Welcome to the Big Hole River Watershed

Our river flows free for its entire 156 miles, surrounded by high, craggy Rocky Mountain peaks of the Continental Divide. It’s a stronghold of traditional cattle ranching, rural communities and expansive public lands. Montana is wild and remote here. Nearly 2,000 residents call the Big Hole valley home, spread among its 2 million acres. In general, the valley bottom remains privately-owned. Highlands are publicly-owned by state and federal agencies, the majority U.S. Forest Service Beaverhead-Deer Lodge National Forest. Elevations range from 5,000 to 6,500 feet at the valley bottom to more than 10,000 feet at its highest peaks. The nearby 158,000 acre Anaconda-Pintler Wilderness at the north end of the watershed was established in 1964 as part of the original Wilderness Act and includes some of the highest peaks in the drainage at well over 10,000 feet.

Historically, Native Americans moved through the Big Hole valley for hunting and gathering. In 1877, a band of Nez Perce indians battled near Wisdom to retain their autonomy at what is today called the Big Hole National Battlefield. The Lewis and Clark exploration passed near and through the Big Hole as they moved west in 1805 and returned in 1806; they originally named the Big Hole River the Wisdom River. Early white settlement in the Big Hole began fur trapping and mining, followed by homesteading in the 1880’s and 1890’s. The first gold strike in the Big Hole was in 1864 at French Gulch on what is today known as the Mount Haggin Wildlife Management Area.

The Big Hole River is a headwater tributary of the Upper Missouri River. It is nestled against the Continental Divide and is solely reliant on snowpack and precipitation for its water source. Waters reach the Jefferson River near Twin Bridges to join the Missouri Headwaters. Watershed groups operating in the Upper Missouri Headwaters region work together as the Missouri Headwaters Partnership.

The Big Hole River watershed is within the High Divide, the Continental Divide region of the Rocky Mountains that includes portions of Montana and Idaho. BHWC participates in the High Divide Collaborative.