Fort Peck Lake – a Fisherman’s Paradise

Fort Peck Power Plant. The two powerhouses generate an average of 1.1 billion kilowatt-hours per year.

Fort Peck, MT

A family reunion brought us to the site of the world’s largest hydraulically-filled dam. At one time, the largest dam in the world, Fort Peck Dam is now the United States’ second largest dam, and the eighth largest dam in the world. The dam, located 19 miles southeast of Glasgow, MT, was built in the 1930s as a Works Progress Administration (WPA) project. The dam created Fort Peck Lake, the fifth largest artificial lake in the United States, covering approximately 245,000 acres of what was once Missouri River Shoreline. The dam, which has a highway running along its highest point, is almost 4 miles (6.4 km) in length.

Fort Peck Dam and Lake at dusk. The two towers at the right house two of the four mechanical gates that can be closed to shut off flow out of the reservoir.

The weekend of our stay, lodging was hard to come by. Fort Peck Lake is the site of many fishing tournaments. The hotels and campgrounds in the area were at near capacity. Unfortunately the weather was cooler and cloudier than normal for early August and rain, sometimes accompanied by thunder and lightning, left the campsites and parks soggy and cool.

View of the 245,000 acre (991 square kilometer) reservoir.

If you are in the area, something not to miss is a tour of the interpretive center. The center has dinosaur fossils and large aquariums displaying native water life. Tours of the power plant are available daily except Sunday. The power plant tour is well worth the hour it takes, and there is no fee. You can get up close and personal with the large turbines and electrical generators in the two plants. Unfortunately, though there are plenty of interesting things to photograph, no cameras, cell phones or even purses and bags are allowed on the tour. You will have to be happy with memories of a very interesting outing. Bring a photo ID, and you’ll need to store your valuables in your car, which you will need to go from the interpretive center to the power plant.

Fort Peck Spillway.

About four miles (6.4 km) east of the dam is the spillway, a mile long strip of concrete that can quickly lower the level of the reservoir should the need arise. The lake has been higher than normal in recent years requiring some use of the spillway. The result is some erosion downstream where the concrete ends. During our stay, we saw numerous trucks and trailers hauling large amounts of fill destined to be used in the reconstruction of the spillway where erosion was at its worst.

Fort Peck Hotel.

Glasgow, MT, about 19 miles northwest of the dam, is a small town, but there are several hotels where visitors to the reservoir who don’t have camping gear or an RV can stay. If you want to experience life in a historic setting, though, you will want to reserve a room at the Fort Peck Hotel. The town of Fort Peck was constructed in conjunction with the dam, providing lodging and services for the thousands of workers building the dam. The town has a year round population of about 200 people and is home to the corps of engineers responsible for upkeep of the power plants and dam.

Rooms at the Fort Peck Hotel are typically equipped with two beds, a single and a double.

The Fort Peck Hotel has been upgraded with air conditioning, but still offers a glimpse of life in the 1930s. Many rooms share bath facilities with the adjacent room, or the bath is “down the hall”. There are no TVs in the rooms, and wireless Internet is only available reliably in the hotel lobby.

Dining facilities are available, there is a well-equipped bar, and the lobby sitting area is right out of a 1930’s hunting lodge.

Lobby of the Fort Peck Hotel.

During the summer season, a local theater company takes over the town’s original movie theater. Unfortunately, motion pictures are no longer being shown. Weekend performances of live theater, however, were available while we were there; and some of our family attended a performance. Their review was positive.

Historic Fort Peck Theater.

If you enjoy fishing or boating, or simply camping in a well equipped or primitive camp site, and you are on your way between Mount Rushmore in South Dakota and Glacier Park, Montana, don’t miss the side trip and spend a few days at historic Fort Peck.

John Steiner

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7 thoughts on “Fort Peck Lake – a Fisherman’s Paradise

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