Best Tent Camping Montana  by Jan and Christina Nesset

Best Tent Camping: Montana Guide Book

by Jan and Christina Nesset (Menasha Ridge Press)
Best Tent Camping Montana  by Jan and Christina Nesset
Menasha Ridge Press welcomes you to Best Tent Camping: Montana. Whether you’re new to camping or you’ve been sleeping in your portable shelter over decades of outdoor adventures, please review the following information. It explains how we have worked with the author to organize this book and how you can make the best use of it. Some passages in this introduction are applicable to all of the books in the Best Tent Camping series. Where this isn’t the case, such as in the descriptions of weather, wildlife, and plants, the authors have provided information specific to the area covered in this particular book.

© 2017 Jan and Christina Nesset/Menasha Ridge Press. All Rights Reserved.

Trails from the "Best Tent Camping: Montana" Guide Book
Displaying trails 20 of 49.

Displaying trails 1 to 20 of 49.

Driving the densely forested access road to this campground provides a strong contrast to the dramatic peaks you see to the east along MT 56. Part of the 94,000-acre Cabinet Mountain Wilderness, these mountains top out at under 7,000 feet but seem to tower over the landscape. It’s not an optical illusion. The fact that their base elevations are so low provides 4,000 feet of visible mountainside, making them just as impressive as the 10,000-foot peaks around Red Lodge. In this peaceful setting on the southwest corner of Bull Lake, you’ll find a variety of options under the conifer canopy. The well-spaced sites are level, and tents definitely rule the upper blufftop loop. The sites there are plentiful and spacious, and it’s easy to orient your camp to create privacy. Sites 3, 4, and 12–15 are best for tenters, especially family groups.
Troy, MT - Campgrounds - Trail Length:
A nondescript guideboard with letters scratched into it was nailed to a post along a rutted road. It read “tu grasshopper digns 30 myle keep the trale nex the bluffe.” This simple message led hundreds of hopeful gold prospectors to Grasshopper Creek, where they expected to find gold just like John White did in July of 1862. Within ten months the population swelled to over 5,000, and like a typical boomtown, by 1865 there were only a few hundred people left. The town was named Bannack, a misspelling of the name for the local Bannock tribe. This was Montana’s first territorial capital, its gold bringing more than miners, as others saw potential to make their “pile” offering goods and services to those seeking their fortunes with a pick and a pan. Men like Sidney Edgerton, Granville Stuart, and Wilber Fisk Sanders arrived here and left their mark on Montana history in ways far beyond the riches of gold. Others, like Henry Plummer, left their mark due to greed and lawlessness. Their stories and those of countless others are recounted here by the interpretive staff, informational and interactive programs, signs, and brochures. If you love history, you will love Bannack.
Dillon, MT - Campgrounds - Trail Length:
In 1878, near the site of this campground, a battle between American Indians and cowboys over horses ended the life of one cowboy. Consequently, the skirmish provided the name for Battle Ridge Pass and the campground, both of which could easily be named today for peace and beauty—or wildflowers. The campground sits on a slight tilt toward the west, providing a splendid view of the Bridger Mountains, a north–south subrange of the Rocky Mountains with a serpentine ridgeline. Bozeman Pass, located on I-90 between Livingston and Bozeman, separates the Bridger Range from the Gallatin Mountains, distinguishing the southern edge of this range, named after mountain man Jim Bridger.
Bozeman, MT - Campgrounds - Trail Length:
Montana is a land of contrasts formed by the continuous shifting of the earth, and on August 17, 1959, the Madison River Valley was the site where it chose to tremble and shake. During that brief moment, which by geologic time is nearly immeasurable, 80 million cubic feet of mountainside slid from its perch, causing a brief but massive windstorm. Before the dust settled, a river was rerouted and a new lake was formed. It was a cataclysmic geologic event, and it was over in an instant. For the people in the Madison River Valley, however, this nanosecond of geologic time seemed to last forever. Violently awakened on what had been a calm, star-filled night, hundreds of campers, tourists, and residents found themselves in a confusing and disorienting chaos. Twenty-eight people were killed by the quake’s power. Nineteen were buried alive under the massive landslide. It has been nearly 50 years, and a visit to this valley is still humbling. The barren mountainside remains, and absorbing the enormity and suddenness of the event leaves one feeling insignificant and helpless against the forces Mother Nature can unleash.
West Yellowstone, MT - Campgrounds - Trail Length:
