Camping, Hiking and Traveling in Montana

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Hike Index
H=Hike   C=Camp   V=Visit     S=Ski

Livingston Area
  Elephanthead Mtn. H

Paradise Valley
  S. Fk. Deep Creek H
  Pine Creek H,C
  George Lake H
  Passage Creek Falls H
  Crow Mountain H

Big Timber Area
  Boulder River H,C,V
  Natural Bridge Falls H,C,V
  Big Timber Creek Falls  H,C,V
  West Boulder Meadows H,C
  Twin Lakes  H,C
  Prairie Dog State.Park   V

Bozeman Area
  
Chestnut Mountain H
  Goose Creek H,S
  Mystic Lake H
  Lava Lake H

Central Montana
  Little Belt Mountains H,C,V,S
  Castle Mountains H,C
  Central MT Railroading V
  Cooney Reservoir C,V
  Crystal Lake H,C,V
  Judith Mountains V
  Judith Gap Wind Farm V
  Moccasin Mountains V

The Yellowstone River
  Upper Yellowstone Floating
  Yankee Jim Canyon

Absaroka Beartooth Wilderness
  Anvil Lake H,C
  Beartooth Lake H,C,V
  Beartooth Highway V
  Island Lake H,C,V

Western Montana
  Painted Rocks Rec Area V,C
  Salmon Lake State Park V,C
  Warm Spring Ponds  V


Painted Rocks Recreation Area and State Park


     Painted Rocks Recreation Area and Painted Rocks State Park are located in the Bitterroot Valley south of Missoula, MT. Painted Rocks provides great outdoor recreation opportunities year round but is especially popular as a water recreation site during the summer months. The lake offers great fishing opportunities and is a popular place for water skiing and all other types of boating. On a typical summer day you will find everything from ski boats to foot-powered paddle boats and everyone is having a great time.

     While the Painted Rocks Recreation Area is nestled in the mountains at 4,713 ft., access is quite easy. 17 miles south of Hamilton, MT, Highway 93 intersects with the West Fork Road (Route 473). The recreation area is about 20 miles southeast on this road. The paved road follows the West Fork of the Bitterroot River and makes for a very scenic drive. Painted Rocks Reservoir, the centerpiece of the recreation area, is formed by a dam stretching across the West Fork canyon. As you approach the reservoir on Route 473 the dam becomes quite obvious.
Painted Rocks Reservoir
  Beautiful blue waters and scenic mountain vistas make Painted Rocks Lake a great place to spend some time. Rarely crowded, the lake offers recreation opportunities for all types of boaters and anglers.

     The 565 acre Painted Rocks Reservoir was created in 1939 when the dam was first undertaken. The dam is 143 feet tall and stretches 800 feet and can store up to 45,000 acre-feet of water. Painted Rocks Reservoir is an important water storage facility. Each year the reservoir is filled and water is released all summer to support irrigation, stockwater and to benefit fish & wildlife. The annual filling and draw-down of the reservoir means that the lake level can change a lot depending on the time of year.

     Painted Rocks State Park is operated by Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks as a "primitive" park. The park is open daily on a year-round basis. The park itself is actually rather small. The campground, boat launch area and picnic area take up almost all of the property that is part of the park. However, most of the  surrounding lands are National Forest and there are two additional recreation sites maintained by the Forest Service. Painted Rocks State Park is a fee area. For day use, there is no charge for any Montana resident. However, for non-residents there is a $5.00 fee for day use. All campers are required to pay fees which vary according to campsite type and other factors. Download a Painted Rocks State Park Brochure

     The Little Boulder access is at the north end of the lake. It is paved with a good boat ramp and plenty of parking. There is no camping at the Little Boulder access but there are vault toilets. The Little Boulder access is the most popular access for day use boating. When the lake level is drawn down in late summer, this may be the only boat ramp that reaches water deep enough for a boat launch.

     Midway between Little Boulder and Painted Rocks State Park, the Slate Creek access is split into a developed camping area and the boat launch area. Slate Creek is a major tributary to the reservoir and there is a forest service access road that leads east, away from the lake. The developed camping area is just up this road. There are 7 sites with picnic tables and fire rings. The campground has vault toilets. The boat launch area is reached by a short spur road running down to the lake shore. While there are no developed camping sites here, it is not uncommon to find trailers camping here. There is a vault toilet at this site.

     Fishing is always popular at Painted Rocks. There are six fish species found in the lake, including cutthroat and rainbow trout, as well as the native bull trout. According to Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, the lake receives up to 2,000 angling days per year.
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