Spend the Day (or Night) at Painted Rocks Reservoir


Do you like to go exploring? That’s what my husband, Alan, and I did a couple of weeks ago. We were curious about Painted Rocks Reservoir and decided to take a day away from our desks to find out for ourselves why friends and neighbors spoke of the lake in such glowing terms. Of course they were right. Boy did we ever find a winner!

We had heard about the West Fork ever since moving to the Bitterroot Valley. Since Painted Rocks is located in the West Fork, our adventure turned into a two for one plus I was able to cross an item off my 2013 Western Montana travel resolution list.

After Alan turned the car onto Route 473 (West Fork Road) from Highway 93 south of Darby, I kept notebook and pencil handy to jot down the names of lodges, ranches and bed and breakfasts that we might like to try on the next trip.

Painted Rocks. Photo by Donna Hull. Things to Do in Missoula, MT

The West Fork of the Bitterroot River provided a gurgling accompaniment during most of what turned out to be a 23-mile scenic drive.  When we arrived at a parking lot and boat launch near the dam that created Painted Rocks Reservoir, the rocks and hills reflected in the still waters thanks to a beautiful, sunny day.

In the mood to explore, we continued on the road until pavement turned to dirt at a fork in the road. From two locals taking a walk to their campsite we learned: one forest road travels west into Idaho and Horse Creek Hot Springs, while the other one follows an old stagecoach route south over Horse Creek Pass into Shoup, Idaho. I think we just found our next two adventure-style road trips in the Jeep.

Painted Rocks State Park is located at the reservoir. For Missoulians who like to camp, the area offers 25 campsites. Do you have a boat? There’s a boat ramp and a dock, too. And although we didn’t see that much wildlife during our scenic drive, black bear, moose, mountain goats, osprey, great blue heron and, of course, deer, are some of the possible sightings.

Daisies in Painted Rocks State Park. Photo by Donna Hull. Things to Do in Missoula, MT

So what did I write down on my list for more adventure in the West Fork?

  • Soak in Horse Creek Hot Springs
  • Drive the old stage road to Shoupe, Idaho
  • Book a stay at Alta Ranch
  • Explore the Magruder Corridor
  • Go fly-fishing in the West Fork of the Bitterroot 
  • Hike Boulder Creek Trail (recommended to us at the West Fork Ranger Station)

Have you been to Painted Rocks Reservoir? What activities have we left off our list? Help two newcomers to Missoula plan our next boomer travel adventure.

HOW TO GET THERE:  Painted Rocks Reservoir (Click on Map for Directions)























 See the entire Boomer’s In Missoula Archive.


Donna L. Hull writes about active travel for baby boomers at My Itchy Travel Feet, The Baby Boomer’s Guide to Travel. She is also the author of My Itchy Travel Feet, Breathtaking Adventure Vacation Ideas, available at Amazon Kindle, Nook and iTunes.  See all of Donna Hull’s blogs.

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