U.S. National Forest Campground Guide

Beaverhead National Forest


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Forest Information

The Beaverhead National Forest (of the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest) is located in several sections of southwestern Montana. One part of the Forest also touches the northwestern section of the Yellowstone National Park. The Forest is comprised of 2,128,784 acres. There are 36 developed campgrounds of which 17 meet the selection criteria.

On August 8, 1805, Sacajawea, the Lewis and Clark's Corps of Discovery expedition's Shoshone Indian guide, spotted a rock formation not far from present day Dillon that had the appearance of a "beaver's head." The landmark told Sacaquawea the expedition had entered the land of her people. Today, the Beaverhead National Forest, which encompasses portions of Lewis and Clark's marathon journey, offers visitors many of the same sights seen and trails used by the Corps of Discovery. The Forest also offers visitors a wide variety of recreational opportunities, incredible scenery, and many delightful Forest Service developed camping locations scattered across Beaverhead National Forest.

In some ways, little has changed since Lewis and Clark passed through the Beaverhead National Forest region. The Jefferson, Madison, Big Hole, and Beaverhead rivers are still stock with fat and fighting fish and meander for miles through open country. These rivers offer some very good fly-fishing as well as rafting and kayaking opportunities. Wildlife viewing in the Beaverhead National Forest is excellent. Today, moose can still be seen wandering through willow-lined waterways and mountain goats climbing to their rocky perches. And the sky still seems to be the biggest sky in all of America.

During the Gold Rush days, the region was far more active than when Lewis and Clark passed this way. The mid-1800s saw thousands of emigrants, bound for the gold fields, pour into the area using the Bozeman Trail. The Beaverhead region was the final destination for many. Towns like Virginia City, Nevada City, Bannack, and Coolidge were formed around the search for gold, silver, or one of the other minerals mined from the area. Many of these mining towns disappeared almost as quickly as they sprang up. The mining industry, with its large number of hungry miners working long hours, fostered another industry - cattle. Vast herds of buffalo and elk were replaced by beef and a prosperous industry was established. Today, a part of the Beaverhead National Forest's responsibility is providing good grazing for 900,000 sheep, cattle, and horses that annually use the land. The Forest Service is also responsible for managing the land to provide quality habitat for wildlife.

The Beaverhead National Forests is a multi-use forest. Along with grazing and timber, the Forest Service provides diverse of recreational opportunities. May Creek campground, along the Nez Perce National Historic Trail, offers car, tent, and recreation vehicle (RV) campers an opportunity to visit the Big Hole Battlefield or hike the May Creek National Recreation Trail. The fishing and trails, both for horse and hiking, at Mussigbrod campground, make this campground well-worth the long drive through a scenic section of the Big Hole Valley where cattle graze under the sharp eye of a golden eagle perched on a rustic fence post. Madison River campground, in the southwestern section of the Forest, offers excellent fishing in the Madison River and a delightful view of mountains rising skyward. Just before the Madison River campground is the entrance of Riverview campground. Set on top of a glacier-carved bench with long level RV-friendly sites, each site has a view of the Lee-Metcalf Wilderness and the Madison River valley. Nestled nearby are Hilltop and Wade Lake campgrounds. Both campgrounds hug the shores of two crystal clear glacial lakes. These campgrounds are favorites with both car and tent camping enthusiasts and bald eagles.

Another outstanding recreational opportunity found within the Beaverhead National Forest is the Pioneer Mountains National Scenic Byway (Forest Route 484). Running roughly north-south from Wise River to the near ghost-town of Polaris, Montana, the Byway has something for everyone. Although the southern end of the Byway is unpaved, this is a drive well-worth a few miles of dust. While the Byway can easily be traveled in one day, the facilities along the route beckon the visitor to slow down. Newly renovated Grasshopper (designed specifically to be RV-friendly), Lodgepole and Boulder Creek campgrounds, offer campers a relaxing atmosphere and basic facilities. Another feature of the Byway is Crystal Park, a 30-acre tract of land open to the public to dig for quartz crystals. There is no charge, although donations for the Park's maintenance are requested. "Miners" of all ages and skill-levels will find quartz crystals, such as purple amethyst, waiting to be discovered.

The Beaverhead National Forest also contains two pristine wilderness areas - Anaconda-Pintler, and Lee Metcalf. A great number of trails into and through these Wildernesses offer visitors a unique perspective of the Forest. The Continental Divide National Scenic Trail transverses the length of the Anaconda-Pintler Wilderness and contains some of the most spectacular vistas in the state. Camping in Wildernesses is classified "dispersed," meaning camping locations are completely undeveloped by the Forest Service, and are accessed only by foot (no mechanized modes of transportation is allowed in a designated Wilderness area). This popular type of camping is not included in this campground review.

It is amazing that the Beaverhead National Forest continues to provide its visitors a sense of discovery and adventure. There is an impression of remoteness at any one of the developed national forest campgrounds. Visitors have a sense of sharing in the experiences of Lewis and Clark. With a rich history, abundant wildlife, outstanding scenery, and many recreational opportunities, the Beaverhead National Forest is a favorite with its visitors who tend to come back year after year.

SUPERVISOR ADDRESS 420 Barrett St. Dillon, Montana 59725 406-683-3984 RANGER DISTRICT ADDRESSES Dillon 420 Barrett St. Dillon, Montana 59725 406-683-3900 Madison 5 Forest Service Rd. Ennis, Montana 59729 406-682-4253 Wisdom P.O.B. 238 Wisdom, Montana 59761 406-689-3243 Wise River P.O.B. 100 Wise River, Montana 59762 406-832-3178

Fred and Suzi Dow