With its wealth of national park real estate, Montana offers hundreds of worthwhile campgrounds. With picturesque views guaranteed anywhere one travels, distinctions lie in the desired topography and amenities—lakeside or high plains? RV-ready or unadorned? Whether you’re a glamper or a frontiersman, there’s a spot for your bag, tent, truck or motorhome. Below are 10 of the best formal campgrounds, splitting the difference between isolated mountaineering and air-conditioned glamping.
Near berg-fed Swiftcurrent Lake, this space offers rugged panoramic views of Glacier National Park—that confluence of rolling green and jagged rock à la the Swiss Alps, where moose, bear and bighorn are everyday sights. This spot is a decent median between roughing-it and pure comfort, offering experiences for tents and RVs alike. Half of the campsites are available for reservation online, and dining and lodging aren’t far away, at Swiftcurrent Inn. But for those not wanting to stray too far from the mountain man lifestyle, stick to campfires and bare-bones, coin-operated showers nearby.
A stone’s-throw from Flathead Lake, on a tree-laden 15 acres, Outback Montana is a great spot for those preferring their RV or vehicle. Sure, there’s plenty of room for tents, but the campus is much more conducive to those with ATVs, BBQs and boats. The vehicle-friendly amenities—including power plug-ins, bathrooms, potable water and Wi-Fi in select spots—and the proximity to Glacier National Park make this a great home-base for summertime adventuring. Prices hover around $30 for plots with power, $18 for dry camping and cabins available for rent.
Given the massive amounts of snow the area receives, like most of Montana’s best campsites, Limber Pine isn’t accessible until the Melt (around May). But also like Montana’s best, it’s worth the wait. Outside of the famous Glacier and Yellowstone parks, the southern Montana-Wyoming border area possesses some primo camping. The mountains’ Sawtooth-esque silhouettes provide a different high-plains topography than found more north and west. Limber Pine rests against the Beartooth wilderness, a haven for hiking and rainbow trout, and particularly popular for wildlife-viewing (bear especially). The site offers toilets, potable water, mostly paved roads and trailhead access.
Kintla offers remoteness, without having to trek hours into the Montana wilderness on foot. Just 40 miles from the Canadian border, the lake is found up a rather rough, narrow dirt road, mostly hidden by dense conifers and shrouded in shade and pine needles. Given the nature of the approach, RVs and trailers are discouraged. Most visitors are tent and car-campers, seeking out some respite (there are no engines allowed on the lake). Frequenters rave about the solitude of gliding over the water on a silent canoe, seeking out the decent trout fishing.
Wayfarer’s sits in the southern portion of Flathead Lake, upon a rocky outcrop that reportedly boasts the “best views of the setting sun.” This is lakeside spot splits the difference between dry, tent camping and RV living. The plots are roomy and provide water and power amenities for recreational vehicles, while being spread-out enough to provide a semblance of peace for those sleeping under the stars. And, unlike many of Montana’s campgrounds, this spot is perfectly amendable for day-use: It’s not so inaccessible as to scare-away those seeking a simple picnic or jaunt on the beach.
Belt is indeed a “quaint.” The Western mountain town hovers at around 600 citizens, encircled by those uniquely Montanan rounded-yet-rugged mountains (they wrap the town like a belt, hence the name). It’s got all the requisite recreational activities—biking, animal-watching, fishing and swimming—the most notable of which is hiking. Ponderosa gives that taste of serenity, while still providing luxuries (in camping terms): Laundry facilities, showers and a playground for children. Overall, it’s a good RV and family gathering place, offering enough wilderness to escape, and enough amenities to keep the family comfortable.
Another stretch of enjoyable campgrounds in Glacier lines the shores of Holland Lake, in northwest Montana. As with any spot in the park, the 40-plot site offers stellar views of peaks sculpted over eons by descending glaciers. But the perk is the closeness to Holland Lake, a beautiful sight in its own respect. More importantly, for those recreating, it possesses great fishing and feeds the frame-worthy Holland Falls. One is best served to purchase a park entrance pass ($25) and enjoy driving around the lake, savoring the journey in discovering your preferred campsite. RV friendly, though most sites are without hook-ups.
Just east of the capital, Hellgate sits along the shores of Canyon Ferry Reservoir. More so than observing the drier, sparsely-vegetated surrounds—as charming as they may be—visitors flock to the lake, a regional epicenter for water-based recreation: Boating, fishing, swimming, windsurfing and jet skiing. Several sheltered gathering areas for groups large and small provide shelter, picnic tables and trash facilities for day-use. There are also power and water hook-ups abound for RVs, and space for trailers and large vehicles. It’s an ideal spot for larger groups and families that love the water.
Named for the Native American practice of stripping tree bark to uncover its nutritious inner layer, Indian Trees is an unassuming plot hidden along the Idaho/Montana border. The nearest amenities are in Sula, located at the “trigger” of Idaho (if the state were viewed as an upward-facing handgun). An unassuming “town”—Sula is essentially a gas station and some guest cabins off a modest two-lane stretch of highway 93. And it’s this isolation that’s attractive. Though potable water and basic toilets are the sole luxuries, the $10 fee guarantees a fulfilling experience in nature, fishing, animal-watching and hiking the Bitterroot range, tracing the path of Sacajawea, Lewis and Clark.
Named retroactively for the famed explorers, this state park and its caverns are truly a wonder of nature. The Giger-esque caves alone are worth the visit, so a decent campground within reach is icing on the cake. The site offers both dry and powered camping spots, and is ideal for larger groups and families: The campus features full bathrooms, dump stations, an amphitheater, playgrounds, picnic areas and basics for sale (ice, firewood, etc.). It definitely isn’t roughing it, but views of those kaleidoscopic stalactites more than compensate.