15 Animals in the Cluster Gallatin National Forest We Saw on a Camping Trip! (Photos and Campsites Included)

Cluster Gallatin National Forest animals
Discover 15 wild Animals in the Cluster Gallatin National Forest, a camper's paradise.

Hey there, fellow adventurers we’re taking you deep into the heart of the Custer Gallatin National Forest, a hotspot of mind-blowing biodiversity! Our camping trip was like stepping into a National Geographic documentary. 

One moment we’re locked in a staring contest with a majestic elk, the next we’re watching a family of playful river otters. Every second spent in this vibrant forest brought us face to face with Mother Nature’s finest. 

So, lace up your hiking boots, grab your binoculars, and join us as we revisit our encounters with 15 of the forest’s most fascinating inhabitants!


Elk are a fascinating spectacle to behold in the Custer Gallatin National Forest. Mature bull elks, with their large antlers, are an impressive sight during the summer months.

ELk Cluster Gallatin National Forest animals

You can find them in meadows around the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness, typically in the early morning or late evening. They are social creatures, often spotted in herds. Please remember to observe them from a distance and never approach an elk, especially during calving season as mothers are very protective.

White-Tailed Deer 

White-Tailed Deer Graceful and agile, the white-tailed deer is another common sight in the forest. They are most active during dusk and dawn, and can often be spotted along the forest edges or open grasslands around the Gallatin River Basin.

White Tailed Deer Cluster Gallatin National Forest animals

Their distinctive white tail, which they raise when alarmed, makes them easy to identify.

Mule Deer

Mule Deer these larger relatives of the white-tailed deer, known for their large, mule-like ears, are common in the forest’s shrublands and woodlands. The Spanish Peaks area provides a good habitat for them.

Mule Deer Cluster Gallatin National Forest animals

Like their white-tailed cousins, they are most active in the early morning and late evening.

Black Bears

The shadow in the bushes, the rustle in the undergrowth; it’s the ever-curious Black Bear exploring its home in the Custer Gallatin National Forest. Despite their name, Black Bears can also sport coats of brown, cinnamon, and even white.

Black Bears Cluster Gallatin National Forest animals

They are a symbol of the wilderness and predominantly roam the heavily wooded areas like the Crazy Mountains. Bears are most active during dawn and dusk. Remember, they are excellent climbers, and despite their size, they are remarkably swift. Make sure to secure your food and campsite and keep a safe distance when you spot one.

Grizzly Bears

A symbol of America’s true wilderness, Grizzly Bears are awe-inspiring creatures to witness. Known for their size, strength, and distinctive hump on their shoulders, they tend to prefer the remote areas of the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness.

Grizzly Bears Cluster Gallatin National Forest animals

Although they can be active at any time, dawn and dusk are when they are most likely on the move. Always remember, Grizzlies command respect; keep your distance, make your presence known, and never come between a mother and her cubs.

Mountain Goats

On the craggy cliffs of the Beartooth Mountains, you may spot the agile and sure-footed Mountain Goats. Uniquely adapted to the rugged mountain terrain, they are a sight to behold as they navigate the steep slopes with ease.

Mountain Goats Cluster Gallatin National Forest animals

With their distinctive white coats and black horns, they can often be seen in the early mornings or late afternoons grazing on alpine vegetation.

Mountain Lions

Stealthy and elusive, the Mountain Lion, also known as a cougar or puma, is one of North America’s largest cat species. They prefer the rugged, remote parts of the forest around the Spanish Peaks and the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness.

Mountain Lions Cluster Gallatin National Forest animals

Although sightings are rare due to their elusive nature, they are primarily active at dawn and dusk. Keep your eyes peeled for tracks along the trails.

Bighorn Sheep

In the rocky areas of the Absaroka Range, you may find Bighorn Sheep. Known for their large, curled horns and robust bodies, they are truly a testament to the wilderness’s hardiness.

Bighorn Sheep Cluster Gallatin National Forest animals

They are most active during the day, and can often be seen grazing on mountain slopes and meadows. If you’re lucky, you might even witness males clashing horns in a display of dominance.


The elusive bobcat, with its bobbed tail and tufted ears, is a master of stealth. Perfectly adapted to the wilderness of the Gallatin Range, they prefer the rugged terrains and deep woods.

Bobcats Cluster Gallatin National Forest animals

Mostly nocturnal, they’re most active during dawn and dusk. Look for their tracks along forest trails, but remember, they’re excellent climbers and may be watching you from above!


When you encounter a Moose in the Gallatin River Basin, you will understand the true essence of wilderness. These giants of the forest, with their towering antlers and robust bodies, are awe-inspiring.

Moose Cluster Gallatin National Forest animals

They are usually found near bodies of water, grazing on aquatic plants during the cool hours of early morning and late evening.

