Painted Rocks State Park
Guide

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Introduction

Painted Rocks State Park is a superb place with colorful rock formations, plenty of activities and 25 campsites that are ideal for RVers. Located 24 miles south of Darby, Montana, Painted Rocks State Park is situated along the southern shoreline of Painted Rocks Reservoir. The 24-acre state park was created in 1963 and is within the West Fork Valley of the rugged Bitterroot Mountains. Painted Rocks State Park was named after the colorful lichens of yellow, orange, and green which drape the black and grey granite and rhyolite cliffs.

The surrounding area of Painted Rocks State Park was once the original homeland of the Salish Indian Tribe. The Salish tribe revered the area for its plentiful food that includes numerous berries, fish, and animals to hunt. They first encountered fur trappers in the early 1800s and by 1820 the West Fork of the Bitterroot was a major corridor for both European and American fur trappers.

Today, Painted Rocks State Park offers plenty of activities within a rugged landscape. Activities include hiking, biking, fishing, and watersports. Wintertime also brings things to do in Painted Rocks State Park like snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and ice fishing. The primitive campground is pack-in/pack-out with no services available for RVs or motorhomes.

Weather at Painted Rocks State Park in the summer has temperatures in the 70s to mid-80s with minimal rainfall. Wintertime temperatures are in the mid-20s along with plenty of snowfall.

RV Rentals in Painted Rocks State Park

Transportation in Painted Rocks State Park

Driving

RVers can access Painted Rocks State Park from Montana State Route 473, also known as the West Fork Road. Traveling south from Darby is a challenging drive through rugged mountains and narrow roads. Route 473 is accessed south of Darby along U.S. Highway 93. Once you are on Route 473 you will encounter plenty of hairpin turns which will make traveling slow going. The road travels along the West Fork of the Bitterroot River and drivers will experience numerous of curves following the banks of the river. Drivers with rigs should use turnouts when possible to allow for a steady traffic flow. Once you arrive at Painted Rocks Reservoir you will encounter two hairpins north of the park entrance that are challenging to navigate.

If you are driving north from Alta you will find similar challenging driving conditions along Route 473 through the West Fork Valley of the Bitterroot River. No matter which direction you are traveling, drivers need to remember that there will be steep driving conditions that will slow your travels. When you arrive in the park you will find easier driving conditions. There is one road that is somewhat narrow and caution should be used. You will find congestion in the park around the boat ramp and campground area. While driving within the park please adhere to all speed limits. Be aware of pedestrians, bicyclists, and children playing along the road near the campground.

Parking

Public Transport

Campgrounds and parking in Painted Rocks State Park

Campsites in Painted Rocks State Park

Reservations camping

Reservations

Camping at Painted Rocks State Park is first-come, first-served.

First-come first-served

Painted Rocks State Park Campground

The Painted Rocks State Park Campground is situated along one road that connects two small loops that contain 25 primitive campsites. The campground offers campsites with shade from trees and there is some privacy at each campsite. The primitive campground is pack-in/pack-out with no garbage service. Each campsite features a fire ring, picnic table, and a gravel parking pad, which will require leveling. There are no services available for RVs. Vehicles are limited to 25 feet in length. You are encouraged to fill your water tank and empty your holding tank before arriving at your campsite. The nearest dump station is located in Darby, which is 24 miles to the north. The primitive campground has vault toilets. There is no potable water on-site. Generators may be used from 8:00 a.m. until 9:00 p.m. Pets must be restrained at all times by a six-foot leash.

Alternate camping

Seasonal activities in Painted Rocks State Park

In-Season

Watersports

Boating, kayaking, and canoeing are popular watersports at Painted Rocks State Park. There is a convenient boat ramp connected to the campground. While out on the reservoir you will be surprised at the wonderful scenery and colorful lichen-draped rocks that give the reservoir its name. Before you launch your water craft check with the Montana boating regulations for licensing and size limits. Water levels can be low after August 1st due to irrigation and public water use of the reservoir.

Biking

Biking at the park is perfect for families looking to get in a little exercise while camping. The road through the park offers easy peddling with plenty of places to stop and enjoy the scenery. Other biking options include starting at the park entrance and following a portion of Route 473 to the northern portion of the reservoir where you will be rewarded with incredible vistas of the surrounding Bitterroot Mountains.

Fishing

Every person camping in a campervan or rig should always have their fishing pole. Fishing at the park is ideal year round from the shoreline or by boat. Once you dip your line in the lake, you can expect to catch a variety of fish including Westslope cutthroat trout, brown and rainbow trout, brook and bull trout, and mountain whitefish. Trolling is allowed and fly fishing can bring in a big fish during the early spring. You should check Montana fishing regulations for licensing and bag and size limits.

Off-Season

Wildlife Viewing

RVers should pack their binoculars and enjoy viewing some of the best wildlife in the world. The Bitterroot Mountains provide excellent rugged terrain for wildlife to survive in peace. While sitting next to the reservoir you can expect to spot a variety of wildlife in the surrounding Bitterroot Mountains. Wildlife sightings include big horn sheep, white-tailed deer, elk, moose, black bear, and plenty of birds. Bird species you can see include osprey, blue heron, golden eagles, and plenty of ducks and Canadian geese.

Winter Sports

Winter time at Painted Rocks State Park is loaded with fun. There are opportunities for sledding down one of the nearby hills. Cross-country skiing is popular within the park along the park’s road through the campground. Snowshoeing is the easiest form of winter time fun at the park. Snowshoers will find trekking around the reservoir perfect with a marked trail that circles the lake. The winter solace at the reservoir is ideal for peace and quiet.

Hiking

Hiking is popular at Painted Rocks State Park. There is plenty of shoreline to explore around the reservoir that is packed with easy to moderate hiking. As you hike around the lake, you can take a picnic lunch and stop at a secluded cove for a bite to eat and relaxation. Other hikes starting at the park will take you into the rugged Bitterroot Mountains which offer moderate to difficult trails that will take you to elevations of more than 10,000 feet above sea level.

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