One of the best ways to get away from it all and relax is to escape to the great outdoors. Whether you’re a hardened outdoorsman or just like to get out into the woods 2 or 3 times per year, nothing beats that fresh alpine air and those quite, clear nights. This guide will give you the rundown for Montana camping and bushcraft.
Rugged survivalists are always keeping their eyes open for their next adventure, while hunters always want to bag their next 5 point buck. Even casual campers can appreciate the calm serenity that comes with escaping the concrete jungle most of us come from.
Montana is one of the absolute best states in America for camping, backpacking, and hunting. This far-north state has some of the most breathtaking vistas, towering mountain ranges, and crystal clear lakes that you can find.
From the Rocky Mountains to the Great Plains, this vast, rugged state has everything you can want out of camping except for tropical, coastal, and desert camping. But the steep hills and mountains of the west are complemented by the vast expanses of open plains in the east.
We will cover a few of the major wilderness regions of this state, as well as what you need if you want to survive in this wilderness. Afterwards, we’re going to look at the best camping spots in Montana, as well as some of the laws and regulations that you need to know.
Major Wilderness Regions in Montana
Montana literally means “mountain,” because the state has many steep and rugged mountain ranges. The continental divide runs straight through the state, giving you an incredibly sharp contrast in terrain between the western and eastern halves of the state.
There are hundreds of named mountain ranges in Montana, and while most of them are located in the Rockies, there’s a few isolated ranges in the south and east of the state. These mountains then give way to the great plains in the east.
There are too many wilderness regions to cover in a single article, so we’re just going to look at 4 of the biggest regions. From the Rockies in the west to the great plains in the east, this state has a lifetime of great places you can test your camping, backpacking, and hunting skills.
The Rocky Mountains
The Rocky Mountains are the largest mountain range in North America. They stretch all the way from Canada to Mexico, and are a part of the larger continental divide. They occupy the western half of Montana, and are home to several hundred named mountain ranges in the state.
While the settlers may have seen the Rockies as a massive obstacle in their move out west, today they’re home to some of the most iconic and breathtaking vistas in America. In Montana, especially, they house some of the best hunting and camping spots in the state.
These mountains are primarily covered in dense Alpine forests and get incredibly cold in the winter. This is magnified by the fact that the state is already far north and very cold. So any camping trip out here will see snow even in the summer.
Montana is probably one of the most dangerous states to camp in because of the sparse population and the wildlife. There are plenty of grizzlies in the state, and cities with hospitals to treat injuries are few and far between. You’ll still have a great time, but make sure you understand basic first aid.
The Great Plains
The Great Plains are associated with the farming states like Kansas, Oklahoma, and Nebraska. Few people realize these plains stretch from Texas up into Canada. These vast expanses may not be what you think of when you’re looking for a great place to camp, but they’re excellent places for outdoor adventures.
The great plains occupies the eastern half of Montana, making up 60% of the state’s land. This vast, flat expanse is almost surreal, and can be a great place to plan your next camping or hunting trip.
From roaming herds of antelope to lone bluffs, this region is ideal for hunting and backpacking, but you may have a hard time finding official camping spots. The sunsets and sunrises are a spectacle, with the vast plains taking on a saturated golden color in the sun.
Throughout the state of Montana, there are plenty of Native American Reservations. So make sure that you’re checking the local laws regarding camping. Some reservations may not allow camping, and it can be tough to tell in the plains.
The weather in all of Montana is cold, but the plains have turbulent storms that can come out of nowhere. These plains are why tornado alley gets such high speed winds. Make sure you’re prepared for a storm, just in case.
Southern Parallel Ranges
These mountain ranges are technically a part of the Rocky Mountains, but occupy the southern portion of the state. They include several ranges, including the Gravelly Range, the Madison Range, Gallatin Range, the Absaroka Mountains, and the Beartooth Mountains.
These ranges are all separate, but run parallel to each other. Between many of them you get lush river valleys, while the ranges themselves have some of the highest points in the state. This includes Montana’s tallest peak, Granite Peak, coming in at just under 13,000 feet.
In fact, the country’s largest landmass over 10,000 feet, the Beartooth Plateau, is in these mountain ranges. This region is actually where a portion of the famed Yellowstone National Park lies, making it a great destination for any camper.
From the towering mountains to the lush valleys, this portion of the Rockies is worth considering in its own right. The area has incredibly unique geography that can be great for survivalists and backpacking enthusiasts alike.
Eastern Mountain Ranges
The only major mountain ranges outside of the Rockies are loosely spotted around the rest of the state. While these ranges are pretty small and separated, they can hold adventures in their own right.
These several ranges can offer a variety of terrains to explore, from rugged tundra to desolate mountaintops to lush forests. If you’re looking for something completely new, checking out these mountains can be a great way to shake things up.
These mountains stretch east of the Rockies, but don’t quite go all the way to the border of the state. They primarily occupy the center of Montana, making them pretty easy to access from any direction.
What You Need to Bring
Now that we’ve covered some of the places you can visit in the state, we’re going to go over a few of the essentials you need when you’re out in the wilderness. From tents to sleeping bags to survival hatchets, we’re covering what you need to survive.
Of course, depending on what you want to do in the woods, you’ll need different gear. Someone camping out of their car will have a very different setup from someone carrying everything on their back.
Camping requires you to bring just the basics. Assuming you have the essentials like boots and jackets, you’re going to need a tent and a sleeping bag. Fortunately, if you’re driving in, weight isn’t really a concern.
Depending on how many people are in your group, you’ll probably want a tent that houses 4 people. This option from Coleman is a fantastic way to get an affordable, sturdy tent that can get your whole group inside.
