This 115-mile-long series of lakes stretches from Three Forks to Wolf Creek, Montana, with its midpoint about 15 miles east of Helena.
The Chain-of-Lakes Complex is a series of four north-south-trending, manmade lakes along the Missouri River, interspersed with segments of free-flowing water. From south to north, the four lakes in the “chain” are Toston, Canyon Ferry, Hauser, and Holter; Toston is the smallest at 5 miles long, and Canyon Ferry is the largest at 24 miles long. Each lake hosts BLM, Bureau of Reclamation, and/or private recreation areas, campgrounds, and other facilities, such as marinas.
The lake complex is a popular fishing, sightseeing and boating area, with spectacular mountain settings along portions of the corridor. The Chain-of-Lakes Complex provides boat access to excellent hiking, fishing, camping, and hunting opportunities. The area also includes the Sleeping Giant Wilderness Study Area, about 11,000 acres of steep, irregular topography with elevations ranging from 3,600–6,800 feet.
Toston Lake: From Three Forks, drive 3 miles west on Interstate 90. Take exit 274 to U.S. Highway 287, and drive north about 21 miles. Turn east onto Toston Road (improved gravel) and go 6 miles to Toston Dam. The road dead-ends at BLM’s Upper Toston Recreation Site, just above the dam.
Canyon Ferry Lake: From Helena, travel east on U.S. Highway 287 about 10 miles. Turn north onto Route 284 and go 8 miles to Canyon Ferry Dam.
Hauser Lake: From Helena, take Exit 193 (Cedar Street) off Interstate 15. Turn right onto Washington Street and go past the airport entrance to Custer Avenue. Turn right, and travel for 1.5 miles to York Road. Turn north onto York, and travel 10 miles to Lakeside, a private resort. Travel 2 more miles to Devil’s Elbow, where BLM manages two recreation areas.
Holter Lake: From Helena, drive north on Interstate 15 about 35 miles and take Exit 226 at Wolf Creek. Travel east from Wolf Creek to the east side of the Missouri River bridge, and then turn right onto a paved county road. Travel south about 3 miles to the BLM recreation areas: Holter Dam, Holter Lake, Log Gulch, Departure Point, and Beartooth Landing.
Picnicking, fishing, boating, hiking, wildlife viewing, hunting, and ice fishing (during winter).
The “Gates of the Rocky Mountains” create an optical illusion that occurs while one travels upriver on Holter Lake: these cliffs, on opposite sides of a narrow section of the lake, appear to swing open, revealing mountain peaks behind them. In 1805, Lewis and Clark named this phenomenon during their historic expedition; the entire Chain-of-Lakes Corridor is now part of the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail. Today the Gates’ base is flooded by the waters of Holter Lake, and visitors glide in aboard tour boats along the explorers’ route.
Mountain goats, elk, antelope, ospreys, bald eagles, mule deer, bighorn sheep, and other native wildlife can often be seen in this area. Popular fishing species include kokanee salmon, brown and rainbow trout, walleyes, perch, and smallmouth bass. The Sleeping Giant, a feature along the Beartooth Mountain ridgeline that resembles the profile of a reclining giant, is a well-known area landmark, readily visible from Helena and Interstate 15.
Permits, Fees, Limitations
Day-use fees are in effect at all sites. Fishing and hunting licenses can be obtained at numerous stores throughout the lake corridor.
Restrooms and developed campgrounds are accessible.
Camping and Lodging
Primitive camping is available at all BLM sites, with a 14-day camping limit and per-night fees. Group camping is offered at some locations; please contact BLM for more details. The Bureau of Reclamation manages six recreation campgrounds at Canyon Ferry Lake. Developed overnight camping for RVs and tents is available at several campgrounds within the complex. There are also about 50 undeveloped, boat-in camping sites at Holter Lake and other points in the corridor. Camping is on a first-come, first-served basis. Checkout time is 3 p.m. RV dump stations are available in Helena (8 miles south on Route 84, then 10 miles west on U.S. Highway 287), Cascade (25 miles north of Wolf Creek along Interstate 15), and Townsend (at the southern tip of Canyon Ferry Lake, about 30 miles south on U.S. Highway 287).
Food and Supplies
Food, supplies, and commercial services are available in the towns of Wolf Creek, Townsend, Three Forks (6 miles west on Toston Road, then 21 miles north on U.S. Highway 287, then 3 miles east on Interstate 90), and Craig (5 miles north of Wolf Creek), along the eastern shore of Holter Lake, and in Helena.
The nearest hospital is in Helena. Wolf Creek and other communities within the corridor have volunteer fire departments, search and rescue teams, and paramedics.
A towing service is located in Wolf Creek. The Gates of the Mountains boat tour, which operates on Upper Holter Lake, is a favorite local attraction. There are also swimming beaches, fish cleaning stations, boat ramps, and docks at Holter Lake (at Holter Lake and Log Gulch recreation sites) and Hauser Lake (Devil’s Elbow site).
BLM - Butte Field Office
106 N. Parkmont
Butte, MT 59702
Tel: (406) 533-7600