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Nothing compares to camping in Montana – the glistening lakes, the snow-capped mountains, the abundant wildlife wandering by as you’re grilling burgers over the fire, and all without the summer crowds. The Treasure State has an abundance of fantastic campgrounds too, everything from rustic state park sites to full-service RV parks with laundromats and game rooms. It all just depends on what your family is looking for in their camping trip experience.
Last summer our family spent nearly a month exploring all over the state of Montana. Honestly, it wasn’t enough time! When it comes to outdoor recreation, there really is no limit in Montana, so it’s a perfect place for families who are looking to escape the crowds when camping.
One thing to note about camping in Montana though, is that you should always be overprepared. Nights get cold, some sites have bears nearby and food storage precautions must be taken, and sometimes you’re really far away from civilization. Make a grocery and supply list and check off that everything is properly packed. You don’t want to go on an hour or two-long grocery run when you could be sitting around the campfire enjoying some s’mores.
Here are our Montana family camping trip essentials:
Bear Proof Cooler: This cooler is not only bearproof, but it keeps ice cold up to a week. For safety, still store this in a bear box or a car.
Good Kids Base Layers: Our go-to’s for keeping our kids warm at night and on chilly mornings.
Bear Spray: Give each adult their own can of spray. We also recommend getting these bear bells for kids if you’re doing much hiking.
Also, if you do decide to visit one of the Montana state parks for camping, they do not charge a day-use fee to Montana residents (the fee is charged when registering your vehicle), but there is still a fee for camping, charged to both residents and non-residents.
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Nearest Town: Seeley Lake
Amenities: Picnic Tables; Fire Rings; Beach; Vault Toilets; Boat Launch.
Seeley Lake was one of our favorite family campgrounds in Montana, and our kids would rate it as the best campground for families in Montana. To say that the views are jaw-dropping would be an understatement. Located on the west shore of Seeley Lake, this is the perfect family campsite if you’re looking to combine some lake time with your family camping trip. While many of our neighbors had waterski boats, we were pretty content with our paddleboards and kayaks, and enjoying the two swimming beaches. If you’re interested, boat, canoe, and bike rentals are available in the nearby town of Seeley Lake.
If you’ve got smaller boats like we do, head to the north end of the lake and follow the signs for the paddling trail. It’s a 3 mile stretch of calm water that meanders through the forest and was one of the most scenic stretches of river we saw all summer. Our kids were especially thrilled when we got to follow a beaver swimming down the river for about 30 minutes.
We would rate this as the best family campground in Montana! While the spots can fill up quickly at this Montana campground, if you can’t find a place to camp, head across the lake to nearby Larch campground.
Nearest Town: Bigfork
Amenities: Dump Station; Picnic Tables; Fire Rings; Playground; Showers; Vault Toilets; Boat Launch.
Flathead Lake is surrounded by spectacular campgrounds, including six state parks, but Wayfarers easily tops them all as one of the best family campgrounds in Montana. Located just south of Bigfork, Wayfarers features relatively basic campsites with the usual state park amenities like vault toilets and fire rings, but with the added benefit of a dump station and showers. Where Wayfarers really excels though is its waterfront.
Families can rent kayaks or canoes in Bigfork and launch them from the boat ramp at Wayfarers. The water is much calmer there – the lake is known for its big waves whenever there’s the slightest breeze. The rocky beachfront near the boat ramp is also a great place to chill out and enjoy a picnic with the kids. There’s also a short hiking trail that ascends from the parking lot to some cliffs overlooking the lake; a great place to hang out and watch the sunset.
Nearest Town: Missoula
Amenities: Water, Sewer, and Electrical (30 & 50 amp) Hookups; Swimming Pool; Hot Tub; Flush Toilets; Mini-Golf; Bike Rentals.
While we normally opt for smaller campgrounds, the Missoula KOA family campground was so incredibly convenient that we couldn’t pass up staying there. This is one of the best RV campgrounds in Montana with full hookups. The Missoula KOA sits on the edge of town, just off one of its main thoroughfares. As is expected for a KOA, it’s loaded with great amenities like a swimming pool, hot tub, and mini-golf course, and the kids were thrilled at the nightly ice cream offerings. Despite its prime location, you don’t need to make reservations too far in advance to get a spot (I think we reserved a place 2 days in advance, during peak season).
