Saturday, August 23, 2014

Boondocking: Upper Sun River, Montana

     Back in the USA, having crossed the border into Montana and with our next scheduled mail forwarding not due in Great Falls for 8 days we decided to go back off grid for a bit.  We headed to the Upper Sun River Valley about 90 miles west of Great Falls and 26 miles west of the nearest civilization in Augusta via Forest Service gravel road.  This is an area I had elk and deer hunted about 40 years ago.  Although a dozen or so new cabins have been built in some of the surrounding hillsides and gulches it was still very pristine.   
     There are two basic campgrounds in the area, but I had checked with the US Forest Service prior to leaving Augusta and mapped out all the allowable boondocking areas in the valley.  They also clued me onto a local hotel that would let me ‘water up’ the RV for free prior to departure.  We discovered that there are level areas and fire pits adjoining nearly all the forest service trailheads.  This is the main staging/departing point for guides, hunters, and fishermen departing into the Bob Marshall, Scapegoat, and Benchmark Wilderness Areas.  We selected a very nice spot in the trees near the Mortimer Gulch Trailhead to set up.  Cost:  FREE.  There was even a very nice stack of firewood nearby due to downed trees and most was dry and split. I made sure to replenish this for the next campers before I left.  Because of our shaded location there was no opportunity for solar so we used battery bank and generator top off each evening.  It takes about 6 hours of generator to replenish the 20% used nightly.  The Honda generator will run 17-20 hours on just 3 gallons of gas and we had an extra 6 gallon can in reserve.  You just make sure to satisfy all your 120V needs during this time. 
     The first night was uneventful except that I had to re-prime a noisy water pump to remove some stubborn air.  Also, we had an uninvited guest during our sleep, which woke Dharma, and in turn us, immediately.  I have lived in NW Michigan long enough to know that bark and growl from our pup which can only mean…..bear.  Probably just curious cause no damage was done.

     Barb and I explored the area including Gibson Reservoir, which was down quite a bit due mostly to a long summer.  We had some pretty good views of the Front Range of the Rockies, but did not see any Bighorn Sheep.  This area is home to one of the largest wintering herds of Bighorns in the country, but they were probably still all ‘backcountry’ during our visit.  All the trailhead parking lots had several stock trailers as Early Backcountry Elk Season begins in about 2 weeks.  Most guides are setting up ‘spike camps’ and scouting. 

     We stayed in the valley for 5 days, just soaking up the sound of absolutely nothing except Mother Nature.  Dharma loved playing in the river daily.   The best thing about Bodhi the Wondercatt?  He doesn’t give a hoot if he ever leaves the RV once we’re set up.

     I have to tell you one of the best parts about this particular stay was crossing the border and filling up the diesel for only $3.79 compared to what we have been paying for the past 100+ days!  We’ll be in Great Falls for about 6 days now as we get mail, make some phone calls, and I have a growing list of RV maintenance and breakage I need to work on.  There was no cell signal during our stay so this was posted during our arrival in Great Falls, courtesy of our Hot Spot and Verizon! 


  1. Great post. My wife, I and some friends (2 RVs) are looking to boondock in the Upper Sun River Valley next month (Googling Sun River, MT boondocking is how I found you). I noted, via Google Earth,several potential boondocking areas along the river and was wondering if you were willing to share the information you gathered from the forest service. We also plan to explore the Mortimer Gulch Trail, but am unable to pinpoint the trailhead through the trees and multiple homes in the gulch. Camping at the trailhead would be ideal, Finally, I see Sun Canyon Road is primarily gravel and was wandering how suitable it was for RV travel. If you are willing to share I would appreciate it greatly.