Recreate at Tongue River Reservoir State Park
East of Billings there is a river that starts way up in the Bighorn Mountains. Some small springs, and melting snow drain down the valleys and collect forming the Tongue River. The river then meanders east, passing close to Sheridan, Wyoming before turning north. Near the small mining town of Decker, Montana the river was dammed up, and as the water passes by the dam it keeps flowing until it drains into the Yellowstone near Miles City.
The dam was built in 1939 for flood control and irrigation purposes. The huge concrete and steel structure caused the river to back up and form the 12 mile long Tongue River Reservoir. The intentions were to help out the farmers in the eastern part of Montana. But a side benefit was the creation of a great place for recreational activities.
Like most of the reservoirs around here, there are a lot of activities you can do there. This time of year, the biggest one is to do some ice fishing. Drilling through the ice, you can drop 6 lines in per person (east of Billings you can have 6 lines each; west of Billings only 2). With a minnow, worm, or secret bait you can try to pull out Northern Pike, Walleye, Crappie, or Trout. During the warmer weather you can snag those same fish, but add Bass and Channel Catfish to the list (these two usually don’t do much during the colder weather). As the weather warms, and the 14+ inches of ice melt off the lake you can head out to the Tongue to do much more than fish. There is plenty of water to put the boat in and do some water skiing or if you have jet skis you can cruise on those too. If you are looking for a place to camp, there are many established campsites in Tongue River Reservoir State Park. Those sites are for RV’s or Tents, and there are designated picnicking spots if you just want to go for the afternoon. You can watch for wildlife, swim in the lake, or just relax on the miles of shoreline. Whether you spend an afternoon or a weekend, you will be able to find plenty to do.
To get to the reservoir take 1-90 east of Billings toward Sheridan. If you are up for a little adventure, you can get off the interstate at Lodge Grass and cut across through the hills. The right road might be tough to find, and if there is snow it could be impassable. To save yourself the headache of not knowing where to go, stay on the interstate until Exit 16 and head towards Decker. 20 miles or so on the road will take you right up to the reservoir. Almost smack in the middle of the twelve mile stretch of water is the marina and campgrounds (here’s a map). From there, your adventure is up to you.
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