West Fork Fishing Retreat

$2,100,000 Darby, MT 151± Deeded Acres

Executive Summary

For those in the know, the West Fork of the Bitterroot River flowing from the tailwater of Painted Rocks Reservoir, is a floatable trout fishing stream of epic qualities. Cold, clear water rushes from the base of the dam and feeds over 20 miles of riffles, pools and deep pocket water stashed behind giant granite boulders. The West Fork Fishing Retreat owns around one-half mile of both sides of this legendary fishery. Accessed directly from the West Fork Road, the 151± acres is surrounded by United States Forest Service on seven of its eight boundaries. A primary residence and guest quarters are uniquely located directly on the banks of the West Fork in a grandfathered location no longer permitted due to land use restrictions. The sight and sound of rushing water just feet from the ample streamside decks will make any heart sing, while multiple additional prime building sites are scattered through the property. Downhill skiing is a short drive away at Lost Trail Powder Mountain and hundreds of miles of Forest Service roads serve an endless bordering backcountry. With world-class elk and deer hunting, blue ribbon quality water populated by large native cutthroat trout and a private, commercial-grade bridge over the river, this is a rare ownership opportunity in western Montana.

Just the Facts

• 151± acres

• Main home plus guest quarters 

• Grandfathered bankside location

• United States Forest Service boundaries on seven of eight sides

• Legendary fly fishing for large native trout

• World-class elk and deer hunting

• Private bridge built to handle fully loaded log trucks

General Description

The property is accessed from the West Fork Road (Highway 473) approximately 15 miles from Darby, Montana. Once across a narrow strip of intervening private land on a deeded right-of-way, you enter the property on a private dirt road. From the pavement to the riverside home is perhaps no more than 150 yards. Once inside the boundary of the property, the access road drops slightly and the all of the residential improvements are immediately encountered to the left. The home sits immediately bankside in a slightly elevated position that provides a sweeping view of a braided section of the West Fork, complete with its own well-established island laying entirely within the property boundaries. 

While Ravalli County has no stream setback requirements as of early 2019, the unique position of this bankside home ensures grandfathered treatment, should there be changes in future land use policy.

The main home is accessed from a short circular drive and immediately to its west are the additional guest quarters. Further west and away from the bankside location, there is a large Quonset hut for equipment storage, shop needs or whatever else may be desirable in an enclosed structure. Leaving the area around the residential facilities and the Quonset hut, the private access road continues southward, crossing the West Fork on a commercial rated 50-ton steel and concrete bridge. Once on the far side of the bridge, the road curves back east and skirts the edge of a large, flat timbered bench that sits well-above the established floodplain, which is very narrow throughout the property.

About halfway across the bench, the road hairpins and begins a steady ascent through a series of switchbacks up a private set of logging roads, eventually hitting its apex at around 5,000 feet above sea level and about 800 vertical feet above the riverbed. From this location, tens of thousands of acres of adjacent United States Forest Service ground is immediately accessible.

The river flows for approximately one-half mile through the property, encompassing two well-established braids and an island in the area in front of the residential structures. Upstream from this point, the river contains some nice riffles, deep holes and an enticing 90-degree bend before exiting the property along its western boundary.

Broker's Comments

The West Fork Fishing Retreat is an outstanding fly fishing property offering excellent year-round wade fishing, seasonal float fishing and your own private put-in/take-out. With excellent public land access, robust wildlife populations and located within 90 minutes of the thriving college town of Missoula and its commercial air service, this is truly unique ownership opportunity that has not been available to market for nearly 60 years. 

