The dam and reservoir both form part of the Lower Marias Unit of the Pick-Sloan Missouri Basin Project. The lake has close to 200 miles of shoreline and is located on more than 20,000 acres of land, making it an ideal spot for recreation.
The main site is set about 15 miles southwest of Chester, along Route 223, and it is something of a haven for locals and passing visitors looking to go fishing or boating, although swimming and other water sports are also common activities.
For boaters, the amenities include a marina and five strategically-placed and well-maintained boat ramps around the lake. This is more than a day-use area though and there are also numerous campground areas in the region of the lake.
Surrounding both the lake and the dam you’ll be able to observe interesting features like the naturally-formed sandstone and one of the largest existing earthen.
The dam’s surrounding area contains designated stretches of hunting terrain, which is often used for local wildlife like mule, deer, and antelope, as well as a few game birds along the lines of waterfowl, and varmints. Aside from hunting, there is also a bird-watching area.
To get to the lake area in Southern Liberty County head 10 miles south of Chester along Highway 223 in the vicinity of the Marias River.
The last 5 miles of road you encounter when you get close to the lake are likely to be unpaved but will give you the opportunity to slow down and get a feel for the surroundings.
Lake Elwell Stats
- Approximately 15,000-acre lake
- Elevations of 3,000 feet
- 7 campgrounds/34 sites
- Open year-round
Main Attractions and Things to Do at Lake Elwell
Originally intended for agricultural irrigation purposes, the lake now provides access to the usual abundance of recreation that exists in the many lakes of Montana.
On the main stretch of the Tiber Road just past the turn to Sanford Park, there are various interpretive panels about the Lewis & Clark Expedition when they traveled through this area in the early 1800s.
Beyond these interpretive displays is the approach to the dam. Driving across the dam provides some amazing views of the reservoir, but you are not allowed to stop here.
The area around the lake has a total of seven campgrounds with various amenities including trailer sites, restrooms, water, and handicapped access.
RV users can get electric hook-ups and dump stations. Tiber Marina is open for food, gas, oil, water, showers, bait, tackle and other amenities applicable to marina operations and camping and the marina has its own designated camping area.
Here are the main campgrounds to consider when visiting Lake Elwell:
- The Tiber Marina Campground is basic but well-maintained, and some camping spots near the water exist although it’s a case of arriving early or expecting those spots to be already taken. The stretch of water is good for both fishing and boating, and access is easy.
- The VFW Campground offers primitive camping, a boat ramp, and a picnic shelter. There is no water here though, and stays are limited to 14 days.
- The Sanford Park Campground is close to some prime fishing and boating access, which makes it a favorite with anglers. A boat launch is provided, and trailer sites are available here, as are handicapped-accessible restrooms, and tent sites. There is no available water at this facility though and stays are again limited to 14 days.
On top of that, the North and South Bootlegger Campgrounds, and the Galata Motel and RV Campground are all popular destinations within relatively close proximity to Lake Elwell.
Lake Elwell is something of a fisherman’s dream with its boat ramps, campsites, and plentiful shoreline–not to mention quality fishing.
Some of the main species pulled out of the lake include walleye and pike, with the state record for walleye having been achieved here with a catch weighing in over 17lbs.
Rainbow trout and brown trout are sought out by others a bit further downstream of the dam more around the regions of the Marias River.
The best trout fishing is reported to be found in the first twelve miles or so below Tiber Dam, where large brown trout between 3 and 10 pounds can be found in fair numbers. The numbers of rainbow trout tend to be lower than those of the local brown trout population.
Hiking Trails at Lake Elwell
The Bootlegger Trail is located reasonably close to the reservoir and dam. This entire region has some great water scenery and it’s near both the northern and the southern legs of the Bootlegger Trail.
The North Bootlegger Campground is nearby, and if you planned on an overnight stay check out the South Bootlegger Campground.
The thing to consider about this trail is that during the dark hours in the wintertime temperatures can drop to the 0’s or lower. One of the wettest months of the year to use the trail is typically June, while February is conversely the driest.