The Bitterroot Valley, named for the Bitterroot Lily which is the state flower of Montana, offers visitors an vision of the model mountain valley with a narrow, riparian floor covered with fertile farmland and huge cottonwood trees, and encased on both sides by the heavily wooded Bitterroot Range to the west and the more rolling and slightly drier Sapphire Range to the east. The Bitterroot is chock full of history, especially as a major route of Lewis & Clarks Corps of Discovery Expedition. The Bitterroot offers all sorts recreational opportunities as well, and visitors here can enjoy hiking, fishing, mountain biking, skiing, hot springs, boating and some of the best rock climbing in the state. The Bitterroot drew national attention in the summer of 2000 as one of the most highly impacted areas by a complex of uncontrollable wildfires that swept through the rough mountainous terrain, burning over 100,000 acres of land and threatening many of the towns in its path. Since then, the nature has taken over and visitors can witness firsthand the remarkable process of forest regrowth as once charred forest floors are transformed into carpets of grasses, wildflowers and new trees.
The Bitterroot valley links the Missoula area with the eastern Idaho border and Interstate 93 runs its entire course. This route is the same that Lewis and Clark hiked over 150 years ago and makes an excellent day trip from Missoula, designated as a scenic byway its entire length to the Idaho border and beyond. Visitors with enough time for a leisurely side drive should consider taking a small detour from I-93 onto state route 268 from Florence to Hamilton. This drive winds westward through several sleepy Montana hamlets and allows for better views of the Bitterroot mountains with less truck traffic. The towns of the Bitterroot are small but cater to tourists well, with a handful of restaurants, supermarkets and lodging options in each. Visitors will find Darby has the most 'Old Western' style downtown and will notice that Hamilton holds up to its claim as the 'log home building capitol of the world'.