Camping in Montana Out in the Coulees
First things first: if you’re gonna make this the best camping trip it can be, you’ve got to leave the RV behind. There is so much to experience Camping in Montana out in the coulees and if you really want to enjoy every little thing, you need to pitch a tent!
I know, I know. We’ve all had soggy, cold, rock-pillow experiences with tents. But you are a grown-up now! You can do this thing right!
So what are the coulees exactly, and why camp in their midst? Coulees are rolling hills that were formed millions of years ago by glacial movement from the Arctic down through Alberta and Montana. They look cool and they are home to all kinds of birds, lizards, deer and other wildlife. To camp out in these hills is to truly feel away from it all, under a giant blanket of vivid stars every night. In the summer months you can enjoy the heat during the day and bundle up cozily for the cool nights. Camping is one of the few ways left to modern man to really connect with nature, and when you are properly prepared for a weekend or even a week-long trip, it can refresh your soul and wash your work-a-day worries away.
Here’s what you need: Some friends, some food, a cooler, cooking pots, dishes and utensils, tents, tarps, water, a lighter, knives, toilet paper, soap and bug spray. A hatchet is also a useful tool to have around for gathering firewood. Before you head out to the hills, so a little pre-planning to make sure you have everything you need and you aren’t heading out for a weekend of hail and thunderstorms. Check the weather forecast, and confirm how long you will be out in the wilderness so that you can plan your meals.
Cooking over a fire can be one of the most enjoyable experiences anyone will ever have, especially when you have started the fire yourself. In the cool mornings, the smell of food and fresh air will wake up the heaviest sleepers, and in the evenings the crackle of the fire in the calm, darkening sky triggers an ancient feeling of satisfaction right down in your bones that clears out the foggiest and most troubled of minds.
During the day, strap on your backpacks for some good old-fashioned hiking…with digital cameras, of course. The natural hills and valleys of the coulees provide shelter and protection from prey for dozens of species of birds and herd animals. If you are quiet, you could see mule deer, whitetail deer, grouse, Canada geese, partridge, pheasants, snipes and even several species of ducks if you are near the water. If you are really lucky, you could spot an elk or bighorned sheep. Stay camera-ready! You can also get some fun pictures of your friends scrounging for firewood or searching for edibles among the tiny cacti and brush.
Edibles, you say? Yes! Montana actually has a natural abundance of edible plants that will probably surprise you. During camping trips in the spring and summer, you should be able to find wild blueberries, raspberries, strawberries and saskatoons. All of these are perfectly delicious and abundant if you are patient enough to find them. You might also be able to find some apples or pears among the more heavily treed areas, and other vegetables among the low-lying scrub. For the competitive camper, challenge your friends to scavenge some wild plants and berries and see who can prepare the most appetizing plate of food for dinner. Bring a field guide with you to make sure everything on the plate is genuinely edible 😉
At the end of the day when you are tired from the heat and exertion and your bellies are full, you can sit back beside the fire and watch it get dark as the cool night draws in and lulls you all to sleep. That’s camping done right!
Photo Courtesy of Bill Ward