Friday Night Lights

camping, campsites, close-to-home getaways, car camping, montana, bozeman

Close-by campsites.

Relief, excitement, joy—all adjectives that describe how most of us feel on a Friday afternoon after a long week. As we look forward to the weekend, we anticipate days filled with the outdoor activities we love, and nights camped out under the stars. But unfortunately, not all of us live in a perfect world, and oftentimes weekends fill up with obligations, keeping us in town against our will. We could spend the entire weekend moping around town protesting, grumbling, and griping about our responsibilities, but that’s not why we live in Bozeman.

Point your finger in any direction around here and you’ll find mountains, rivers, forests, or some combination of the three. Therefore, getting out of town—even if it’s just for an overnight camping trip—isn’t rocket science. However, common areas are growing in popularity, and finding legal level ground for the tent has become more difficult. Even so, there’s no lack of local camping options. Here are a few oft-forgotten spots that only lie an hour outside of Bozeman’s city limits.

Paradise Valley
It’s easy to fall victim to the allure of Hyalite and the Bridgers—they’re beautiful. But just around the bend lies the equally beautiful and less-populated Paradise Valley. Its notable features are the Yellowstone River and the Absaroka Mountains.

Car camping, montana, close-to-home getaway, campsites, bozeman

For a spot on the water, head south from Livingston to Loch Leven Campground. Campsites here are right on the river with all the usual amenities, offering good views and easy river access. A bit farther south on Hwy. 89 sits Canyon Campground, providing unmatched access to Yankee Jim Canyon. This site sits close to the highway, so if you’re searching for more seclusion, and it’s before November 1, Tom Miner Campground is an inviting choice. Although this campground is farther from the river, Buffalo Horn Pass trailhead is right outside the campground, making for a good day-hike outing.

Gallatin Canyon
The spectacles of Lone Peak, Storm Castle, and the Gallatin River often overshadow many of the other recreation options in the canyon—especially the camping options. But Gallatin Canyon offers an abundance of designated campgrounds.

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Closest to the mouth of the canyon, there’s Spire Rock Campground. Away from the highway, this spot feels secluded and is close to the Storm Castle, Garnet Mountain, and Rat Lake trailheads. Head down the Canyon and you’ll hit Greek Creek Campground. Although the spots are much closer to the road, this proximity provides anglers and boaters with great access. If those are full, continue down Hwy. 191 to Swan Creek Campground. Like Spire Rock, the Swan Creek sites are tucked away in a drainage off the highway on a nice stretch of the burbling Swan Creek. If you’re looking to head out past Big Sky, Red Cliff Campground is a great option—also right on the Gallatin. Tucked away in the trees, these spots back up to the aptly named Red Cliffs, which conveniently offer fun sport climbing.

Lower Madison
In the summer, the Lower Maddie is infested with tubers, fishermen, and campers. However, as the heat dwindles, and nightly temps drop, fewer people spend time on the river. Before Labor Day, you’d be hard-pressed to find a spot on a Friday night, but as fall comes in full-swing, your odds will be much better.

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There are three primary designated campgrounds along the Lower Madison: Grey Cliff, Red Mountain, and Trapper Springs. These sites will be more enjoyable when the weather is cooler, as most of them have little-to-no tree cover.

All the aforementioned sites are fee-based, modern campgrounds, and easily accessed with passenger vehicles. These spots also have the basic amenities: vault toilets, picnic tables, and fire rings. The nature of camping has changed a bit in southwest Montana, so if you’re worried about finding a spot, check availability or reserve online ahead of time on the FWP, Forest Service, or BLM websites. Online reservations can also be made on And, as always, check seasonal fire restrictions and mind leave-no-trace principles while you’re out there.