Canyon Ferry Lake
Canyon Ferry Dam was built in the 1950s by the Bureau of Reclamation, creating the largest of the three lakes on the upper Missouri. Canyon Ferry backs up 25 miles of reservoir with almost 80 miles of shoreline.
At the south end nearest Townsend, the lake is widest and the surrounding countryside rolling, gentle, and treeless. To the north the reservoir narrows and begins to flow into a steep canyon.
On the east side of the lake, about 18 miles north of Townsend, is a sharp ravine in the Big Belt Mountains called Confederate Gulch.
In 1864 a couple of Confederate soldiers discovered incredibly rich gravel beds here. While it lasted, individual pannings yielded up to $1,000 in gold. A boomtown surged up immediately; called Diamond City, it grew to 10,000 people and was as rowdy and tough as the economics and the era allowed. By the 1870s the gold played out, but one last blast with a huge water-cannon-like hydraulic sluice dislodged another million dollars in gold. Today, almost nothing remains of the fabulously rich workings of Confederate Gulch.
Today, however, there is popular fishing and boating at Canyon Ferry. The lake is heavily and regularly stocked with rainbow trout, and they are usually hungry and scrappy enough to make a lucky angler feel skilled. Most of the facilities, both public and private, cluster at the northern end of the lake.
Follow Canyon Ferry Road (or Montana Avenue) east nine miles out of Helena to reach the lake. If coming north on Highway 12, turn on Highway 284 eight miles north of Winston. Rent a boat or windsurfing equipment at Yacht Basin Marina (3555 W. Shore Rd., 406/475-3440).
On the southern end of the lake, the campgrounds thin out. The most convenient campsites are at Silo, seven miles north of Townsend on Highway 12, where there are both public and private campgrounds.
At the privately owned Silo’s RV Park there’s Silo’s Inn bar and restaurant (406/266-3100, 5–9 p.m.).
© W.C. McRae & Judy Jewell from Moon Montana, 7th Edition