Missoula is the cultural capital of Montana, with the greatest concentration of art galleries, theaters, and international restaurants. There are some great bike paths through town and our kids had an awesome time biking around town and stopping at playgrounds and river beaches along the way. Of course, if you’re in Missoula in the summer, make sure to take a stop at Big Dipper Ice Cream Shop! Additionally, the Clark Fork River, Bitterroot Mountains, and two nearby ski hills make Missoula a veritable playground for adventurous families. The SpectrUM Discovery Center on the north end of town is run by the University of Montana and has all kinds of engaging exhibits designed to teach kids science through hands-on activities.
Nearest Town: Glendive
Amenities: Picnic Tables; Fire Ring; Vault Toilets; Disc Golf Course; Hiking Trail.
Often overlooked, even by long-time residents, Makoshika is Montana’s largest state park and definitely one of its strangest – 11,000 acres of otherworldly badlands cut into a sandstone plateau. Since so few people even know about the park, you won’t need to worry about advance reservations for camping.
These kid friendly campsites are incredibly basic, with no hookups, flush toilets, or really much of anything. Don’t worry though, the town of Glendive is just a few miles away if you’re in need of groceries, entertainment, or just some sense of civilization. Makokshika has plenty of activities to keep your attention though, with dozens of hiking trails, scenic drives, and ranger-led talks during the summer months. Kids interested in dinosaurs will love the paleontology exhibits and the chance to search for fossils in the badlands.
Nearest Town: Dillon
Amenities: Picnic Tables; Fire Ring; Vault Toilets.
This rustic campground has two things going for it: location and price. It’s only ten miles from Dillon, one of Montana’s most underrated small towns, which sports a craft brewery, several great restaurants and coffee shops, a charming downtown, and a state park (Clark’s Lookout) inside the city limits. Barrett is also just half an hour from Bannack, Montana’s best-preserved ghost town, and an excellent stop for families wanting to mix some history into their camping trip itinerary.
We spent nearly a week outside of Dillon rafting the Big Hole river, which has some great areas for fishing and float trips. Our kids were thrilled to roll into Dillon because they’ve got a splash pad in the middle of town, and the best playground we’ve seen in Montana. Even if you’re just driving through, the park is worth a stop to stretch your legs.
As for cost, camping at Barrett Park is completely free as it’s managed by the Bureau of Land Reclamation. A great spot for free camping in Montana.
Nearest Town: St. Mary
Amenities: Flush Toilets; Showers; Dump Station; Picnic Tables; Fire Ring.
This family friendly campground in Glacier, sits on the eastern edge of Glacier National Park and is one of its most popular along with Lake Macdonald in the west. The St. Mary Lake region offers plenty of recreational opportunities including hiking, kayaking, ranger-led educational programs, and scenic boat tours. The campground has 148 sites, 25 of which have enough space for large RVs. Compared to private campgrounds in the area, amenities are light, giving you and your family more time to enjoy the park’s natural beauty.
Even though the sites are quite basic, they fill up REALLY FAST! We’ve showed up there at 7am, hoping to get a spot for the day, and they’ve all been taken. If you’re thinking about making the trip during July or August, reservations for camping in Glacier National Park are needed months in advance. Shoulder season is quieter, largely due to Glacier’s chilly nighttime temperatures, the ever-present threat of snowfall, and the famed Going to the Sun Road usually not opening until mid-June. That being said, the highway is considerably more pleasant when you aren’t dealing with bumper-to-bumper traffic; going later is preferable if you have the means to stay warm.
Nearest Town: Livingston
Amenities: Water, Sewer, and Electrical Hookups (30 & 50 amp); Wi-Fi; Picnic Tables; Fire Ring; Games (Horseshoes, Volleyball, Billiards); Flush Toilets; Showers; Laundry; Convenience Store.
Yellowstone Park’s campgrounds for families fill up months in advance, making any last-minute trips a near impossibility. However, there are several private campgrounds outside Yellowstone that offer better amenities and usually aren’t booked solid. Yellowstone Edge RV Park in the Paradise Valley is one of the best family campgrounds in Montana, twenty minutes south of Livingston and forty-five minutes north of the Gardiner entrance to Yellowstone, making it a great base camp for exploring the park. However, instead of park service pit toilets, you’ll be treated to hot showers, flush toilets, and lots of games to keep the kids entertained. Should you need any supplies, Livingston has a full-sized grocery store along with some excellent bars and restaurants.
