Few periods of American history have been as gloriously and romantically depicted as the era of the development of the West. Painters such as Montanan C.M. Russell immortalized scenes of life from that time. Early settlers left their descriptions in journals for future generations. Today, movies and television attempt to give audiences a sense of life in the Old West. It is not difficult to find places in Montana that time seems to have forgotten. Ghost towns from the periods of fur, land and gold rushes haunt the Montana plains.
An imaginative traveler can envision vast herds of buffalo or cattle roaming the still, empty stretches of gently rolling hills. Throughout the state are awesome, jagged mountains, rising out of the otherwise flat landscape against the backdrop of the Big Sky.
Thousands of lakes and reservoirs dot the land. They range in size from glacial potholes to the nearly 30-mile-long Flathead Lake. The Missouri, Yellowstone and Madison are but a few of the rivers meandering through the state. For trappers and early settlers, the rivers were a much needed means of transportation.
Many of the rivers, lakes and streams have changed little since man first saw them. There are areas preserved by law — primitive land where roads will never be built and the wild beauty of the scenery remain unblemished.
Montana is known as the Treasure State. Part of that stems from the rich, scenic beauty. Also, the state’s mines contain gold, silver, copper, lead and zinc.
One of the Treasure State’s greatest prizes is its wildlife. From the eastern prairies and badlands to the rugged mountains of western Montana, this wealth is intended for the enjoyment of all.
Big game populations include moose, elk, mule deer, whitetail deer, antelope, big horn sheep, grizzly and black bears, and wolves. Fur-bearing animals include beaver, otter, muskrat, mink, marten, fisher, wolverine, bobcat, swift fox and lynx. Other animals, including coyotes, mountain lions, weasels, skunks, raccoons, red foxes and porcupines, also call Montana home. Game birds found in the state include waterfowl, sandhill crane, mourning dove, snipe, turkey, partridge, ring-necked pheasant, and sage and sharp-tailed grouse.
Montana’s streams and lakes sport such game fish as trout, salmon, arctic grayling, whitefish, pike, bass, paddlefish, sturgeon, perch, catfish and more.
For information on fishing, hunting and trapping regulations, visit the Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks website at http://fwp.mt.gov.
Fish and Game
A tour of duty at Malmstrom can be a memorable experience if you are an outdoor enthusiast.
Elk hunting is found in the mountainous part of the state and Missouri River Breaks country. Early morning and late evening searches of open parks, slides, burned, logged and blown-down places are a good system of hunting. Logging roads traverse much of the timber country, but snow can choke many of them off early in the season.
Mule deer and whitetail deer can be found throughout the entire state. Most of the foothill and slope areas along the mountains offer good mule deer hunting. Antelope are also found in much of the state, but competition for permits can be high. Licenses for hunting antelope are awarded through drawings.
Since goats live in more precipitous terrain, the goat hunter should expect to do some climbing during the hunt. Bighorn sheep are scattered and hunter success has been quite low. Hunting is usually limited to rams with three-fourths curl horn.
Grizzlies can be found in the western part of the state; however, it is illegal to hunt them. Black bear, however, have spring and fall hunting seasons. Black bear typically make their home in western and southern Montana.
Hunting seasons for mountain, sage and sharp-tailed grouse are usually open concurrently in September. Mountain grouse hunting is found in most mountainous country. Many hunters use roads in the higher ridges and then work stream bottoms and ridges. Pheasant season usually begins in October. In general, the pheasant is found in greatest numbers along the stream bottoms and throughout irrigated valleys and bench lands below.
Turkeys are not native to Montana but have become a fixture of Montana wildlife. Montana has a spring gobbler season and an either-sex fall season for Turkey.
Two species of doves are legal to hunt in Montana: the mourning dove and the Eurasian collared-dove. Mourning doves are most common in the eastern two-thirds of the state where there are crop fields, scattered trees and a water source nearby. Mourning dove season opens Sept. 1. The Eurasian collared-dove is found throughout nearly all of Montana, but not many are shot by hunters as they tend to stay in towns. This dove may be hunted year-round.
