Long, warm summer days are a commodity in Montana that we never take for granted. Still, unlike folks who vacation to Montana, many of us have to fit our summer recreation around our hectic lives. Luckily, there are a multitude of ways to enjoy summer days and nights without having to take lots of time off of work. Here are just a few ideas for quickly enjoying these gorgeous summer days that don’t require much time, money, or planning.
No time to load up all your camping equipment or stock the RV for a long weekend? No problem. Here’s what you need for day-camping in Montana: a tank of gas, a cooler, a couple of camp chairs, and a place on the water. From there, you can add fly-rods, a good book, and campfire materials (in designated areas only, of course). Here are some suggestions for finding a spot:
- No matter what part of Montana you hail from, your local stretch of highway and back roads are littered with brown signs indicating fishing access and camping locations. Pull into one of these and start searching. Don’t be discouraged by crowds. In most locations, it’s easy enough to take off on foot, following the high water mark, to find a location to call yours for the day. When the water drops, wading across channels to a sandbar becomes a great way to secure a mostly-private day-camping spot.
- Mountain lakes are the perfect setting for day camping. Depending on where you live, you may have to hike a short way. In Western Montana, we have many options for day-camping on a lake. Look for locations that are designated for “day-camping” and get there early to establish your day-camp.
- Visit https://montanastateparks.reserveamerica.com/ to learn about designated camping spots in your area. Scout them out during the week to see if they will fit the bill for your weekend day-camping plans. Once you start looking around, you will be amazed at how many places are available to people who just want to camp for a day.
- Camping on public BLM land in Montana is permitted. Dispersed camping is camping on public lands located apart from recreational facilities. The public is asked to try to look for spots that have previously been flattened or “disturbed” by other campers as opposed to creating new disturbances. Some areas are closed due to hazards and wildlife activity, so check with your local BLM office before heading out.
If you don’t have all day to camp somewhere, toss the “CAR-be-cue” (portable barbecue) in the car and head out to your favorite picnic area. This fun-in-the-sun activity requires virtually no preparation (beyond making sure you have a full gas canister) because you can swing into the grocery store and get what you need on the way! Splurge on your favorite brats and buns, and pull into the deli for pre-made potato or pasta salad. (Pro tip: Most grocery stores sell pre-chopped veggies, so if you don’t love premade pasta or potato salad, consider purchasing pre-chopped red onion, red and green pepper, and a small jar of dill relish. Most delis also have cooked bacon you can crumble up. These ingredients are sure to level up premade picnic sides. When going through the deli, look for packets of mustard and ketchup, forks, and napkins.) Head to your favorite destination and enjoy grilling your brats on a river bank, at a roadside campground, or up in the mountains!
When you don’t have a lot of time but you want to enjoy the July weather, hit the trail for a short hike. You can carve out a couple of hours to hike in and out of a mountain lake or you can do a half hour in and half hour out. There are so many beautiful hiking trails in Montana, so finding one that matches your fitness level and schedule is easy. Visitmt.com is an incredible resource for hiking trails in your area.
If you’ve always wanted to hike, but don’t know where to start, look for groups in your area for beginner hiking. Meet-ups are a great place to start. If you don’t have meet-ups in your area, go to a sporting goods store and ask someone in the hiking department or customer service if they know of any beginner hiking classes or groups. Places like REI, Bob Wards, and Scheels typically have knowledgeable staff who can recommend a group or suggest a local hiking trail for beginners.
Same day exploring
Western Montana is rich in outdoor activities and splendor, like ghost towns, natural hot springs, waterfalls, fire towers, historic buildings and turnouts, and charming small towns. Have you ever just grabbed a picnic lunch and turned out for all the historic signs along the highway? Is there a remote hot springs destination near you that everyone talks about but you have never visited? How about that ghost town that is just a couple of hours from where you live? If you live in Northwestern Montana, have you ever just driven to one of Glacier National Park’s lodges and hung out for the day, enjoying cocktails and appetizers from the outdoor deck? Map out a same-day trip to a local or local-ish destination and learn something new about the place you call “home.”
It’s human nature to take our home turf for granted, thinking it’s something that we’ll get to “someday.” If you can only take a break for a few hours, consider exploring the nooks and crannies of your own town. Spend some time in antique and bookstores, treat yourself to lunch on the patio of a place you haven’t tried in a while, followed by ice cream from your town’s ice cream parlor or a decadent dessert from one of your favorite bakeries. Visit craft vendors in the park, or pull up a blanket with a new book and enjoy the sunshine before heading to a brewery, distillery, or artisan bar that you don’t frequent. Getting re-acquainted with your hometown is a great way to spend a July summer afternoon, and you’ll come away with a whole new appreciation and gratitude for where you live.