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Camping & Campgrounds Gardiner, Paradise Valley, Livingston

Dailey Lake – Fishing, Boating, Camping

Dailey Lake is a 205-acre natural lake that sits on a bench above the Yellowstone River in Paradise Valley near Emigrant, MT. The lake is popular with boaters and anglers. It has two boat ramps, a dock, an accessible fishing station, and 17 campsites. Daily Lake sits in the open with spectacular views of Emigrant Mountain.

Directions to Dailey Lake

The road to Dailey Lake is reached from the East River Road (MT Hwy 540) which runs along the east side of the Yellowstone River through Paradise Valley. To get to Dailey Lake from Livingston take US 89 to Emigrant and turn left. Follow the road for about a mile across the Yellowstone River to the stop sign and intersection with Hwy 540 at the top of the hill. Turn right and continue on for nearly 3 1/2 miles to the Dailey Lake Road.

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From Gardiner or Yellowstone Park, the best route is to take US 89 south from Gardiner for 19.5 miles to the East River Road (MT 540) which branches off to the right heading north. Take 540 for 8 miles to the Dailey Lake Road.

Entrance area for Dailey Lake near Emigrant, MT in Paradise Valley

The Dailey Lake road is well signed and well used. Turn toward the mountains and continue for about 6 miles until you reach the lake. The road splits where it reaches the lake. The right fork leads into the campground and most of the developments. The left fork continues along the eastern shoreline heading to a boat launching area and on to the accessible fishing dock.

Dailey Lake Fishing

Dailey Lake has excellent fishing for walleye, yellow perch, Yellowstone cutthroat trout, and rainbow trout. The yellow perch are self-sustaining but the walleye and rainbow depend on annual stocking to support the fishery. Anglers fish the lake year-round and it is a sometimes popular destination for ice fishing in the winter.

While it may seem like a reservoir, Dailey Lake is a natural lake. It’s about 205 acres in size and is shaped almost like a bowl. The maximum depth is less than 24 ft and the lake mostly has a mud bottom. There is a lot of emersed vegetation growing in the south end of the lake. Some anglers like to “fish the weeds” while others prefer the open lake.

Historically the lake was managed for perch and rainbow trout. Unfortunately, the perch would reproduce so quickly that they would develop stunted populations where thousands of very small fish would consume all of the food in the lake. In an effort to control the perch numbers, walleye were introduced in the late 1970s.

a well maintained concrete trail leadaing to the accessible fishing dock
On the southeast shoreline, there is a wheelchair-accessible fishing dock with an excellent concrete pathway leading to it. There is a single campsite that shares the parking area.

At the time, some local anglers were sure the lake would produce large walleye. While the lake does produce a few large fish, it has never been highly productive for walleye. Enough walleye are present to provide a fishery and to control the perch populations. Yellowstone cutthroat trout were first stocked in 2008 and they are now stocked annually.

It seems that the fishery managers have found a good balance in the lake as the most recent survey shows the lengths for the fish present are:

SpeciesAverage LengthMax Length
Walleye13 3/4 inches27 inches
Rainbow trout15 inches26 inches
Cutthroat trout 9 inches20 inches
Yellow perch 8 inches18 inches
Obviously, there are some large fish in Dailey Lake.

Bait, lure, and fly fishing are all popular at Dailey Lake. Most anglers use boats but fishing from shore can be very productive as well. The wind can be an issue as sometimes it is too windy to fish.

Sailboarding at Daily Lake

The winds that Dailey Lake is known for cause problems for boaters but are very welcome by sailboarders. The lake is a popular destination for local boarders. While the small size of the lake necessitates making regular turns, the wind and waves can create excellent conditions.

As windsurfing grew as a sport in the 80s and 90s Dailey Lake’s popularity grew with it. At the peak, it was not uncommon to have 30 – 50 people on the lake. However, the sport has waned in popularity in recent years and there is rarely a crowd these days.

A factor that affects sailboarders, water skiers, and swimmers is the presence of a parasite that causes “Swimmer’s Itch”. Usually, by mid-summer, there are reports of the problem and many avoid the lake because of this. Learn more by reading the CDC information on Swimmer’s Itch

Camping at Dailey Lake

Dailey Lake Campground
SeasonYear-round
Number of sites17 campsites
2021 camping Fee$5.00 – $18.00
ReservationsNo
AmenitiesVault Toilets, Picnic tables, Fire rings
AccessibleYes
FirewoodNo
AttractionsLake fishing, boating, nearby hiking, scenic views
Nearest CityEmigrant, MT – 10 miles

Campsite Information

There are 17 campsites at Dailey Lake and all are available on a first-come, first-served basis. There are no reservations! The campsites are rather sparse with a table and fire ring in each site. There are vault toilets but no water or trash removal.

15 of the campsites are located along the northern edge of the lake. The sites are spread along two bays and the short point that separates them. When the campground is full there is not much privacy in these sites. The other two sites are along the eastern shoreline. They are both single sites located between the lake and the road. The southernmost site shares space with the handicap-accessible fishing station.

photo of row of campsites along the Dailey Lake shoreline
This row of campsites sits on the lakeshore in the northwestern bay. The sites are bare and close together but the lake access and views are excellent. Emigrant mountain highlights the views to the east.

If you are unable to find a campsite at Dailey Lake you might try driving the road past the lake. You will pass through a gate and enter the Dome Mountain Wildlife Management Area (WMA). There are places where you can set up a dispersed camp both along the road and off a spur road leading right just after entering the WMA.

Fees and Payments

There is a nightly camping fee that must be paid on-site. There is no option for credit card payment – cash only! Come with cash – the nearest ATM is a long way away.

Physical Environment

Dailey Lake sits on a bench above the Yellowstone River. It is a natural lake but many assume it’s a reservoir. There are a few cottonwood trees scattered around the lake but it is mostly bare ground. It can be blisteringly hot here in the summer months.

The most notable physical feature is the wind. While many summer days find the lake smooth and calm, Dailey is known for its ferocious winds. Winds of 50 – 80 MPH are most common in the fall and winter but can hit any time. Although it is not a long lake, it’s common to find tall waves breaking on the shores. The prevailing wind direction is from the south/southwest so the brunt of the wind directly hits the main camping areas.

Although the sites are very close together, this is a quiet and relaxing campground right on the river bank. The Yellowstone is a majestic river and camping here is a treat.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is there a fee to use the Dailey Lake Access?

There is no fee for day use of Dailey Lake. However, overnight campers do have to pay a camping fee.

Is waterskiing allowed at Dailey Lake?

Yes, the lake is open to all types of motorized boating. However, at 205 acres, waterskiing at Dailey requires a lot of turning.

What fish are in Dailey Lake?

Dailey Lake produces good catches of rainbow trout, walleye, yellow perch, and Yellowstone cutthroat trout.