Custer National Forest


Cattle grazing in a meadow below high mountains in the Ashland Ranger District
Ashland Ranger District, Custer National Forest
Looking at the rocky East Ridge of Granite Peak
The East Ridge of Granite Peak

Custer National Forest is located mainly in Montana but there are separate sections that dangle over the state line into South Dakota. The 1,278,279 acres are broken into 11 different sections, the westernmost sections being part of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and most of the rest being "forest islands" surrounded by grasslands. The eastern sections of Custer National Forest have few rivers and lakes and land management emphasizes working essentially hand-in-hand with ranching and logging interests. The western parts of Custer National Forest tend to be higher in both elevation and precipitation.

Custer National Forest was formerly administered as three Ranger Districts: Ashland Ranger District (headquartered in Ashland, Montana), Beartooth Ranger District (headquartered in Red Lodge, Montana) and the Sioux Ranger District (headquartered in Camp Crook, South Dakota). However, the Forest has been merged with Gallatin National Forest to become Custer Gallatin National Forest and those three are now part of seven.

The Ashland Ranger District is a mix of rolling prairie grassland to high hills and steep rock outcroppings with dense stands of Ponderosa pine. The Ashland Ranger District is comprised of the largest single chunk of federally-owned land in eastern Montana. The area is rich in wildlife and coal resources but oil and gas exploration haven't been very fruitful yet. The Ashland Ranger District also oversees one of the largest cattle grazing programs in the country.

Froze to Death Plateau
Froze to Death Plateau

The Beartooth Ranger District is one of the gateways to the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. This is the home of the Beartooth Highway, a winding and very scenic route that peaks at 10,947' as it crosses the Beartooth Mountains and gives travelers access to the northeastern corner of Yellowstone National Park. This area is popular among the hunting set for its deer, elk and bighorn sheep. This is also a very popular area among fishermen. Just outside the town of Red Lodge is the Red Lodge Mountain Ski Resort, offering some excellent downhill skiing in season. Also close by is the Red Lodge Nordic Ski Center, offering about 12 miles of great cross-country skiing on groomed and maintained trails (also in season). A separate unit of the Beartooth Ranger District lies in the Pryor Mountains, adjacent to the Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area and the Crow Indian Reservation. The Pryor Mountains tend to be very steep with canyons cut deeply into the limestone substrate. There are many old mining roads and primitive hiking trails in the area but the area doesn't see much recreational use. This is also very close to the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Territory (managed by the BLM and National Park Service).

The Sioux Ranger District straddles the state line between southeastern Montana and northwestern South Dakota. The Sioux Ranger District is composed of 8 separate islands of Ponderosa pine on hills and mesas rising above the surrounding prairie lands. You'll find excellent hunting for white-tailed deer, wild turkey, mule deer and pronghorn here. You'll also find Capitol Rock (a white limestone uplift that resembles the national capitol) and the Castles (another large white limestone uplift that resembles a medieval castle). Both of these areas are designated National Landmarks.

Part of the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness is on the Custer National Forest, as is part of the North Absaroka Wilderness (which is mostly in Wyoming). Granite Peak (12,799'), the highest point in Montana, is on the border between the Custer and the Gallatin National Forests in the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness.

Pryor Mountains Wild Horse Territory
Horses in the Pryor Mountains Wild Horse Territory
 
Photos are courtesy of the US Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and National Resource Conservation Service
 

Campgrounds

Beartooth Ranger District

Campground # of Units Elevation Notes
Main Fork: M-K 18 7,500' Trailer and RV campingDrinking WaterFeesToiletsPicnic sites
Main Fork: Greenough 18 7,300' ReservationsToiletsPicnic sites
Main Fork: Limber Pine (R) 13 7,200' Trailer and RV campingReservationsDrinking WaterFeesToiletsPicnic sites
Main Fork: Parkside 28 7,200' ReservationsDrinking WaterFeesToiletsPicnic sites
Main Fork: Rattin 6 6,400' Trailer and RV campingReservationsDrinking WaterFeesToiletsPicnic sites
Main Fork: Sheridan 8 6,300' ReservationsDrinking WaterFeesToiletsPicnic sites
West Fork of Rock Creek: Basin 30 6,800' ReservationsDrinking WaterFeesToiletsPicnic sites
West Fork of Rock Creek: Cascade 30 7,600' ReservationsDrinking WaterFeesToiletsPicnic sites
West Fork of Rock Creek: Palisades 6 6,300' ToiletsPicnic sites
Wild Bill Lake ) 6,800' Picnic sitesFishing nearbyHandicapped accessible
East Rosebud 14 6,200' Drinking WaterFeesToiletsPicnic sites
East Rosebud: Jimmy Joe 10 5,600' Picnic sites
East Rosebud: Sand Dunes 10 5,600' Picnic sites
West Rosebud: Emerald Lake 32 6,400' Trailer and RV campingDrinking WaterFeesToiletsPicnic sites
West Rosebud: Pine Grove 46 5,800' Trailer and RV campingDrinking WaterToiletsPicnic sites
Stillwater Valley: Woodbine 44 5,300' Trailer and RV campingDrinking WaterFeesToiletsPicnic sites
Stillwater Valley: Old Nye 6 4,950' Trailer and RV campingToiletsPicnic sites
Stillwater Valley: Initial Creek 6 6,200' Trailer and RV campingToiletsPicnic sitesEquestrian trailsHandicapped accessible
Big Ice Cave 5 7,600' ToiletsPicnic sites
Sage Creek 10 5,600' ToiletsPicnic sites

Sioux Ranger District

Campground # of Units Elevation Notes
Ekalaka Park 10 3,740' Drinking WaterFeesToilets
Lantis Springs 10 3,900' Trailer and RV campingDrinking WaterToiletsPicnic sites
Picnic Spring 15 3,300' Trailer and RV campingDrinking WaterToiletsPicnic sites
Reva Gap 4 3,281' Trailer and RV campingDrinking WaterToilets
McNab Pond 0
-
ToiletsPicnic sitesFishing nearby
Wikham Gulch 5 3,440' Trailer and RV campingDrinking WaterToilets
Ashland Ranger District
Campground # of Units Elevation Notes
Cow Creek 5 3,850' Trailer and RV campingToilets
Holiday Springs 3 4,000' Trailer and RV campingToiletsPicnic sites
Red Shale 14 3,200' Trailer and RV campingToiletsPicnic sites
Black's Pond Picnic Area 2 4,000' ToiletsPicnic sitesFishing nearbyHandicapped accessible