Ultimate to Dispersed Camping Near Glacier National Park & Best Campgrounds

Representing a large expanse of land made up of icy glaciers, crystal clear frosty mountain streams, and snow-covered summits that make you think you’ve been teleported right into the outskirts of Switzerland, Glacier National Park is a wintertime fable setting come to life.

For the record, this place also constantly catches fire.

Also, it has a mountain goat as its unofficial mascot, which makes sense given that climbing ability represents one of the most important perks a creature can have around these parts.

This guide lists my favorite dispersed camping spots near Glacier National Park. As you will see, the sheer size of this park and its broader region means you can enjoy plenty of fantastic campgrounds. 

Map of Dispersed Campgrounds Near Glacier National Park

You can easily find the locations of the best dispersed campgrounds near the national park using this map.

Overview of Glacier National Park Dispersed Camping

Glacier National Park in Montana

Spanning an enormous area that covers over 1 million acres, Glacier National Park is about the same size as Rhode Island.

While seeing all that this gorgeous park offers can take you a lifetime, an exciting way to catch as much of its beauty as possible would be to drive down the world-renown Going-to-the-Sun Road.

This road represents the only major paved artery in the park, and it will lead you through verdant valleys, steep mountain ridges, enchanting forests, and past significant lakes with crystal clear water.

Some points of interest you can see while going down this route include Saint Mary Lake, Lake McDonald, Logan Pass, Bird Woman Falls, and many other natural curiosities.

This unique region of Montana was also the setting for the Oscar-winning Forrest Gump, and it’s no wonder, as the 1 million acres of terrain (though some of which is lakes and streams) provides more than enough space for young Forrest to run and get rid of his symbolic prosthetic shackles.

In terms of its camping potential, this part of Montana (similar to many other national parks) is unfortunately closed for dispersed camping. That said, there are plenty of excellent camping opportunities from virtually all sides just outside of the park.

Best Dispersed Campgrounds Near Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park is a vast expanse of glacier-filled, mountainous terrain with gorgeous lakes, creeks with cold, clean water, and plenty of camping opportunities. While dispersed camping is not allowed within the park’s borders, there are plenty of fantastic primitive campgrounds just outside.

In the section below, I will list my favorite dispersed campgrounds near Glacier so you have some idea of your options when visiting this rather broad region. 

Skyland Road 

Waterfall near Glacier National Park
  • Map 
  • Water availability: no 
  • Toilets: no 
  • Visitor frequency: medium 

Representing a hillside stretch of road that is unpaved and winding but ultimately passable for most smaller to medium-sized vehicles, Skyland Road can be an excellent campground for anyone looking for neat, roadside pullout sites with a fantastic view.

As the road progresses uphill, negotiating for more prominent and significantly longer vehicles gets rougher and more brutal. If you plan to visit this place onboard an RV, you might be best off sticking to the first few miles of the road.

This campground is relatively easy to find, directly connected to Highway 2. Also, the exit for Skyland Road from the highway is just south of the locally renowned and beloved Summit Mountain Lodge & Steakhouse.

If you appreciate fine cuisine (especially meat-based), you will love the menu at this establishment, as it includes appetizers such as wild romesco prawns and main courses such as the cheekily-named Angry Bear Hanger.

A beautiful evergreen forest surrounds the road in all directions, so you’ll find fantastic spots among the trees and around Challenge Cabin, where the woodland surfaces are the flattest and most well-kempt (the cabin can be rented, for the record, but it’s only available during winter).

Hungry Horse Reservoir

Emery bay on Hungry Horse Reservoir
  • Map 
  • Water availability: no 
  • Toilets: no 
  • Visitor frequency: high 

The Hungry Horse Reservoir represents a significant dispersed camping opportunity that has it all – a large woodland area with beautiful evergreen trees and greenery everywhere, a sizable body of water that gives this patch near Glacier its freshness, and gorgeous photo-op-filled scenery wherever you turn.

