South on Highway 287 toward Hebgen Lake, the mountains rise off the plain of the Madison Valley. Hebgen Lake is the reservoir formed by the damming of the Madison River in 1915. The lake’s north side has a smattering of resorts and private campgrounds; several public campgrounds are on the lake’s less-trafficked south side.
Late on the night of August 17, 1959, the Madison River Canyon shuddered as an earthquake with a magnitude of 7.5 started a giant landslide. A 7,600-foot-high mountain collapsed into the river, burying campsites at the Rock Creek Campground and damming the Madison to form Quake Lake. Twenty-eight people were killed. A couple of large fault blocks dropped and tilted north. A huge tidal wave swept across Hebgen Lake, over Hebgen Dam (six miles away), and into the Madison River Canyon. Amazingly, Hebgen Dam held.
Dead trees now stand in Quake Lake, the Madison River is still choked with rubble, and a “ghost village” near the east end of Quake Lake is a jumble of buildings swept up and dropped by floodwaters. Reach the ghost village via the road across from Cabin Creek campground.
A visitors center now overlooks the site of the landslide. It’s open Memorial Day to Labor Day (406/646-7369), with an admission fee of $3 per vehicle.