In the last entry we looked at Montana FAS (Fishing Access Sites). They provide access to streams, rivers and lakes throughout Montana. Many sites offer camping for free or a minimal fee.
During our recent trek through Montana, we needed a place to camp in the vicinity of St. Regis and not too far off our I-90 route. A quick search on the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks FAS website brought up Big Pine FAS which offers free camping for RVs up to 23 feet. With free being my favorite price for a night of camping, we and our friends headed for Big Pine FAS which is just four miles off I-90. As with most places in western Montana, we were traveling in and out of smoke from the numerous forest fires in the state. As we approached the turnoff (exit 66) we broke out of the smoky haze into sunshine. I grew excited in anticipation being free of the smoke and enjoying the balance of the day camping along a stream under sunny blue skies. Exiting the freeway, still in the sun, we traveled down fish creek road as instructed. After a couple of miles the road swings from a southwesterly direction ninety plus degrees to a southeast heading. After making the swing, we became concerned as the view in front of us changed from clear skies back to smoke. This was just not the haze from some distant forest fire we had become accustom to, but a column of billowing smoke directly ahead of us! Since the road wasn’t posted closed, we proceeded assuming the Forest Service would close the road if there was a danger to the public. However, as our onboard navigation counted down the remaining distance to Big Pine FAS, we quickly realized the column of smoke would blot out the sun before we ever reached the intended campsite. The excitement of camping under blue skies was quickly replaced with a concern for our safety. Was the fire headed our way? Could we quickly turn the RVs around if we encountered the fire on a narrow forest service road? Would the campground even be open? Luckily about that time I noticed small pullouts along the creek side of the road where others had obviously camped in the past. The next opening along the creek was big enough to hold numerous RVs, so I stopped to take a look. A sign at the opening stated the area was administered by the state park system and primitive camping was allowed up to a seven day stay. Free for seven days and a safer distance from the column of smoke, I guess Big Pine FAS will have to wait for another day! In short order the RVs were parked with camp chairs deployed in and along the creek under sunny skies.
We did, however, leave the trailers hooked to the tow vehicles in the event we needed to exit the area quickly during the night. Plus we slept with the windows open so we could smell / hear the fire if it approached.
We awoke the next morning to a layer of ash covering our gear, so the fire was fairly close as we feared.
Camping in the shadow of a wildfire, just another adventure in RVing!
If you go: Take Exit 66 off I-90 about 35 miles west of Missoula . Head south from the freeway on Fish Creek Road for 4.5 miles to Big Pine. You will find the entrance to Big Pine FAS at N46 59.445 W114 39.707 The first half of Fish Creek Road is paved turning to well graded gravel for the second half.
If you encounter a wildfire or just want to camp a little closer to the freeway, you will find the spacious campsite we enjoyed at: N46 59.776 W114 40.547