Lowland camping this spring.
By the time spring rolls around, we’ve all got cabin fever. And even if you spent the winter outside, skiing, snowshoeing, and ice climbing, when’s the last time you slept under the stars? As temperatures rise, the urge to camp grows, soon outpacing the languid melt-out of the high country. Never fear; there are plenty of low-elevation spots, too. Here’s a list to get you started.
While it’s only 40 minutes away, Bear Trap Canyon is a world apart when it comes to climate and weather. While spring snowstorms pound the high alpine around Bozeman, these riverside campsites along the Madison can be dry and warm. They can also be windswept and drenched by a surprise squall, so pay attention and be prepared. That being said, the BLM-managed sites right along the river offer a unique opportunity to sleep out; you can fish the pocket water of the canyon, trail-run up to the dam and back, or plop down in a camp chair and drink beer while you watch the river. After a long winter, that all sounds good to us.
Lewis & Clark Caverns
If you’re looking for dry trails with a little more vertical, head to Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park. This semi-arid landscape is criss-crossed by excellent singletrack for mountain bikers, runners, and hikers, and the campsite is located directly adjacent to the lower trailhead at the Main Visitor Center, off Rt. 2. Both RVs and tents are welcome, plus a few cabins for rent. Visit stateparks.mt.gov/lewis-and-clark-caverns for reservations.
Right across the highway from the campground is the Jefferson River, with several access points up and down the river from which to launch a canoe or raft. Keep in mind that flows fluctuate wildly in the spring and while the weather might be mild, the water surely is not—be prepared for the worst. For fishermen, the river is fairly churned up this time of year, but bring along a rod and reel just in case. If you don’t want to bother with cooking in camp, head to LaHood Park in Cardwell for a ribeye at this classic Montana beef joint.
You can’t beat sleeping on the Yellowstone, as the river roils by and the mighty Absarokas reach high above. At the Mallard’s Rest FAS, there are 13 tent and trailer sites right along the river, tucked down away from the highway. Located about halfway down Paradise Valley, Mallard’s makes a great jumping-off point for any number of weekend outings. Head down to the Park to check out newborn wildlife, or skin up Emigrant Peak for an epic spring ski tour. If conditions look good, just stay in camp and fish the Yellowstone, or if you have an experienced rower in the crew, launch a driftboat or raft from the ramp on site. A soak at Chico is mandatory and only a short drive away. For a real adventure, check out the dirt-road bike ride from Bozeman to Emigrant and add an overnight at Mallard’s.