dusty roads, too.
Beginning near Thompson Falls, the Thompson River Backcountry Drive follows Forest Road 56 to the north. This road closely follows the Thompson River along the western bank, and there are many scenic spots to pull over and view the surrounding countryside. During this section of the drive, the route passes through a densely forested area that has tall, steep, forested mountains rising overhead.
As the drive continues to the north, the mountains tend to become a bit smaller, the Thompson River becomes much narrower, and the twisty nature of the road starts to straighten out as the drive begins to pass through small meadows and flatter terrain.
The last ten miles of the drive (nearest US Highway 2), I personally find the most enjoyable. The Thompson River here resembles a spring creek and can have excellent, if challenging, fishing. The landscape is a mix of tall, forested mountains and open agricultural areas.
There are no services of any kind along the drive. However, this part of Montana has excellent camping. Many developed campgrounds exist, usually on the shores of the various lakes that dot the countryside. Those not wishing to pay the fees to camp at a developed campground can camp at one of the many primitive campsites that exist right along the Thompson River.
Overall, while the Thompson River Backcountry Drive is far from the most scenic journey in Montana, those seeking a secluded drive through forested terrain will enjoy this drive.
- Length: 43 Miles
- Highlights : The Thompson River, Forested and Secluded Drive, Excellent primitive camping along the Thompson River.
- Road Type : Gravel. Except when wet, road is generally in very good condition (albeit often very dusty).
- Nearby Towns : Thompson Falls, Libby, Kalispell
- 4wd needed? : No.
- Traffic : Very light, although logging trucks do use the roads.
- Trailers? : Yes.
- Season : Year-round, except during periods of winter storms. Two-wheel drive vehicles should stay off the road when it's muddy or very wet.
Map of the Thompson River Backcountry Drive
The map below shows the route and location of the Thompson River Backcountry & Scenic Byway in Northwest Montana. The drive begins just outside of Thompson Falls, Montana, and ends at the junction with Highway 2, west of Kalispell and east of Libby.
Where to Stay
Bring your tent, camper or RV, as there are no services of any kind located along the drive itself. The best lodging near the scenic drive are found in Kalispell and Libby. Listings of Hotels in Kalispell.
Several developed campgrounds exist along and near the Thompson River Backcountry Drive. Additionally, primitive camping can be done most anywhere along the drive at the many "informal campsites" that exist.
The nearest hotels are found in Kalispell, about an hour away.