Our Montana adventure was about as perfect as it could get.
I mean, sure… We were the ones with the incessantly barking dog that disturbed the peaceful songs of the local birds. We almost lost our cute red awning during a rogue gust of mountain wind. An oversight in planning led to possibly one of the worst camping meals I’ve ever had. A mid-day windstorm forced us inside one afternoon. I didn’t bring enough reading material. And my 60-pound dog refused to ride anywhere but my lap on the way there- AND back.
But you know what? The (really) good stuff kind of makes me forget the (sort of) bad stuff. In fact, I’m already laughing about them.
But back to the perfection! (Brace yourself. This is going to be a long one.)
The idea for this trip to Montana came about when we visited our close friends in Bozeman recently. Remember that trip? They were moving to California and we wanted to soak up one last Bozeman experience with them before they ventured on. While we were there, we learned that a band I love called Blitzen Trapper would be playing at a funky VFW-turned-music venue at the end of the month, conveniently when Spencer would be returning to pack up his family and leave. The seed was planted. We planned a surprise visit for Spencer, a “one night only” scenario to see music and send them off to the West Coast. On either side of the concert, we’d camp! Brilliance!
On our many trips into Montana, we have a few favorite camp spots. There’s this spot, right on the river in Island Park, Idaho.
There’s another near Lower Mesa Falls we liked.
Our favorite, though, is lucky campsite #13 at Warm Springs. It’s at the end of the campground, so it’s pretty quiet, and it has an awesome deck over the river with stairs leading down to the water. Look!
Not wanting to press our luck with availability during the week leading up to July 4th, we called and attempted to make a reservation. Unavailable. We researched campgrounds near an adorable town called Ennis in Montana, and found two that seemed to be lakeside- Wade Lake and Cliff Point Campgrounds. The photos didn’t show much of the sites or the area. A phone call revealed that no reservations were taken- first come, first served. Well, we’d been lucky in the past. We decided to roll the dice and hope that there’d be room at one or the other.
We have spent weeks upon weeks in our 13-foot cottage on wheels. By now, we’ve got the packing scene down pat. There’s a surprising amount of space in Betty. We each have a cabinet for clothes and can hang stuff in her mini-closet. We use her old icebox as a pantry, and two coolers- one for food items that need to stay on ice, and one for drinks.
We also purchased a pet barrier to keep Cholula, who prefers Mama’s lap, in the back seat during the drive. Oh, don’t worry. We created an oasis for her back there.
Product fail. Or maybe I should say ‘Mama Restraint Fail’- I gave in before the second freeway exit.
Truth: the drive from Park City toward Montana isn’t awesome. It’s highway time with not a lot to see- that is, until you reach Ashton, Idaho. A glance to your right reveals the mighty Tetons, and from there, it’s heavenly in all directions.
As we approached the turnoff toward the campgrounds, we started feeling anxious. We had gotten a later start than we wanted to. We crossed our fingers that we’d find a good home to settle in for the next 5 days. We drove maybe 5 miles down a dusty dirt road, enjoying the Montana prairie landscape.
We came over a rise and around a bend and saw this view of Wade Lake, our intended destination.
We crossed fingers on BOTH hands now.
We drove into Wade Lake Campground, and to our dismay, the last lakeside campsite had been snagged by a gleeful couple in a Toyota 4Runner. Like, in the last 10 minutes. We may have missed our window. Disheartened but hopeful, we headed toward Cliff Point, but first, we spotted MEESE.
Oh, ya, WE’RE IN MONTANA. (You know I love a baby anything!)
Cute Baby Moose was lucky, it would seem, because Cliff Point had a few campgrounds to choose from- right on the water! All we could think was, “The photos on the website were horrible!” The glacier-fed water of these natural lakes looked like the Caribbean (except with cold water). We surveyed the options, pulled into site #1, and giggled at our good fortune. This campsite was ideal.
We poured a drink and went about our individual camp set-up duties as Cholula explored her new digs. By digging. (Do all dogs love camping?) Tummies rumbling, I put out a cheese plate a la home– Mt. Tam, a bit of buttermilk bleu, and pan-fried Haloumi.
Dinnertime was upon us. I’d put some thought into our camp food for the trip, and tonight’s meal was campfire-grilled bison burgers with bleu cheese and corn on the cob. Dinner was epic! Our first night was a success. Cholula even spent half the night sleeping on her own bed.
We awoke to the stillness of a Montana morning in the woods. The lake was like glass, in varying shades of icy teal. We spent a leisurely morning enjoying the views, exploring the shoreline, and making brunch.
The sun was shining brightly, warming up our camp quickly. I was thankful for the light breeze coming off of the water. Our red awning made a rare appearance and offered some shade for Betty, keeping her interior cool for a few hours until we took it down.
It was time to play.
After watching John tool around the lake on his paddleboard, it was my turn. I’d done it once before, so this wasn’t my inaugural paddle- but I was still unsteady.
I maintained my balance, remained upright and dry, and had a blast cruising around the crystal turquoise water. Life List #16 – cross it off the list!
The rest of our day was filled with kisses from the sun, playing with Cholula on the shore, observing other people enjoying this hidden gem of a lake via canoe, paddleboard, or raft. Kids laughed and frolicked at other campsites, and we heard the occasional confirmation echoing across the water that yes, they caught another craw-dad! A big one!
We decided to explore the dirt road that went around the side of the lake. There were campsites on the other side of the lake that were pack-in only. Before we headed off, we were reminded again that we were in wild Montana.
Not a dog.
The wildflowers that dotted our shady trail were stunning, but they couldn’t hold a candle to the lake. The color of the water was just incredible and our views were breathtaking- literally gasp-inducing. We also may have witnessed the happiest dog on the planet.
When we got back to camp, nothing sounded better than an afternoon snooze with the breeze blowing through the trailer’s windows. We weren’t the only ones who were tuckered out.
On the menu for tonight’s dinner: grilled tilapia fish tacos and Spanish rice. I made a sauce of sour cream, onion, japaleno, lime juice, fresh and dried herbs, and Cholula. We garnished the tacos with the sauce, fresh avocado and tomato, red cabbage and cilantro.
The food was better than anticipated, probably due in part to our view while dining. The colorful sky, the setting sun, and the crackling fire ended Day Two.
Have I mentioned that I love camping?
Stay tuned to read about our trip into Bozeman and the rest of our Montana camping adventure!