Learn about the locale


The West Fork Fishing Retreat is located on the banks of the legendary fly fishing waters of the West Fork of the Bitterroot River in far western Montana. The property is accessed 11.2 miles up the West Fork Road (Highway 473) directly from the pavement approximately 35 minutes from the jet-capable airstrip located in Hamilton, Montana. This airstrip offers a 4,200-foot paved and lighted runway. The Missoula International Airport is also an easy 90-minute drive down the heart of the Bitterroot Valley. Delta, United, Horizon, Allegiant and Frontier Airlines all offer service direct to a variety of major American cities. The small town of Darby is a mere 20 minutes away and offers general services, groceries, dining, fly fishing shops and guide services. A little over a half hour south is the Lost Trail Powder Mountain, a powder seeker’s delight and an unpretentious, family-run downhill, cross country ski and winter motorsports location known for its lifts without lines. The kind of ski area that has all but disappeared among the more glamorous resort expansions occurring throughout the West.


The Bitterroot Valley was well-documented by the Lewis and Clark expeditions of 1802-1804, and later became the location of the first permanent Anglo settlement in Montana in the mid-1840s at Stevensville. The timbered and wild feel of the West Fork Fishing Retreat makes it easy to imagine the first Anglo explorers pushing their way through the untrammeled land. Later, logging and ranching became the economic mainstays of the area and the valley still retains its rural charm and connection to this historic past. Bordering its western flank, the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness forms the core of the largest contiguous federally-designated wilderness in the lower 48 states. Together with the adjacent Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness, over three million acres of pristine roadless area awaits at your doorstep and provides an opportunity for the adventurous to experience the same boundless and unaltered horizons as its original explorers. Whether it is horse packing into the backcountry, multi-week backpacking trips on foot or stunning day hikes to nearby Trapper Peak, the immediate area surrounding the West Fork Fishing Retreat offers a limitless array of wild country to live out your western dream.

For those that like their civilization in equal measure, the award-winning Triple Creek Guest Ranch and its renowned restaurant are open to the public and just a few short miles downriver. Further afield, Missoula is the economic and social hub of western Montana, offering a thriving array of art galleries, restaurants, specialty shops and services for all of your cultural, home and outfitting needs. Medical facilities are located in Darby with a full service hospital in Hamilton. Missoula is the medical treatment center of western Montana and all but the most specialty services are available there, including Life Flight services.

Other nearby attractions are the revered Darby rodeo, a variety of hot springs and Lake Como with its classic alpine feel that is open for a variety of aquatic motorsports and great mountain lake fishing.


The Bitterroot Valley is a low elevation broad Montana valley that defines Big Sky Country. The property is located at the upper end of this major land feature and over 1,000 feet higher than the elevations at the lower end of the valley near Missoula. Elevations on the property range from 4,400 to 5,200 feet above sea level and the resulting climate is somewhat cooler in summer and generally snowier in winter than the main Bitterroot Valley, although having more than two feet of accumulated snow on the ground would be considered unusual. Despite the slightly higher elevations, the West Fork Fishing Retreat is located west of the Continental Divide near the Idaho border and as a result experiences a mild climate and generally low snow accumulations by Montana standards. Spring offers crisp mornings and evenings with balmy afternoons while summers are warm and sunny. High reading of 90 degrees F or more occur less than 20 days a year in the Bitterroot Valley and are likely to be fewer on the property due to the additional 1,000-1,500 feet of elevation. High winds are exceedingly rare up on the West Fork and the exact location of this property is quite sheltered. 

Learn more about the property

Acreage (Deeded & Leased)

Deeded Acres: 151±
State Leased Acres:
Private Leased Acres:
BLM Leased Acres:
Indian Leased Acres:
Other Leased Acres:
Total Leased Acres:
Total Acres: 151±


Main Residence

Originally designed as a combination family gathering spot and potential commercial enterprise providing lodging to fishermen and hunters, the existing home on the property includes around 3,358 square feet of living area. The home includes three bedrooms each with their own bath, one additional common area bath, an additional family room and two kitchens. Each of the bedrooms benefits from an exterior entrance, direct deck access overlooking the river, good separation from the other bedrooms and large windows that provide unimpeded views of the river and surrounding forest. A nice rock fireplace, woodstove and indoor sauna give the home all the trimmings of forest hideaway.

