10 Camping Trips for this Summer

Car Camping, Easy Hikes, and Long Hauls for Your Summer Trips

There’s not much more iconic than a summer camping trip in Montana. After all, we live in a state that contains nearly 17 million acres of forest service land of which 3.5 million acres are designated as wilderness. It’s no wonder that camping, backpacking, hiking, hunting, and fishing are a way of life here!

But sometimes you need some ideas. Sometimes you need a little nudge to get out there and find the perfect camping spot. Here’s your nudge. Whether you’re more comfortable with a campsite where you can drive up, or one that you have to hike to, this is your resource. 10 camping trips to get you out and about in the Beartooth Mountains and beyond.

Pull up and Unload

Often you don’t have time for an extravagant trip. Or perhaps you have kids that prevent a long hike in. There are plenty of campsites that don’t require a hike. Even if you can’t find a designated site, you can always camp on forest service land.

Chippy Park on the Boulder River

If you want to visit one of the most beautiful places in Montana, then head to the Boulder River Valley. Just south of Big Timber, the valley winds its way into the mountains providing stunning views, world class fly fishing spots, and campgrounds that can’t be beat. Chippy Park is just one of the many campgrounds along the way, and there are dozens of hikes, like the Four Mile Creek Hike, you can take that start in the valley and progress into the mountains.

Sage Creek Campground in the Pryors

Venturing out of the Beartooths and into the Pryor Mountains, we find just one campground. Sage Creek Campground is in a prime location to explore these amazing mountains. From here you can continue up Pryor Mountain Road, eventually passing the Big Ice Cave and dropping over to the south side of the mountains.

Island Lake in Wyoming

As the summer warms, the snow will continue to melt off the mountains. By the middle of July, the majority of the lakes will be free from snow and ice (even those up top). If you head up the Beartooth pass, just before you get to the Top of the World Resort, you come across Island Lake. With dozens of campgrounds and a boat ramp, it’s a great place to pull up for the weekend.

Pack the Bag for a Short Hike

Camping is a great way to get away from it all. But what if you want to get away from the sounds of the road? In that case, you have to hoof it in at least a couple of miles. Lakes are popular destinations.

Mystic Lake

Mystic Lake earns a spot on just about every backpacking list. The reason: it’s easy to get to, a short-ish hike, and the views are impeccable. If there is one spot that can beat out the Boulder River Valley for beauty, it is the Mystic Valley. A short 3-4 mile hike (depending on how far back on the lake you go) and you can set up camp near the largest lake in the Beartooths.

Rock Island Lake

Mystic Lake, due to the ease of access, is quite popular. If you want to get away from the crowds a bit more, then head to Rock Island Lake. Just 3 miles from the Clark's Fork trailhead at the Chief Joseph Campground outside of Cooke City, Rock Island is still a little known wonder. The hike is relatively easy, the fishing is phenomenal, and the crowds are minimal.

Elk Lake

The Beartooths have 2 well known valleys. East Rosebud and West Rosebud. The East Rosebud Valley, which is the start of The Beaten Path, contains a number of marvelous lakes. The first is Elk Lake. A small lake that holds great views, but not great fishing. If you have early hikers (in the 5 to 7 year old range), this is a great one to help them get experience on the trail without over exerting themselves.

Sioux Charley Lake

Sioux Charley Lake isn’t actually a lake. It’s a wide spot on the upper Stillwater River (the same one that flows past Absarokee and dumps into the Yellowstone at Columbus). Like most of the areas around here, the views are exquisite. While fishing the lake, I haven’t had much luck. But if you’re into fly fishing you can probably find a better hole than I did and catch your dinner.

Lace up for the Long Haul

There’s a certain part of the avid outdoors minded individual that wants to conquer the mountains. Walking with a heavy pack for mile upon mile through grueling terrain caters to that adventure, need to explore, and rugged determination.

Avalanche Lake

Granite Peak, Montana’s highest point, tops out at 12,799 feet. From Avalanche Lake, you can see that peak. At roughly 10 miles in, it’s quite the journey to get there. And most people only use the lake as a pit stop on their way up to the top of Montana. This means that if you’re not going to climb, you pretty much get the lake to yourself; including the fish in it. These fish are voracious, and they’re big. Definitely worth the grueling 10+ miles to get to the lake.

Aero Lakes

Avalanche Lake is on the north side of Granite Peak, and Aero Lakes (Upper Aero and Lower Aero) are on the south side. But their approaches couldn’t be any more different. Upper Aero Lake is about 6 miles in, but it’s above tree line and the last section is a bit grueling. It’s not a hard hike per se, but the terrain bumps it out of the beginner category. The last time I visited there were mountain goats roaming the area. Fellow backpackers told us the goats had jumped on their tent thinking it was a rock.

The Beaten Path

Possibly one of the most famous backpacking trips in the area, The Beaten Path travels through the mountains between East Rosebud and Cooke City. It’s 27 miles long, and generally takes three days to complete; one of which you pass over the top of the mountain, skirt the edge of Fossil Lake, and drop down the other side. It’s easier to go from the Chief Joseph Trailhead to East Rosebud, but the traditional method is to go the other way. Linger at Lake at Falls; it’s beautiful there.

Go Do Something in the Mountains

Montana has the best mountains. Here in Billings, we are lucky to live within an hour of them. Take a weekend (or 10) this summer and go explore them. Have fun in them. Be safe in them. Catch a fish or two, and have dinner in them. Most importantly, enjoy them. Most of the country doesn’t have mountains nearby like we do.

by Scott Sery
Scott is a writer, outdoor enthusiast, beer snob, and woodworker. When he is not out exploring all of the wonders around Billings, he loves to sit down for a frosty brew at one of the many great breweries we have available to us. You can read about most of his adventures, and many of the fine brews he has sipped right here. Find out more about Scott at ScottSery.com