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Ackley Lake State Park lies just east of the Little Belt Mountains and a short distance to the west of the Snowy Mountains - the final bastions of elevation before giving way to Montana’s flat eastern plains. The 290-acre lake at the center of the park is surrounded by short rolling hills and was a favorite landscape for famed Western artist Charlie Russell, whose paintings popularized the cowboy lifestyle of Montana and the northern Rockies. About a 90-minute drive from Great Falls (one of Montana’s largest cities) and a half-hour's drive from the much smaller community of Lewistown, Ackley Lake remains delightfully uncrowded throughout the year.
When you book an RV in Judith Basin County and get a campsite at Ackley Lake Campground, you’ll need to be relatively self-sufficient. The state park lacks hookups of any kind, though there is a vault toilet available. If you need to empty the tanks on your RV rental, the closest dump station is in Eddies Corner, near the intersection of Highway 87 and 191. For any other necessities, you’ll need to go to Lewistown.
What it lacks in amenities, though, it more than makes up for with pristine natural spaces. If you’re looking for great waterfront camping near Great Falls, Ackley Lake is an excellent choice. Stocked with an ample supply of rainbow trout, the lake is a favorite with locals, but few visitors come from afar to fish its waters.
Central Montana is a paradise for outdoor lovers, with mountains, rivers, and lakes all readily accessible when camping at Ackley Lake Campground. An hour's drive east of Lewistown is Bear Gulch Pictographs, a fantastic hiking spot and a must-see for anyone interesting in Native American history. The site’s half-mile hike into its pictograph canyon is easy enough for almost all ages and fitness levels. Unlike many other archeological sites, Bear Gulch has seen only minimal disturbance, and most of the pictographs are in pristine condition.
There’s also the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument, one of the few sections of the Mighty Mo’ that still looks the way it did when Lewis and Clark passed through in the early 19th century. One of the best things to do here is rent a kayak in Lewistown or Great Falls and float through the Monument, seeing the famed White Cliffs of the Missouri along the way.
Sluice Boxes State Park is just over an hour's drive from Ackley Lake State Park and offers some of the most interesting hiking in the Little Belt Mountains. Its main trail parallels Belt Creek and follows the Montana Central Railroad’s now-defunct trackbed. The remains of the mines accessed by the railroad are still somewhat intact (entry is incredibly unsafe though), which makes hiking through the park a fascinating trip back in time.
If you’re in the mood for a scenic drive during your RV camping adventure, the Kings Hill Scenic Byway is an excellent route to take with your rental RV. The 71-mile-long section of Highway 89 passes through the mountain towns of Monarch and Neihart, overlooks the majestic Showdown Ski Area, before coming to its conclusion at White Sulpher Springs. Spectacular mountain scenery flanks both sides of the road throughout the journey, and if you want to turn the byway into a loop, it’s easy to add Highway 87 and 191 to get back to Ackley Lake State Park.
Great Falls may be the largest city near Ackley Lake, but Lewistown is the closet and probably where you’ll spend most of your time outside the campground. Founded during a gold rush and later sustaining itself as a railway stopover on the route to Great Falls, Lewistown is the hub of commerce in central Montana. On it’s Main Street, you’ll find a good selection of restaurants, souvenir shops, and even a microbrewery.
If you’re interested in learning more about Lewistown and its history, check out the Central Montana Historical Museum. The classic small-town museum is filled with clothes, household items, and knickknacks donated by the town’s residents over the years, which together tell the fascinating story of how Lewistown came to be what it is today.
A particularly unique experience when getting a rental motorhome at Ackley Lake Campground is the Charlie Russell Chew Choo – a tourist train that takes a 56-mile loop through the countryside while serving gourmet meals to its customers. This trip should be on any train aficionado’s bucket list.
There’s also the option of touring a Hutterite Colony when you’re motorhome camping near Ackley Lake. The Hutterites are an ethnic group descended from German Anabaptists, similar to Amish and Mennonites, and they live together in communes sharing the proceeds of their work. The vast majority of the group’s members live in Montana, spread out across the Rocky Mountain Front and central part of the state. The King Colony Ranch is fairly close to Lewistown, and its residents are happy to give tours and show outsiders how they keep their self-sufficient community running.