Well, it’s getting to be that time again. After four and a half months of working in Yellowstone National Park; the nights are getting cooler, the aspen are losing their leaves, and visitation is (finally) slowing down. It won’t be long now.
Last Monday (the 21st) was the south district going away party, held at the Bar N Ranch about five miles west of West Yellowstone.
It’s a much fancier place than I would pay to eat at myself, but boy was it good. My stuffed herb chicken dish cost $25, the other two options (bison meatloaf and hazelnut trout) weren’t cheap either. The meal was paid for entirely by the Yellowstone Association which was really nice of them, and we all got gift cards too for a record breaking season.
It’ll be the last time I see a lot of these people which is kind of sad, but I know I’ll be making new friends and meeting up with old ones when I get down to Amazon in a couple weeks. When your home is on wheels, goodbyes aren’t forever. Travel is cyclical and it’s amazing how often paths intersect.
On Friday (the 25th) I needed to make one last trip up to Bozeman, to take my drug test for Amazon. Not very exciting stuff, but on my way back I’m finally able to do something I’ve been hoping to do for months.
I’ve mentioned this in at least one previous post, but the drive between West Yellowstone and Bozeman is beautiful. Highway 191 cuts north to south through Gallatin National Forest, following the Gallatin River across broad meadows where brushy willow grow along the shore and through gorges where the mountains press in close. There are several small Forest Service campgrounds along the route and on this day I’m finally able to stop at two of them and check them out.
The first I stop at is called Moose Creek Flat campground, about eight miles north of the town of Big Sky, MT. This campground is the most open of the ones along 191, all 14 of the sites get full sun exposure most of the day. Because the valley the river runs through goes north to south, mountains block morning and evening light, but for solar powered RVers this would be an ideal campground so long as it doesn’t get too hot.
Site separation is pretty good, but there isn’t much privacy between sites since it’s all grass. Pads are all gravel, the campground is shaped like a lollypop. The sites on the east side of the “stem” are pull-throughs, the ones on the west side are back-ins. According to the website the longest site is 60′ long, many can fit large rigs but the sites around the loop at the end aren’t as long and are more ideal for tenting. All sites have a picnic table and fire ring, and there are two pit toilets and dumpsters. The sites along the west side do have direct access to the river and if you have a rear facing window you should be able to see the water through the trees from your RV.
This campground is officially open from May 15 – September 15, but you can still camp in it when it’s “closed” it seems, you just need to pack your garbage out yourself. It’s $14 a night (less with senior pass) with a max stay of 16 days, there are water spigots, and I’m guessing generators are allowed since I heard one going.
This campground also has a large parking area for day use river access, and a small picnic area.
The second campground is called Red Cliff, it’s about five miles south of Big Sky and named for the picturesque red cliffs on the eastern side of the valley.
At this campground the day use picnic area comes first when you make the turnoff, and the campground lies across a bridge beyond it which is kind of nice because it’s farther from the highway and the river helps obscure the noise. The bridge is wide and sturdy, even larger rigs wouldn’t have a problem crossing it.
Once you cross the bridge the road splits left and right into two long lollipop loops for a total of 68 sites. Sites in general aren’t as big or level as at Moose Creek Flat, the longest spur is listed as 50′, but I did see some larger rigs squeezed into spots. None of the sites that I saw (I didn’t go to the end of the right (south) loop) were very close to the water and most won’t have a view, but the ones on the west side of both loops do have water access and you can hear the river from everywhere in the campground if it’s quiet enough. All the sites I saw were back-ins.
There is a lot more privacy to be had in this campground because there’s more underbrush, the left (north) loop does have a more open area near the end of its lollipop where tall grass grows. If I were to stay in this campground this is probably the area I’d pick to stay in.
The south loop has 27 electric sites, which surprised me. I didn’t go as far down this loop because there were a lot of campers hanging around and I didn’t want to invade their privacy.
Water spigots and dumpsters are located near the entrance. The cost was $14 a night for a standard site, $19 a night for an electric site and less for senior/access pass holders. Maximum stay was 16 days. When I arrived the northern loop was already closed for the season and was gated off, the south loop closes on the 28th and also has a gate so there’s no way to camp here during the off season.
For more information on camping in Gallatin National Forest, the official forest service webpage is here: http://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/custergallatin/recreation/camping-cabins/recarea/?recid=5616&actid=29 Note that that is for Custer National Forest as well and it’s broken up into multiple regions. The campgrounds along 191 are considered part of the Bozeman unit.
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