Nelson Creek Recreation Area, Montana
Northeastern Montana is home to Fort Peck Lake. The lake has over 1500 miles of shoreline and there are 27 recreation sites where you can enjoy free dispersed camping. Nelson Creek Recreation Area information on Campendium. For more information about camping in other parts of Montana, see Complete Guide to Traveling Montana by RV.
Located about 140 miles east of Great Falls and 120 miles north of Billings, Fort Peck Lake is south of Highway 2 and Glasgow, MT. Take Highway 24 south 58 miles to Nelson Creek Recreation Area, Fort Peck Lake. Take a right on Nelson Creek Road. The sites begin about 3 miles from the main road.
I couldn’t have picked a better time and place to have my first boondocking trip. I learned so much about dispersed camping and had a very relaxing stay. We ended up staying 5 nights. Murphy enjoyed it very much.
The roads are gravel but well maintained. There are vault toilets and picnic tables. There are no other services in the primitive areas.
I had studied boondocking quite a lot and had most of what I needed with me. I knew I’d need a way to charge my house batteries and I travel with a small generator and a solar suitcase so I had that covered. I expected I’d need a way to stay warm during the night but I was concerned about my batteries being able to run the furnace fan.
Water and holding tank management was also a concern. I really didn’t know what to expect. I have dry camped a few times but never for more than a day. I watched my tank monitors like a hawk.
I started my stay at Fort Peck Lake with a full freshwater tank. My gray tank was was completely empty and my black tank was at 15%. Each of these tanks holds 38-gallons. I checked the tank levels just before we pulled out and my fresh tank was at 13%, gray was at 75% and black was at 40%. The last morning I was there I used my water pretty carelessly.
We had some chilly nights while we were there. I found I could run my furnace at 50 degrees to keep it from getting frigid in the trailer. There were several things I found indispensable. My down blanket really kept me warm at night. That was a great investment.
My solar panel was a lifesaver. I have a solar suitcase. It is not mounted to the RV but travels in a carry case and sits on the ground when in use. You just plug it into cables attached to the battery and point it toward the sun. I was impressed at how fast it fully charged the batteries. With full sun, it only takes about 2.5 hours to go from 50% charge to 100%.
I also love my Bluetooth battery monitor. It is wired to the batteries and I can check my levels whenever I like. It allows you to set alarms to warn you of low charges. It was super easy to install and set up.
I’m so happy I got my rechargeable blender. I make two protein shakes each day. I started the five-day stay with a full charge and made nine shakes without having to recharge.
I discovered my laptop is a total power hog. It will run for about 3.5 hours on a full charge but the most power-saving way to recharge it is to shut it completely off and charge it using my portable power station. Speaking of my portable power station. I tried to charge it using my solar panel and discovered it won’t charge that way. Both the power station and the solar panel have a charge controller which keeps the batteries from overcharging. I’d have to bypass the solar panel charge controller to use the solar panel with it. For now, I’ve been charging it by plugging it into the truck when I drive.
I’ve been using my portable power station as my primary means of power. I charge my devices, run my c-pap machine, play music, etc. with it. I think it would be really helpful to have another smaller power station one for other items and as a backup. I have ordered one that is the same brand as the one I currently have and an 80W solar panel with no charge controller made specifically to go with the power stations. I’ll get them when I’m in Portland in December.
Update; I have been using these two items for several months and love them both.
The main highways around Fort Peck Lake were just fine as you would expect. Once you leave the highway, you’re on gravel which is graded and maintained. As with any dispersed camping area, the road had some areas of heavy washboarding. I found it best to keep my speed very low to minimize the bounce. Some of the spur roads into the campsites were heavily rutted and it would be easy to get high-centered if you have low clearance. Additionally, some of the spur roads would not be suitable for really large rigs.
Downstream Campground near the dam and Fort Peck has a dump station and potable water for a nominal fee.
Groceries and gas are available in Circle, MT, 50 miles southeast. The grocery store is a small country market. If you need something bigger, the nearest is in Wolf Point about 75 miles north, or Glasgow about 65 miles northwest.
I had a strong Verizon signal and was able to pick up a good wifi signal as well. AT&T signals were mediocre.
Things to do
This is a remote recreation area where dispersed camping is allowed. The lake is glorious. Bring your boat and fishing gear. Spend some time sunbathing and hiking or just relax.