Car campers in Montana have lots of choices for where to spend the night. There are many different types of campsites in Montana and public and private campgrounds are found throughout the state. In some places there are camping opportunities outside of designated campgrounds. However, most people find the wide range of developed campgrounds easily fills their needs.
Private campgrounds are found all across Montana and they come in all shapes and sizes. They range from large modern facilities with full showers, laundry and other facilities to small campgrounds with just a site or two tucked in to a scenic spot. Most are located near roads for convenience and to attract attention
Most private campgrounds in Montana cater primarily to RVs and trailers. Although they have tent camping areas, tents are usually an afterthought and the car camping areas are often lacking in any form of natural ambiance. There are exceptions and some are excellent for car campers so be sure to check all your options.
Many private campgrounds have shower facilities which they will allow you to use for a fee. These are a great place to clean up when you’ve been camping without facilities. Be sure to check in with the campground operator and pay the shower fee.
Private campgrounds in Montana are operated to produce a profit and their camping fees are established by the owners. The State of Montana maintains a good searchable database of Lodging in Montana which will allow you to easily search for a private campground.
Most car campers will spend part, if not most, of their time in public campgrounds. Public campgrounds in Montana are operated by a number of different agencies. The US Forest Service (USFS), US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Bureau of Reclamation, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks and others all operate campgrounds in the state.
Public campgrounds in Montana range from primitive to deluxe and from tiny to huge. Almost every identified public campground will have designated campsites with picnic tables and established fire areas. They will have rest room facilities of some sort – usually outhouses. Many, if not most, will have water available but don’t assume this without checking first.
Public campgrounds are generally located in areas that offer great outdoor recreation opportunities. Fishing areas, trail heads, scenically significant and other unique places are often found near public campgrounds in Montana. Some can be used as a base for exploring surrounding areas while others offer direct access to recreation. Some public campgrounds in Montana are rather remote so make sure you understand the roads you will drive before you head to any site.
There is almost always a nightly camping fee charged at public campgrounds. At some campgrounds there will be a host or a patrol individual who will collect the fees while at others you need to self register and pay at a kiosk. Some public campgrounds are operated by private companies under contract to the agency. Fees at public campgrounds are generally much lower than at private campgrounds. The State of Montana maintains an Internet index of Lodging in Montana which allows you to easily search for campgrounds.
There are many places in Montana where it is possible to have a great car camping experience without using a developed campground. Unless otherwise designated, all undeveloped federal lands are open for free “dispersed camping”. This means that there are millions of acres of land open for campers.
These BLM and US Forest Service lands are scattered across the state so you always need good maps. In many places the federal lands are mixed in with private property. It is always your responsibility to know where you are! Consider a DeLorme Montana Atlas which is best for most public land explorers. Don’t just count on your phone!
Before you go camping in any particular area make sure you are aware of any local restrictions. Although the federal lands are generally open for camping there are many local exceptions so be sure to know camping is allowed before you set up camp!
While vast areas of land are open to camping, it is often difficult to find a great undeveloped campsite. One of the biggest problems is the rough terrain that is found in many wild areas. The road systems are often narrow with few spur roads or appropriate camping spots. However, in many other areas you will find delightful campsites that have been well used by many others. It’s common to find established fire rings in these sites but there are no other services – no picnic tables, no water and no outhouses. Of course, you will need to change the way you are camping in these areas to learn more read our suggestions for camping in undeveloped sites.