The campground covers an area that’s part of Flathead National Forest, a place just south of the Canadian border and features wild, winding rivers, gorgeous lakes, and a broader rugged outdoors perfect for backpacking. There are also over 2,000 miles of trails if you like hiking in the outback.

Setting up your tent next to the reservoir is a challenge, as the only way to secure a spot is to come here early. The visitor frequency at Hungry Horse is relatively high, so getting here before everyone else does is a must (at least for the most popular sites near water).

If you’d like to visit this place onboard your RV, sticking to the main forest roads and the roadside pullout campgrounds is the best idea (scouting ahead before you drive up some rough patch of this area can be a great way to bypass these issues). That said, you can reach many more beautiful campgrounds near the water and with stunning views with an RV, but do expect a bumpy ride.

Lower Whitefish Road 

Funicular near Lower Whitefish Road, Montana
  • Map 
  • Water availability: no 
  • Toilets: no 
  • Visitor frequency: high 

Lower Whitefish Road is an extensively spread camping spot you want to take advantage of, representing a fantastic blend of camping near water and mysterious trails that disperse all over rural Montana and around Glacier National Park.

While Whitefish Road does provide some of the most beautiful scenes in Montana, the downside to camping here is that the road can take time to navigate. Even if you navigate the street, the campsites are relatively small, so you need help parking the vehicle. Unfortunately for RV enthusiasts, coming here onboard your favorite recreational vehicle is not an option unless it’s on the smaller side regarding its size.

The dirt road leading to this place gets quite dusty during the summer and is generally busy during the day. That said, you will encounter much less traffic if you want to snatch a site at night.

Once you’ve parked up and set up your tent or just expanded your RV awning, you can sit back and enjoy the natural beauty of this place. Also, you can use Lower Whitefish Road as a base camp for exploring the nearby towns of Whitefish and Kalispell (Whitefish is more of a touristy resort settlement, by the way).

Last but not least, you need to pay a $10 fee to camp in this part of Montana, as this campground sits on Montana State Trust Land. You can get a permit at this website

McGinnis Creek Dispersed Campground 

Flathead National Forest in Montana
  • Map 
  • Water availability: no 
  • Toilets: no 
  • Visitor frequency: medium 

Another campground within the scenic Flathead National Forest, McGinnis Creek, is full of hillocks, greenery and little mesas overlooking gorgeous valleys with mountains as the backdrop.

The altitude at McGinnis Creek is over 3,500 feet, so do expect clean air, fantastic scenery, and high-elevation terrain everywhere you look. The hilly landscape means that visiting this place onboard a large RV can be tricky, especially if you need to be more experienced in off-road driving. (A bit of scouting before you try to tackle the many winding sharp corners can help a bunch, though.)

That said, if you can navigate a few miles of dirt roads, your reward will be some of the most gorgeous views of the valley below. Even if you get to this place to take photos of this magnificent patch of land, it’d be time well spent.

There are three sites at this campground, so arriving before everyone else is a must if you mean to secure one of them.

In terms of amenities, there is no source of potable water and no toilets, so total self-sufficiency is a must. 

Demers Ridge Dispersed Campground 

Hiking trail near glacier national park
  • Map 
  • Water availability: no
  • Toilets: no
  • Visitor frequency: medium 

Demers Ridge Dispersed Campground is an excellent place for RV enthusiasts and campers. It features ten individual sites with gravel as the ground surface. Though, given the size of this campground and the ease of access when it comes to large vehicles, if you’re a proud owner of a large RV, Demers Ridge can be just the place for you (for the record, the largest RV used for camping here was 42 feet and had quite a few wheels more than the primary four).

Sitting at a moderate elevation of just over 1,000 feet, the terrain at Demers Ridge is considerably easier on larger vehicles. The gravel road won’t produce dust clouds in the summer, and a relatively flat environment makes driving around in an RV a relatively easy experience.

