10 Amazing Camping Locations Around Billings and Red Lodge
The Red Lodge, Montana area has some very choice camping spots whether you are new to camping, or just easing yourself into it. Before you go, you should ask yourself a couple questions. First, what do you want out of this excursion? Do you want to fish? Cook over an open fire? You need to do some research so you don’t end up disappointed. Many camping areas do not allow for a fire pit in this extreme fire season and some camp spots, although pretty, may not have access to fishing. One thing is for sure you will never forget camping around Billings and Red Lodge Montana!
Secondly, how far are you willing to hike to get there? Again, this must be researched pretty thoroughly so you don’t end up with crying kids and sore feet from being unprepared. Believe me, I’ve been there and done that enough to understand that a fun spontaneous camping trip may turn into a bitter argument with your significant other when not planned out properly. That being said, camping is the best way to get back to nature after being cooped up all winter at a desk job. Big Sky Country is absolutely supreme for seeing the stars at night and beautiful trails during the day. This list of great camping spots near the Red Lodge area will include mostly easy to access areas within a relatively close distance of the city. This list should benefit those of you who are coming through the area looking for a fun and cheap place to stay as well as Magic City locals just looking for weekend camping getaway. Please read the caution at the end of the article if you are considering camping at any of these campgrounds.
Greenough Lake Campground
Located 11 miles from Red Lodge in Custer National Forest, this beautiful lake prohibits motors so you can cast for your rainbow trout in peace. An easy quarter mile of a hike gets you from your campground to the lake following a well traversed trail. If you planned on driving the Beartooth Scenic Highway (which I highly recommend everyone does) this is a great camping location with easy access to where you need to go. The campsite is located along the main fork of Rock Creek and lay’s within beautiful distance of the Beartooth Mountain Range. You will also have plenty of shade under the alpine firs.
This campground, which is located just a few miles outside of Red Lodge in Custer National Forest, offers 6 tent sites and port-a-potty style facilities. The most exciting aspect of Palisades campground is that they are breaking ground on a new trail that will connect the Palisades Campground with federally owned land (Fox Lane) to create a route that will be fit for mountain bikers, hikers and horseback riders. The trail is described as a 7.7 mile city-to-mountain loop. Palisades is located along Willow Creek and just below Ski Run Road which accesses Red Lodge Ski Area.
Limber Pine Campground
Limber Pine is located ½ mile from Greenough Lake and is also very close to Glacier Lake, Hellroaring and Lake Fork trailheads. The campground offers a choice of campsite either near Rock Creek or overlooking a beautiful meadow. Either site will offer plenty of shade and a gorgeous view of the Beartooth mountain Range. There are also 13 picnic tables and grills available for campers but only 3 tent sites. Of course, there are no full bathrooms here but there are port-a-potties available. This campground is only .1 mile from Parkside Recreational Trail as well.
Parkside Campground offers camping on two loops, one which overlooks the main fork of Rock Creek. The site offers plenty of tent camping as well as RVs, with enough picnic tables and grills on site to accommodate all of them. Rock Creek is stocked with rainbow trout for those who love to fly fish. This site also offers convenient access to the Beartooth Scenic Byway and Beartooth Pass as well as plenty of other hiking trails nearby. Parkside also offers a handicap accessible toilet on the upper loop many of the other campsites do not.
Pine Grove Campground
Pine Grove is within Custer National Forest but located about an hour’s drive along Rosebud Rd. from Red Lodge. There are four entrances to the campground and the first entrance is for those of you who are tent camping. It is located on both banks of West Rosebud Creek and gives you a chance to drive into Fishtail, Montana to do a little exploring. There is no real hiking around this campground as far as trails go, but there is stocked rainbow trout in Rosebud Creek to give you some angling practice.
Located along the fast-running West Fork of Rock Creek, Cascade campground is also very near plenty of mountain biking trails such as Ingles Creek Trail and a variety of loop trails at Silver Run. Rock Creek provides great fly-fishing for rainbows and brown trout while Wild Bill Lake is also nearby and drivable. If you have a family, I would recommend making the short trip to Wild Bill Lake to walk the ½ mile loop that is easy enough for everyone. Cascade offers campfire rings, grills, and of course drinking water and toilets. Cascade is only 11 miles from Red Lodge and offers an easy and beautiful camping trip for a family.
Jimmy Joe Campground
Apart from the fact that I just love the name of this campground, it is a convenient area to see some wildlife and native plants. Jimmy Joe campground is 20 miles outside of Red Lodge heading northwest. This is a pack it in- pack it out campground that offers restrooms. I like Jimmy Joe Campground because it is considered a prime viewing area for the wildflowers and butterflies of the region. Look for “kinnikinnick” which has green shiny leaves and blooms early May and June according to USFS. Jimmy Joe Campground is located about 5 miles before Beaver Pond that is worth checking out due to some nesting Cooper’s hawks spotted to be near that area.
Emerald Lake Campground
About an hour from Red Lodge and only a few miles outside of Fishtail Montana, Emerald Lake Campground is located above beautiful Emerald Lake in the Beartooth Mountain Range. No motorized boating is allowed in the lake which makes for a peaceful fishing experience. The trail to Mystic Lake is very nearby is you are looking for a nice hike to take. Emerald Lake Campground has 32 spots and also provides handicapped accessible bathrooms, picnic tables, and drinkable water. This is a pack it in-pack it out campground.
Soda Butte Campground
A little bit longer of a trip can take you to the Gallatin National Forest right outside Cooke City, Montana and near Yellowstone National Park. Gallatin National Forest is part of the greater Yellowstone area, the largest intact ecosystem in the continental United States. This area is home to grizzlies, wolves, bald eagles, and Canada lynx along with many other native plants and animals. Soda Butte Campground offers 10 acres with 21 campsites equipped with restrooms and drinking water.
Chief Joseph Group Campground
Also located close to Cooke City, Montana, this group campground offers a much wider variety of amenities and makes tenting a little less outdoorsy and a little more convenient for those who prefer to have a shower. This campground is located only 4 miles outside of Cooke City but still within the Gallatin National Forest. Groceries, showers, and food services are only 5 miles away from the campsite. Hiking trails are accessible from the site while also providing convenience like trash services, fire rings, and a playground.
Grizzly Bears and black bears are present across most of the Custer and Gallatin National Forests and frequent the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness.
Every district on the Gallatin National Forest and the Beartooth District on the Custer National Forest have food storage orders. Prior to heading on a backcountry trek one should know and understand these regulations. Specific precautions are needed for your safety while in Grizzly Bear country and for continued survival of the Grizzly Bear.
Photo Courtesy of Nate Bolt