Fresno Reservoir, Montana

The Fresno Reservoir lies 14 miles to the west of Havre, Montana, in Hill County. With its 65 miles of shoreline, the reservoir gives visitors access to exciting recreation opportunities, including fishing and other water activities.

The natural land surrounding the dam offers the perfect natural setting for picnics, camping, and simply enjoying the great outdoors of Big Sky Country.

As the reservoir is free to enter, it naturally makes a wonderful destination for travelers looking to explore Montana in the warm summer months.

The Fresno Dam itself is located on the historic Milk River, a tributary of the Missouri River, which flows through Northern Montana. It was built between 1937 and 1939. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation owns and manages the reservoir, which acquired it as part of the Milk River Project.

Aside from providing recreation opportunities to Montana locals and out-of-state travelers, the reservoir also supplies irrigation water to the surrounding area, which affects its water levels at certain times throughout the year. It is also reserved for flood control.

havre, montana

Lake Stats

  • Size: 3,185.5 acres/1,289.1 hectares
  • Season: Year round
  • Number of campsites and RV parks: At least 9

Recreation Activities

Fresno Reservoir is a treasured location in Montana because there’s so much to do, both in and out of the water. Check out the best activities on offer around Fresno Reservoir below!

Can You Swim in Fresno Reservoir?

The calm waters of Fresno Reservoir make it perfect for swimming, and this is one of the main drawing points for families looking to visit.

In total, there are 5,760 acres of water surface area to enjoy, including a beach used specifically for swimming. Note that the swimming beach is only open during the day.

The best time for swimming in the reservoir is summer when temperatures range between the 50s and 80s. Winter is often too cold for swimming, with temperatures usually falling to around zero. 

In addition to swimming, visitors can also enjoy water sports such as water skiing, wakeboarding, tubing, and knee boarding. A rental service is available at the reservoir which hires out a range of watercraft, including jet skis and water toys.

Fishing in Fresno Reservoir

fishing in fresno reservoir
Image: Bureau of Reclamation

Montana is famous for its many rivers and lakes that are ripe for fishing, and Fresno Reservoir is no exception. Although a warm-water location, the dam also offers opportunities to catch cold-water fish.

The species in the reservoir include smallmouth bass, black crappie, walleye, sauger, rainbow trout, brown trout, pumpkinseed sunfish, yellow perch, kokanee salmon, and northern pike.

There are no facilities to purchase bait and tackle at the lake, so be prepared with all your fishing needs before arriving.

The majority of the extensive shoreline is accessible for fishing from the banks, and there is also a boat launch ramp that is open to all visitors.

The boat launch ramp is located on the south side of the lake off Fresno Reservoir Road and offers two lanes with a dock and paved parking.

Can You Ski Near Fresno Reservoir?

While Fresno Reservoir itself doesn’t offer skiing, there is a popular ski area nearby: Bear Paw Ski Bowl. The ski area is located 29 miles to the south of Havre, which is connected to Bear Paw Ski Bowl by the Amtrak train line.

The ski area is managed by volunteer skiers and offers a rustic and friendly experience. There are 10km of slopes available for skiing and snowboarding and the area is open between January and March, only on the weekends.

Guests will find trails of all difficulties, from easy to difficult, with most requiring intermediate skiing skills.

Though it’s smaller than many of the other ski areas in Montana, Bear Paw Ski Bowl offers an old-fashioned skiing experience, reminiscent of a time before skiing involved bustling resort villages and modern amenities.

What Other Outdoor Activities Are Available Near Fresno Reservoir?

outdoor activities
Image: Tony Webster

Visitors can enjoy several outdoor activities near Fresno Reservoir, including mini golf at Professional Putt Mini Golf. Located in Havre, the mini golf course is known by locals as the best in Montana and is family-owned. It’s an affordable way to spend an afternoon in the area and provides entertainment for the whole family.

Meanwhile, regular golf is available at the nearby Beaver Creek Golf Course. This public course also in Havre offers nine holes and 3,192 yards of golf. Guests can also relax at the event center, where cold beers are served by friendly staff.

Camping Near Fresno Reservoir

Given the natural beauty surrounding Fresno Reservoir, there are naturally several campgrounds in the area.

The Fresno Reservoir Campground is one of the most popular locations, boasting both tent and RV sites.

Fishing and boating access, via a boat launch, are just steps away from the campground, and the water nearby is optimal for swimming. The campground also features several pristine picnic areas.

