10 Memorable Ways to Explore Each of Montana's Tourism Regions
Called "one of the fairest portions of the globe" by explorer Meriwether Lewis in 1805, Montana’s Missouri River Country offers a respite from the traffic and bustle of the modern world. The region has earned the nickname “Sportsman’s Paradise” thanks to its abundance of fishing and hunting opportunities, and those seeking camping, hiking and general adventure will not be disappointed. The pristine landscape, largely prairie and badlands, is home to plenty of wildlife and wide-open spaces, perfect for those seeking the true Big Sky. Here are 10 of the best ways to explore Montana’s Missouri River Country.
Formed by the Fort Peck Dam on the Missouri River, Fort Peck Reservoir is a 134-mile long lake that’s gained a well-earned reputation as an angler’s paradise. Home to northern pike, walleye, Chinook salmon, smallmouth bass, lake trout, and sauger, the reservoir is best fished from a boat, but in some places can be fished from the shore. While access is somewhat limited, the sheer numbers of big fish in the lake mean the effort very often pays off.
Established in 1936 as a migratory bird refuge, Bowdoin National Wildlife Refuge is located on 15,551 acres on a grass prairie. Wetlands take up 7,226 acres of the refuge, creating compelling habitat for the variety of waterfowl and shore birds who move through the region. Many regional mammals can also be seen perusing the wetlands. A 15-mile, self-guided auto tour is also available.
In 1805, Lewis and Clark entered Montana at what is now Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site. The expedition compiled copious notes about the eastern part of the state, intrigued with the terrain and wildlife. Stop by Glasgow for three wildlife-viewing auto tours and take in some of the same creatures that mesmerized the explorers. Fort Peck Lake features interpretation of local Lewis and Clark-related sites, and the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge offers a 55-mile auto tour that follows the original route
The best way to see new country is often by water, and Missouri River Country is no exception. Step into a canoe and pretend you’re back in the days of Lewis and Clark—much of the landscape hasn’t changed since 1805. The flat, smooth Missouri offers a relaxing way to explore the region and appreciate the vast countryside in a way impossible from the roadside
Located in Malta, the Great Plains Dinosaur Museum and Field Station showcases rare fossils and offers educational programs for all ages. For those serious about their dinosaurs, the field station offers summer field digs. At the museum, explore invertebrate, fish, plant and other dinosaur fossils and peek at the preparation lab. One of 14 stops on the Montana Dinosaur Trail, the museum closes in the winter.
There’s plenty of history to mull over as you explore the terrain around Zortman. This historic mining town is tucked into the Little Rocky Mountains and blends old miner’s shacks and log cabins with modern buildings. Hiking trails crisscross the area and campsites offer an easy place to pitch your tent. For those seeking wildlife, the nearby UL Bend National Wildlife Refuge offers plentiful animal-spotting opportunities.
The massive CM Russell National Wildlife Refuge covers 91,814 acres and surrounds Fort Peck Reservoir near the town of Glasgow. A day spent exploring the refuge could reveal anything from massive Rocky Mountain Elk to prairie rattlesnakes. A diverse selection of habitats, including native prairie, river bottoms, badlands, and wooded coulees provides a broad range of habitat and supports many traditional prairie species. Bring the binoculars and the hiking boots—while you can drive part of the refuge, it’s best viewed by foot.
Traversing Montana’s least-populated stretch, the road between Lewistown and Sidney runs 262 miles receives minimal traffic. At night it’s an awesome experience, with true darkness settling over the car and stars shining bright overhead. Marked by the Great Plains, the Judith Mountains, the Big and Little Snowy Mountains, Black Butte, and many other distinct landmarks, the road may be lacking people, but it’s not lacking scenery.
From the wild and scenic stretch of the Missouri River to the plains of Fort Benton, the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument is home to a spectacular array of significant places. The Badlands of the Upper Missouri, called the "Missouri Breaks" by locals, receives little tourist traffic and is arguably one of the wildest places in the region. It’s best accessed from a float on the Missouri River, and tempts hikers with numerous hiking opportunities on the stark landscape. This is an excellent location to spot Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep and elk.
Eastern Montana has always been a little wild. In pioneer days, outlaws such as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Dutch Henry, Kid Curry and many others frequented the eastern side of the state. They crafted their own Outlaw Trail, an unofficial escape route winding through the region on the way from Mexico to Canada. Explore Montana’s stretch of the trail, with roadside signs often marking points of interest along the way. Historical walking tours offer a more intensive look at the outlaw history of the region.