Editor's Note: To see any of the previous articles in this series, click on the appropriate link listed. Montana's Mission Canyon, Nye, Montana, and Makoshita Park, Montana

youtubeThis is the fourth and final installment in the series on lesser known places in Montana that are worth exploring, offering multiple camping options and not likely to be as crowded as more popular attractions like national parks this summer. In this entry we will look at Fort Peck Dam, Fort Peck Lake and the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge. The name, Fort Peck, originated from an old trading post and Indian agency established in 1867 in part by Colonel Campbell K. Peck.

Fort Peck Dam is the largest hydraulically filled earth dam in the world, spanning more than 3.5 miles in length from bluff to bluff, blocking the flow of the Missouri River. The five turbines in the power plants can generate 185,250 kilowatts of power. The dam’s original purpose was not only to control floods downstream on the Missouri river, but to also create jobs during the Great Depression. It was one of many projects initiated by President Franklin Roosevelt under the New Deal program.  Construction began in 1933 and was one of the nation's largest public works projects during that time. At the peak of construction in 1936, the project provided 10,456 jobs. The influx of workers to build the dam spawned shanty towns that were scattered around the work area with names like; Square Deal, New Deal, Park Grove, Delano Heights and Wheeler. Once the dam was completed in 1940, these places disappeared almost as quickly as they grew. Some of the towns are now covered by water impounded behind the dam. RVers are welcome to drive their RVs across the full length of the dam.

Fort Peck Dam

The Fort Peck Interpretive Center located in the shadow of the dam tells the rich history of the area from dinosaurs to dam building. The interpretive center does a great job of detailing the full history of dam construction and subsequent power plants. There is a display of fossils collected from the area including a Triceratops skull along with wildlife displays, plus exhibits featuring early pioneer life in the area.

Exhibits Within the Interpretive Center

Power Plant Tours - Highly informative guided tours of the unique power plants are provided daily from Memorial Day - September 30. Note: As of this writing tours are currently suspended due to Covid. 

Power Plant

Fort Peck Lake impounded by the Fort Peck Dam is the largest body of water in Montana. It offers ample opportunity for water sports, fishing and water fowl hunting. More than 50 varieties of fish can be found in the reservoir. Some of the trophy species pursued by anglers include; northern pike, paddlefish, sauger, lake trout, small mouth bass and Chinook salmon. The lake is approximately 134 miles long with a maximum depth of 220 feet at full pool. The 1,520 miles of zig-zag shoreline provides endless potential for boaters to discover their own private cove to explore or spend the day. Boat launches are located at numerous locations around the lake.

Fort Peck Dam Spillway

Fort Peck Lake as Seen From the Spillway

Charles M. Russell (CMR) National Wildlife Refuge surrounds the majority of Fort Peck Lake. The refuge, managed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, provides over one million acres of public land for fishing, hiking, hunting, camping, bird-watching, and other outdoor recreation.

Between the dam, interpretive center, a lake containing a surface area of over 382 square miles and a refuge area containing over 1,700 square miles of land, you shouldn’t run out of places to explore during your visit.

When You Go:

Fort Peck Interpretive Center is open Friday to Monday 9:00 AM to 4:00 PM through September 6, 2021. Those with an interest in history will want to allot 2-3 hours to visit the interpretive center, more if you desire to dig into the archives. There is plenty of paved level parking available for RVs. Call 406-526-3493 for more information

Power Plant Tours are currently suspended due to Covid restrictions with no estimation on when they will restart, but I believe they are likely to resume this summer as restrictions are relaxed. Everyone wishing to take the tour must register at the Fort Peck Interpretive Center prior to the tour. All adults will need a photo ID. Tours are free.

Charles M. Russell (CMR) Wildlife Refuge - Hiking and camping is allowed anywhere on the CMR, but follow the regulations provided with the Refuge map. Maps and more information for the refuge can be obtained by writing to: CMR, Box 110, Lewistown, MT 59475 or by calling 406-538-8706.


Campgrounds with utilities:

Downstream Campground operated by the Corps of Engineers is located just below Fort Peck Dam on the Missouri River, a short walk or bike ride from the interpretive center. It offers standard electric sites for a very reasonable $18 – 20 per night

West End Tent and Trailer Campground operated by the Corps of Engineers overlooks the reservoir and offers electric sites for just $18 per night.

Primitive dry camping campgrounds:

Round House Point operated by the Corps of Engineers is located below the dam on the shores of the Missouri River. Camping is free

Duck Creek Recreation Area operated by the Corps of Engineers is on the shores of the reservoir. Camping is free.

Fort Peck Campground operated by the Corps of Engineers is on the shores of the reservoir. Camping is free.

Flat Lake operated by the Corps of Engineers is on the shores of the reservoir. Camping is free. 

RV Parks:  

Shady Rest RV Park is the nearest RV Park to Fort Peck located in the neighboring town of Glasgow, MT

Questions? Comments? Please add your thoughts below.

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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