There is no drinking water available at the campground, so visitors must remember to bring their own. However, there are handicapped-accessible restrooms on site.

Guests can only stay a maximum of 14 days at the Fresno Reservoir Campground.

Some of the other campgrounds surrounding Fresno Reservoir include:

Are There Cabins and Hotels Near Fresno Reservoir?

Camping is a super popular activity for those visiting Fresno Reservoir, but travelers can also choose to stay in other forms of accommodation in the way of cabins, bed and breakfasts, hotels, and motels.

There’s lodging for every style and budget in the town of Havre.

Cabins and B&B Accommodation Near Fresno Reservoir:

Hotels and Motels Near Fresno Reservoir:

Trail Routes

trail routes

Hiking is a favorite pastime in the area surrounding Fresno Reservoir. The best hiking trails in the area include:

Fresno Reservoir Southeast Trail

The Fresno Reservoir Southeast Trail loops for 4.8 km near Havre, along the scenic Kiehns Bay.

It takes most people around an hour to complete and is considered easy, ideal for hikers of all skill levels and ages. The fauna that tends to be present around this trail makes it great for bird-watching and wildlife viewing.

The elevation is only 46 meters and is all gravel. The gradient is generally gentle, although it is steep in parts. Visitors with wheelchairs or other mobility equipment may need to avoid the steeper sections of the trail.

This trail is open year round, though in the winter it becomes a cross-country ski trail. One of the best parts about it is that dogs are permitted on the trail as long as they remain leashed.

Lower Rotary Canyon Loop Trail

If you’re looking for a shorter but substantial hike near Fresno Reservoir, the Lower Rotary Canyon Loop Trail is perfect.

Only 1.6 km, the trail takes less than half an hour for most hikers to complete. It tends to be one of the more popular trails in the area, so expect crowds, particularly if visiting between April and November.

With an elevation gain of only 58 meters, this trail is easy and appropriate for all ages and skill levels. It offers fantastic vistas of Bearpaw Lake and the sprawling Bears Paw Mountains and runs alongside a trickling creek flowing through the Rotary Canyon.

Though the Lower Rotary Canyon Loop Trail is particularly beautiful in spring with the blooming wildflowers, it’s also stunning in fall thanks to the red and orange changing leaves in Beaver Creek Park.

Those who want a longer hike can choose to combine this trail with the Upper Rotary Canyon Loop Trail.

Upper Rotary Canyon Loop Trail

A well-marked trail that boasts stunning views of the surrounding landscape, the Upper Rotary Canyon Loop Trail extends for 4 km and is an extension of the Lower Rotary Canyon Loop Trail.

It takes just over an hour to complete and is popular among hikers and campers, with the busiest times falling between April and November.

Although generally thought of as an easy trail, the Upper Rotary Canyon Loop Trail is a little more strenuous than its lower counterpart and has a few difficult spots. It’s quite secluded and takes hikers further from Bearpaw Lake and the road, making the overall experience more tranquil.

The trail is lined with colorful wildflowers and hikers can usually spot wildlife such as deer and golden eagles. You can even bring your dog off the leash in certain areas along the trail.

Mount Otis Trail

Unlike many of the other trails in the area, the Mount Otis Trail is quite difficult and is best taken by experienced hikers. It takes around an hour and 15 minutes to complete and extends for just over 3 km. The elevation level of 215 meters means it’s quite steep in parts.

This is a popular trail with hikers and runners, with the busiest periods between May and November.

The trail offers sublime views as it winds up Mount Otis in Beaver Creek Park, with 360-degree views at the top. It’s a little rocky in some places, with certain areas made up only of loose rocks that need to be navigated carefully.

Visitors can bring their dogs on the Mount Otis Trail provided the dogs stay on a leash at all times. There are benches at the top where hikers can relax and enjoy the view before their descent.

Kuhr Loop

With less than a kilometer in length, the Kuhr Loop is the shortest hiking trail near Fresno Reservoir.

It takes just over 10 minutes for the average person to complete and is widely used by walkers, runners, and bikers. Dogs are permitted as long as they’re leashed.

The Kuhr Loop is located in Kuhr Memorial Park. It’s easy and child-friendly, with an elevation gain of only 13 meters.

As a portion of the trail is along Cowan Drive, pedestrians may have to share the road with motor vehicles at times, so wearing bright clothing is recommended.

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