FAQ from our State Park Rangers

Missouri Headwaters State Park Missouri Headwaters State Park, photo by Kaden Harrison

We're fortunate in Montana's Yellowstone Country, home to four state parks, each vastly different from the others - Cooney Reservoir, a favorite for fishing and watersports; Greycliff Prairie Dog Town, a great place to take kids to observe the prairie dogs in their natural habitat, Madison Buffalo Jump, where Native Americans ran herds of bison off the limestone ledge to use for food, clothing and provisions, and Missouri Headwaters State Park, where Lewis and Clark camped, and where Sacajawea was reunited with her brother. Camping is allowed at Missouri Headwaters and Cooney Reservoir, and we asked our rangers for some of their most frequently asked questions to help you best prepare! 

Can I use my National Park Pass at Montana State Parks?

There is often confusion between state parks and national parks. National Park passes do not afford a discount for camping in state parks; they have a different fee structure that supports different operations. You can purchase a State Park pass through the Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks Online Licenses Service, or at any FWP office.

How much does a State Park Pass Cost?

Montana Residents

  • Montana residents who pay the $9 state parks fee with their annual vehicle registration have no daily entrance fees to state parks. For residents who don't include this in their vehicle registration, non-resident day use fees apply.


  • Day use entrance fee with a vehicle: $8

  • Day use entrance fee as a walk-in, bicycle or bus passenger: $4

  • With a Nonresident Entrance Pass: Free (More information on the Nonresident Entrance Pass can be found here.)

Where is the nearest dump station? 

Missouri Headwaters State Park is on a flood plain, electricity and dump station amenities are not available. At Cooney State Park, some sites have electricity, but no dump station exists. RV guests can use this list to find the nearest dump station. 

Can I fill up my water tanks?

There is potable water at most Parks however, depending on the weather, it may not be always be accessible. If you prefer full hookups, Fort Three Forks Hotel and RV Park,  Three Forks Market and RV Park, and the Three Forks KOA have full hookups and dump stations. The Dew Drop RV Campground in Absarokee and Mountain Range RV Park in Columbus are good choices for those visiting Cooney Reservoir.

Are there black or grizzly bears in the area? 

While everything west of Billings is considered bear country, there is a lot of habitat for the bears, and the locations of our state parks are not all ideal for bears. Missouri Headwaters State Park tends to get an occasional bear, but generally only once a year in the early spring or fall when hungry or preparing to hibernate. Last year, they were spotted near the trash cans; the year before, they were near the berries. 

Should we be concerned about moose in the Park?

Missouri Headwaters State Park does have moose come through. In the mornings, you can often see two or three cows, a younger calf, and a few bulls. Most of the time, they keep to themselves and prefer to graze. However, moose can be dangerous and have erratic personalities, so respect them and keep a considerable distance between yourself and them. 

Missouri Headwaters State Park Missouri Headwaters State Park, Photo by Jonathan Finch

Can you hunt or fish in the Park?

Yes, you can hunt and fish in Missouri Headwaters and Cooney Reservoir state parks, but you will need the appropriate licenses, including a conservation license.  Hunters can only use restricted weapons, which include bows, shotguns, traditional handguns, or muzzleloaders. Hundreds of people come through these parks to recreate, so be mindful and safe. Cooney Reservoir has restrictions on where you can hunt. Madison Buffalo Jump mainly has birds; there are not a lot of other animals for hunting. 

Can we buy hunting, fishing, or conservation licenses at the Park?

At this time, hunting, fishing, and conservation licenses need to be purchased either online, at an FWP office, or from other license providersConservation licenses are now required for anyone accessing most state lands.

Where is a good fishing spot?

We can't tell everyone, or it wouldn't be a good spot! The Missouri River and Cooney Reservoir are both good for angling, but please refrain from fishing at the confluence of the Missouri; the banks are starting to erode, and we don't want to put additional stress on them. 

Did Lewis and Clark come through here? 

Lewis and Clark buffs will be happy to know that the Corps of Discovery did camp at what is now Missouri Headwaters State Park in July of 1805. Here, Sacajawea was reunited with her brother. The Park has fabulous interpretive programs and brochures to help you learn more. 

Greycliff Prairie Dog Town State Park Greycliff Prairie Dog Town State Park, Photo by Andy Austin

Where are the trash cans?

In general, most of our state parks follow the pack it in, pack it out rule, especially for the more remote sites. For Missouri Headwaters, the only trash cans are near the office, with a couple in the campground. This is meant to keep the occasional bears from the picnic area. The parks with more visitation, such as Cooney State Park, have trash removal services. 

Are there still bison at Madison Buffalo Jump? 

There were millions of bison a long time ago, but today, the wild bison are mainly in Yellowstone, although there are some domestically raised bison ranches in the area. 

Are there rattlesnakes? 

There used to be more rattlesnakes, but you likely won't see them as long as you stay on the trail. We wish they would return because the ground squirrels have overpopulated. Snakes are important to the ecosystem - you remove one animal from the ecosystem, and everything else changes. 

Are there good birding opportunities? 

Yes! You'll see pelicans, snow geese, harrier falcons, bald eagles, and many more. At Missouri Headwaters, a breeding pair of peregrine falcons return yearly to settle in the limestone cliff. 

Cooney Reservoir State Park Cooney Reservoir State Park, Photo by Andy Austin

Can I bring a watercraft to the Park?

Yes, depending on the craft. Cooney State Park allows motorized boats and is a water sports and fishing favorite. Please be respectful of those enjoying different activities and give one another space. For Missouri Headwaters, kayaks, canoes, rafts, SUP, or other non-motorized watercraft are encouraged. Those with higher horsepower boats (20hp) should not attempt to go up the river, as it's too much for the health of the fish and the river. 

No matter what type of watercraft or where you launch it, protect our waters from aquatic invasive species (AIS). Ensure your boat is clean, drained, and dried, and all watercraft require an inspection before launching. You can find a list of inspection stations here

Can we fly photography drones? 

State Parks are a no-drone zone; however, you can apply for a permit. Montana law prohibits launching or operating a drone from a state park unless authorized by a commercial or special user permit or if done in an area specifically designated for such activities by the park manager. Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks Rule 12.8.816

Can we ride our Ebikes?

While Park trails do not allow electric bikes because they put too much wear and tear on the trails, there are paved trails around Missouri Headwaters and several companies that do both tours and rentals, along with guidance about where to bike. Big Sky Ebike Tours and Rentals in Gardiner and 406 E-bike Rentals in Livingston are two in our area.  

Madison Buffalo Jump State Park Madison Buffalo Jump State Park, Photo by Jonathan Finch

What events are going on in the parks?

Only some parks can host events, but Missouri Headwaters hosts a fabulous summer speaker series each Saturday from June to August. They also have a lot of events for young families, including an Easter program, a Halloween event with hayrides, broomstick races, and face painting. It's also a great time to teach kids about bats! They also host an Earth Day event with the AmeriCorps First Program, where they planted a tree in celebration. 

Do you have educational programs for classrooms or home-schooled children? 

Yes! Again, each park is different, but Missouri Headwaters hosts school groups every day in May, where they learn about Lewis and Clark, the fur trade, and buffalo jumps. They also have educational totes that teachers or parents can rent with a week's worth of programming about area topics. 

For more information, go to Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks