Camping is one of Bozeman’s favorite past times. For some, this means loading up the fifth wheel with all the luxuries of home and heading to the nearest campground with full hook-ups. For others, it might be packing the bare essentials in a backpack and hiking miles into the backcountry. Whatever your version of camping is, we strongly encourage it! Getting away from everyday life, disconnecting, and being in nature is a highlight to summer. This guide will help you find the best camping spots in and around Bozeman.
Campground Camping is one of the most popular ways people get out to the mountains. Throughout the Gallatin National Forest Service are designated campgrounds. Most of these have hook-ups, water available, outhouses, fire-pits, trash removal, and picnic tables. Several of them can be reserved online, months in advance with a few spots saved for a first come first serve basis.
Arguably the most popular place to camp near Bozeman. Sadly, gone are the days of being able to pop up to Hyalite on any given Saturday and easily find a camp spot. Now, you really do have to reserve online if you are looking for a summer weekend. Unless you are really lucky, then once in a while you can snag one of the first come first serve spots. There are three campgrounds in Hyalite. Langhor is the first one you come upon and it has 19 sites with the creek flowing along the campground. Hood Creek is on Hyalite Reservoir and has 25 sites, 1 large group site, and 3 picnic areas. Last is Chisolm, also on the Reservoir with 10 sites.
North of town is Battle Ridge Campground in the Bridgers. There are 13 campsites and one group picnic area. There are fire rings, outhouses, and drinking water, but no trash removal. Fairy Lake Campground is another popular one in the Bridgers. There are 9 campsites and there is drinking water. This is a fun one to camp at because it sits at the trailhead to Sacajawea Peak so you can get a good hike in! Both of these campgrounds in the Bridgers are on a first come first serve basis so you can’t reserve a spot. With their close proximity to Bozeman, they fill up fast on summer weekends. Just keep in mind the gate to Fairy Lake doesn't open until the end of June, so save this one for later in the summer.
The Paradise Valley along the Yellowstone River offers some of the most beautiful camping in all of Montana! Pine Creek campground is a great place to set up camp and then head for a hike up to Pine Creek Falls or Pine Creek Lake if you’re feeling extra ambitious! There are 28 campsites plus a group camping area and a few day-use areas. There is drinking water, trash removal, and vault toilets. Near this campground is the Paradise Valley KOA right along the Yellowstone River. They have cabins and sites for RV’s and tents. It’s a very tranquil campground with large trees and if the weather is bad you can still have fun by taking a swim in their indoor heated pool. This place definitely feels a bit more like glamping with Wi-Fi, a pavilion, bike rentals, and other amenities. Along the Yellowstone River in the Paradise Valley are a few campgrounds to choose from, but they fill up quickly on summer weekends.
There are several campground options between Bozeman and Big Sky in the Gallatin Canyon. If you are driving from Bozeman, the first campground you come to is Spire Rock. They have 19 sites and trash removal, but no water. Swan Creek Campground is next, just 30 miles from Bozeman. There are 10 campsites at Swan Creek, trash removal, and outhouses. Red Cliff is a popular campground and also one of the biggest. There are 65 sites, picnic areas, an outhouse, and water available. There are two other small campgrounds up the canyon, Moose Creek Flat, and Greek Creek. Both have outhouses and trash removal.
Forest Service cabins are a fun camping option. There are several recreation cabins in the forest service you can reserve. Some you can drive right up to and some you have to hike. They vary with what they offer, some with electricity or electric stoves for cooking. Most are very primitive as these cabins were built in the 1920’s and 30’s. None have indoor plumbing but they all offer a unique camping experience. Click here to check out forest service cabins in the Bozeman area.
Dispersed camping is the way to go if you’re not keen on campground camping! Dispersed camping means camping anywhere on National Forest Service land outside of a designated campground. There are no services but a lot of spots may be used often enough that a campfire ring is present. All of the above areas mentioned have a variety of dispersed camping options. Hyalite is an exception to this. Because it is such a popular spot they have limited dispersed camping to designated spots. Hyalite is the primary contributor to the Bozeman water system, so it is important to limit use to protect our watershed. The designated spots are great and pretty easy to get on a weekday or the shoulder seasons. With dispersed camping, it's important to keep a sense of adventure and not get discouraged. Those perfect spots are sometimes hard to find but when you do it is always worth it!
Backpacking is for those who really want to get away from everyone. And for those who don't mind carrying everything you need on your back! When backpacking, you are more likely to have a quiet spot to yourself and see beautiful places that aren’t accessible by car. There’s a common theme in all the places we picked…they all end at a lake. There’s just something about setting up camp in front of a mountain lake.
This has become a popular one for backpacking so you may not have it to yourself, but you can most likely find a spot away from others. It follows the Hyalite Creek trail a little over 5 miles to the lake. This is a popular trail, but a lot of people are only going to the first couple of waterfalls. Once you get to the lake, set up camp and then push on the final mile and a half to Hyalite Peak. The views at the top of this peak are breathtaking.
Another Hyalite backpacking spot is Emerald Lake. Emerald lake tends to be a little less crowded than Hyalite Lake. The trail is moderate, and approximately 9 miles out and back, making it a good trip for less experienced backpackers.
In Gallatin Canyon, a very popular backpacking and hiking spot is Lava Lake. It’s 3 miles to the lake, gaining steady elevation the whole time. You probably won’t be alone camping here, but it’s a big lake and easy to find a spot of your own while still getting the amazing views everyone hikes to this lake for.
Mirror Lake is a beautiful glacial lake off of the Spanish Peaks trail. It’s a big hike, around 7.5 miles to the lake. The trail meanders through meadows with stunning mountains as the backdrop and stays quieter than the others mentioned here.
Whatever type of camping you plan on doing it's important to remember a few things. We live in bear country, store your food properly and be aware. Put your campfire out ALL the way when you leave. Forest fires are the real deal in Montana and there's nothing worse than getting a bad fire season in August, cutting our already limited summer season for playing. And of course, pack it in, pack it out. We want to leave our beautiful nature the way we found it so everyone can enjoy it for generations to come.
Happy camping Bozeman!