Willow Creek Reservoir

Last Friday marked what would’ve been one of my best friends’ 46th birthday. Jer spent most of his life outdoors, exploring Montana, so every time I go camping I wonder if he’d like the camping spot. He was a mountain guy, so I’m not sure Willow Creek would be his favorite. But the Rocky Mountain Front is right there, so it’s close to the mountains. Not sure if that counts. I like to think he’d be happy just being outside, regardless of whether or not it was in the mountains, or the prairie.

Rocky Mountain Front
Rocky Mountain Front

When I moved back, I started exploring–first with Google Maps, then with my truck. I had no idea there were so many reservoirs in Central Montana. Over the past few years, I think I’ve decided that Willow Creek is my favorite. The shoreline is all public, dotted with dispersed camping sites. It’s best to get there mid-week before holiday weekends, because the spots fill up and nobody’s fond of the folks who try to squeeze in between two dispersed sites. Gotta leave some room to stretch out. Our basic rule of thumb is that if we have to tie the dogs up, the neighbors are too close.

The dogs love Willow Creek

Water levels were drawn down earlier this year to allow for dam repairs, then stocked with big trout when the reservoir filled back up. We haven’t been able to catch a small trout this year–all of them have been in the 16 to 20 inch range. We’ve been fishing from a little raft with an electric trolling motor, using copper spoons, and haven’t been skunked yet.

Willow Creek West Shore
It’s a reservoir, so levels get low at the end of summer when the farmers need the water

It’s Central Montana, so wind is almost always a factor. Be strategic with your camper placement–the wind ususally comes from the SW, so park accordingly. The proximity to the mountain front also means potential grizzlies–though we’ve yet to see one while camping. Never hurts to keep the bear spray handy, just in case.

Camp site
Use your campers as wind blocks

The area is perfect for star gazing, and if you find the right spot, you can use the mountain front to frame the bottom of your shot. If you’re a wildlife photographer, you’ll find the usual assortment of birds, and the pelicans make great models. You’ll also find cows–they roam free around the reservoir.

Milky Way
Milky Way over the Rocky Mountain Front
Pelican at Willow Creek Reservoir

On the south side of the lake there’s a boat ramp with a few standard camping spots and outhouses. Wind blocks are build around the picnic tables.

If you forget anything, or run out of beer, Augusta is only a 10-15 minute drive from the lake. And if you’re working remotely right now, AT&T has a decent enough signal in certain spots to push through a few emails. I wouldn’t trust it for any video conferencing, though. Verizon coverage seems to be about the same as AT&T. I got a better AT&T signal from the west side of the lake, but it depended entirely on where I was standing.

I’m still not sure if Jer would be a huge fan of prairie camping, but it’s safe to say he wouldn’t have turned down the opportunity. He’d be right there by the camp fire, PBR in hand, happy to be out of town for a weekend.


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