Built in the 1960s with subsequent additions and revisions, remodeling of the residence has occurred at various junctures through its history with the most recent improvements implemented in 2019. The exterior of the home is finished in rough cut pine that was harvested and milled from the property. A large, attractive partially covered deck lines the eastern side of the home and provides the ideal perch to enjoy an afternoon refreshment while listening to native songbirds and watching the sun sparkle off the water while the rafts go gliding by.

Guest Facilities

Located above the heated three-car garage, two guest suites, each with a private entrance and a river-facing deck, provide overflow rooming for additional visitors or clients. Spacious and comfortable with excellent privacy from the main home, these are useful additions to the housing on the property.

Quonset Hut

There is a large Quonset hut measuring 40’ X 60’ that provides equipment storage or shop space.

Private Bridge

There is a 50-ton rated, 200-foot long private bridge that crosses the West Fork to the acreage on the south side. This is a valuable asset that not only can support commercial logging trucks, but also provides exclusive access to top-notch building sites and thousands of acres of USFS land. 

Water Rights

The property contains two surface water rights and one groundwater right with priority dates from the early 1960s. The existing well on the property tested at 100 gallons-per-minute. 

Learn about the recreational amenities

Fishery Resources

The West Fork Fishing Retreat represents an opportunity to own a premier fly fishing property at the upper end of the Bitterroot Valley.

"The West Fork of the Bitterroot River is renowned among anglers as one of the premier trout streams in America and features long riffles, deep runs and outstanding cut banks."

From the early spring skwala hatches to October’s caddis flies, the Bitterroot River and its forks have one of the longest dry fly season of any river in the West. The signature salmonfly hatch in early- to mid-June is the pinnacle season for West Fork fly fishing. Featuring the largest aquatic insect in the world, the cold clear water of the West Fork produce a proliferation of these bugs and induces a feeding frenzy by winter-hardened trout that has to be experienced to be fully appreciated. Coming off in large numbers, the salmon fly hatch is a protein feast and is a spectacle of nature that draws songbirds from the sky and fat trout from the river’s depths. Large rainbows and occasional brown trout, cutbows, native westslope cutthroats and the endangered bull trout (Dolly Varden) are among the prizes you will encounter in abundant numbers.

An added benefit of its location on the West Fork is the upstream Painted Rocks Reservoir that controls stream flow, providing excellent fishing, even during times of high runoff. When everywhere else in the area is blown out from high seasonal runoff, the West Fork provides a go-to alternative that rarely disappoints. 

Recreational Considerations

The West Fork Fishing Retreat is essentially a private inholding within the vast Bitterroot National Forest, surrounded by United States Forest Service on seven of eight sides. The property presents world-class opportunities for hunting for elk, deer, bear and moose, horseback riding, hiking, rafting and wildlife viewing on millions of acres of federally protected land right outside your door. Ride directly from the property into the three million acres of the largest contiguous wilderness area in the lower 48 states or stay front country and unload your raft 50 feet from your own deck. Pass the day motorboating and swimming on Painted Rock Reservoir or head to the nearby Trapper Peak trailhead to bag an alpine summit. The river itself is floatable a majority of the year and one of the greatest pleasures of this property will be launching a raft from your own back yard. 

The upper Bitterroot Valley is also renowned for its large elk, deer and moose herds. Moose are frequently seen while floating the West Fork and elk are resident in the thick timber on and around the property throughout the summer and fall. Other resident wildlife are black bear, bald eagle, bobcat, coyote and wolf and a variety of small game and waterfowl. The surrounding mountain ranges offer healthy populations of mountain goats and Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, as well. The property also offers a riot of wildflowers in spring and early summer with abundant arrowleaf balsamroot, lupine and Indian paintbrush leading the charge. Old growth ponderosa pine add a stately accent to the rich, timbered landscape.

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