Fort Peck Lake is a man-made reservoir and the largest existing body of water in Montana. The shoreline of the lake runs for more than a staggering 1500 miles, and the lake reaches depths of over 200 feet.
It is located in a somewhat remote spot on the eastern side of the state, and is less than 20 miles from the town of Glasgow, along the Missouri River.
Direct access to the lake is available at Fort Peck Marina on the west side of the dam, and although there are many other roads leading to the area from various directions, some of them are more like dirt roads and may not be that reliable during certain types of weather.
The reservoir itself is over 130 miles long and first came into being when a 4-mile wide dam was built on the Missouri River starting in the early 1930s and reaching completion at the end of the decade.
Fort Peck is actually also a small town that initially sprang up during the time of the construction of the dam and consisted of those working on and around the dam and eventually turned into a small community.
The entire region of the lake is surrounded by the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge, which covers over a million acres of land in total, which is managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The remote isolation of Fort Peck Lake is, for many visitors, what makes it such a great place. Plenty of back roads connect the water area to the surrounding wilds which is a great way for adventurous explorers to see some remote regions of Montana.
Although it was once famous for being the location of the first dam constructed along the Missouri River, Fort Peck Lake is today known as an outdoor recreational paradise. It is renowned for its fantastic fishing, wildlife viewing, and quite a few other outdoor recreation opportunities.
If you are heading into the area from the direction of Glasgow, you should take Highway 24 and head south for 17 miles to Fort Peck. You can also come in from Nashua by taking Highway 117 and heading south for 12 miles to Fort Peck.
Fort Peck Lake Stats
- Approximately 230,000 acres
- 134-mile-long lake
- 2,250-feet elevations
- 2 campgrounds
The main attractions for most visitors to the Fort Peck Lake area tend to be recreational, particularly when it comes to fishing, water sports, swimming, and camping.
That aside, the Fort Peck Interpretive Center and Museum are situated just downstream of Fort Peck Dam, and it puts on various displays related to wildlife, dinosaur fossils, and other information related to the construction of the dam and its history. The center is open Friday through Monday between 9 am and 4 pm.
Visitors to Fort Peck lake will also find a playground park with specialized sports, environmental education opportunities, and camping. The Leo B. Coleman Wildlife Pasture is just outside of the small town of Fort Peck, and at the Downstream Campground, you will find Fort Peck’s Bison herd which is an excellent wildlife viewing opportunity for anyone, especially those taking the autoroute.
If you fancy a spot of culture while in the vicinity there is always the historic Fort Peck Theater located in the town of Ft. Peck is a popular historic destination in the summer months.
There is also a privately-owned lodge and resort within the area that might suit anyone who wants to stay a bit longer but is not the camping type.
Things to do at Fort Peck Lake
The huge expanse of the Fort Peck Lake region features more than 20 recreational areas. Fishing is certainly one of the main attractions at the lake for a large proportion of visitors, although the entire area is an outdoor wilderness with great opportunities for water sports, hiking, horseback riding, ATV’s, hunting, and bird-watching, to name a few.
The marinas all include boat ramps, and the Beaver Creek Nature Area is just five miles away from the West End Campground where you can find three miles of trails to hike and bike on.
Fishing at Fort Peck Lake
With reportedly more than 50 varying types of fish in Fort Peck Reservoir, fishing is a widely pursued activity. The fish species include walleye, which the lake is renowned for, as well as bigmouth buffalo, black crappie, northern pike, paddlefish, brown trout, channel catfish, smallmouth bass, and chinook salmon, to name but a few.
The Governor’s Cup Fishing Competition is held at Fort Peck Lake, and this brings in anglers from all over vying for large walleye. Really serious anglers use motorboats for fishing the lake, and a decent one is recommended if you decide on this option due to both the sheer size of the lake and also the wind, which can create some decent-sized waves.
Hunting and Wildlife Viewing at Fort Peck Lake
Both hunting and wildlife watching are popular around Fort Peck Lake. The Charles M. Russell Wildlife Refuge is a renowned hunting spot for deer, elk, bighorn sheep, and upland birds.
The Fort Peck Lake Area and the Charles M. Russell Wildlife Refuge provide ideal opportunities for birdwatchers to spot a wide variety of bird species.
The best time is during the spring and fall when migrating bird populations frequent the area, often stopping around the vicinity of the river and the lake. Don’t forget that camera!
Camping at Fort Peck Lake
There are 2 main campgrounds within the vicinity of Fort Peck Lake. They contain almost one hundred sites between them, and although the second one is a bit further, it is quite a bit less busy with some decent views of the lake to boot.
The Downstream Campground is the main site, and this is a grassy campground with shade from the surrounding cottonwoods. The campground contains 86 family campsites, and a total of 71 sites come with electrical hook-ups, with the other 15 being tent-only. There is a large group campsite with electrical hookups, and picnic shelters are available for reservations.
The campground features on-site flush and vault toilets, a dump station, showers, playgrounds, a basketball court, horseshoe pits, and a fish cleaning station – ideal for anyone making use of the 3 fishing ponds within the landscape of the lake below the dam.
This fairly quiet campground features 13 sites with electrical hookups, and it is located on the north shore, overlooking the lake from a hill. It is close to boat ramps around the lake and is a popular location for anyone fishing at the lake.
All the designated campsites have picnic tables and fire rings, as well as showers, flush and vault toilets, and water supplies. The campground’s dump station is near the Downstream Campground, about 5 miles away.
Most of the campsites in this campground have at least some view of the lake, and the area is populated by wildlife like deer, so bear that in mind if you are bringing pets, which is allowed.
Hiking Trails at Fort Peck Lake
This entire region is a hiker’s paradise, especially if you like remote and expansive landscapes. Hiking the many trails up and down the Missouri River is one thing but the shores of Fort Peck Lake bring something of a vast and open, breath-taking angle to any hike.
Beaver Creek Nature Trail
This trail features approximately 3 miles of paved nature trails that wind their way through and around the local campground. The route starts out at the campground downstream from the dam and leads through wildlife habitat along the vicinity of the Missouri River and the surrounding wooded area.
This is an easy trail that is also a popular birding and wildlife viewing area and is best used in the spring, summer, and fall seasons.
Hell Creek Trail
Along the Hell Creek Arm of Fort Peck Lake, you will find various facilities for water sports and fishing, and this area is a common launch point for boat camping in the nearby wild and scenic Missouri Breaks.
The trail itself is just over half a mile long and is a lightly trafficked out-and-back route. The walk takes in the lake and is easy enough for all skill levels. The trail is used mainly for walking, nature and wildlife viewing, and bird watching.