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State Parks & Free Camping in Montana

We are a full month into our RV adventure, and I just entered the state of Wyoming over the weekend. We spent a full two weeks in Montana! I have been to all 50 states and Montana was one of my favorites – maybe even #1. Visiting in an RV was a much different experience than going with a friend for a long weekend. I’ll share some of the highlights (mostly state parks) as well as a few interesting things I learned about Montana.

We started our Montana journey visiting Mashoshika State Park. I didn’t love it. The hiking trails were extremely difficult to follow and the park was pretty small. We didn’t end up spending a whole lot of time there.

Afterwards, we headed to Sluice Boxes State Park where I saw my first black bear. Scared the living sh*t out of me if I am being honest. We obviously had to leave immediately so we headed to Giant Springs State Park which is absolutely beautiful. I don’t think I have ever seen clearer water in my life. We hiked around this park a bunch and then started heading more north to make our way to Glacier National Park.

This park has been on my bucket list FOREVER and I was so happy to be there. Unfortunately, long story short, we did not get WiFi and I was unable to work. That meant we had to leave unexpectedly and much sooner than anticipated.

The Monday that we were at the park I ended up using PTO so we could experience it at least a little bit. We drove the entire “Going to the Sun Road.” Dogs are not allowed to hike at GNP, which I knew ahead of time. But what I didn’t know is that the weather was going to be totally crappy, there are lines of cars waiting to park for hiking, and navigating an RV on that road is terrifying. I white-knuckled it the entire time. After we drove from one side of the park to the other, I decided we needed to try to find somewhere that we got WiFi so we could be prepared for the work day tomorrow.

That ended up becoming a 2-hour drive south towards Missoula. We did get to visit Flathead National Park on our way, though, and it is a stunning place. I appreciated that little detour after the day I had.

I really debated whether or not to go back to Glacier the next weekend but honestly, I just didn’t think it made sense. I had such an intense, anxiety driven experience while I was there. Kona also does not do super great in the RV alone. Sometimes she is fine but most of the time she will bark and whine her head off until I return. I don’t think leaving her in the RV for a 5 mile hike would have been the smartest idea. I want to go back to GNP but without an RV and without a dog. The park remains on my bucket list for now.

We spent some time in Missoula, Bozeman and Billings over the course of the next two weeks. We hiked at a couple of parks in Missoula but I didn’t love the city overall. The further I get into this trip the more I am convinced that I am just not a city girl (and yes, I still have my house in Milwaukee).

We visited Lake Como for a hike and it was BEAUTIFUL. A lake surrounded by mountains – exactly how I picture Montana. We tried going for 8 miles but after the first mile it was very obviously not a hike suited for dogs. Kona fell twice trying to jump onto and over things. We ended up shortening the hike a bit.

We went on a pretty hefty hike at Lewis & Clark Caverns State Park. You can do cavern tours here – which I would have loved – but we were there during the off-season and they only have tours once every other week so the timing just didn’t work out. Our hike was 3 miles (one way) and we ended up taking the road on our way back because it was HOT and I don’t think either of us would have been able to handle it.

After Lewis & Clark we drove about 25 minutes to Missouri Headwaters State Park. This park was very beautiful as well – tons of hiking trails intertwined with rivers and small lakes. We went on a much shorter hike here, but the views did not disappoint. I love how a lot of the Montana state parks are fairly close to one another. It makes things so much easier!

We stayed at a brewery in Three Forks that evening, which is about 15 minutes from Bozeman, MT. I got to visit the famous bakery, Montana Wheat, and indulged in the most delicious chocolate chip muffin.

Bozeman is a large city that I have been to before and loved. But again, Montana with a dog and an RV is a lot different. The sleeping situation here was terrible. Actually, it was terrible in Missoula, too. I stayed at Cracker Barrel for 3 nights in Missoula and aside from our first night in Bozeman, we stayed at a city park on the street. It was fine, but surrounded by people and we all know I prefer to be secluded. I do want to shout out Harvest Hosts for the first night in Bozeman because we stayed on the most picture perfect farm that I really did not want to leave. It was absolutely Montana goals.

RV at farm in Motana

Getting out of Bozeman, we headed to Billings for a day and hiked the Rimrocks. Pretty cool scenery, very easy hike. We stayed one evening at a dispersed site on the outskirts of Bozeman and it was total solitude. I loved it.

Our last day in Montana was spent exploring Big Horn Canyon. Technically the Big Horn Canyon is in Montana and Wyoming but I deemed this day as our “last Montana day.” It was absolutely beautiful – wild horses, tons of great hiking, and awesome views. It was SUPER windy this day but we managed to get about 6 miles in anyway.

Here are a few random facts about Montana:

· Dogs are not allowed to be on the patios anywhere that serves food. This REALLY put a damper in our adventuring. In WI, dogs just can’t be inside a restaurant. Here, they can’t be inside OR outside.

· There are casinos EVERYWHERE. They are attached to gas stations, liquor stores, and standalone buildings It’s crazy!

· “Dogs must be on a leash” apparently does not apply to 99% of the people in Missoula or Bozeman. Kona and I spent a lot of time dodging unleashed dogs.

· There are lights ¼ mile away from an intersection to let you know that the light will be turning red soon. I found this very helpful and something that should be implemented in more places.

· There are TONS of coffee “huts” – they are the size of a small shed and are located in random parking lots all over the place. I saw a “soda hut” in Billings, too!


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