The campground looks like a large, flat, mesa-like clearing where you can comfortably park several heavy recreational vehicles. Many visitors use this free campground as a base camp for exploring the local hiking trails or as an entrance point to the Glacier National Park and the nearby Apgar Campground (though, to stay at Apgar, you need a reservation. Otherwise, it’s a first-come, first-served campground).

Visiting Demers Ridge in an RV will give you the best camping experience. The maximum duration of stay at Demers Ridge is 16 days. There are no amenities nor a source of potable water, so you must carry all of these supplies with you. 

Middle Fork Flathead River Dispersed Campground

Middle Fork Flathead River in Montana
Photo by Burley Packwood via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0)
  • Map 
  • Water availability: yes 
  • Toilets: no 
  • Visitor frequency: high 

Representing a large camping area that’s a bit tough to reach but otherwise a great place to stay if you like boondocking and camping next to a significant gorgeous body of water, Middle Fork Flathead campground can be a great place to spend a few nights and days.

The trickiest part of this river coast area is that reaching it means dealing with demanding, sometimes muddy terrain, so arriving here with a high-clearance 4×4 would give you a clear advantage. (Although large and long RV rigs are also a thing here. The most extended vehicle reported camping here is some 45 feet long.)

During the summer, this place is bustling with tourists and visitors from all over the country, so finding a spot can be challenging during the peak season. The locations close to water, in particular, tend to be the ones that get occupied the quickest.

Regarding amenities, at Middle Fork Flathead River, you will find a secure water source and a couple of toilets. Also, there are quite a few fishing spots, so if you’d like to try your hand at some Flathead River angling, you might as well bring your best tackle for the camping trip. 

For more great riverside camping spots, see our Kern River primitive camping guide as well.

Zip’s Loop Dispersed Campground

Flathead River near Zip's Loop Dispersed Campground in Montana
  • Map 
  • Water availability: no
  • Toilets: no 
  • Visitor frequency: medium

If you’re on the lookout for a quiet campground where you can park up your RV or set your tent and enjoy some privacy combined with excellent views, beautiful woodland nature complete with evergreen trees and the mountains as the backdrop, Zip’s Loop can be just the place.

This relatively secluded campground can also be a great option for pet owners. If you keep your four-legged (or however many-legged) friend on a leash, rest assured that you will have a fantastic time staying at Zip’s Loop.

For the most part, campgrounds just outside the national park consist of dusty pull outs near dirt roads or gravel mesas with plenty of space. In the case of Zip’s Loop, the setup is grass + dirt road and some smaller gravel patches. Its semi-grassy surface makes this place a tad different from other similar campgrounds.

If you enjoy fishing as a side activity during your stay, the Flathead River is just a short drive away (if you’d like to learn more about the local fishing opportunities, you can check out this website). This scenic body of water is home to such fish species as largemouth bass, brown and rainbow trout, and the northern pike. 

Abbot Bay Boat Launch 

Flathead near Abbot Bay
  • Map 
  • Water availability: yes 
  • Toilets: vault toilets
  • Visitor frequency: high 

Featuring fantastic views of Abbot Bay and providing a relatively private camping experience, the boat launch campground consists of two separate venues – one is flatter and close to the water, while the other is farther from the bay, up a dirt road. 

If you plan to visit this campground onboard an RV, your best bet would be to go for the lower section near the water. Plenty of space to park a large rig in this bay section, and the views are fantastic. 

On the other hand, if you’re looking for more of a secluded experience and have a 4×4 vehicle or a large truck, tackling the ascending dirt roads can be a decent idea, as these will lead you to some great campgrounds.  

The one thing about this place that can be considered a downside would be the locals, who sometimes are known to throw parties in the vicinity of this campground. That said, if you’re here early in the morning, you likely won’t have to endure any noise pollution, as most of the partying is complete by dawn. 

Regarding amenities, at Abbot Bay, you can find vault toilets and access to potable water. Also, there is ample fishing opportunity both from the shore and from a boat, so if you’d like to combine some angling with your camping expedition, stopping by Abbot Bay Campground can be a great idea.    