Peregrine Falcons

In the open skies above the Absaroka Range, you may witness the Peregrine Falcon, the acrobat of the air and the fastest bird in the world. From high above, they dive at breathtaking speeds to snatch their prey.

Peregrine Falcons Cluster Gallatin National Forest animals

Early mornings and late afternoons, when they are most likely to hunt, offer the best opportunities to watch these master aviators.

Bald Eagles

The iconic Bald Eagle, the national bird of the United States, reigns supreme in the skies over the Custer Gallatin National Forest. Look for them near rivers and large bodies of water, soaring high above or perched in tall trees.

Bald Eagles Cluster Gallatin National Forest animals

They are most active during the day, particularly in the morning and early afternoon.

American Martens

The energetic American Marten is an agile climber and a joy to watch as it leaps and bounds through the trees in the Beartooth Mountains.

American Martens Cluster Gallatin National Forest animals

These small, slender creatures with glossy fur are most active during the day, and their curious nature might offer a brief sighting before they disappear into the undergrowth.

Red Foxes

The Red Fox, with its fiery coat and bushy tail, is a creature of fable and a delight to encounter.

Red Foxes Cluster Gallatin National Forest animals

Most likely to be seen at dusk and dawn in the meadows and open woodland around the Crazy Mountains, they’re crafty and elusive, often spotted by the flash of their tail as they dart back into the undergrowth.

River Otters

At the waterways running through the forest, like the Gallatin River, you may have the pleasure of watching River Otters. They’re known for their playful nature, and their social grooming and games are a delight to witness.

River Otters Cluster Gallatin National Forest animals

They are most active during dawn and dusk. If you spot a splash or hear a playful chirp, chances are there are otters nearby.

Best Camping Spots within the Custer Gallatin National Forest 

For a wildlife enthusiast, this forest provides the perfect opportunity to immerse yourself in this rich ecosystem. Here are some of the best camping spots to consider for your summer adventure:

Red Lodge Campground

Offering 85 campsites in a mixed forest setting, Red Lodge Campground caters to a range of outdoor enthusiasts. Sites include RV hookups and the campground is conveniently located near the stunning Beartooth Highway. 

The area is laced with more than 700 miles of trails, ideal for hikers and mountain bikers alike. 

This spot is also perfect for anglers, with numerous fishing streams close by. It’s the perfect base camp for adventurers looking to explore everything the Custer Gallatin National Forest has to offer.

Moose Creek Flat Campground

Nestled along the banks of the Gallatin River, this cozy campground hosts 13 campsites. 

While there aren’t any RV hookups, the area is perfect for tent camping. Its location makes it a fisherman’s paradise, with plenty of spots for fly fishing. You’re also likely to spot a variety of aquatic wildlife here. 

Nearby, the Gallatin Riverside Trail offers easy hiking and opportunities for wildlife observation. It’s an ideal location for those seeking a tranquil and intimate camping experience.

Battle Ridge Campground

Tucked in the heart of the Bridger Mountains, Battle Ridge Campground has 13 campsites suitable for both tent and small RV camping. 

The Battle Ridge Trailhead is within walking distance from the campground, offering access to a multitude of hiking and horseback riding trails. 

Here, you can truly immerse yourself in the wilderness and potentially spot elk, deer, and an array of bird species. This campground is ideal for those seeking serenity and abundant opportunities to view wildlife.

Chisholm Campground

Set in the Pioneer Mountains, Chisholm Campground offers 10 campsites perfect for tent camping. While there aren’t any RV hookups, the secluded setting more than compensates for it. 

The East Fork Trail is easily accessible from the campground and offers incredible hiking and horseback riding opportunities. The site’s remote location is perfect for campers who crave a real back-to-nature experience and solitude.

Spanish Creek Campground

Tucked away in a quiet corner of the forest, Spanish Creek Campground has 15 campsites accommodating tent and small RV campers. Several trailheads are just a stone’s throw away, making it a hiker’s paradise. 

Its secluded location makes it ideal for wildlife viewing, with deer, elk, and a variety of birds often sighted. It’s a perfect getaway for campers who seek peace, solitude, and close encounters with wildlife.

Each campground offers its own unique slice of the Custer Gallatin National Forest, ensuring an unforgettable camping experience no matter where you choose to stay

Alright, let’s round this up

Whew, what a ride! From our close encounters with the impressive grizzly bears and elusive mountain lions to the nights spent under the stars at the serene Spanish Creek Campground, this journey through Custer Gallatin National Forest was nothing short of spectacular.

We’ve shared the marvels of 15 stunning animals and some top-notch camping spots that truly allow you to be at one with nature.

But remember, this is just a glimpse. The forest has so much more to offer and countless more creatures waiting to be spotted.

So, pack up your camping gear, respect the rules of the wild, and start your own unforgettable adventure. The wonders of Custer Gallatin National Forest are ready to welcome you!

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