Lake Elmo State Park is located within the boundaries of the city of Billings in Montana. This is a designated state park area with a 64-acre reservoir at the heart of it.
The whole region is ideal for outdoor recreation, and especially for activities based around the water. The man-made lake originally went by the name of Holling Lake Reservoir when it was first built in the latter part of the 1800s.
The purpose behind the lake was to supply water from the Yellowstone River for the irrigation of local farmland. The water within the lake comes all the way from the region of Laurel after flowing more than 60 miles through special canals before reaching the large body of water.
In the 1930s and 1940s, the area was something of an entertainment hub. It featured the Lake Elmo Supper Club and various outlets for dining, dancing, and watching the water skiers and motorboaters of the local club.
The Supper Club apparently burned down in the 1940s, and a few other changes took place around the vicinity in 1906 including further construction around the reservoir to complete its transition into the storage basin for the Billings Water Association.
The state park itself was established in 1983 and grew into its current condition with the help of local residents. The owners of the nearby property helped to clear the way around the lake area to make beaches, ice-skating, and boating more publicly accessible.
The residents had popularized boating and water-skiing in the area way back in the 1930s with their own clubs and saw the potential of the area that is now enjoyed by visitors.
These days only non-motorized boating is allowed on the lake, so you won’t find any water skiing here like they used to have back in the 1930s. Today the reservoir is a popular spot for swimming, sailing, non-motorized boating, and fishing, and has various on-site amenities such as flush and vault toilets, showers and changing rooms, picnic tables, and a couple of short stretches of hiking trails.
Sometimes the park hosts special events during the summer months, and the regional office for Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks is located in the park.
The office is home to a collection of stuffed wildlife including birds and fish if you fancy checking that out and the various licenses and permits that might be required for some activities are also available from at the office during its opening hours of 8 am to 5 pm on weekdays.
The park itself is open between 5 am and 10 pm under normal operating conditions and day-use fees of $5.00 per vehicle are applied for non-residents.
One of the special features of the park is a 200-square-feet dog enclosure on the west side of the lake. Dogs must be kept on a leash around the park, so you can drop your pooch off here for a couple of hours and enjoy the activities in the park if you’d rather.
Every visitor is allowed a maximum of two dogs of more than 4 months in age into this area – otherwise, they must be kept on a leash in the rest of Lake Elmo State Park.
Lake Elmo State Park Stats
- 183 acres
- Open year-round – day use only
- No campsites
- Non-resident fees
This is an urban, day-use state park that brings in people with various purposes looking to do anything from walking, swimming, sailboarding, boating, and fishing. The latter two are probably the two biggest draws, which is evident by the busy fishing pier and boat launch stations.
The onsite FWP headquarters provides weekday interpretation of the park if you need a reference point, and you’ll find some visitors to the state park checking that out while others are stretching their legs around the lake jogging, hiking, or taking a leisurely walk.
Paddling along the beaches, swimming, boating, canoeing, kayaking, paddle-boarding (SUP) and windsurfing are all activities that feature within the immediate vicinity of the water, and this stretches to ice fishing and ice skating in winter. If you are not a fan of the water you can always consider a spot of picnicking, walking, running, wildlife viewing, or bird watching.
During the summer, the lake is stocked with fish regularly and Roger’s Pier is an excellent fishing spot on the south shore of the lake. You can expect to pull out any of the following species on a good day: Largemouth Bass, Long-nosed Dace, Common Carp, Flathead Chub, Channel Catfish, and Brown Trout, along with a fair few other species.
You can find the location of the boat access within the park by traveling east along I-94 until Woodbury Drive (County Road 19) and then taking a left (north) towards the park entrance where the boat access is signposted.
You can also reach the fishing pier by following the signs in the park. There is an extra stretch for shore angling close to the boat launch area. Anglers can fish from the shore just about anywhere they can access in the park.
Lake Elmo water is very clear and it is worth noting that the water level drops down to become rather deep, quite close to shore along most of the shoreline.
Lake Elmo State Park is a very family-friendly place, and an ideal day out with the kids. You’ll find enough beaches around the lake to keep them occupied for a while, and the water is ideal for swimming in the shallower regions close to the shore. Just take into consideration that no lifeguards are on active duty in the park.
The other bonus point for kids is the nearby playground, as well as the fact that there are no dogs running around unleashed anywhere near the beach or play areas.
Lake Elmo state park contains 3 hiking trails and grants access to a longer trail just outside the park that is popular with bikers and horseriders. Below you will find info on the three main hiking trails, you can also check out the map here.
The Lake Elmo Trail
This route is a 1.5-mile paved trail around the scenic lake. The trail is easy to walk, is mostly flat, and is close to various other recreational opportunities like swimming, fishing, picnicking, and boating. There are plenty of benches along the way from which to take a breather and view the lake if necessary.
The Lake Elmo Drive Trail
This is a nearby 0.6-mile paved trail that runs parallel to its namesake along the road in the slightly more urban setting of the Heights community of northern Billings. Students in the vicinity use the trail by following it to the south end then going east along Milton Road to reach Bench Elementary School.
The Jim Dutcher Trail
If you fancy a longer hike this nearby Billings trail offers 6.5 miles of paved pathway along the Yellowstone River. It runs east up to the north-eastern neighborhoods of Billings Heights and is dotted with community parks along the way
The trail starts in Two Moon Park and takes you south through Earl Gus Park where you will see a man-made waterfall, and here you can access the Alkali Creek Trail if you fancy going a bit further.
Otherwise, you continue past Coulson Park before finishing up at Mystic Park. Parking is available within the various parks along the trail.