The Hungry Horse Reservoir Recreation Area is just outside of Glacier National Park on the South Fork of the Flathead
River. It’s an amazing area of low-cost or free camping spots. Lakes, the huge reservoir, mountains, forests, fishing, hiking, boating, you name it. Let me just say, Montana, you are a beauty!
My preconceived notions
Noelle here, by the way. We spent a couple days traveling across the top of Montana, coming from Idaho’s panhandle. And here’s a silly side-note…part of me expected to see White Supremist Parades in Northern Idaho, or Nazi flags, or some stupid sh*t like that. I’ve heard “on the news” how it’s a hotbed for right wing militias, so I was actually a little nervous. But what did I really expect? To see KKK marches? Who knows? Instead, I saw scenic countryside and small towns full of regular people. Farmers and shop owners and just good people.
I’m reminded that “the news” focuses on extremes, like ALL of Portland must be on fire due to the left wing radicals, so of course ALL of Northern Idaho must be filled with skinheads. Portland does have some extremists and I denounce them, just like there probably are some far right radicals in Idaho, who I’d also denounce. I just wanted to take a drive through our country, but I realized how ingrained some of my ideas are, even when they aren’t necessarily based in fact.
Back to Nature
Okay, anyway, back to Mother Nature in all Her glory! In Kalispell, we stopped at the Ranger Station (well technically, it was the Flathead Supervisor’s Office but it’s the same thing to you and me) and came away loaded with maps and campground info for the Flathead National Forest. If you’ve not taken advantage of their awesomeness, I highly recommend stopping at a Station on your next road trip. The rangers are full of information and they love sharing it with you. They want us to recreate responsibly, so they’re happy to show the best places to set up a little home away from home, whether it’s a tent or a truck camper like us.
Hungry Horse Reservoir Recreation Area
We wanted to stay close to Glacier NP, but we also wanted to stay somewhere for free. The Hungry Horse Reservoir Recreation Area has 19 campgrounds, 8 boat launches and untold picnicking and hiking opportunities. The reservoir itself is 34 miles long. Did I mention that it’s huge and goes on for days? It’s surrounded by 25 mountain peaks and boy did we enjoy those, especially at sunset. You know I’m forever trying for the BEST sunset picture!
A couple of hungry horses
Definitely get a map and a Flathead National Forest Campground Directory pamphlet during your own Ranger Station stop. The Area is bordered on the North by the Hungry Horse Dam and on the South by the Spotted Bear Ranger Station. It backs right up to the Bob Marshall Wilderness Area (or just “The Bob” to locals). Here’s a little history, because I’m a nerd. The area literally got its name from two hungry freight horses that wandered away from their sleigh in the winter of 1900-1901 (or the 1800s depending on the account you read). They were found a month later in belly-deep snow, very skinny and malnourished. It took a lot of care to nurse them back to health. The name Hungry Horse stuck and was given to a mountain, a lake, a creek and the dam.
Visiting the Hungry Horse Dam
The Dam has a visitor center, which of course, was closed for the season (or maybe for Covid, not sure). It’s 564 feet tall, making it the 10th highest in the US. Steve and I both wondered how long you’d live if you jumped. Not that you want to jump, but heights like that seem to always bring the thought to mind. Why is that???
One more thing about the Hungry Horse Dam, and then I’ll move on (you do know I’m a nerd, right?). The water that goes through it makes it’s way downriver and somehow ends up in the Columbia River. Then it flows through the Bonneville Dam, in our own backyard, creating more energy for those of us in the Pacific Northwest. I’m not going to get into environment and whether or not dams are good or evil, that’s not the point.
It just seems wild to me how interconnected everything ends up being. We like to think we’re stand alone, but we’re not, neither as humans or society or nature. Takes me back to that skinhead thing I was worried about we’re all part of the same, not as different as some would have us believe. “They” drink the same water and use the same electricity as “us”. Anyway. I’ll actually move on now… Anyway, here’s a different link for some history about the dam and the area, if you’re so inclined.
Camping on the Hungry Horse Reservoir
A lot of the campgrounds are free year-round, but others cost a nominal $13-20 per night. Of course, it’s bear country, so store your food accordingly and don’t dump leftovers on the ground. I’m a big one for swinging the French Press out the camper door to empty the coffee grounds. I don’t know if bears like coffee, but I still don’t do that in their backyard. Bacon grease out the back door, now I’m pretty sure that’s going to attract any mammal, so don’t do it either! And also of course, if there’s not a garbage dumpster, take your garbage home with you. Don’t be “that guy” who leaves it behind. Dang, I’m on a rant today, worrying about skinheads and Leave No Trace offenders. Yikes.
Doris Creek Campground
So we stayed at Doris Creek Campground for one night. It was great, right on a small water inlet, easy walk to see the reservoir. But it wasn’t very private. It is, however, the first campground you come to on the Western bank of Hungry Horse, about nine miles from Hwy 2, so that’s super convenient. From Hwy 2, it’s about ten minutes to the West Glacier Entrance. We met a great guy from Virginia whose been traveling since January. It was good chatting with him and hearing about his adventures. That’s one thing I really like out here, talking to other people and learning their stories. Anyway, Doris Creek has ten sites, toilets and garbage service in the summer. Garbage service had ended for the year, so that made it free to stay. We like free!
Lid Creek Campground
Then we stayed a couple more nights further up the Hungry Horse Reservoir at Lid Creek Campground. It’s about 15 miles from Hwy 2. The map we got from the Ranger Station labels five mile increments. This campground has 23 sites, with only two other RVs there when we were. So private in October, when the weather is a little cooler but still gorgeous. We chose a site close to the water, where we spent quite a bit of time exploring and just sitting on rocks in awe of our good fortune.
We get to see amazing places everyday, then once in awhile we get to go home and see our family, then go out to more amazing places. I don’t take that for granted, even when sometimes I’m grousing and grumbling up a hill! I’m not the cheeriest uphill hiker. We took a few minutes to add some lettering to Cupcake. Just an easy way for people to follow our adventure. That’s kind of fun!
Camping vs RV life
Three times during our travels thus far, we’ve enjoyed camp fires. I’m the wood scavenger, going to all the empty campsites and taking their leftover wood. It’s super enjoyable, but also a little scary given the number of wild fires across the West this year. Also maybe the idea of it is more enjoyable than the act of it nowadays. I tend to build the “one-hour” fires, small ones where you can sit and look at it, but it goes out quick enough to head inside as it gets colder. When we camped with our kids, it seems like we pretty much constantly had a fire going. This may be one of the differences in being a once in a while camper and in living in our RV.
We didn’t explore the Hungry Horse Reservoir much beyond our campgrounds, but I think it would be fantastic to start a summer at one end, then stay at each campground along the way, making our way back around the other side to where we started. That would be a great adventure! We’re toying with the idea of Hiking the Continental Divide Trail next summer and it comes back near this area. That’s good motivation right there.