Home Camping Tips Camping in Montana: Beginner Tips & Guide
Camping in Montana: Beginner Tips & Guide

5 min

September 8, 2023

  • Meta Description: First time camping in Montana? Discover the best Montana camping tips in our ultimate guide. 

So, you’ve decided to answer Montana’s wild, starry-eyed call and pitch a tent under its expansive skies? Bravo! 

But if the sheer thought of it makes you go, ‘Bear with me, I’m a newbie!’ – fear not! This guide for 2023 is here to ensure your Montana camping escapade feels less like a wild bear chase and more like a delightful dance under the big sky. 

Let’s dive in!

Understanding Montana’s Seasons: When to Camp

What is the best time for camping in Montana? While this depends largely on individual preferences, late spring to early fall offers the ideal window. During these months, weather conditions are milder, trails are more accessible, and wildlife is active.

Here’s a basic breakdown of what you can expect during each season: 

Camping in Summer

Montana’s summer draws hikers and campers with its inviting warm days, boasting temperatures between 70-80°F, sometimes even touching the 90s. However, the evenings contrast sharply, often chilling to the 40s. Hence, packing a light jacket is essential. 

Due to its allure, summer sees a surge in visitors. To secure a prime spot, book campsites early or seek out lesser-known locations for peace. Also, packing mosquito repellent is a must, given Montana’s buzzing summer evenings.

Camping in Fall

Montana’s fall offers a stunning display with foliage turning vibrant hues of red, orange, and yellow. Larch trees especially stand out during this season. 

Temperatures during September and October hover between 50-70°F, gradually decreasing. With fewer visitors, fall promises tranquility. For those keen on wildlife, this season provides an added attraction – the elk rutting season of Montana

Camping in Winter

The cold can be intense, plunging well below freezing, with trails covered in snow and ice. To ensure a successful winter camping trip, it’s essential to be equipped with gear tailored for extreme cold, including a four-season tent, a sub-zero sleeping bag, and insulated pads.

Camping in Spring

As Montana shakes off its winter cloak, spring emerges with a blend of melting snow, burgeoning wildflowers, and reinvigorated wildlife. The landscape is painted with blossoms, from the vibrant hues of Indian paintbrushes to the gentle colors of wild sunflowers. 

However, campers should note that melting snow might render some trails, especially those at higher altitudes, muddy or temporarily impassable.

Selecting Your Campsite in Montana: How to Pick the Best Camping Spot?

Let us now dissect the Treasure State’s camping treasure trove. 

National Parks: The Crown Jewels

  • Glacier National Park: Often called the “Crown of the Continent,” Glacier isn’t just another national park; it’s a rite of passage for campers. With over a million acres, it houses over 700 miles of trails. But here’s the kicker: its campgrounds get packed faster than a bear snatching up salmon! Many Glacier and Fish Creek fill up the quickest, so for a spot, be early or try Rising Sun.
  • Yellowstone National Park: This legendary park extends beyond Montana into Wyoming and Idaho, but let’s face it, Montana’s slice of the pie is the most savory. For campers, Pebble Creek offers a less-crowded feel, but for amenities and reservations, Grant Village is your pick. Just remember, this park is a wild one. That means following food storage rules to a T and keeping an eye out for the local bison!

State Parks: Montana’s Underrated Stars

While national parks often steal the limelight, Montana’s state parks are no less either! 

  • Flathead Lake State Park: Wild Horse Island is perfect for spotting wild horses, bighorn sheep, and even the occasional bald eagle. Just be sure to book a boat ride, unless you fancy swimming with your backpack!
  • Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park: Want to camp above a labyrinth of spectacular limestone caverns? Of course, you do! It’s not just about the caverns; the trails here offer panoramic views of the surrounding mountains and valleys.

Finding the Perfect Spot

Montana’s vast wilderness areas are filled with opportunities. From the Bob Marshall Wilderness to the Gallatin National Forest, options are plenty. To find the best fit, research online, ask around in local camping forums, or swing by a Forest Service office. They have maps and brains full of wisdom!