Duck and coot seasons typically begin in late September or early October. Montana is a significant duck “production state,” so there are a number of species of ducks present when the season opens. More common species include mallard, gadwall, pintail, wigeon, shoveler, and in some areas along creeks and rivers, wood duck. Blue-winged teal are common but are not typically in the state by the time the season opens. However, green-winged teal are available mid-season and some diving ducks (such as lesser scaup and redheads) may be found as well. At the season’s end, mallards and common goldeneyes are present. Duck hunting is allowed on portions of several national wildlife refuges and a few state wildlife areas.
Canadian geese dominate Montana’s wild geese population and hunting opportunities are available just about anywhere in the state. Snow goose hunting, on the other hand, is mainly limited to Freezeout Lake Wildlife Management Area near Fairfield and other important wetlands along the East Front of the Rocky Mountains.
Montana’s vast and beautiful outdoors provides fishing in abundance, not only in numbers, but also in variety. Miles of streams and rivers and thousands of lakes, ponds and reservoirs provide a wide variety of fishing. Brook, brown and rainbow trout are all found in the crystal-clear waters, along with northern pikeminnow, mountain whitefish and kokanee salmon, among others. All bull trout must be released immediately in Montana unless authorized. Cutthroat trout must be released immediately in many Montana waters; check district regulations and exceptions.
For more hunting tips, regulations and licensing information, visit the Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks website at http://fwp.mt.gov.
Parks and Recreation Areas
If you enjoy traveling about the state, the following areas are just a few of the spots that will provide majestic scenery as well as a place to picnic and relax.
Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex in northwestern Montana covers both sides of the continental divide. The complex consists of three separate wilderness areas: the Bob Marshall Wilderness, the Scapegoat Wilderness and the Great Bear Wilderness. The complex is the third-largest wilderness in the contiguous Unites States and is home to the grizzly bear, lynx, wolverine, deer, elk, gray wolf, moose, black bear, mountain lion, mountain goat and mountainsheep.
Canyon Ferry Recreation Area is on the shores of a lake formed by a Missouri River dam. This area is popular with picnic enthusiasts, campers, boaters and fishermen. Boat-launching facilities are available.
Clark Canyon Reservoir and Barrett’s Diversion Dam is a recreation area south of Dillon. Clark Canyon Reservoir is the site of Camp Fortunate, a significant spot along the Lewis and Clark Trail. The area is ideal for boating and fishing.
Deadman’s Basin lies 29 miles east of Harlowton off U.S. Highway 12. The nearly 2,000-acre irrigation reservoir provides birding, fishing and camping opportunities.
Flathead Lake is the largest natural freshwater lake in the western U.S. with more than 200 square miles of water. Recreational activities include fishing, sailing, power boating, water skiing, swimming and camping. Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks maintains 13 public access sites around the lake, with boat launch, camping, swimming and picnic facilities. West Shore and Wildhorse Island state parks are nearby. The southern half of Flathead Lake is within the boundary of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes Flathead Reservation; recreationists must purchase a tribal recreation permit.
Fort Peck Lake Reservoir is Montana’s largest body of water. More than 50 different fish can be found in the 135-mile-long lake, including walleye, northern pike, paddlefish, sauger, lake trout, small mouth bass and Chinook salmon. The lake is surrounded by the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge provides more than a million acres of public land for fishing, hunting, bird-watching, hiking and camping.
Gates of the Mountains is found half way between Yellowstone and Glacier national parks. This historic wilderness site was discovered and named by Lewis and Clark in 1806. Sheer cliffs rise 1,200 feet above the Missouri River, and motor launch trips can be made through the “gates” to lovely picnic grounds.
Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park is an underground wonderland of colorful limestone. Naturally air conditioned with a maintained temperature of 50 degrees year-round, the caverns are electrically lighted, safe and comfortable to visit.
