The Custer National Forest is located in two states - Montana and South Dakota. In Montana, it is located in three sections found in the southeastern part of the state, comprising 1,112,379 acres. In the northwestern part of South Dakota, the Custer is found in five sections and is comprised of 73,536 acres. There are twenty-eight developed campgrounds of which thirteen met the selection criteria. All of the qualified campgrounds are in Montana.
With bits and pieces scattered across southern Montana, the Custer National Forest boasts of its great ecological diversity. From the rolling grasslands in the State's south-central area to the towering snowcapped peaks in the Absaroka and Beartooth ranges near Yellowstone National Park, car, tent, recreational vehicle (RV) and motorhome camping enthusiasts and hikers of all levels find this U.S. National Forest a wonderful place for a camping vacation.
The largest concentration of developed camping locations are found in the Custer National Forest is in the western Beartooth Ranger District, near Red Lodge, Montana. In the shade of the Beartooth and Absaroka Mountain ranges, most of the campgrounds hug a mountain or are nestled among pine trees along fast flowing streams. Along with being a gateway to eastern Yellowstone National Forest, fishing, hiking, wildlife viewing, and spectacular scenery are the great attractions of this area.
Along the Forest Service Route 421, off State Highway 212, is a series of pleasant camping locations. Parkside campground, at a 6,940-ft elevation, is the lowest is this series of campground and might be the most popular with recreational vehicle (RV) and motorhome camping enthusiasts. Highest up at 7240-feet and perhaps most popular for car and tent camping is M-K campground. In between are Greenough Lake and Limber Pine campgrounds. Nestled in a healthy pine forest, adjacent to the Parkside National Recreational Trail, and some great trout fishing, it might be difficult to imagine a need to explore further than the boundaries of any of these campground.
However, the Beartooth Scenic Byway is a "must" day trip. The Byway (part of U.S. Route 212), generally open only May through September, is possibly this nation's most beautiful and spectacular scenic drives. Its length is 68 miles from Red Lodge, Montana, along the southern edge of the A-B Wilderness, over the Beartooth Plateau, to the northeast entrance of Yellowstone National Park. Even in mid-July you will be able to play in large snow fields, pass by 15 foot cuts of snow and experience breathtaking views!
Away from the Yellowstone National Park and Beartooth Scenic Byway is a special camping experience. The Absaroka-Beartooth (locally called the A-B) Wilderness is the dominate feature of the Beartooth District and being a Congressional designated Wilderness, motorized or mechanical access is forbidden. However, the Custer National Forest has provided a means for all campers to experience this magnificent pristine area. Several corridors reach nearly to the heart of the Wilderness. These corridors allow car, tent, RV, and motorhome camping enthusiasts to experience camping in the Wilderness without having to backpack in. Cascade, East Rosebud, Emerald Lake, and Woodbine campgrounds offer all the conveniences of a Forest Service developed camping location while being surrounded by the A-B Wilderness.
An added bonus to a stay at a campgrounds located next to the A-B Wilderness Area is the wildlife viewing opportunities. This pristine wilderness offers an ideal habitat for big horn sheep, elk, deer, bear, a variety of other mammals and dispersed campers. (Dispersed camping is considered undeveloped and not included in this campground review.) The A-B also contains some of the best trout fishing, or so says a local Forester. While the A-B area offers outstanding forest experiences, great recreational opportunities are not limited to this area.
The Beartooth Ranger District has an abundant number of developed campgrounds, the other Districts of the Custer National Forest offer rustic to primitive camping experiences. One campground visited that was moving from rustic to a primitive feel was Red Shale. The Red Shale campground is located adjacent to U.S. Route 212, on the grasslands of southeastern Montana, about an hour drive from the Little Big Horn Battlefield National Monument. With spacious sites along two knolls, no water, and vault toilets, Red Shale is the largest and most "developed" campground found in the Ashland Ranger District. The smells of pine, sweet grass, and campfires, along with the sound of cattle settling down for the night, conjure visions of the "Ole West." The lonesome howl of a far-off coyote only adds to the experience.
The Custer National Forest's campgrounds provide a means to experience the variety and beauty of a diverse topography. From exploring semi-arid grasslands to the eco-system of a Lodgepole forest, hooking "the big one," or watching an elk stroll by in its regal manner across a mountain meadow, the Custer National Forest offers its visitors a variety of opportunities to experience. Such experiences make Custer National Forest a place to visit and explore more then once.
1310 Main St.
Billings, Montana 50760
RANGER DISTRICT ADDRESSES
Ashland, Montana 59003
6811 US Hwy 212
Red Lodge, Montana 59068
Camp Crook, South Dakota 57724