The Best Places to Go Camping in Montana
There’s a lot of wide open space to camp in Montana, including high-mountain lake settings | © David R. Frazier Photolibrary, Inc. / Alamy Stock Photo
You’ll be within driving distance of Yellowstone National Park or the crescent-shaped Horseshoe Hills from these campsites in silver-mining towns, backcountry ranches and alpaca farms in Big Sky Country, bookable on Culture Trip.
The Rocky Mountain state of Montana, bordered to the north by Canada, is America’s fourth-largest state in terms of size, trailing only Alaska, Texas and California. That means there’s a lot of wide open space to camp, including high-mountain lake settings (montaña is Spanish for mountains), national forests, expansive parks and remote retreats reached only by dusty backroads. While Big Sky Country has a lot of prairie, 25 percent of the state is thick with forests, providing varied places to pitch up – from the borderlands of Yellowstone National Park to Old West towns in the Horseshoe Hills.
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The geological formations that draw rock climbers to the Jefferson County former mining town of Clancy (population: 2,100) are eye-candy for campers and hikers. Sheep Mountain, for example, beckons with its massive boulders, stone pinnacles, granite cracks and imposing rock face. Campers typically make a day trip to the abandoned silver camps of the Lump Gulch that gave Clancy its start.
Courtesy of Happy Trails / Tentrr
Don’t be an ass: keep your dog on a leash as campkeeper RayLynne has canine-averse mules on her 20-acre (8ha) property. Rustic western camping means you can bed down in a cozy canvas tent in a ponderosa pine forest with a view of Wolf Mountain. Indulgences are available, such as modestly priced s’mores kits, a camping must-try of marshmallows, chocolate and graham crackers that you roast over an open fire. Kayaks and paddleboards are available for rent.
Gold Rush Campsite
Courtesy of Gold Rush Campsite / Tentrr
This eco-friendly campsite is located by a creek where guests can pan for gold. If you don’t strike it lucky, no worries: the golden sunsets are worth the back-country road trip to this peaceful nature spot. You’ll park your car 100ft (30m) from your canvas tent, but it’s unlikely you’ll even want to get off the Adirondack chairs to go anywhere. Have fun with your first “sun shower” under a five-gallon (19-liter) reservoir of water that’s heated by the sun.
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Outdoorsy options near Belgrade include the marbled volcanic wonders of Yellowstone National Park, the river-snaked Missouri Headwaters State Park, the not-for-the-faint-hearted hilly Bridger Foothills Trail and the rocky, view-studded Corbly Gulch Trail. Tip from a local: head into town on Thursday nights to stock up on home-baked goodies and fresh produce at the weekly Belgrade Community Market.
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This pet-friendly, barebones campground is situated on an alpaca ranch and caters to backcountry campers with their own tent and gear. The spacious sites are ideal for groups and big families. In addition to the 300 alpacas, expect to see white-tailed deer and foxes, as well as bald eagles, ducks and, of course, sandhill cranes. Campers can join a ranch tour and buy grass-fed alpaca meats to cook or take home. Call in advance if bringing a dog.
Bull Run Creek
Courtesy of Bull Run Creek / Tentrr
On the same family-run alpaca ranch, but with a different scenic setting beside a wildlife-beloved creek, Bull Run Creek is also for backcountry campers who must bring their own tent and gear. Campers bed down beside juniper trees and get to wake up to views of the Bridger Mountains. Note: there are coyotes and working ranch dogs in the area, so call ahead to ensure your dog breed is compatible.
© john lambing / Alamy Stock Photo
The teensy Gallatin County town of Manhattan (population: 1,500) still oozes Old West charm: the main industries include potatoes, dairy, wheat and cattle. Today, you can find specialty food stores in town, as well as woodcarving and artisan shops. Potential outdoor excursions include the Horseshoe Hills and the Bridger Mountains. Anglers take note: Manhattan boasts high-quality Blue Ribbon trout fishing.
Gold Sky Campsite
Courtesy of Gold Sky Campsite / Tentrr
Surrounded by five mountain ranges, this backcountry camp (bring your own tent and gear) is situated on the 170-acre (70ha) Golden Skyfall sustainable farm. There’s something for everyone, starting with Yellowstone National Park, which is 45mi (72km) away. Wildlife-viewing and birdwatching opportunities are plentiful, and you can also spy five mountain ranges from the ranch – this is Montana, after all. In addition to hiking and biking trails, you can also learn to collect honey and harvest organic vegetables. RV campers should call ahead, as access routes and hook-up amenities are limited.
These recommendations were updated on July 21, 2021 to keep your travel plans fresh.