Camping is allowed on much of Montana’s State Trust Lands.
As long as the land you plan to camp on is accessible from some kind of publicly-owned road or navigable waterway, you’re generally cleared for camping. A “General Recreation License” must be purchased ahead of time.
Camping on Montana State Trust Lands
The State of Montana owns more than 5.1 million acres of State Trust Lands. Much of this land is open for recreational uses, including camping. All of the state’s trust lands are managed by the Montana Department of Natural Resources & Conservation (DNRC).
The only trust lands not open for camping are those that the DNRC has closed off to the public through some kind of posted sign, or lands leased under some kind of special agreement. Note that some leased lands are still open for camping, but will require either a “Special Recreational Use License” or will be severely limited in length of stay and other uses.
What Lands Are Available for Camping?
- Generally, any Montana State Trust Land that is accessible without having to cross through private property, is open for camping. This also includes land that is publicly accessible via navigable waterway, such as rivers and lakes.
- Lands that are posted with signs prohibiting entry by the general public is not available for camping.
- Agricultural lands (between planting and harvest), as well as lands leased for home sites or cabin sites, active military purposes, or commercial purposes, are categorically (automatically) closed to recreational use.
The DNRC has an online interactive map that shows where Montana State Trust Lands are…
- Make sure to click on, “Public Lands (MSDI)” in the Layers List
- Montana State Trust Lands are represented in light blue
This seems to be the only decent online map for Montana State Trust Lands.
Camping Rules on Montana State Trust Lands
- Camping is generally limited to 16 days per 30 day period. (See, “Trust Land Recreational Use FAQs“)
- Camping on land currently leased or licensed to another party is allowed, as long as you remain within 200 feet of a public road or navigable waterway. However, you are limited to just two two consecutive days (or one night). If you want to camp beyond 200 feet, you will be required to obtain a Special Recreational Use License.
- Your vehicles can only be driven on publicly-owned roads (county or state roads). Off-road use is strictly prohibited.
- Open fires are restricted to designated campgrounds. Fireworks are prohibited.
- Camping via horseback requires a Special Use License.
- Cutting or gathering firewood requires a Special Use License.
- Hunting, fishing, or trapping requires a license from the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife & Parks.
Camping Requires a General Recreation License
The DNRC will require you to purchase a “General Recreation License”, available at any DNRC regional office. For a list of regional offices and their locations, see, “Guide to Recreational Use of Montana’s State Trust Lands“.
Cost of the license is $10.00 per adult. $5.00 for minors. $5.00 for seniors. The license is good for a 12 month period beginning on March 1st of each year.
The DNRC also has a “Special Recreational Use License” if you want to camp beyond the rules listed in the Camping Rules above…
Special Recreational Use Licenses
The DNRC issues Special Receational Use Licenses for types of recreation that go beyond normal use…
- Camping via horseback requires a license.
- Camping on leased or licensed lands, beyond 200 feet of a public road or navigable waterway, will require a license.
- Camping beyond the standard 16 days in a 30 day period.
- Camping as part of a large group of people
- Cutting or gathering firewood requires a license.
- Collecting rocks and minerals requires a license.
- Collecting old artifacts, archaeological remains, requires a license.