The Kootenai National Forest is located in the extreme Northwest corner of Montana and Northeast Idaho and encompasses over 2.2 million acres, an area nearly three times the size of Rhode Island. The Forest is bordered on the north by British Columbia, Canada, and on the west by Idaho. Of the total acres, 50,384 are within the State of Idaho. Access into the Forest is via U.S. Highways 2 and 93 and Montana State Highways 37, 56, 200 and 508.
Ranges of high craggy peaks mark the Forest with Snowshoe Peak in the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness at 8,738 feet, the highest point. The Whitefish Range, Purcell Mountains, Bitterroot Range, Salish Mountains, and Cabinet Mountains are all part of the rugged terrain radiating from the river valleys. In the north central part of the Forest, the land is more open with gently rolling timbered hills lying in the shadows of the Whitefish Range.
The Forest is dominated by two major rivers, the Kootenai and the Clark Fork, along with several smaller rivers and their tributaries. Two hydroelectric dams on the Clark Fork have created the Cabinet Gorge and Noxon reservoirs within the Forest boundary. State Highway 200 parallels these reservoirs as it crosses the Forest. The Kootenai River is spanned by another hydroelectric (and flood-control) project, Libby Dam. This structure located about 17 miles upstream from Libby, Montana, has created Lake Koocanusa, a 90-mile-long reservoir reaching northward into the Canadian Rockies. Lake Koocanusa is almost totally surrounded by national forest lands...no private summer home or condominium developments here. State Highway 37 follows the east shore to Rexford and beyond to Eureka, Montana. The elevation of the Kootenai River as it leaves the Forest and the State is 1,862 feet, the lowest point in Montana.
The Yaak, Fisher, Tobacco, and Vermillion Rivers are smaller rivers within the confines of the Forest. There are over 100 lakes inside the boundaries of the Kootenai ranging from small alpine lakes to 1,240-acre McGregor Lake.
The climate of the Kootenai has been described as "modified Pacific maritime" in character, meaning that compared to the remainder of Montana, this area's climate resembles that found along the Pacific coast. The character becomes "modified" by occasional intrusions of the arctic air masses, more commonly found in the remainder of the State, which can bring winter temperatures down to -30° F. with heavy snowfalls in the mountains. Average annual temperatures of 45° F. reflect the moderating influence of the Pacific air masses. Summer temperatures are moderate with few days reaching over the 90° mark. The wet season in the Forest usually occurs in the fall and early winter.