Trying to meet a friend halfway who was driving up from Missoula for Labor Day weekend, we couldn’t get a campsite at Holland Lake, so we ended up being pleasantly surprised by Rainey Lake campground, about 14 miles south along state Highway 209.
This relatively small lake within Lolo National Forest offers six primitive tent campsites with spectacular views of the Swan Range. Rainey Lake has no boat ramps, so there were only kayaks and canoes out on the water – no motorized boats, which made for a quiet experience, even on a holiday weekend. Common loons, bald eagles and other birds were a constant presence. And though I couldn’t catch anything, I’m told the lake contains westslope cutthroat trout and perch.
A walking trail circumvents the lake, but if you’re looking for a longer day-hike, there are several in the area, though you may have to hop in the car for a few minutes to get there. There is one vault toilet and fire rings, but no potable water supplied, nor trash cans. Make sure you lock up food in the car at the end of the night or hang a bear bag.
Rainey Lake campground will be closed until Nov. 2 for improvement to the road, trails, parking lots and campsites including the addition of picnic tables and an RV site. For more info, contact the Seeley Lake Ranger District at 406-677-2233.
How to get there: From Bigfork, head south through the Swan Valley on MT 209/83, about 65 miles. The turnoff for Rainey Lake is on the right, about 11 miles north of the town of Seeley Lake.
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