Most people probably haven’t heard of Fort Assinniboine, but when it was built in 1879 near the Milk River, it was the largest fort west of the Mississippi, encompassing all of the Bears Paw Mountains. The fort was built in response to concerns about Indian attacks after General Custer’s defeat at Little Big Horn in 1876 and Chief Joseph’s surrender in 1877 at Bear Paw Battlefield, 37 miles southeast. Before the fort was abandoned in 1911, General John Pershing served here as a lieutenant, and two companies of the 10th Cavalry “Buffalo Soldiers” trained here prior to their service in the Spanish-American War. Some of the fort’s buildings still stand 6 miles southwest of Havre on US 87, and walking tours are available. After the fort was abandoned, much of the land was designated as the Rocky Boy’s Reservation, and the section that ultimately became Beaver Creek County Park bounced between the federal government, the state, and the city of Havre until it was finally established as a Hill County park in 1948.
Havre, MT - Campgrounds - Trail Length:
Set between the Swan and Mission ranges to the east and the Salish Mountains to the west, Flathead Lake is a sparkling northwestern Montana jewel carved thousands of years ago by receding glaciers. At 28 miles long, it’s the largest freshwater lake west of the Mississippi and draws 80 percent of its water from a watershed larger than the states of Delaware and Rhode Island combined. No wonder so many people drive up to “the Flathead,” stopping at the highway stands selling Flathead cherries (be sure to check one out—you won’t be sorry). These prized cherries thrive on the microenvironment created by the lake. But visitors don’t stop for long; they’re on their way to a recreational heaven for boaters, anglers, swimmers, and just plain loafers.
Polson, MT - Campgrounds - Trail Length:
Big Creek sits on the banks of the Flathead River’s North Fork at the front door of Glacier National Park. Flowing along and defining the park’s western boundary, the North Fork is one of Montana’s premier rivers and in 1976 was designated a part of the National Wild and Scenic River System from the Canadian border to its confluence with the Middle Fork. At the campground, the sites are set among lodgepole pines, and the rushing waters of the North Fork can be heard everywhere. At the campground, the sites are set among lodgepole pines, and the rushing waters of the North Fork can be heard everywhere. The best sites are 5–15, because they back up to the river and have plenty of space between them. If these aren’t available, sites 16, 17, and 19–22 also have a fair amount of privacy, since they are on the outside loop with no other sites behind them.
Columbia Falls, MT - Campgrounds - Trail Length:
Of all the campgrounds we’ve selected, this one wins the prize for “most off the beaten path.” On the drive in you may feel you are on a dull, desolate road leading nowhere. But hang in there—you will be rewarded. As the road climbs, a few more trees appear, and then suddenly you’ll arrive in a thick pine and spruce forest on the clearest, most pristine mountain lake you’ve ever seen without a backpack. You’ll be only a few miles from Canada and will have more bears for neighbors than people. The campground itself is small, only five acres, and the ten sites are set on a hillside around a single loop with plenty of understory for privacy. Most sites are suited for tents, although the two pull-through spots are better left for RVs. None of the sites sit directly on the lake, and there aren’t any with clear views due to the thick forest, but most are adjacent to the 1-mile trail around the lake. This trail provides a short course in glacial geology; you will see grooves carved by the glaciers and moraines formed by the debris left behind. Highlights of the trail include wildflower-strewn meadows and a variety of wildlife—deer, elk, osprey, eagles, the occasional mountain lion, and, if you’re extremely lucky, a wolverine. Centered within the loop is a 55-acre lake with its multihued rock bottom and wealth of cutthroat trout.
Fortine, MT - Campgrounds - Trail Length:
Camp Creek sits in a quiet pocket of the Little Rocky Mountains, an island range that rises not to massive heights with steep exposed crags like its western siblings but to softer, undulating heights peppered with thick timber and sections of igneous rock. These mountains, called the Fur Caps by the Gros Ventre tribe, were a sacred area for vision quests before the intrusion of gold fever. The historic mining town of Zortman still remains, just down the road from Camp Creek, and is often referred to as a ghost town. In reality, this is a thriving, close-knit community with a general store that serves as information central. Despite the impact of mining, this area still has beautiful mountains filled with big game, songbirds, eagles, coyotes, and beavers.
Zortman, MT - Campgrounds - Trail Length:
