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Central Montana Hikes & Attractions

Cooney Reservoir and State Park

Cooney Reservoir is one of the most visited recreation destinations in south central Montana. Located within an hour of Billings, MT, Cooney offers great fishing opportunities for trout and walleye and is a popular destination for ice fishing in the winter. Cooney is great for water skiing, wake boarding, jet skis and all types of water recreation. Cooney State Park offers camping, picnicking and hiking and cross country skiing. No wonder it’s so popular – Cooney Reservoir and State Park has something for almost everyone.

Cooney State Park

Cooney State Park is south of Billings, Laurel and Columbus and north of Red Lodge, MT. A well signed access road to the park runs west from Hwy 212 south of Joliet, MT. This paved road reaches the reservoir after about 8 miles. The road arrives at the dam and you can follow roads to either direction to reach different units of the park. You can also reach Cooney Reservoir from the northwest by following a network of gravel roads from just south of Columbus, MT.

Cooney State Park has multiple campgrounds and boat ramps. It’s a good idea to check out the Cooney State Park Map before you go. The 300 acre state park stretches around Cooney Reservoir and provides access to the water in many places.

Cooney State Park is a fee area. For day use, there is no charge for any Montana resident. However, for non-residents there is a $5.00 fee for day use. There is a fee charged for camping that varies according to campsite type and other factors.

Camping and Recreation

Cooney State Park has about 90 campsites spread across 5 different campgrounds. The amenities vary at each of these areas. All of the campgrounds have toilets and water during the summer season. There are showers available at one of the campgrounds.

Most of the campsites at Cooney are best suited for trailers and RVs. About 20 sites have electricity. The smaller campgrounds have fewer amenities and may appeal to tent campers. If you have questions about picking a site read How to Select a Campsite for suggestions.

Many of the campsites at Cooney State Park are available for advance reservations and it’s a good idea to have reservations during the peak months. For more information be sure to check out the Cooney State Park official website.

Photo of Cooney Reservoir in South Central Montana
Cooney Reservoir is a very popular fishing and boating destination. The State Park the wraps around the lake and features lots of camping and hiking opportunities.

Cooney Reservoir

Cooney Reservoir was created in 1937 when the State of Montana constructed a dam across Red Lodge Creek. The earthen dam is 2,260 ft long and stands 97 feet high. Cooney Reservoir was built to store water for irrigation and the reservoir can store about 24,000 acre feet.

Red Lodge Creek drains an area of about 200 square miles upstream from the reservoir. Below the reservoir 20,000 acres are irrigated with water released from Cooney. Recently a major upgrade was scheduled to be completed on the concrete weir that is part of the dam which will allow for more effective water management.

Fishing Cooney Reservoir

Cooney Reservoir attracts most of the visitors to the park. With about 1,000 acres of surface, Cooney provides great fishing year round. Boat fishing is most popular but, at times, shore angling produces great results. In winter Cooney provides some of the best ice fishing in the area.

Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks manages Cooney Reservoir for rainbow trout and walleye. The walleye were first introduced in 1983 and have become well established. The walleye now reproduce in the lake and there has been no walleye stocking since 2006. The reservoir is stocked with rainbows every year and the current fishery management plan calls for continued annual stocking to insure the trout fishery is maintained.

Photo of p[addle boarder on Cooney Reservoir
A lone stand-up paddle boarder explores the shorelines of Cooney Reservoir. Cooney is a very popular destination for motorized and non-motorized boating.

Fun For All

People in the area describe Cooney Reservoir as being “toward the mountains” but it is not in the mountains. The elevation is about 4,250 feet and the water warms to great swimming temperatures in the summer. Cooney is a very popular destination for all types of water recreation. The lake is open to all types of boating. Water skiing and wake boarding are very popular as are jet skis. If you visit Cooney in the summer plan on sharing the lake with plenty of others!

Besides fishing and water sports, visitors enjoy hiking, bird watching and bicycling. The camping is great and Cooney Reservoir should be on your list to visit. You can learn more about all of Montana’s state parks in the book Montana State Parks, a guide to Montana‚Äôs 55 state parks.

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