10 Memorable Ways to Explore Each of Montana's Tourism Regions
Central Montana is truly the heart of Montana. Home to wide-open spaces, hard-working locals, and stunning outdoor landscapes, the region is a slice of genuine Montana. Hikers, anglers, birdwatchers, cyclists—those who enjoy being outside in beautiful places—will find plenty to keep themselves occupied in the wildly diverse center of Big Sky Country. To get you started, here are 10 of the best outdoor adventures in the region.
Encompassing more than 375,000 acres of public land, the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument is home to a diverse array of landscapes, wildlife, historic sites, and cultural resources. Perhaps the most famous aspect is the Upper Missouri National Wild and Scenic River, favored by locals as a fishing and recreational floating section. The unspoiled area receives relatively low tourist traffic and is an excellent escape from the busier areas in the southern part of the state.</
Just the very mention of the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex sparks awe in the hearts of savvy outdoors-folk. The complex includes three different wildernesses: the Bob Marshall, Scapegoat, and Great Bear, totaling more than 1.5 million acres in total. Suffice to say, whether you are exploring "the Bob" via a multi-day horseback pack trip or a simple day hike, there’s little chance you’ll run into other people on the trail.
Located on the southwest edge of Havre, the Baltrusch Trail and Nature Walk offers two options for a relaxed bike or stroll. The north route is a .7-mile paved out-and-back trail, while the southern loop offers a comfortable 2.6 mile loop toward Beaver Creek Road south of Havre. If you want a bit more of a workout, take advantage of the exercise station along the trail. Whichever route you choose, enjoy the stark scenery of the rolling northern plains.
Dinosaurs are big business in central Montana. Millions of years ago, a large inland sea covered much of the state, creating a semi-tropical floodplain that was home to many species of dinosaurs. The Montana Dinosaur Trail celebrates this history, and central Montana features six stops on the trail, from Choteau to Chinook, which offer interpretive information and the opportunity to see how archaeologists work in the field.
Any visit to central Montana would be remiss without a stop to wet a line in the mighty Missouri River. The Wild and Scenic-designated section in this region is a stunning valley lined with striking rock formations and many historic sites. For serious anglers, the stretch near Cascade is known for large brown trout. As you drive along the river it’s easy to spot numerous drift boats plying the banks in hopes of an eager fish. Book a local fishing guide or bring your own gear and wade the river banks.
Montana is a cowboy state, which means rodeo is a serious business. During the summer months it’s easy to find local rodeos throughout central Montana—gatherings where competitors challenge each other in a variety of events including calf roping, barrel racing, steer wrestling, and—of course—bull riding. Pull on your boots, grab your hat, and prepare to take in a living tradition of the American West.
More than 57 miles of trails line the scenic Missouri River in the town of Great Falls. With stunning views of city parks, dams, waterfalls, wildlife, and waterfowl, the trail offers a myriad of diversions for walkers, runners, and cyclists. Twenty miles of urban trails offer a paved option for those seeking a smooth ride, and the trails are open 365 days a year, regardless of weather. A total of 14 paved trailhead parking areas mean access is easy and parking is very rarely an issue.
Located near Fairfield (not far from Great Falls), Freezeout Lake draws a wide variety of avian species, thanks to its abundant marsh and grasslands habitat. At any time of year, birders will find no shortage of species to eyeball in the 11,000 acre Important Bird Area and Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network site. Flocks of up to 300,000 snow geese migrate through the area in the spring; late spring through midsummer is best for viewing waterfowl and songbirds.
It’s hard work, all this exploring. Take some time to refuel during your travels by visiting stops along the Pie Trail. From the Lazy B Cafe in Augusta to the the Wolfer’s Diner in Havre, Montanans work hard and appreciate good food. Many of the 19 stops along the Pie Trail offer huckleberry pie, a regional favorite, along with other fresh, seasonal fruit options.
Located on the windswept northern plains, the town of Shelby is often overlooked by travelers. But a stop at the Lake Shel-oole Campground won’t leave you wanting—the comfortable campground offers easy access to fly fishing, hiking, and nature trails in the summer months. In the wintertime, you may not want to stay the night but you can still enjoy the outdoors—ice fishing and ice skating are popular cold-weather activities at the campground.