Ackley Lake State Park is located in the heart of central Montana, about 5 miles south of the small Montana town of Hobson in Judith Basin County.
It is a 30-40 minute drive from Lewistown along Highway 87, and the area is to the east of the Little Belt Mountains, just a short distance from the Snowy Mountains. These ranges add to the surrounding views from the large, man-made lake at the heart of this Montana state park.
The lake is actually a 160-acre reservoir that was primarily designed as a source of local agricultural irrigation in the 1930s, and since becoming a designated state park in 1940 the site has continued to afford visitors a plethora of recreational activities. These activities largely revolve around the lake by way of water-based activities, and the surrounding landscape by way of camping, hiking, and wildlife viewing.
This is typical central Montana scenery with its lush farmland, mountainous terrains, and short rolling hills. The area was encapsulated in the works of famed Western artist Charlie Russell, whose paintings contributed in no small part to the popularization of the cowboy lifestyle of Montana, and the region of the northern Rockies. One glimpse of the scenery in Ackley Lake State Park will give you some insights into just why the famous artist was so taken by it.
The Ackley Lake area is operated by the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Parks on land leased from the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation. It is fairly remote and remains pretty much uncrowded throughout the year, although weekends and holidays bring in more people.
Ackley Lake State Park Stats
- 290 acres
- Accessible all year round
- 160-acre lake
- Over 20 year-round campgrounds
The main attractions of the state park are undoubtedly the range of outdoor recreational activities that it offers. As it is open all year round this includes both summer and winter activities.
Ackley Lake State Park offers numerous outdoor activities, particularly those based around water such as motorboating, canoeing, paddling, water skiing, jet skiing, fishing, ice fishing, and swimming. Many visitors also come for the various camping, photography, picnicking, birding, and hiking opportunities that this wide-open space provides.
The state park contains over 20 campsites, which although primitive in some respects have some shelters for picnic tables (but not on all sites) and a fire ring at each site. Amenities only go as far as 2 vault latrines, and 2 boat ramps and a seasonal boat dock on the lake, with no water supplies or electricity in the park.
This means that if you book an RV in Judith Basin you’ll need to ensure that you can exist self-sufficiently during your stay on the site. There aren’t any hook-ups as such either, yet many visitors come for exactly the primitive and remote feel of the area.
What it lacks in amenities it makes up for with pristine natural spaces. Ackley Lake is an excellent choice for a spot of rustic waterfront camping if you like being away from it all out in the wilds.
Pets are allowed on the campsites but must be kept on leashes, and the site operates on a first-come, first-served basis with no reservations. There are also a few fees to consider, with non-residents having to pay around $24 a night for camping. Fees must be paid upon arrival at the informational kiosk, and the maximum length of stay is 14 days during a 30-day period.
Wildlife and Bird Watching
Ackley Lake State Park and Campground is in an area with plenty of wildlife around. This could be anything from bears to birds, and the park does attract its fair share of bird watchers.
Ackley Lake is reportedly a place where you can expect to find birds such as Ring-Necked Pheasants, Downy Woodpeckers, Snipe, Killdeer, Spotted Sandpiper, White-Crowned Sparrows, and Yellow and Yellow-Rumped Warblers. The best chances of spotting a more diverse range of birds come between spring and fall migrations.
Boating and Canoeing
The 160-acre Ackley Lake is a haven for motor-boating, as well as other boat-based activities such as canoeing and kayaking, water skiing, and jet skiing. Two boat ramps and a seasonal boat dock are available for use.
Ackley Lake State Park Campground has opportunities to canoe either onsite or close by and is an ideal stop-off for those who carry canoes on their RVs.
The lake is popular with locals and is well-stocked annually. It is reportedly good for decent-sized trout species like Brook, Brown, and Rainbow, along with other species including Kokanee, Longnose Suckers, Mountain whitefish, and Tiger Muskies.
Catching a decent haul of browns and rainbows is usually fairly easy in this lake that doesn’t go much deeper than 40 feet, perhaps with the exception of the summer months when the heat is more intense. Ice fishing is also a popular sport on the lake during the considerably colder winter months. The Ackley Lake Fishing Club is worth checking out if you are interested in any more information from locals about fishing the lake.
The Ackley Lake State Park has limited hiking opportunities with some of them either straight out of the campground or within close proximity. If you want to explore the surrounding area on foot or even run, the RV park and campground has access to fairly moderate, unlisted hiking trails.
The only real-listed trail in the vicinity of the lake is the Ackley Lake Walk, which is not likely to be a challenge for the majority of hikers. If you are in the area and looking for something quite a bit more challenging you might head in the direction of the Snowy Mountains Wilderness Area near Moore.
Ackley Lake Walk
Ackley Lake Walk is a fairly easy out and back trail of just under 1.5 miles. This is a short trail around a section of the outer perimeter of the lake area and contains fairly light traffic.
Needless to say, this trail is suitable for all skill levels and the easy gravel trail includes the option of branching off into a few other activities. Dogs are allowed on the trail as long as they are kept on leash.
Ice Caves Loop
The Ice Caves Loop is located in Moore, Montana, about 9 miles away from the vicinity of Hobson. This is quite a challenging trail suitable for more serious hikers and covers a lightly trafficked loop that is just under 12 miles long.
This trail in the Snowy Mountains Wilderness Area offers various chances to see wildlife, not to mention the ice caves along the trail, which is rated as difficult and is used mostly for hiking as well as some trail running.
The first few miles are quite steep, and the trail includes elevation gains of more than 2600 feet. This is a fairly easy trail to follow for the most part, although you’ll need to consider the extra time involved if you are interested in checking out the caves. Hikers can also encounter some impressive vistas on the downslope sections of the hike.