The boys and I break up long road trips. In July Tynan and I headed off to Salt lake City, a 12 hour drive from our home. In the past we either stayed with family or in a hotel to break up the drive. But since this was peak summer weather, I wanted to camp instead. A quick Google search pulled up a ton of free campsites in Montana.
I used the website Campendium (not sponsored or anything) to find campsites that were close to the highway, looked safe, and would provide some fun for Ty and I.
Clark Canyon Reservoir
Our first campsite was Clark Canyon Reservoir. We stop at this reservoir for a break to play, swim, and throw rocks every time we make this drive. I didn’t realize that this large reservoir had so many campsites around it!
We didn’t arrive here until 8:30 p.m. I had to work in the morning so we had a late afternoon start. The sun was just setting and I was shocked at how full the little campsite we chose was. We stayed at the Homecoming Beach Campground. There were maybe six campsites that had a covered shelter and fire ring. Everyone there had set up their tents in the shelter which was awesome protection from wind and provided extra privacy.
The one problem was I was really roughing it. I didn’t bring an air mattress or pad or anything so we slept on a tent on a cement floor. Not the most comfortable, but when you’re beat from a day of driving it still feels good.
After setting up the tent, we went down to the beach and enjoyed a stretch of the legs and the gorgeous scenery.
This reservoir is right off the highway and so there was highway noise through the night. If you are a light sleeper, you may find this campsite to be too loud.
Tynan had a rough night though. He woke up around 11 p.m. crying like crazy, disoriented and scared. I finally had to put a cartoon on the tablet to calm him so he would fall back asleep.
In the morning, he woke me up and declared “This is the bets day of my life!” So despite my trouble sleeping worrying about him, he woke up in good spirits.
Clark Canyon Reservoir is an 8-10 minute drive from the tiny village of Dell. I love to stop in Dell and eat at the cutest cafe ever! It’s called the Old School House Cafe and has all the vibes of a pioneer kitchen experience. I dug into a huge plate of biscuits and gravy and Ty nibbled on the biggest pancake I’ve ever seen!
Galena Gulch Campground
On the way home, I wanted to be close to Helena and so I found Galena Gulch Campground. This campground is right off the highway and is small with 9 campsites and a field for tents. It’s also on a river tucked up against a little mountain. It is so pretty!
Ty and I set up our tent and spent the evening down by the river collecting quartz and cooling off from the extreme Montana heat. This was such a quiet campground, I think most people who stay here only use it as a sleeping base and are off adventuring somewhere else because all evening it felt like we had the place to ourselves.
This was a way better night for Ty. Now that he had a night of tenting under his belt, he slept like the absolute dead. And it was nice to fall asleep to the trickling of the river which helped drown out some of the highway noise.
I could have gone more into the bush for a quieter campground, but as we were travelling, i liked being able to pop back on the highway right away and not add any extra time to our already long drive.
I have to give a huge shout out to Montana for managing the cleanest vault toilets (outhouses) I have ever used. You think an outhouse at free campsites in Montana are going to be disgusting but these bathrooms were pristine.
A huge concern I got from family and friends when doing this was our safety. My family especially was convinced Ty and I would be murdered if we camped in a tent. Women are often discouraged from adventuring solo due to this concern an d I think it’s ridiculous! You are so much more likely to be hurt in a car accident than something happen to you while camping.
To please my mom, I stopped at a gas station and bought a cheap pocket knife and slept with it under my pillow. ha ha ha ha! She felt better when she knew that.
It’s pretty easy to camp like this safely. Make sure you have cell service, let your loved ones know exactly where you are, say hello and make eye contact with fellow campers. If someone gives you a bad vibe, follow your gut. Camp closer to others or find a different site.
At no point did I ever feel unsafe camping solo with just Ty on this trip. People who camp in Montana are fellow outdoor lovers who want to take in all this beautiful state has to offer.
If you’re ever road tripping or looking for adventure, I highly recommend finding one of the hundred of free campsites in Montana!