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In 1907 the US Forest Department became concerned about the risks of overgrazing and mining Montana and purchased a huge swath of land. This area was originally called Otter National Forest. However, sometimes in 1908, the romanticized stories about the Battle of the Little Bighorn and Custer’s Last Stand approached a fever pitch, and the Forest Department caved to the pressure and changed it to Custer National Forest. The Forest Department steadily added large land purchases over the subsequent decades. Today, Custer National Forest sprawls across a large chunk of eastern Montana, spilling over into South Dakota.
The closest large town depends on which part of Custer National Forest one is visiting. Bozeman, MT, is a growing ski town that has grown by leaps and bounds in the latter part of the 21st century. Billings is the largest city in Montana, and it, too, has experienced rapid growth and is the site of several attractions like ZooMontana, Pictograph Cave, and Pompey’s Pillar. Billings is about 50 or 60 miles north of the closest access point to Custer National Forest. Search for an RV in Rosebud County, MT, and prepare to embark on a memorable RV camping adventure.
Over 1,500 miles of hiking trails wind and weave through 1.2 million acres of grasslands, prairies, and forests. Most of the maintained hiking trails are near Red Lodge and Ashland, though adventurers are welcome to go backcountry hiking off trails elsewhere. However, they are cautioned to be familiar with reading maps and orienteering. In some areas - particularly in flat prairie and grassland regions where there are no landmarks - it’s very easy to become lost. Several hundred miles are open to off-road vehicles, horses, and mountain bicycles. As soon as the cold descends upon southern Montana and blankets the region in deep soft snow, almost 150 miles of trails are groomed, making them available to snowmobiles and cross-country skiers.
Custer National Forest is the habitat of hundreds of different mammals, birds, and amphibians. A shortlist includes wolves, grizzly bears (albeit rare), moose, pronghorn antelope, black bear, and bison. One of the rarer raptor birds, Merlin, is found in a large concentration in Custer National Forest, and it is the largest in the United States.
Though there aren’t many ponds and lakes in this region, there are hundreds of thousands of miles of streams and creeks that babbles and gurgles their way downhill. Among many species of fish, anglers can expect to catch brook and rainbow trout and smallmouth and largemouth bass.
Rock climbing is a popular activity at Custer National Forest, particularly in the Hyalite Canyon near Bozeman. The bitter cold that plagues the region in winters doesn’t stop rock climbers from having their fun. When the waterfalls in the Hyalite Canyon freezes over, they ascend it using crampons and ice axes. The canyon is considered a world-class ice-climbing spot because the canyon keeps the waterfalls frozen for longer.
RV camp in Custer National Forest, surrounded by nature and sheer wilderness. Instead of listening to the noisy hotel, neighbors argue, listen to sprightly birdsongs in the trees. Instead of enduring the hum of an air conditioner, enjoy the soft hoots of owls as they prepare to go hunting. Custer National Forest has over 30 RV campgrounds within its boundaries, and there are several privately-run campgrounds nearby, too.
Close to the Big Sky region is Greek Creek Campground. Although it’s a smaller campground with only 14 sites, that also means it’ll be a quieter camping experience. There are faucets with running water and toilets.
RV camp near Hyalite Canyon in Hood Creek Campground. One of the larger campgrounds near the canyon, it has 25 sites and a stunning view of the valley. There is also a restroom and running water on-site. However, due to the campground’s elevation, this campground is closed in winters.
Alternatively, look for a privately-run campground that may have more amenities for its guests. The KOA, located in between Red Lodge and Roberts, MT, boasts amenities like full hookups, WiFi, and a dog park. The family-friendly campground also has a heated pool, fun planned activities for both children and adults, and bicycle rentals.
Join the other rubberneckers on the Beartooth Scenic Highway by renting a motorhome. The 68-mile journey begins in Red Lodge, meanders through woods and prairies, and ends near the northeast entrance of Yellowstone National Park in Silver Gate, MT.
Many small towns operate historical societies and museums as a way to honor their heritage and hold onto their culture. Montana Museum in Cooke City, MT, illustrates what life in these rural parts was like for the early trappers and frontiersman. There are several original artifacts used by the first men and women who ventured into the rugged mountains on display, along with maps, documents, and tools.
Rolling from town to town in an RV rental, stop in one of the small shops displaying local artists or crafters’ goods. Search for the perfect souvenir to take home to remind you of this once-in-a-lifetime RV camping trip.