Lost Creek State Park features Lost Creek Falls, where sparkling water cascades over sheer rock in a setting of evergreens, willow and aspens. Lost Creek flows through the bottom of a canyon topped with towering limestone pinnacles.
Makoshika State Park is an outstanding badlands area in eastern Montana where centuries of wind and water have eroded limestone cliffs into strange and wonderful formations. Early morning and late evening sunlight add special charm to the scenery.
Medicine Rocks State Park preserves striking sandstone rock formations — spiral columns, archways, caves and so on. Native Americans once held medicine dances here.
Painted Rocks State Park in Darby is open to picnic fans, boaters, fishermen, swimmers and campers. The park’s name comes from the multihued rocks and cliffs surrounding the Painted Rocks Reservoir.
Thompson Falls State Park is in Clark Fork Valley. Enjoy camping, fishing, swimming, boating, wildlife watching and more. The Thompson Falls Trail, which was recently expanded, runs along the Clark Fork River and connects to the Highway 200 trail into town.
YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK
Yellowstone, the world’s first national park, remains an awesome natural wonder. Colorful hot springs, geysers, mountains, forests and lakes all provide unmatched beauty. Yellowstone is also an animal-watcher’s paradise, with large herds of bison, elk and deer for your viewing pleasure. The famous bears still live in the park in large numbers as well.
Among the species of fish found in Yellowstone Park are Arctic grayling, mountain whitefish, and cutthroat, brown, brook, rainbow and lake trout (though all native fish must be released unharmed). Several companies offer guided fishing tours within the park. No state fishing license is required within the boundaries of the park during the fishing seasons, however, a Yellowstone National Park fishing permit is required.
The park has a wide range of accommodations available to suit every budget, from campsites to luxurious hotel suites. There are 12 campgrounds with more than 2,000 sites and nine lodges with more than 2,000 rooms at the park.
Three of the five entrances to Yellowstone National Park are in Montana. These are at Cooke City, via U.S. Highway 212; at Gardiner, via U.S. Highway 89; and at West Yellowstone, via U.S. Highway 191 and 287.
For more information, visit www.nps.gov/yell.
GLACIER NATIONAL PARK
Glacier National Park is in northwest Montana on the Canada-United States border. The million-acre park straddles the Continental Divide and includes portions of two mountain ranges. Most visitors use the scenic and historic Going-to-the-Sun Road to enter the park; this road is the only road that stretches across the interior of the park. Once you’re inside the park, one of the best ways to see it is by trail. Glacier National Park has more than 700 miles of trails, enabling the adventurer to reach the remote areas on foot or by horseback.
During a visit to Glacier, you may see elk, moose, deer, bear, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, mountain lions and even an occasional grizzly bear. More than 1,200 different species of plants, more than 270 species of birds and nearly 70 species of mammals call the park home. There is no hunting allowed within the park.
The more than 130 named lakes and streams of the park support burbot, northern pike, mountain whitefish, lake whitefish, kokanee salmon, grayling and cutthroat, bull, rainbow and lake trout. Season regulations and possession limits vary throughout the park; visit the website (www.nps.gov/glac) for more information.
Other park activities include camping, biking, cross-country skiing, boating, rafting and more. Ranger-led programs include snowshoe walks, interpretive boat tours and the Native America Speaks program, where Blackfeet, Salish, Kootenai and Pend d’Oreille tribal members share their knowledge of the history and culture of Native America with park visitors.
Montana has many ski areas, most of which are usually open from November through May. The closest skiing facility to Malmstrom is the Showdown Mountain ski resort near Neihart, approximately 65 miles southeast of the base.
There are extensive slopes for beginner, intermediate, advanced and expert skiers. Classes and private downhill ski and snowboard instructions are held daily throughout the ski season. Lift facilities include one triple chairlift, two double chairlifts and one conveyor. Other amenities and facilities include the Kings Hill Grille & Hole in the Wall Saloon, child care and the Skiers Edge Pro Shop. Visit www.showdownmontana.com for more information.