Views of the Rocky Mountain front are spectacular as you drive along the Teton River to Cave Mountain. Ahead of you are Wind Mountain and flat-topped Ear Mountain. This is actually part of the original Old North Trail, used for centuries as a travel corridor between Canada and points south. Limestone cliffs rise 500 feet on either side of you, and viewpoints provide panoramic 360-degree vistas. The road enters a gap in the cliffs, and not far beyond, a sign points the way to Cave Mountain. Two bridge crossings, one over the North Fork Teton River and one over the Middle Fork, lead to the campground entrance. Set under a beautiful mix of birch, aspen, and pines, the campground’s 14 sites are perfect for tenters looking for quiet and solitude.
Choteau, MT - Campgrounds - Trail Length:
This campground sits within the Bass Creek Recreation Area, a multi-use area designed for hikers, equestrians, and mountain bikers to peacefully coexist—and most of the time it works pretty well. If you are not lucky enough to snag one of the creekside sites, you can still enjoy the sound of water cascading over trees and rocks. We weren’t lucky enough to snag one of the creekside sites the night we stayed here, but we still enjoyed the sound of water cascading over trees and rocks. In the morning, the campground host reaffirmed our opinion that this is a stellar tenting campground when he told us that eight out of ten campers here use tents.
Stevensville, MT - Campgrounds - Trail Length:
Crystal Lake is different from most high mountain lakes. It’s very shallow, about 13 feet deep in the spring after the mountain snowmelt, and by the end of the summer it may dwindle to only 5 feet. The lake’s water gradually seeps out through its porous limestone bottom until it is almost nonexistent, and then the snowmelt begins again. As a result, the trout found here are restocked annually, since they can’t survive the thick ice cover and lack of oxygen in the winter. The lake is perfect for canoes and float tubes and attracts family groups. The range lives up to its name, with peaks that top out above 8,000 feet and are usually snowcapped well into July. The Big Snowies are often called a laboratory range, due to continued geological study of the formation’s 400-million-year history and wealth of visible fossils. Hikers and campers may come across fossils or notice the sedimentary aspects, but their appreciation is generally for the recreational aspects of this distinctive island in the midst of the prairies.
Lewistown, MT - Campgrounds - Trail Length:
The southeastern corner of Glacier National Park is an area few people see, but those who do are surprised at the contrast to the verdant western half of the park, where the thick undergrowth often obscure the spectacular mountain scenery. In this section of the park you’ll encounter expansive views, scrub ground cover mixed with pockets of trees, and lush riparian edges. The scenery seems to stretch forever. Such is life from the comfort of Cutbank. A mixture of pines and aspens painted on a mountain canvas makes the 5-mile drive into this campground a relaxing treat. Open-range cattle graze both sides of the road, so drive cautiously to avoid a situation where your car will be the loser. In Montana, we don’t fence in cattle, we fence them out. The campground is small, and RVs are discouraged from making the trip, so you will probably only be sharing space with nylon neighbors.
West Glacier, MT - Campgrounds - Trail Length:
Dalles is to tent camping what Rock Creek is to fly-fishing—paradise. Set along the creek between steep cliffs, with views of the Sapphire Mountains, this campground may be small, but its location and access to world-class fishing and wilderness areas make it worth the trip. And the trip to Dalles isn’t easy; you’ll travel down a narrow, rough access road complete with hairpin turns and one-lane sections alongside sheer drop-offs. July and August are prime time here, since the somewhat marshy conditions caused by spring snowmelt dry up and the mosquitoes move on.
Clinton, MT - Campgrounds - Trail Length:
The drive to Falls Creek bisects expansive ranchland and follows the Boulder River as it winds through an isolated section of south-central Montana. You’ll have plenty of time to enjoy the mountains in the distance and the wildlife along the way, because once you come to the gravel road, the only survivable speed is a slow one. Along the way, you can stop in McLeod at Holly’s Road Kill Cafe for something to eat and drink and a game of pool, and some friendly conversation. A bit farther down the road is Natural Bridge, where a spectacular waterfall show peaks every spring as the natural rock formations and river come together here in a magical way. Some days, the river cascades over the top of the rocks in a tumbling, frothing, swirling mass. On others, when the water level has dropped, the water disappears beneath the rocks for a distance before pouring from gaps situated at various levels along the canyon. Interpretive signs help visitors understand the geology of the area, and paved trails and overlooks make access easy.
