Hot Spots to Cool Off in Southeast Montana

2024-06-27 18:28:01

Summer in Southeast Montana can be sizzling, with temperatures soaring and the sun blazing. But fear not! Amidst the heat, there are oases waiting to be discovered—places where you can dive into cool waters and find respite from the sweltering heat. From serene lakes to tranquil rivers, Southeast Montana offers a plethora of options for beating the heat and enjoying the great outdoors.

Lake Elmo, Andy Austin

Lake Elmo State Park

An urban man-made lake, Lake Elmo is perfect for a casual paddle or a day at the small beach. Fish this well-stocked lake throughout the year, angling from your boat (non-motorized only), on Roger's Pier by the south shore. Visitors take advantage of this conveniently located lake in Billings for their picnic locations, bird watching opportunities and walking trails. You can also bring along your furry friend as Lake Elmo is dog friendly, featuring its own fenced dog park with a water area.

Get on the water with Yellowstone R&R's offerings at Lake Elmo. Friday through Sunday, find them conveniently stationed at the Lake Elmo Park boat ramp throughout the summer season. Their rental fleet includes paddleboards and kayaks, ensuring you have all you need for a refreshing day on the water.

Baker Lake, Sara Hollenbeck

Baker Lake

Lake Baker is conveniently located in the heart of the town of Baker, it also boasts some of the best fishing around with good-sized rainbow trout and the opportunity to catch decent walleye. You can take your motorized boat on this charming lake or take advantage of the several fishing docks, the pier or swimming beaches. Bring the whole family to enjoy the paved walking path all the way around, the attached splash park, skate park and playground.

Castle Rock Lake

This peaceful lake will provide you with all the serenity you need on a perfect morning fishing trip. Castle Rock Lake sits just at the edge of Colstrip and offers a boat ramp (no gas motors) for you to launch your boat as you fish for walleye, pike and bass. If fishing isn't your thing, paddle along the shore in a kayak or paddle board for excellent wildlife and bird watching opportunities.

Bighorn Canyon, Nathan Satran Photography

Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area 

Stretching 71 miles and straddling the Montana-Wyoming border, Bighorn Lake lies beneath steep, craggy canyon walls nearly 1,000 high. Created by Yellowtail Dam, this stunning lake is known as "Yellowtail" by locals. The lake, which lies within the immense Bighorn Canyon, is popular during summer months for boating, water skiing and tubing, swimming, fishing, kayaking and canoeing. Visitors may see wildlife along the shoreline, including raptors, deer and black bears, plus bighorn sheep on the southern end. The National Park Service (NPS) manages the Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area, which lies within the Crow Reservation. Access the North Unit via Fort Smith, Montana. 

For an ulta-unique experience, motor your own boat to first come, first served boat-in-only campsites. We especially like Black Canyon and Dayboard 9 (nine miles from Ok-a-Beh Marina). The NPS maintains floating latrines, picnic sites and camping sites during the summer months and the Crow Tribe concessionaire operates Ok-a-Beh Marina from Memorial Day through Labor Day. Visitors can rent pontoons for half- or full-day trips (must pilot own boat).

Note: You cannot drive through Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area—only boat through it. The South Unit is accessible via Lovell, Wyoming.

Tongue River Reservoir, Andy Austin

Tongue River Reservoir State Park

Tongue River Reservoir is one of the region's hidden paradises. This reservoir flaunts excellent bass, crappie, walleye and northern pike fishing, with four state-record fish have been pulled from its waters. The 12-mile-long reservoir offers incredibly scenic views of red shale formations and juniper canyons. The big, open areas throughout the lake are popular for water sports like tubing and water skiing. If you're looking for a relaxed activity, take in the view from a pontoon boat you can rent from Tongue River Marina. Or, for a slower pace, bring your own canoe, kayak or paddleboard. Make your trip an overnight adventure and reserve one of the several campsites; check out their first come, first serve boat-in-only sites too. 




Beginning July 1, everyone ages 12 and older will need a Montana Conservation License to access most state lands. A Special Recreation Use License is still required for trapping, commercial or concentrated recreation, outfitting or special events on state trust land. Information on access and licensing for special recreation on state trust land is available at Public Use (

With its abundance of lakes, rivers, and reservoirs, Southeast Montana is a playground for those seeking relief from the summer heat. Grab your swimsuit, pack your cooler and dive into refreshment as you explore the waterways of this beautiful region. 

Recreate responsibly: Plan and prepare for your time outdoors to keep yourself and others safe while helping us maintain access to our beloved natural spaces.