Camping Hebgen Lake - Exploring Campsite Options and Our Newest Favorite Getaway

We had camped at Hebgen Lake 3 years ago, but a toxic algae bloom paired with days of snow and rain left us unimpressed. Of the 6 days we stayed we saw the far edge lake threw the rain and fog maybe once. It was beautiful and quiet, but after 10 months exploring some of the country's most beautiful and secluded locations, it felt like any other lake along the way.

A stormy morning on Hebgen Lake, June 2017
A beautiful sunny sunset on Hebgen Lake, July 2020

This trip however was different, we had made the tough choice to split off from family and stay in Yellowstone rather than rushing to a almost entirely closed Glacier National Park. We had grabbed a hotel the night before out of frustration and tiredness and after a lot of discussion, we decided we needed to slow down. It’s not that we didn’t want to spend time with family, but of the 4 days we had been on vacation at the point, none of it had been the nature centered, adventurous, or relaxing break we had been dreaming of.

As strange as it seems, since living on the road full time, we have done almost no traveling. Not that we haven’t wanted to, we spent countless nights crying together over the heartbreak of selling our camper, and realizing that we wouldn't be experiencing that freedom again anytime soon. Dreaming together of escaping to the road again, but knowing that it would be a while.

The trips dwindled to nothing, occasionally we would go camp a single night but nothing more than a quick trip for 2 full years. I think we have both been anxious we would get the travel bug again - hint hint we did - but weren’t ready to face that fact we weren’t going to be able to jump back into the nomadic life at any moment no matter how bad we wanted.

Leaving Hebgen Lake Camper in Tow, June 2017

This trip held a lot of weight on its shoulders, it was the first time we would be taking a long road trip since fulltiming. It was the first time we would be revisiting one of our favorite parks, The Grand Tetons, since moving to the big mountains of Colorado. It would be our biggest ever tent camping trip, followed only by our time spent in Canada for the Formula 1 Races in 2015 and 2016. It would also be the first time we tried to meet with family on the road for a vacation, while we had previously gone home, or met at a destination, this was the first time we would be trying to actively travel with family.

So Hebgen lake. Why does all of this matter? Because this time, when we needed it most we were met with clear still waters, endless sunny skies, and warm summer breezes. We found relaxation and nature we were desperately looking for.

This time the lake was glorious. Shimmering waters, fish jumping, pelicans flying overhead. It felt like we had walked up to our own private lake house. It gave us the chance to be still, go to bed early or sleep in late. Shaded by a pine tree and overlooking the water, it was exactly what we had been dreaming of when we nostalgically looked back on our past travels.

While we spent a fair bit of time saying how we should bring the kayak next time, and questioning why we didn’t enjoy the lake more last time, we were also completely content for the first time on our trip. Not rushed, not worried, just there in the moment exactly where we wanted to be.

When traveling with a camper you are inherently limited on just how far you can go and explore, and while we had pushed boundaries repeatedly to the limit on our trip, towards the end we were a little more inclined to take the easy route. A deceptively tiresome but also exhilarating part of the nomadic life is figuring out where you are going to stay every night. Unlike tent campers and high clearance vans you have a list of limitations you must comply with, even when you are completely self sustained like we were.

Three years before I had done some research in a Walmart Parking lot in Idaho, when we decided to skip Glacier National Park the first time and head towards Denver. I found free camping at a "real campsite" just outside West Yellowstone, suitable for trailers, easily accessible, on a well maintained fire road and right on the lake. It was perfect, and most importantly it was easy. We parked and called the banks of the lake home for the week, never really considering that we could find even more beautiful spots just down the road.

This time however, met with a depleted sense of adventure after a taxing few days we decided to go slow and explore, we stopped at 5 different locations along the lake. Our past campsite had been converted to a paid location, but there were still others waiting to welcome us. Coming mid week meant we had a handful of spots available only limited by the low clearance of our car. But this wasn’t much of any issue. After a few stops at a few spots we decided to head to a small camp and boat launch about 7 miles down the forest road. While we had a few neighbors and a bit of morning noise while boaters launched for a of day fishing on the lake, it was a delight. Secluded enough to feel like a true getaway but close enough to West Yellowstone, and Yellowstone National Park that we could pop downtown for ice cream before heading into the park.

I spent mornings reading in my hammock hung at the edge of the lake, while Adam slept in. Listening to the fish jump as fishermen glided across the glassy surface. Finally our vacation had begun. We hadn't realized that 3 years ago we had found a gem, but couldn't pick it out from the fog and rain. While we didn't have the convenience of our home on wheels, we did enjoy making the banks of the lake home once more. We enjoyed a rare campfire, something we never really get to have because of the drought like conditions of Colorado every summer. Watched the sunset and stars rise over the water. Walked the town of West Yellowstone and enjoyed the kitchy beach boardwalk style shops, and some of the best Ice Cream we have ever had at Espresso West a cute little walk up, with locally made and incredibly inexpensive ice cream in unique local flavors like mountain berry, and graham cracker.

We vowed to return again, next time with our kayak in hand, and Lyra at our side so we can enjoy the lake to its fullest, to explore its seemingly endless pine tree lined banks, still waters, and mountain views.

Campsite Info

2017 Campsite - In 2017 we camped in our 24 Ft Starcraft tow camper at Cherry Creek Campground - GPS 44.751065,-111.264004 at the time the campground we free and nearly empty. As of Summer 2020 the campground is feed at $16 a night. I has a pit toilet and sizable pads ideal for campers and RVs. It is right on the water, because of the shaded nature you can expect mosquitoes in the summer months.

2020 Campsite - In 2020 we tent camped in a 3 person tent with our Mazda3 Hatchback with no additional clearance on low profile tires. This location is a free site and has 5 disappeared campsite, 3 heavily shaded, 2 completely exposed. There is a boat launch as well as a small private dock. The area is small but generally very quite with the exception of morning boat launches. This camp is not marked on the map as a named site, but resides on Rumbaugh Ridge Campground Rd - 44.767779,-111.268368 this location is on a small jetty, mixed with the sunny shore lines means bugs and mosquitoes were minimal. Be prepared for occasionally gusty winds. There is no restroom, water or dump stations at this location.

Additional Camping in the Areas

Paid - Spring Creek Campground - 44.784461, -111.275488

Free - Unnamed Dispersed Camping 44.796226, -111.268864 - this area is a wide open space adjacent to private land. The spaces are open and flat and easy to access for vehicles with medium clearance. The road is rutted and muddy in some areas but could be accessed by most vehicles, including cars with slightly higher clearance than our Mazda. There is no restroom, water or dump stations at this location.

Free - Unnamed Disappeared Camping 44.758308, -111.271779 - Rumbaugh Creek Campground Rd. We did not look at this location because of the heavily forested nature and lack of access to the lake. There is no restroom, water or dump stations at this location.

Bonus - Picnic Area and Pit Toilet 44.772341, -111.268201 - this picnic area is right on the water and offers access to the pebble beach and a small fishing pier, as well a picnic tables and grills. There is a well maintained pit/vault toilet. This location is centrally located between the two disappeared campsites and could be walked to from the location we camped at if desired.

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