Blankenship Bridge 

  • Map 
  • Water availability: no 
  • Toilets: no 
  • Visitor frequency: medium 

At half an hour from Glacier’s west entrance, Blankenship Bridge is a rather busy riverside campground that offers visitors excellent fishing, swimming, boating, and even river rafting opportunities. 

Blankenship Bridge closely follows the Flathead River and is a part of the Flathead National Forest. You can find the best campsites closely following the shoreline, as there is a solid gravel surface that you can pitch your tent on or even park up a recreation vehicle. 

Due to the immense popularity of this campground and the fact that it’s situated close to a couple of privately-owned properties, the locals are attempting to petition to close this place for dispersed camping. However, the most recent news about this place is that it’s still very much open for camping. (that said, if you plan to visit this place, checking out the current state of ‘capability’ is a must.

You can camp at Blankenship Bridge for only up to three nights consecutively, and this place gets rather crowded during the summer, so if you plan to camp here, arriving before everyone else is the best course of action. 

This place is entirely prominent and rig-friendly, and the campsites allow pets. There are also fire rings, in case you want to start a campfire and make an excellent atmosphere for roasting marshmallows and sausages near water during the evening.

The Coal Banks 

North Fork Flathead River near The Coal Banks
Photo by Joe Mabel via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 2.0)
  • Map 
  • Water availability: no 
  • Toilets: no 
  • Visitor frequency: medium 

Last but not least, if you like camping next to the water, the Coal Banks campground, with its proximity to North Fork Flathead River and the Coal Creek, will provide you with plenty of fresh running water to fish in, as well as fantastic views and ample space for setting up your tent (or, for parking up your RV). 

Regarding RVs, small rigs and other vehicles can tackle the terrain around the Coal Banks, but larger rigs or long truck + trailer setups will have trouble navigating the road to this campground. For this reason, if you own a big rig, you should look for another campground. 

There is an exciting location near this campground that you should visit if you’re a fan of the Old West look and charisma. The small community of Polebridge represents a place that serves as a gateway to the national park but also covers the needs of an entire patch of Northwest Montana. 

At only one mile from Glacier, this place offers visitors camping space, general stores, bakeries, and some outdoor-related rental equipment, including inflatable kayaks, wetsuits, stand-up paddleboards, and even electric bikes. 

The Coal Banks campground has several private properties so you will get little privacy. That said, this place more than makes up for it with its sheer beauty and the spaciousness of the sites. 

Dispersed Camping in Flathead National Forest 

Dispersed Camping in Flathead National Forest

Representing one of the significant camping areas adjacent to Glacier, the Flathead National Forest is an immense treasure trove for an outdoor enthusiast.

Featuring plenty of wilderness outpost-like cabins you can rent, an excellent network of hiking trails, and endless gorgeous creeks, lakes and roadside campsites, this forest has been a visitor’s favorite for many years.

Since many of the dispersed campsites on this list sit within the boundaries of this scenic woodland area, I’m listing here some of the additional excellent activities you can pursue other than camping, so you can have some idea of the choices you have at your disposal: 

  • Hiking
  • Whitewater rafting
  • Wildlife viewing
  • Snowmobiling
  • Skiing 

An important note: All of these activities are available year-round. With careful planning, you can organize a fantastic camping trip that you will remember for years. 

Where to Next?

Visiting one of the largest and most beautiful National Parks in the United States can be a much more pleasurable experience if you have a base camp to start your expedition.

The area just outside the park is just as gorgeous as the park and the dispersed campgrounds; in many cases, it offers plenty of opportunities for fishing, boating, hiking, and many other great outdoor activities.

When you’ve fully experienced the majestic allure of Glacier National Park, why not let the adventure continue? Venture into the captivating wilderness of Wyoming, another treasure trove for outdoor enthusiasts. Dotted with national forests and abundant in wildlife, Wyoming offers an equally thrilling and diverse camping experience. So, as your journey continues, don’t forget to check out our comprehensive guide to primitive camping in Wyoming.

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