U.S. National Forest Campground Guide

Helena National Forest


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Forest Information

The Helena National Forest is located in west central Montana. It surrounds Helena, MT on the east, south and west sides of the city. The Forest is comprised of 975,403 acres. There are eighteen developed campgrounds of which seven met the selection criteria.

Evidence indicates the area, now known as, the Helena National Forest has known human activities for eight thousand years. It is surprising with this long history much of the Helena National Forest appears to be undiscovered. A place of delicate beauty and breath-taking splendor, this U.S. National Forest in the middle of Montana is great place to explore and discover Helena's wonders and ancient beauty while enjoy its many camping locations.

Near the town of Lincoln, Montana are two developed campgrounds convenient to the major east/west route, State Route 200. Aspen Grove campground is the only National Forest campground between Missoula and Great Falls, Montana. Located on the banks of the Little Blackfoot River and adjacent to State Route 200, the campground is nestled in a lush riparian environment. Huge cottonwood and old aspen, along with juniper and Douglas-fir, provide ample shade and good bird watching opportunities. Very different but delightful is the nearby Copper Creek campground. Eight-miles off State Route 200, this picturesque little campgrounds is set in a thick stand of velvety spruce along Copper Creek and across from Snowbank Lake. The campground is ideal for day hikes into the Scapegoat Wilderness, as well as a little bit of fishing and canoeing on Snowbank Lake. (Note: Aspen Grove is more popular with recreational vehicle (RV) and small motorhome camping enthusiasts the Copper Creek campground.)

Between the east and west sections of the Helena National Forest is perhaps the most amazing optical illusion found in nature - Gates of the Mountains. Named by Merriwether Lewis during the Corp of Discovery's passage through the area in 1805, the sight remains awe-inspiring. The towering limestone gorge, etched with 300-million year old marine fossils, at first appeared to block further passage on the Missouri River. But, as one approaches, the walls of the gorge seem to open like two giant doors and passage is accomplished. Today, visitors can share in the Corp of Discovery's experience on a 105-minute boat tour. Sometimes seen during the boat tour are the residents of the Gates of the Mountains Wilderness - Bighorn sheep and mountain goats.

Vigilante campground, located southeast of the Gates of the Mountains Wilderness along the fast flowing Trout Creek, exemplifies the untrampled character of the Helena National Forest. A small, rustic campground, Vigilante offers excellent brook trout fishing and several delightful trails to explore for car and tent camping enthusiasts. A 3-mile interpretative trail along Trout Creek provides insight to the geological forces and history of the area. Among the hundreds of miles of trails found in the Helena National Forest, the Vigilante National Recreation and Hanging Valley trails, have trail heads at Vigilante campground. These trails are perhaps better for the serious hikers as they wind through the Big Belt Mountains and link with other distant trails.

Possibly the most challenging of the trails found in the Helena National Forest is the 110-mile portion of the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail (CDT). Stunning panoramic views of mountains and valleys, the quiet beauty of alpine meadows, and sharing the wonders of the Helena with the Montana wildlife are just a few of the delights found along the CDT. There is something for everyone who wants to explore Helena's back country. Short hikes, horseback trips, week-long adventures - all are possible on this scenic and historic trail. Contact the Supervisor's Office for more information.

Cromwell-Dixon campground, atop Macdonald Pass, offers the most developed camping facilities along the CDT. Besides being a possible overnight stop for the CDT cross-country hiker, Cromwell-Dixon is convenient to US Route 2, making it well-suited for motorized campers.

The undiscovered nature of Helena National Forest might lead people to think it is better suited to the solitary camper but it is also well-suited to family camping vacations. While the tranquility and quiet found at undeveloped dispersed camping locations are desired by some, it is the developed camping locations that bring families back to the Helena. A solitary paradise, lost among Montana's enormous expanse of rock, grass, and sky, the Helena National Forest's camping, fishing, hiking, boating, wildlife viewing, or any number of other outdoor recreation opportunities, can be found in this land of astonishing diversity. The Helena National Forest is a place full of wonders to be discovered, explored, enjoyed, and visited again and again.

SUPERVISOR ADDRESS 2880 Skyway Dr. Helena, Montana 59601 406-449-5201 RANGER DISTRICT ADDRESSES Helena 2001 Poplar Helena, Montana 59601 406-449-5490 Lincoln 1569 Highway 200 Lincoln, Montana 59639 406-362-4265 Townsend 415 S. Front, Box 29 Townsend, Montana 59644 406-266-3425

Fred and Suzi Dow