Here’s what you can expect when visiting: Think pristine alpine lakes, sightings of elusive lynx, and, yes, some challenging terrains. Essentials include a reliable map, bear-proof canisters (those furry fellas love a snack), and the tenacity of a mountain goat.

Tips for Choosing the Perfect Campsite

Here are some tips for picking out the perfect campsite in Montana: 


Montana is the stuff of camping legends, with terrains ranging from dense forests and high mountain passes to pristine lakesides and open meadows. 

  • Forests: Ideal for shade and protection against wind, but be wary of dead trees or branches.
  • Mountain Views: Nothing beats waking up to a Montana sunrise over a mountain range, but such spots can get windy.
  • Lakeside: Provides water access and picturesque views but can attract more wildlife and bugs.


Not all campsites are created equal when it comes to getting there. Ask yourself:

  • Do you prefer a site you can drive right up to, or are you looking for something more remote requiring a hike-in?
  • How far are you willing to travel from main roads or attractions?
  • Is your vehicle equipped for rugged terrains if the campsite demands it?

Montana Camping Essentials: The Ultimate Packing Checklist

As a seasoned camper in Montana, one thing’s for sure: packing right can make or break your experience. Here’s a specialized checklist, forged from countless Montana nights under the stars:

  • Four-season tent, because Montana’s weather can be unpredictable. Opt for versatility.
  • Sleeping bag rated for varying temperatures. A 20°F bag should do for most of the year, but winters demand sub-zero ratings.
  • Insulated sleeping pad because the cold ground can be a real joy-killer.
  • In spring, carry waterproof boots (melting snow means mud) and bear spray (they’re waking up from hibernation!).
  • During summers, light clothing for daytime, layers for cooler nights, and bug nets or repellents are ideal. 
  • For fall, take warm layers and possibly a heavier sleeping bag. Don’t forget binoculars for wildlife spotting.
  • Winter season calls for snow stakes for your tent, snowshoes if you’re feeling adventurous, and thermals.

Leave No Trace Principles and Equipment

  • Camp at least 200 feet away from lakes and streams. You need to protect these fragile ecosystems.
  • Carry a portable towel for when nature calls, and you’re not near a restroom. Bury human waste 6-8 inches deep.
  • Bear-resistant food containers: Montana’s black and grizzly bears have excellent noses. Store food, toiletries, and trash properly.
  • Also, be sure to carry packageable trash bags. Whatever you bring in, take out. Montana’s beauty is in its pristine nature, let’s keep it that way.
  • When it comes to cookware, a portable water filter, camp stove, and lightweight cookware will be enough.
  • You can also carry a compass and topographical maps of the area if you are new. 
  • Other essentials include bear spray and a comprehensive first-aid kit. 

Making the Most of Your Montana Camping Experience

Whether you’re looking for scenic beauty, a tantalizing bite, or the rhythm of local celebrations, Montana has it all. Here are some more things you can enjoy: 

  • The C.M. Russell Museum: Located in Great Falls, this museum celebrates the life and artwork of cowboy artist Charles M. Russell.
  • Big Sky Resort: A paradise for skiers and snowboarders, it’s not just a winter destination. Summer offers zip
  •  lines, trekking routes, and mountain biking.
  • Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument: This site commemorates the battle between the US Army’s 7th Cavalry and the Sioux and Cheyenne Indians.
  • Bannack State Park: A well-preserved ghost town that gives visitors a glimpse into Montana’s Gold Rush era.

