Adventures in Montana

For those of you that have attended my Boondocking 101 seminar and are still a little apprehensive of taking your first step into the boonies; I will be sharing a few back-country adventures complete with boondocking locations on and off over the next several months. So be ready to capture some coordinates, enter them into Google Earth, apply what I have taught you and prepare to head out in the RV this summer.

First up will be a little-known mining camp in western Montana known as the Smuggler Mine.

Following is a brief history of the mine. The mine was first claimed in 1897 by John and Thomas Cavanaugh, James McDonnell, Mrs. Clara Conley and Carrie Herman. By the late 1920s, the Smuggler Mine property consisted of 13 unpatented claims producing primarily gold with some silver. A hydroelectric plant located above the mine powered a 100 ton amalgamation and concentration mill. Additional improvements at the mine included nearly 25 buildings including an office, assay office and numerous cabins to house approximately 45 people. Most are still standing today. At one time the site had running water, electric and telephone systems.

While records are spotty through the years, documented production from 1930 to1933 reported that $24,117.03 in gold or roughly 1,040 ounces was mined during that period. In today's dollars that is equivalent to over $1.1 million.  The mine operated until 1942 and then again in the 1950's, however no further production was documented or taxed during those times. A new adit was opened in 2010 in a renewed hope of finding gold, but little ore was shipped and the site was again abandoned.

Finding the Smuggler Mining Camp: From Sheridan, Montana head east approximately 8 miles on Mill Creek Road where you will find the mining camp on your left. Those of you navigating by GPS will find the "Grand Entrance" to the mining camp at N45° 28.829' W112° 02.369'

The site is protected under the American Antiquities Act of 1906 which prohibits the removal of artifacts or destruction of historic structures. The mine is also currently claimed making it illegal to remove minerals without the claim owners consent. Please respect it and take only pictures.

Now if the Smuggler Mining Camp sounds like a place you would like to check out, here are your boondocking / campground options.  I included the campgrounds for those that might have an anxiety attack on their first boondocking outing and need to retreat to the familiar surroundings of a campground.

Those of you who are ready to try boondocking will find multiple sites along a picturesque creek in which to do so. You will find the first boondocking campsite (Pictured) at: N45° 28.754  W112° 05.106 about 6 miles up Mill Creek Road from Sheridan. Enter these coordinates in Goggle Earth and you will see it, from here scroll up stream and you will see other potential boondocking sites.

For those of you that need to know where the campgrounds are located. (Just in case)...

Mill Creek Campground is about a mile and a half below the Smuggler Mine. There are approximately 10 campsites with picnic tables and fire rings. The campground features freshwater via a hand pump and vault toilets. Maximum RV length is listed as 22' but several of the spaces will accommodate much longer units.

Branham Lake Campground is at the end of Mill Creek Road about 4 miles above the Smuggler Mine. The campground is located on upper Branham Lake and contains 6 campsites with picnic tables and fire rings. The campground features freshwater via a hand pump and vault toilets. Due to road conditions past the Mill Creek Campground, only shorter high clearance vehicles will want to make the drive to this campground where they will find ample room to camp.

If you go:

Head east out of Sheridan on paved Mill St, which becomes Mill Creek Rd (FS111). After about 3 miles the road will turn to dirt and enter public forest. The forest road is primarily single lane with some rough spots, but navigable by RV for those comfortable with this type of road. After the Mill Creek Campground, the road is signed not recommended for RVs or trailers.

You will find the Mill Creek Campground at N45° 28.675'  W112° 04.167'

You will find the Branham Lake Campground at N45° 30.972  W111° 59.465'

While you are exploring the area be sure to drive to the end of the road where you will find two beautiful alpine lakes worth a visit.

Dave Helgeson
Author: Dave HelgesonEmail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Dave Helgeson is the MHRV Show Director. He and his wife love to travel across the west in their RV. Dave writes about all things RVing but loves to share destinations and boondocking advice.

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