A couple miles north of the Showdown Montana ski area is the Silver Crest Trails system. These groomed trails are for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.
Local Points of Interest
Malmstrom is in north-central Montana, just outside the city of Great Falls. The climate is moderate, the air clean and pure, the humidity low and the sun illuminates the Big Sky for as long as 16 hours during the summer. The average temperature during January is a crisp 35 degrees while July averages a comfortable 83 degrees. On the average, the area receives 5 feet of snowfall annually.
In 1805, the Lewis and Clark expedition took note of this area, describing it as “The Great Falls of the Missouri” in their journals. Eighty-five years later, the first of five dams harnessing the mighty Missouri was completed. By that time, the young city had grown out of the planning stages into a community boasting a smelter, a hotel, a school, a newspaper and a church.
Gibson Park in Great Falls was named after one of the founders of the city. In 1882, Paris Gibson, of Minneapolis, surveyed the region with James J. Hill, founder of the Great Northern Railroad. They began dreaming of a planned city and, by 1884, turned that dream into a reality. Today, the population of Great Falls is nearly 60,000, making it Montana’s third-largest city.
Great Falls is home to Giant Springs State Park, one of the largest freshwater springs in the world. First discovered by Lewis and Clark in 1805, the springs flow in an underground river at a measured rate of 156 million gallons of water per day. Lovely picnic grounds and a state fish hatchery are adjacent to the springs. The park is also the site of the Roe River — the shortest river in the world. Call 406-727-1212 or visit http://stateparks.mt.gov/giant-springs for more information about the park.
Just 15 miles west of Great Falls another state park — First Peoples Buffalo Jump State Park and National Historic Landmark. This archaeological site has possibly the largest bison cliff jump in North America. For more than a thousand years, the area was used by Native Americans to hunt bison by driving them off the cliff. Trails allow visitors to view the deposits of bones left for centuries, along with the teepee rings left from Native American encampments. Aprairie dog town is on the bluff along the entrance roadway. Visit http://stateparks.mt.gov/first-peoples-buffalo-jump or call 406-866-2217 for more information.
Recreational and cultural opportunities abound in Great Falls. The world-renowned C.M. Russell Museum houses the most complete collection of the works of Charles Marion Russell — America’s cowboy artist. Encompassing an entire city block, the complex, at 400 13th St. N., includes a museum, Russell’s original log cabin studio and his home. The museum’s collection contains more than 13,080 items, including fine art, photographs, studio props, firearms, letters and more. For more information, call 406-727-8787 or visit www.cmrussell.org.
If you’re interested in more contemporary art, check out the Paris Gibson Square Museum of Art. The museum’s permanent collection of more than 800 pieces includes Northwest regional contemporary art, American Indian contemporary art and American self-taught art. Lecture series, classes and workshops are also offered. The museum is one of Great Falls’ oldest and most beloved landmarks and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The building served as a school from 1896 to 1975. Two years later, community volunteers renovated and reopened the building as Paris Gibson Square. For more information, call 406-727-8255 or visit www.the-square.org.
Great Falls also has much to offer the shopper. Downtown there are more than 30 shops, boutiques, restaurants and other retailers. Along the “strip” — 10th Avenue South — you’ll find everything from furniture to motorcycles as well as the Holiday Village Mall. This 60-store complex features men’s and women’s fashions, shoe stores, jewelers, eateries and more.
Great Falls has many annual events, but one of its most popular is the Montana State Fair. The fair includes a rodeo, horse racing, agricultural and livestock exhibits, commercial exhibits, a carnival, food concessions and shows featuring well-known national entertainers. For more information, call 406-727-8900 or visit www.goexpopark.com.
For more information about the area, visit the chamber of commerce at www.greatfallschamber.org.