We find an awesome free camping spot just a few miles from the West Entrance to Glacier National Park on the banks of the gorgeous Hungry Horse Reservoir.
We wanted to find a cheap or free place to stay while visiting Glacier National Park. BLM and National Forest surrounds the park, so we were pretty confident we could find something.
Despite being several miles down a bumpy dirt road, we were quite thrilled with the spot we lucked out on!
Hungry Horse Reservoir
Our free camping spot was located on the Hungry Horse Reservoir, a lake formed behind the Hungry Horse Dam on the South Fork Flathead River. The Reservoir is a beautiful blue-turquoise color and is clear, cool and deep, which was so perfect for soaking our sore muscles after days of long hikes at Glacier National Park!
The water was so clear that we could see the rocks and old stumps on the bottom of the reservoir as it disappeared into the darkness below. The boat ramp near our campsite went way down as well, indicating a large fluctuation in reservoir water levels.
Hungry Horse Dam Visitor Center
Besides being a great free camping spot near Glacier National Park, the reservoir itself has some interesting history and a Visitor Center at the dam.
The Hungry Horse dam has a Visitor Center and Museum which we visited to learn more about the 564-ft structure and how it came to be.
The Dam was completed in 1953 and was the 3rd largest and 2nd tallest concrete dam at the time (now it is the 11th tallest in the U.S.). It is primarily used for hydro-electric power and flood control in the springtime. When full, the dam can hold bad 1.2 trillion gallons of water in the reservoir that stretches 34 miles long.
Its glory hole emergency spillway is the largest in the world. The glory hole is a unique feature to a handful of dams in the west which allows dam operators to release a lot of water quickly to prevent water from overtopping the dam. We were advised that we would NOT want to be around if this thing had to be used: imagine a firehose 64ft in diameter blasting water out that has just fallen 490 feet!
One of the most interesting things we learned about the Dam was how they cleared the trees behind the dam before it was allowed to fill. They had learned from previous dams that the trees needed to be removed beforehand or else they would be a major problem to clean up once they eventually came loose from the lake floor. Dead branches and rotting trees could float to the surface and clog the dam intakes.
They had to figure out a way to quickly fell the trees on the steeply sloping gorge that was to be filled. They came up with a 4.5 ton steel ball that was 8 foot in diameter. A chain on either side of the ball attached to a tractor, which was then driven down the hill. As the ball rolled down the hill with the tractors, the chains cut through and uprooted trees as it went. Using this method two men were able to clear 100 acres in 8 hours.
Hungry Horse: The Legend
We also learned why the town was called Hungry Horse:
Hungry Horse is a very small town of only around 800 people, but we had a wonderful time here. We did have some…interesting neighbors who appeared to be living in a makeshift houseboat, but other than that we had no issues and completely enjoyed our time on our practically private lake!
While visiting Glacier National Park, be sure to try the famous Huckleberry Pie at the Huckleberry Patch as well as the Glacier Distilling Company 🙂
Watch the video about Hungry Horse here!
(Date Range: August 22 – 28, 2016)
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