Local Montana Dishes to Savor

  • Huckleberries: Montana’s prized fruit. Try them fresh, or in pies, jams, and even ice creams.
  • Pasties: Brought to Montana by Cornish miners, these meat-and-vegetable-filled pastries are a hearty meal on the go.
  • Elk and Bison: Often served as steaks or in burgers, these game meats are flavorful and leaner alternatives to beef.
  • Rainbow Trout: Whether grilled, smoked, or pan-fried, this freshwater fish is a Montana staple.
  • Saskatoon Berries: Used in pies, jams, and syrups, these berries are both sweet and nutritious.
  • Chokecherries: Although tart when raw, they’re transformed into delicious jellies, syrups, and desserts.

Seasonal Events & Festivals

Here are some popular events and festivals sorted by seasonal order (Winter, Spring, Summer, and Fall): 

  • Whitefish Winter Carnival: Held in February, it’s a celebration of winter complete with parades, penguin plunges, and snowy floats.
  • Big Sky Documentary Film Festival (Missoula): If you fancy a mix of cinema and snow, this is your event.
  • Missoula’s International Wildlife Film Festival: Held annually in April, it’s the premier event for wildlife filmmakers.
  • Buttercup Run (Arlee): A charity event held every April that features runs of varying distances, from a fun run to a half marathon.
  • Montana Folk Festival (Butte): A free outdoor multi-stage event in July, showcasing musicians, artists, and cultural traditions from across the world.
  • Crow Fair (Crow Agency): Taking place in August, it’s one of North America’s largest powwows and a vibrant display of Native American culture.
  • Sweet Pea Festival (Bozeman): A celebration of arts with music, theater, dance, and a parade held in August.
  • Tumbleweed Film Festival (Glendive): September sees indie filmmakers showcasing their work in this unique setting.
  • Great Northwest Oktoberfest (Whitefish): Don your lederhosen and enjoy a traditional German celebration in late September to early October.


  • Rodeos: Montana rodeos are a riveting spectacle of cowboy and cowgirl skills, from bull riding to barrel racing. Towns like Miles City and Wolf Point host some of the biggest and best rodeos in the state.
  • Fly Fishing: Montana’s rivers, especially the famous Gallatin, Madison, and Big Hole, are renowned worldwide for fly fishing. Whether you’re an expert or a novice, casting a line in these waters with the mountains as your backdrop is an experience of a lifetime.

Local Artisan and Craft Spots

From Bozeman to Missoula, Montana is home to a vibrant community of artisans. Seek out local markets or co-ops where you can discover handcrafted jewelry, pottery, textiles, and more. 

One standout is the Archie Bray Foundation in Helena, a historic pottery center that attracts ceramic artists from all over the globe. 

Additionally, Montana’s craft brewery scene is booming—explore local brewpubs and taprooms to sample unique, locally-brewed beers, and maybe even strike up a conversation with the brewmaster themselves.

Montana-Specific Camping Rules and Regulations

When planning a camping trip to Montana, it’s crucial to be aware of specific rules and regulations to ensure you have a safe and respectful experience in this vast wilderness.

  • Montana boasts a myriad of public lands, each governed by different agencies, and each with its unique set of regulations. Whether you’re pitching your tent on Bureau of Land Management lands, national forests, or in one of Montana’s picturesque state parks, it’s essential to check if a permit is required. 
  • Most popular campgrounds, especially in high season, may require reservations, which can be made online or at local ranger stations. Montana’s campgrounds and backcountry sites often have length-of-stay limitations, usually around 14 days. However, during peak seasons, this might be reduced at popular locations. 
  • Embrace the “Leave No Trace” principles—pack out everything you pack in, and always give wildlife a generous berth for both their safety and yours.


There’s a magic in Montana’s expansive skies, rugged peaks, and serene waters that’s hard to articulate but impossible to ignore. Camping in the Treasure State isn’t just about setting up a tent; it’s about forging a deeper connection with the untouched beauty of nature. 

In Montana, every road leads to a new adventure, a new story, and an authentic experience. Dive in, mingle with the locals, and let the spirit of Montana captivate your heart.

Here’s to campfires under starlit skies, stories shared, and unparalleled joy. Happy camping!

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