Big Sky Country. The Treasure State. The Last Best Place. Each one of these nicknames reveals a truth about Montana that draws people into its borders each and every year to experience some of the best outdoor recreation available in the lower 48 of the United States.
Montana is enormous at 147,040 square miles. Of that, about 29% of it is public land that can potentially be camped on. That’s a lot of land to cover to find a camping spot! Plus, Montana is a pretty diverse state when it comes to climate and geography. Hot, expansive plains on the east give way to cold, jagged mountain peaks in the west. The diversity in climate and access to public land makes Montana one of the best places to go tent camping!
If you’re planning to visit the Treasure State for some outdoor fun, but need help figuring out where to go, you’ve come to the right spot. By the end of this guide, you’ll know everything you need to know to get started on your Montana tent camping adventure. Let’s get started!
Where Can You Tent Camp in Montana?
The two main public land managers in Montana that take care of the 26,921,861 acres of public land are the US Forest Service (USFS) and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). While there are a couple of National Parks that fall under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service, the vast majority of the camping opportunities you’ll find in Montana will be on USFS or BLM land.
There are a few designated campgrounds in USFS and BLM land throughout Montana, however, the most widely available camping you’ll find will be dispersed camping. Unless it’s been posted by the local field office, dispersed camping is allowed practically everywhere in USFS and BLM lands in Montana.
Keep in mind that when you do camp in either USFS or BLM land that there are different regulations when it comes to the length of stay of your trip. For both, the limit is about 14 days in a 30-day period. After you’ve stayed in one spot for 14 days, you’ll need to move your camp to another area to avoid getting cited with a fine. The distance you need to move varies based on the regulations of the land management agency that’s in charge of where you plan on camping, so it’s best to check in with the local ranger station to get the most accurate information on the length of stay rules.
Due to the amount of wild public lands that are available to camp on in Montana, it’s important that you practice “leave no trace” principles. This is due in large part to the fact that many of the camping opportunities you’ll find in Montana will not have dumpsters or toilets to deal with your waste when camping. Keep the following in mind to ensure you enjoy your trip responsibly:
Plan ahead and prepare by knowing the regulations and special considerations for the area you’re visiting.
Travel and camp on durable surfaces.
Pick out any trash you create and bury your waste.
Leave what you find in the forests (unless you have a permit to remove certain forest products).
Minimize campfire impacts by only building them in established campfire rings. Ensure that your fire is completely out before abandoning it.
Be considerate of other visitors.
How to Find Campsites in Montana
The best possible thing you can do when planning your trip is to look up the regulations of the area that you plan on camping in prior to your trip to ensure that you stay within the rules and regulations of the forest where you plan to camp. You’ll find those rules and regulations on the best place to find places to tent camp in Montana by visiting the website of the national forest or BLM site you plan on visiting. In total, there are 11 national forests to choose from to tent camp in. They include:
- Beaverhead National Forest
- Bitterroot National Forest
- Custer National Forest
- Deerlodge National Forest
- Flathead National Forest
- Gallatin National Forest
- Helena National Forest
- Kaniksu National Forest
- Kootenai National Forest
- Lewis and Clark National Forest
- Lolo National Forest
In addition to visiting the national forest websites linked above, you can also use these apps to help you locate campsites around Montana:
- The Dyrt
Keep in mind that these apps will help you find campsites in Montana, but you still need to be sure to check with the National Forest or BLM office that manages the area you plan to camp in to be aware of the rules and regulations.
One of the things that many people don’t realize when they go tent camping in Montana is that they are going to be dealing with a much larger wildlife population than elsewhere in the lower 48. The population density compared to the total land mass of Montana makes it a great place for wildlife to flourish because there isn’t as much pressure from humans to disturb their natural habitats.
While seeing wildlife is incredibly exciting and rewarding, you need to be smart about how you interact with the animals as well as how you manage your own camp. Montana is home to several species of large predators, some of which include:
- Grizzly bears
- Black bears
- Mountain lions
Keeping your camp clean with food securely stored away from where you’re sleeping will limit the potential encounters you’ll have with these predators as the scent from your food won’t draw them toward you.
Alrighty! We’ve covered a lot, so let’s recap. Tent camping abounds all throughout the state of Montana in USFS and BLM-managed areas. The best way to ensure that you can find a spot and camp within the regulations of the forest is to visit the forest’s website first and to get in contact with the local ranger station. And be sure to be conscientious about how you set up your camp and where you store your food to limit negative interactions with the major predators that call Montana home.