Big Timber, MT - Campgrounds - Trail Length:
Although you’d never know it by looking at the fir forest immediately surrounding it, this campground was smack in the middle of the 39,000-acre Robert Fire of 2003. Only through aggressive suppression activity were crews able to protect this pocket of the park during the fire onslaughts. On the drive to the campground from the park entrance, about one-half mile past the Apgar area, you’ll see Bullhead Lodge on the shore of Lake McDonald. The lodge once served as artist Charlie Russell’s private home. Private homes were common in the park’s early days, but only a few are left, and they aren’t for sale. They remain only because they’ve been in the same families for a long time. As one of only two campgrounds at Glacier accepting reservations (the other is St. Mary), it’s surprising Fish Creek rarely fills up, even during July and early August.
West Glacier, MT - Campgrounds - Trail Length:
Escape the paved roads and tent pads you’ll find at other campgrounds along the Pioneer Mountains National Scenic Byway by staying at this campground on the south end near Elkhorn Hot Springs. Snugly situated at the bottom of steep canyon walls, Grasshopper offers spacious sites with many right along the creek. Pioneer Mountains National Scenic Byway, designated in 1989, is a picturesque ribbon of road winding between the 10,000-foot-plus peaks of the East Pioneers and the lower forested slopes of the West Pioneers. Fifty peaks exceed 10,000 feet, topping out with Mt. Tweedy, at 11,154 feet in the eastern range. As close as these ranges are to one another, they bear little resemblance, with one gently rounded and the other sharply peaked. The difference lies in the amount of sandstone that has been eroded away from the granite surface below. Overall, the Pioneers are a rugged range dotted with lakes, laced with hiking trails, and well worth exploring.
Polaris, MT - Campgrounds - Trail Length:
Set amidst spectacular forests and mountain scenery, the narrow Red Lodge Valley has a history of coal mining, colorful and eccentric Old West characters, outdoor recreation, and rodeo royalty. Yes, rodeo royalty. This is the valley where Ben Greenough led pack trains through the steep mountains and across the lofty plateaus of the Beartooths for years, and his eight children grew up riding horses. Five of them participated in rodeos: Turk was named King of the Bronc Riders in 1935, and Alice and Marge rode both bulls and bucking broncos to win a wealth of championships around the world. The Greenoughs helped bring organized rodeo to Red Lodge and helped build an arena in 1929 for the locals who had been competing at the railroad stockyards since before the turn of the century. Another local hero, Bill Linderman, added more titles to the town’s history, even winning the title of “World All- Around Champion” three times. His brother Bud won a world championship as well, and in their honor the Red Lodge rodeo was renamed “Home of Champions Rodeo.” Today the tradition continues with Alice’s great-nephew, Deb Greenough, continuing as a worldchampion bareback rider.
Red Lodge, MT - Campgrounds - Trail Length:
The drive into Halfmoon Campground is rocky and slow, but the scenery is what tourists expect to see in Montana—a spectacular mountain range bursting from a valley floor carpeted with ranchland and speckled with cows grazing between the sagebrush. Known as one of the state’s island ranges, the Crazy Mountains rise stunningly out of nowhere and confirm for those driving west on I-90 that yes, indeed, they have finally made it to the Rocky Mountains. On the western flank is Grasshopper Glacier, a lingering remnant of the glaciers that, like a sculptor’s chisel, carved these mountains by etching away mud and stone. Created some 50 million years earlier, the glacier appeared when magma rose from deep within the earth’s core to the muddy ocean floor and solidified into igneous rock.
Big Timber, MT - Campgrounds - Trail Length:
Tucked between the Swan Range to the east and the Mission Range to the west, the Seeley- Swan Valley is a popular outdoor paradise with lakes, mountains, rivers, small streams, and trails. Visitors can enjoy the best Mother Nature has to offer year round. You may wonder why a place that sounds this busy is included in a book where the idea is to get away from it all. It’s simple: the setting is awesome, and, especially during the week, it isn’t as crowded as you might expect. Holland Lake was formed when the last glacial ice melted from this area some 10,000 years ago. The receding glaciers deposited sediments, forming moraines, which now hold back a lake fed by runoff from the spectacular mountains surrounding it. This 427-acre lake is one of the deepest in the area at 155 feet. The clarity of the water can make the depth deceiving, so be prepared when boating.
Condon, MT - Campgrounds - Trail Length:

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