While you won’t be able to see Old Faithful erupting from your bed, this family friendly RV park in Montana does have some splendid views of the Yellowstone River framed by the Gallatin and Absaroka Mountain Ranges. This section of the river is popular with floaters for its slower current and lack of rapids.
Nearest Town: Billings
Amenities: Water, Sewer, and Electrical (30 & 50 amp) Hookups; Dump Station; Swimming Pool; Hot Tub; Wi-Fi; Laundry; Kitchen Area; Convenience Store; Pet Area.
Positioned on the outskirts of Montana’s largest city, the Billings KOA is an ideal stop for road-tripping families that want urban amenities with their camping experience. If you’re looking for the best place to camp in Billings Montana, this is it! Like many KOAs, it’s fairly luxurious, with a swimming pool, hot tub, and an on-site laundromat. Billings is also the state’s most cosmopolitan town, and also loads of family-friendly attractions like ZooMontana, Reef Water Park, and great shopping at the Rimrock Mall.
Only a short drive outside the city is Lake Elmo State Park, a popular spot for swimming and kayaking on hot summer days. There’s also Pictograph Caves State Park, a set of sandstone bluffs covered in Native American drawings that date back thousands of years.
Nearest Town: Bozeman
Amenities: Water, Sewer, and Electrical (30 & 50 amp) Hookups; Picnic Tables; Fire Ring; Showers; Laundry; Playground; Free Breakfast; Hot Springs Access; Game Room.
A swimming pool for the kids to burn off some energy? Check. A hot tub for tired parents to relax in? Check. A full-service RV park for a weekend (or more) or glamping? Check. The campground at Bozeman Hot Spring has every amenity you could ask for, including a gold panning area that’s a big hit with the kids. This family campground with hot springs is also just a short drive away from the hot spring’s namesake, Montana’s fastest-growing city and one of its liveliest.
The springs are incredibly popular with skiers and snowboarders returning from Big Sky in winter and day trippers heading back from Yellowstone Park in the summer. To have any chance of snagging a spot, you’ll want to book as far ahead as possible. There’s also a two night minimum during the winter.
Nearest Town: Darby
Amenities: Water and Electrical (30 amp) Hookups; Drinking Water; Vault Toilets; Boat Ramp.
Located at the southern end of the Bitterroot Valley, Lake Como Campground is a low-key destination for families looking to get out on the water. Nothing is more enticing on a hot July afternoon than a dip in the cool blue waters of Lake Como. This campground for families offers moderate amenities, with some hookups but no flush toilets. During summer weekends, Lake Como is incredibly popular, so it’s best to make reservations in advance if you can’t make it there midweek.
There aren’t any nearby shops that rent kayaks, so you’ll either need to pick them up in Missoula (close to an hour away) or just enjoy Lake Como’s swimming potential.
Nearest Town: Troy
Amenities: Water, Sewer, and Electrical (30 & 50 amp) Hookups; Dump Station; Flush Toilets; Picnic Tables; Showers; Fire Pit.
Northwestern Montana’s Yaak River region is one of the least visited areas of the state, but it’s not for lack of scenery or recreational opportunities. It’s the sheer remoteness that keeps it a secret and that’s how many Montanans would like to keep it. Fortunately, this means you won’t need to book months in advance to get a site at one of the best family campgrounds in Montana.
Kootenai River Campground in Montana sits just outside of Troy and about twenty minutes west of the larger town of Libby. Sites can include full hookups, along with flush toilets and showers – a stark contrast to the very basic Forest Service campgrounds nearby on the Kootenai and Yaak Rivers. The campground is an excellent jumping-off point for exploring Ross Ancient Cedars State Park, where some of the most gargantuan trees in the state are located (over 12 feet wide and 175 feet tall!)
Yes, according to the Bureau of Land Management “Camping is permitted on BLM lands that have not been developed as a camp site. You must have legal access to the area and travel on existing roads and trails. The maximum stay is also 16 days.”
The easiest way to find fee campsites in Montana is with the Campendium app. This app has user generated feedback and is regularly updated with the best places to camp for free in Montana.
Good cell coverage can be difficult to come by. To see if your campground has good reception, check with your carrier in advance. If you need good cell coverage, it will be worth staying at a campground with WiFi included, so you can always make your calls over the wifi connection if needed.