SFM Camping Tips!

SFM – TJ’s Camping Tips - July 2014

By TJ Wierenga

Most people who go camping from the Billings area are well familiar with Red Lodge. The scenic, tourist-friendly area features several great campgrounds as well as many family-friendly hiking trails to explore. Every child in Yellowstone country should be able to say that they have fished at the famous Wild Bill Lake at least once in their life, and parents should be warned to be prepared to either thoroughly explain about “catch and release” fundamentals, or to cook fish later (mom-approved recipe follows). While fly-fishing is grand and glorious, hungry trout aren’t too picky and your family can easily catch your limit (which you will learn about when you buy an inexpensive fishing license at a local sporting goods store before you go) on an economical kid’s pole and a juicy piece of earthworm.

Past Wild Bill Lake and even beyond Basin Campground, up another 3 miles of well-maintained gravel Forest Road 2071 lies a quiet, slightly-more-remote option in Cascade Campground. Cascade offers tranquility and scenic views as it lies on the West Fork of Rock Creek. Moose sightings are not uncommon. There are 30 tent/RV sites (back-in) as well as vault toilets, fire rings, tables and potable (drinking) water. Wildflowers are particularly heavy throughout the area that was, in places, touched by the 2008 Cascade wildfire. Nearby hiking includes the Basin Lakes, Silver Run, Timberline and West Fork trail systems. For information contact the Custer National Forest, Beartooth Ranger District at 406-446-2103.

If exploring a bit farther toots your whistle, consider the Boulder River canyon near Big Timber. The site of many of the scenes from both “A River Runs Through It” and “The Horse Whisperer”, the area is surprisingly accessible. Even hauling a camper, most folks can reach Big Timber from Billings well within 90 minutes, and another half-hour up State Highway 298 will lead you to several fantastic camping opportunities. Natural Bridge Falls is an incredible natural formation that should not be missed; bring the camera. During high water levels on the Boulder (usually mid-June through mid-July), the river flows through two natural tunnels in the rock while as it cascades over 100’ Boulder Falls.

There are several developed campsites up highway 298; from Aspen to West Boulder to Chippy Park campgrounds, as well as many undeveloped sites in this National Forest access. Many are first-come, first-served as far as reservations, or call ‪406-932-5155 for more information. The fishing is world-class, and hiking trails abound.

Simple Super-Fresh Trout

Everyone knows that fish is best tasted when just-caught. Moms also know that fishy odors can linger in your house long after the fish has been eaten and the tales re-told. This super-simple method of cooking will result in the best-tasting fish with least home impact. J Pack cooking supplies in your hiking/fishing gear ahead of time. Be sure to follow area guidelines for proper cooking distances from lakes, creeks and rivers.


  • Fresh-caught trout
  • Sharp knife
  • 1-foot square sheets aluminum foil
  • Seasonings of choice (garlic powder, salt, pepper, parsley, etc) pre-mixed in Ziploc or other container
  • campfire

1 – Clean trout by slicing off the head behind the gills, then slice lengthwise down the body to the tail and remove entrails. Rinse well.

2 – Lay cleaned trout on a sheet of aluminum foil; usually a 1-foot square works well.

3 – Sprinkle with garlic powder, salt and pepper. If you have butter, add a few dabs. Fold foil up into sealed packet that won’t drip.

4 – Let your fire burn down to hot coals, then use tongs or a couple of sticks to place fish packets directly on top of the coals.

5 – Cook, turning a couple of times, for 10 minutes or so (depending on the size of the fish).

6 – Remove with tongs/sticks, and check for tender, flaky fish (steam will release when you open packet).

7 – Fish should flake easily away from the bones; best served with outdoors appetite.

8 – Be sure to pack out your trash!