Montana has some incredibly cold nights, so you’ll need a sleeping bag that does the job. This sub-zero sleeping bag will do the trip during the summer. It can cover your face even, making sure that you’re good to 0 degrees Fahrenheit.
You may be chopping wood, too. If you want to make sure that you’re able to easily get your woodwork, check out the Husqvarna Carpenter’s axe. For some powerful lighting, check out this cool Hybeam flashlight here to brightly illuminate your campsite.
If you’re backpacking, you’re going to need to be space efficient. Get a lightweight tent like this option from Featherstone. It’ll easily house you, but it won’t take up too much of your weight capacity.
Replace your Hybeam with the Hybeam Micro. It’s a much more compact option that’s ideal for backpacking. If you need to cut wood, take a look at the Estwing Tomahawk. This incredibly light axe will let you clear brush and prepare firewood.
Montana can get wet, so I would really suggest getting a waterproof lighter. My go to are this Everstryke and the Everstryke pro. They’re both waterproof fire starters, ensuring that you can always get your fire going. Check out how they work here:
Whether you’re going through some wilderness training or you find yourself in a genuine emergency, you’ll need the right gear to live in the woods. Make sure that you have a solid first aid kit that comes with everything you need. In order to get enough water, I would definitely recommend this Aquastiq (my favorite). This water filter let you get clean, natural water from springs and rivers.
Top Camping Spots in Montana
Now that we’ve covered the major regions and the gear you need to bring, let’s talk about some of the best spots to actually camp in Montana. These places are just a handful of excellent spots for outdoor enthusiasts to get away from city life.
Of course, there are thousands of excellent spots with serene lakes, bustling rivers, great fishing, and calming views. These are just a sample of some of the biggest and best places to go if you’ve never been camping in Montana.
From the corner of Yellowstone to the Glacier Park in the far north of the state, all the way to Fort Peck Lake at the east of the Great Plains, these spots are some of the best camping you can find in the state.
Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone is primarily located in Wyoming, but a large portion of it occupies the southwestern corner of Montana. This was the first National Park, established under Theodore Roosevelt, and is one of the most iconic natural playgrounds in the world.
It may seem overdone to include this location on any camping list, but it’s absolutely worth it. Plus, West Yellowstone sees a lot less traffic than the center of the park in Wyoming. From scenic bluffs and valleys to memorable wildlife, this park is a must.
The steep mountains of the Rockies and the vivid wildlife of the park meet in this portion of Yellowstone. You can really get an up-close experience with the wilderness of Montana while also appreciating one of the most iconic parks in the world.
Glacier National Park
Glacier National Park is probably the most well known destination associated with Montana. Its Towering peaks and unbelievable views are why it’s one of the most popular places to camp in the state.
If you’re a fan of camping or backpacking, then Glacier National Park is one of your top destinations. It has all of the views, all of the clean air, and the rewarding feeling of toughing it out in the woods.
This park was formed by glaciers thousands of years ago, and is located in the far north of the state. It’s nested right in the middle of the Rockies, but it’s popular enough to have well maintained roads for easy access.
Holland Lake is one of the lesser known locations on this lake. But it has serene blue waters and an accessible campground that makes it a great vacation spot. It’s a great destination on a longer trip, or can be a great spot for Montana locals to get away to.
The lake is located in those ranges that move out of the Rockies, east of Missoula. It’s relatively easy to get to, so check it out if you’re looking for a quaint, serene spot to relax.
Bighorn Canyon is the most well known location in the Great Plains of Montana. It’s near the southern border of the state, and offers some of the most enticing views and landscapes in all of the plains.
The jagged, steep cliff faces head straight into the the deep green waters, surrounded on all sides by the vast open plains. This surreal imagery is truly memorable, making this destination a great camping spot.
Fort Peck Lake
Just to make sure we’re covering more than one spot in the Great Plains, we’re going to add Fort Peck Lake to this list. This lake is one of the largest still bodies of water in the state, and is in the far north eastern corner of Montana.
This long, massive lake is surrounded by bluffs and plains, making some excellent scenery. You can choose to camp around the lake and fish, or you can drive in for a day trip. The calm blue waters and the fish will be the perfect spot for a relaxing weekend.
Laws and Regulations for Camping and Bushcraft in Montana
Like with other states such as Colorado and California, Montana has a few laws that regulate camping and bushcraft in the state. Depending on where you’re going, you’ll need to make sure that you’re following the rules to prevent any fines.
There are some national forests in the state, which are run by the federal government rather than the state department. Then there are state parks that are run by the government of Montana, so make sure you’re checking which park you’ll be visiting.
Fire permits may be required depending on where you’re staying, so make sure you’re looking at what you need to bring. If you’re doing wood cutting, you can purchase a permit to make sure you can get your own firewood.
Montana also has rules around any use of horses in the state parks. This is because hunters often use pack animals to carry their gear in and out of the wilderness. Any overnight use of horses require a permit from the state.
Glacier Park and Yellowstone are the state’s biggest parks, so they also have special regulation. Any overnight stay in either park will require a Backcountry permit, also available from the state or Montana.
Enjoying the Outdoors of Montana
Montana is one of the least urbanized, wildest states in America. With fewer people than even a small city, the state is one of the largest in America, making it a huge natural playground for outdoor enthusiasts.
If you’ve been looking for a new place to explore, Montana is one of the best states for it. From the massive mountain ranges in the Rockies to the vast Great Plains, there’s something for every outdoorsman here. It’s truly one of the best places you can get your fill of outdoor adventures.
The hunting is great, and the camping is even better. Make sure you’re bringing the right gear to be prepared for this vast, wild state. And make sure that you’re obeying all local laws to help protect the wilderness. Then you can peacefully enjoy the calming serenity that this state has to offer.
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