Montana’s Rocky Mountain Front is dotted with reservoirs that present many opportunities to get out and enjoy the great outdoors. Gibson Reservoir is one we frequent as it is a beautiful spot to camp, hike, fish, get out on the water, and take in the mountain views. Here, we’ll provide more details on the various activities and recreation opportunities when exploring Gibson Reservoir.
General Gibson Reservoir Info
Gibson Reservoir is a manmade body along the North Fork of the Sun River within Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest. The 200-foot tall dam was built in the 1920s and is managed by the Bureau of Reclamation. Learn more about it here.
This long, skinny reservoir has almost 1,300 surface acres and 15 miles of shoreline, making it a popular place to enjoy water activities and the pretty mountainous landscape surrounding it.
There are no fees to visit Gibson Reservoir. However, there may be fees or passes required for certain activities, such as camping and fishing.
Getting to Gibson Reservoir
Gibson Reservoir sits tucked just in the Rocky Mountain Front. The nearest town is Augusta about 25 miles away. From Augusta, head west towards the mountains on Sun Canyon Road. This road turns to gravel for just a bit, but it is well maintained.
Stay on Sun Canyon Road, which enters the Rocky Mountain Front and follows the river for a ways. Below Gibson Dam, keep right and cross the river on Mortimer Gulch Road. This road winds up into the hills before descending back down to Gibson Reservoir and reaching a dead end at the reservoir parking area.
Before descending all the way to the reservoir, there is a viewpoint just off to the left where you can park and look out over the reservoir. It’s worth a quick stop in our opinion!
Boating & Kayaking
Boating is quite popular at Gibson Reservoir. Motorized boats are permitted, and you may see boats out towing tubes, water skiers, and wakeboarders. There is one boat ramp at the Gibson Boating Site. It is long and quite steep, so 4WD is recommended. Sometimes there is a floating dock in the water near the bottom of the ramp, but this isn’t always in place.
Kayaking and paddle boarding are also popular here and it’s convenient to put in your watercraft at the boat ramp and paddle along the pretty shoreline away from the dam. Note that the typical Montana winds can make paddling pretty difficult on those windier days.
Montana has many watercraft inspection points set up, particularly near larger bodies of water in the state. If you pass one, you are required to stop and have your watercraft inspected for invasive species. This includes kayaks, paddle boards, rafts, etc. Take some time to understand the Montana boating regulations before you head out on the water.
Gibson Reservoir offers opportunities to fish for various trout species.
If you want to fish, you need to obtain permits for each individual aged 12+, which include a fishing license, Angler Aquatic Invasive Species Prevention Pass, and a conservation license. The annual cost for an adult Montana resident is $31, but the price varies for children, seniors, non-residents, short-term passes, etc. Find pass details and other fishing info here. We buy our passes at Scheels, but you can also purchase them online or at other retailers.
Hiking Near Gibson Reservoir
There are many trails to access near Gibson Reservoir. The hiking here is quite beautiful with views over the water and surrounding mountains. See the Forest Service map and zoom into the Gibson Reservoir area for a view of the trail system in this area.
A few of the popular options include the Sun Canyon Trail, Mortimer Gulch, and Blacktail Creek. These trails also intersect with other trails if you’re looking for additional options or are wanting to head further into the backcountry.
Our top pick near Gibson Reservoir is the Sun Canyon Trail because it is fairly easy and simple to follow, the views are beautiful the whole way, and there is no particular destination, so you can hike as far or little as you want. It is a great option for a range of skill levels.
There is a variety of wildlife here, including bears. So bring along your bear spray and know how to use it!
While there aren’t any campgrounds directly on the shores of Gibson Reservoir, there are ample camping opportunities nearby. If you want to be right near the water, your best bet is to backpack in and camp in the backcountry further west near where the Sun River flows into the reservoir.
Here are some of the campgrounds in the area around Gibson Reservoir and below the dam.
Mortimer Gulch Campground
Mortimer Gulch Campground is the closest campground to the boat launch area at Gibson Reservoir. It sits in a wooded area above the reservoir and is within walking distance to the shores.
Sites: 27 first-come, first-served sites – both tent and RV, most are accessible
Cost: $15 per night per unit plus $5 for an extra vehicle payable by cash or check
Amenities: Vault toilet, picnic tables, metal fire rings, water available, no hookups, no food storage boxes
For more details on this campground, visit the Forest Service site.
Home Gulch Campground
Home Gulch Campground sits in a lightly wooded area on the Sun River below Gibson Dam.
Sites: 15 first-come, first-served sites – both tent and RV
Cost: $10 per night per unit plus $5 for an extra vehicle payable by cash or check
Amenities: Vault toilet, picnic tables, water available, fire rings, no hookups, no food storage boxes
There are some dispersed camping areas along Sun Canyon Road before you reach the dam. Some of these are listed on the Forest Service Map if you zoom into the area near Gibson Reservoir. You can also see some of these spots if you look at Google Maps in satellite view.
These dispersed areas are free and don’t have amenities. Always practice Leave No Trace policies and try to camp at spots that have been previously established (usually marked by a fire ring). Also note that there are various lodges and residences in the area, so please respect private property and obey signage when looking for places to camp.
Note that proper food storage to deter bears is often required in this region of Montana. Learn more about regulations and approved methods here. At all campsites, please pack out your trash.
If you aren’t keen on camping or are looking for organized activities or a place to grab a bite, there are a few lodges in the Gibson Reservoir area, such as the Sun Canyon Lodge, JJJ Wilderness Ranch, and the K Bar L Ranch.
These are a great option if you’re looking for organized hunting, fishing, and horse/packing excursions.