Best Bozeman Area Camping Spots Away from Crowds
Camping is a fun outdoor activity for the whole family. Camping in Montana is a way of life. Summer, winter, spring, or fall, Montanans are serious about their camping. Yes, people here do camp in the cold of winter. That's why they make tents and sleeping bags rated for below freezing temperatures!
Bozemanites take their camping seriously, which means the best, most well-known campsites fill up fast. If you're not quick on the draw with the most popular, developed camp areas like Hyalite and Fairy Lake on the weekends, you won't get a spot. So, where does everyone else go? Where are those unknown gems? We're here to help you find a few!
Red Mountain Campground
If you're in search of a quick and easy camping spot that's near the Bozeman area, look no further than the Madison River. Sure, the tubers take over in the peak of summer, but Red Mountain Campground is perfect for a quick getaway. It's definitely a no-frills location, but what it may lack in mountain views it makes up for in ease of access.
Best feature: River access. Float down the Maddy to your campsite or tie up on the bank for endless hours of fun in the water!
Mammoth/South Boulder Road Dispersed Camping
Many people don't know this, but Montana allows for what's called dispersed camping. This means you can camp on any public lands, even without developed campgrounds, as long as you are respectful and clean up after yourself. Leave no trace is vital to dispersed camping. Last summer, I had the pleasure of attending a wedding just passed the fascinating little town of Mammoth, Montana, and the natural beauty up there is second to none. Fair warning, this adventure is not for the fair weather camper. The mostly dirt South Boulder Road is rough and twisty. This is not recommended for pull-behind campers or RVs. Ask me about my flat tire in a rainstorm experience up there sometime. Yikes.
Best feature: Stunning views and very few people. Most aren't brave enough to travel the road, but it is completely worth it!
While some might call this area too busy, my brother and I have camped at several locales in the Gallatin Canyon. We've found it easy to access and often get a spot even on the weekends. Of course, plan ahead if you want some of the best river camp spots. If you want an easy spot to cruise into, I recommend the Moose Creek Flats or Red Cliff Campground. However, if you want something a bit off the beaten path, try the Swan Creek Campground. It's still a paved road with camping spots, but away from the busy traffic on Highway 191. Pro tip: pack warm clothes for the evening. The canyon temperature can dip into the 30s even in August!
Best feature: Something for everyone! Hiking, scenic drives, developed campgrounds, or seclusion. This stretch of camping opportunities has it all!
Canyon Ferry Lake Camping
Photo courtesy of The Great Falls Tribune
This might be a bit of a jaunt from Bozeman (about an hour and a half), but you won't be disappointed you made the trip. Canyon Ferry Lake was formed by the Canyon Ferry Dam which creates the lake from the Missouri River. It can get busy in the height of summertime fun, but you can generally find easy access camping somewhere around the lake. There are several campgrounds to choose from depending on which end of the lake you like best, and it's great for either tent camping or hard-side camping. Warning, this is rattlesnake country so be on the lookout for rattlers, especially with kids and dogs!
Best feature: Canyon Ferry Lake of course! It's a haven for water recreationists and walking the banks is great if you're in search of rocks, driftwood formations, or a place to sun yourself!
Ennis Lake Camping
Another little drive out from Bozeman, and you'll discover Ennis Lake. A second favorite reservoir in Southwest Montana, what makes this one so unique would be the depth. It averages about 8 feet deep, which means the water stays pretty warm in the summertime, perfect for swimming, boating, and other water fun! Meadow Lake Campground is your best bet for camping here. It's right along the shore and with spots are spread out instead of stacked on top of each other, so you'll definitely have space from the other campers. Last summer, two friends, myself, and our three dogs camped there for a night. In the morning, we woke up to a pair of pelicans diving the water for fish. That was a sight to see!
Best feature: The temperature of the water and wildlife. This is a wonderful little spot for some bird watching in the summertime.
Whether you love the community of a well-established campground or the seclusion of dispersed camping on public lands, Montana has it all. Start planning those warm-weather camping excursions now and you'll surely get to see a little bit of everything in Big Sky Country. Welcome to camping life!
By: Cassi Miller