Take the Scenic Route Along the Stillwater and into the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness

Few places can rival the unadulterated beauty and thrill of a Montana summer. Billings is surrounded by ample opportunities to enjoy the boon of the season. If you’re looking for fresh ways to spend your summer vacation, check out these hot spots along the Stillwater River and the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness. For a family day trip or weekend away with friends, these activities cater to a variety of ages and comfort levels. All you need is love for the great outdoors.

Absaroka River Adventures

Take an exciting trip down the gorgeous Stillwater River. Professional guides are dedicated to giving you the best rafting experience available with trips varying based on the current water levels. The early-season trip on the upper river takes advantage of the spring runoff and offers the most continuous whitewater, perfect for thrill-seekers. The middle river is less bumpy but will still have some splashes and amazing scenery. Later in the season, the lower river offers fun rapids and even some cliff jumping and swimming. Full- and half-day trips are offered, and occasional half-day trips on the Yellowstone also are available. ARA trips are family-oriented and appropriate for most ages. AbsarokaRiver.com

Paintbrush Adventures

South of Columbus, Montana, you will find the main location for Paintbrush Adventures. Guests have a variety of adventures to choose from, including one- or two-hour guided trail rides, “Saddle to Paddle” trips, day rides, guided hikes, ranch vacations, mountain-pack trips and fishing. Reserve the fully furnished rental cabin, located at the junction of the Rosebud and Stillwater rivers. Foray into the Old West at Barron Ranch, where you can experience life on a real working Montana cattle ranch. Ranch vacations include seasonal ranch activities such as cattle drives, roundups and pack trips into the wilderness. Paintbrush Adventures will tailor any tour to fit your desires and skill levels. PaintbrushAdventures.com

Fly Fishing at Mystic Lake

If Montanans were asked to select an official state pastime, fly fishing would undoubtedly be one of the top contenders. Fishermen travel from near and far to cast their luck on one of the state’s countless waterways, including the Stillwater River. For those anglers who seek a more thrilling destination, a hike to Mystic Lake can reap significant rewards. Resting at 7,638 feet in the Beartooth Range, Mystic Lake is a 3-mile hike from the Emerald Lake Campground outside of Fishtail. Breathtaking views surround the shores of this trout fisherman’s haven. Deep and cold waters host brook trout, rainbow trout and cutthroat trout. Though the hike can be challenging — especially during inclement weather — adventurers and nature lovers alike will bask in the grandeur of the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness.

Emerald Lake Campground

Indulge in the spontaneity and leisure of camping under the Big Sky. In the Custer National Forest at an elevation of 6,400 feet, you will find the beautiful Emerald Lake Campground. Encompassing more than 15 acres of pristine mountain terrain, amenities include campsites with tables and fire rings, restrooms, trash removal and hand-pumped water. Take advantage of unparalleled hiking and fishing, as the campground is nestled between two separate lakes, Emerald Lake and West Rosebud Lake. When daylight runs out, just sit back and enjoy the stars.

To access the campsite, continue through Absarokee to Fishtail, then follow West Rosebud Road to the destination (about 26 miles from Absarokee).