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Most visitors driving along US 2 in Montana's Glacier Country region have likely admired the Thompson Chain of Lakes as they passed. Located about 45 miles south of Libby, the group of glacial kettle lakes along the highway present a lovely view of one of Montana's more remote vacation destinations. Although called a 'chain', most of the lakes are not connected. The group is considered the headwaters of the Fisher River and is much loved as a relaxation and recreation site.
Stretching 20 miles along the highway, the Thompson Chain is dominated by several large lakes surrounded by many smaller ones. The Pleasant Valley River flows into westernmost Loon Lake before the chain continues eastward with Horseshoe Lake, Crystal Lake, Upper Thompson Lake, Middle Thompson Lake, Lower Thompson Lake and McGregor Lake. The outflow is the Fisher River, a tributary of the Kootenai River system. Streams between the lakes are mostly intermittent and not navigable by boat. The area between the lakes is partly wetland, with much of the water coming from springs and ground seepage. Nearly all of the Thompson Chain of Lakes are clustered together, with Lavon Lake, Little Loon Lake, Banana Lake, Bootjack Lake, Cad Lake, Cibid Lake, Lilly Pad Lake, Myron Lake, Rainbow Lake and Topless Lake arrayed around the larger lakes. Several of the named lakes are under 20 acres and often quite shallow. Five miles to the east, large McGregor Lake and its satellite, Little McGregor Lake lie along Hwy 2. Most accounts claim 19 lakes within the chain, but others proclaim the actual number is higher as several unnamed ponds dot the landscape. A few of the lakes are private and inaccessible.
Thompson Chain of Lakes is named after David Thompson, a land surveyor who first described the lakes in his 1811 journal. The lake quickly became a spot for the long-dreamed-of remote cabin or fishing trip. Although much shoreline is private property, a forestry company owns a large acreage and provides access to the public. Logan State Park, operated by Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, holds a 17-acre section of the north shore of Middle Thompson Lake. The state park, set amid Douglas fir, ponderosa pine and larch, has space for a total of 83 campsites, picnic tables, fire ring, vault toilets, drinking water, a swimming area and boat launch ramp. A day-use area offers picnic tables and fire grates near the beach. Group camping is available to large groups. Ice and firewood can be purchased on-site. The McGregor Lake Campground has 27 campsites that are operated by the US Forest Service. A number of primitive campsites are scattered along Lower, Middle, Upper Thompson Lakes, Horseshoe Lake, Loon Lake and some of the smaller lakes.
Middle Thompson and Upper Thompson Lakes are no-wake lakes, as are Loon Lake and many of the smaller lakes. McGregor Lake is open for such sports as water skiing and has a larger launch area. The entire lake system has nine state 'fishing access' boat launch sites, with a small launch fee charged. Wildlife is plentiful with nesting loons regularly seen in some areas. These nesting areas are marked by buoys and are off-limits to boaters so the loons are not disturbed. Whitetail deer, mule deer, elk and other native mammals are often seen, along with a multitude of songbirds. The only designated hiking trail is located at McGregor Lake, a 2.9-mile trail along the shoreline. Locals say the huckleberry picking here is great. Roads in the area are rough and not suitable for motor homes or low-clearance vehicles, but walking or bicycling the gravel roads will lead to most of the lakes.
The Thompson Chain of Lakes is excellent for fishing. They hold cutthroat trout, brown trout, rainbow trout, brook trout, yellow perch, kokane, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, northern pike, mountain whitefish and pumpkinseed. The trout are stocked annually. An ice fishing tournament is held each winter on Lower Thompson Lake. McGregor Lake holds some very large mackinaw trout. More about McGregor Lake can be found on the McGregor Lake page. Some lakes have special fishing regulations, so a current copy of the fishing regulations should be obtained when buying a fishing license.
In lieu of camping, those looking for a more substantial type of lodging needn't drive clear to Libby or Kalispell. Several resorts exist on Crystal Lake, McGregor Lake and some of the other lakes. Often, these guest lodgings are geared to fishing, with guides and supplies available. Crystal Lake in particular has private cottages, but sections of Upper Thompson and Middle Thompson Lakes also have some development. Check the Crystal Lake page for more information. McGregor Lake has resorts and private lodgings. The forestry concern that owns much of the private land near the lakeshore has recently been expressing interest in selling some of the property. Local officials are working with them to develop a land-use and development plan, as everyone concerned wants to keep the wilderness flavor of the lakes as much as possible.
The Cabinet Mountains enclose the south side of the Pleasant Valley, and the Salish Mountains rim the north. Nearby are large tracts of the Kootenai National Forest, offering rugged hiking trails, remote lookout towers and a number of peaks over 6000 feet. Because Thompson Chain of Lakes area is some distance from large cities, those who come here from places like Missoula intend to spend a few days or a week. Often those who have driven US 2 from Glacier National Park to Libby take note of these scenic lakes and earmark them for a future visit. A few small convenience-style stores can be found in the lakes area, but most services are some distance away. Some of the resorts offer cafes and minimum supplies.
This is the perfect place to spend a few relaxing days or a week fishing, paddling, swimming and enjoying the wildlife. Make sure to plan Thompson Chain of Lakes for your next Montana vacation. Spend a few lazy days on a sunny deck in front of a guest cabin or in a short-term vacation rental. A cooling dip on hot days, a bonfire along the lakeshore after dark, s'mores, hot dogs or a pleasant glass of wine-just think of the enjoyment you will encounter at Thompson Chan of Lakes. . . . and those trout and mackinaw are waiting!
Statistics lister are for Middle Thompson Lake only.
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