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Montana, the Place I Long To Be

April 18, 2010 by · 7 Comments 


Over the last five years we’ve made four trips to Montana. The first, in 2005, was to Yellowstone National Park and the little village of Gardner, Montana. It was just like being in the “old west” as we paid $3 for a shower, something we didn’t have in Yellowstone. In Gardner, we found a quaint bookstore, coffee shop and Wi-Fi all in one.

RV Montana, Montana CampingWe decided the next year that we really had to see more of Montana. We were headed to Alberta and on I-90; we knew we wanted to stop at Little Big Horn Battlefield. There was a thirty minute live presentation of Custer’s Last Stand. We were then free to roam over the land viewing the memorials. There is a nice campground next to the Battlefield at Gary Owen, Montana. Seventh Ranch RV and Horse Camp had cabins, hook-ups and corrals.

The very first KOA in the United States is in Billings, right on the Yellowstone River. It is a beautiful, shaded campground with all the amenities you would expect.

Further West on I-90 is Big Timber, Montana. This is where the movie “A River Runs through It” was filmed. There is a nice private campground, Sweet Water Creek Camp and Trout ponds. You can catch your own dinner here.

Heading north we came to the last big city, Great Falls. The Welcome Center here is the first place to stop with free Wi-Fi and lots of maps and information. Be sure to take time to visit the Charles Russell Museum. We spent several hours viewing the magnificent paintings, sculpture, and writings of this famous man. The only campground in Great Falls is Dick’s R.V. Park. It was Rodeo Week so we were lucky to find a spot. We visited the beautiful, three story Lewis and Clark Museum overlooking the Missouri River where the Falls used to be.

We were just 30 miles south of the border crossing at Sweet Grass, when we reach Shelby, Montana. The Lewis and Clark R.V. Park is small and friendly. They have lockers there where you can leave your hand guns before going into Canada. We had never been to Canada so we were a bit anxious about all the regulations. Realizing that we had more than the liter and a half of wine per person that you are allowed to bring into Canada, we decided to spend a few days exploring this area of the U.S. and consuming the extra wine. We also knew we need to change some of our dollars into Canadian money. We headed east and stopped in the Shelby Welcome Center. Not only did we meet a couple of nice ladies who gave us maps and information about the area, but we also found that they sold some beautifully hand made key chains and belts made of horse hair. They also had some lovely beaded jewelry. We learned that they were made by the Native Americans who are incarcerated in the only private pri son in Montana. The money goes back to the inmates. We headed east for 44 miles of paved road and then South for 28 miles on gravel to Lake Elwell, which is the damned up Tiber River. This is all treeless pasture land with high rolling hills. The lake reminded me of Arizona with big barren cliffs dropping straight into cold, blue water. This is Corp of Engineer land and the camping here is FREE. There are no hookups but the Tiber Marina does have showers ($3), restrooms and a restaurant. We have the best “cowboy steaks” we’ve ever eaten. The walleye fishing is pretty terrific too. The shoreline here is covered in rocks of all colors, shapes, and sizes. We had to drive the 28 miles of gravel road back to Chester to purchase a fishing license at the hardware store. We were able to get $50 Canadian without any fee at the only bank in this little Western town. I didn’t see any guns but I heard that everyone carries them in their truck. I did find empty casings in the parking lot at the bank! There’s also NO sales tax here. Potable water is scarce and has to be trucked in to the marina. The weather is unusual for July. Forty degrees in the morning feels warm while ninety degrees in the afternoon feels cool. This is probably due to the very low humidity.

On one of our return trips from Canada we drove South on I-15 from Great Falls to Craig and then Wolf Creek. The camping here on the Missouri River is just $7 a night. (See picture) These are small campgrounds on Fish and Wildlife land with no hookups but great fishing. Further south we stopped at Holter Lake where we camped at a Bureau of Land Management site. The highlight of the trip was seeing four mule deer on the cliffs over Holter Lake. The doe, fawn and two bucks were lying down on ledges. We would have stayed at Holter Lake longer but the smoke from the Meriwether Fire was getting too close.

Driving east and then south through the Judith Basin we could see cattle, bison, antelope and sheep. This is truly “Big Sky Country”

On another trip driving west toward Helena we saw thousands of acres of wheat fields. We stopped at the Wheat Montana Bakery at Exit 274 on I-90 for the best bread we have ever eaten.

On our last trip to Canada we drove North and East from Great Falls to Glacier National Park. We traveled through the Black Feet Reservation and stopped in Browning to restock our pantry. This is open grazing country and we saw both cattle and horses on the highway. We stopped in Choteau to visit the Old Trail Museum where we learned about the Métis people. This is grizzly country where they hold the Grizzly Marathon for runners each year. We learned that the bee hives have to be surrounded by high fences to keep the bears out. There is a nice, expensive KOA in St. Mary’s, just outside the entrance to Glacier National Park. They serve the best huckleberry ice cream here.

We will be back in Montana this summer to explore more of the state. There is still much to see!

Post by Guest Blogger, June Morrissey, from Savannah Georgia

Browse Woodall’s listings of Montana Campgrounds.


7 Responses to “Montana, the Place I Long To Be”
  1. dana t. says:

    Hi June! We just left your beautiful state of GA, and enjoyed our time there very much!
    We are from MT, but spent the winter traveling – we are getting anxious to get home. We have loved something about every place that we have been, but no place has a pull on us like Montana. Montana is beautiful, wild and rugged, and teeming with wildlife. And, after being in so many big cities, we absolutely love the 5 o’clock traffic in MT ( the lack of)!

    We love to explore MT, and if you don’t tell anyone ;), I’ll share with your my fav spot. It’s the Pioneer Mountains Scenic Byway that runs south out of Wise River (which is SW of Butte). I don’t know that I would take a big rig up the south side of the pass, but coming in from Wise River are easy roads for any rv. Crystal Park is also located on the byway, and is a destination for crystal hunters from all over.

    I will be writing posts on destinations in MT after we return there this spring, but until then, be sure to check out the Pioneer Mountains Scenic Byways!


  2. Diane Berry says:

    Hi June–thanks for your ideas about Montana. We just love Montana as well and have spent many nights in Glacier National Park with many more (hopefully) to come. Diane

  3. Bobby says:

    Hey June
    Great blog on a beautiful state. It makes me want to go there and see things like Wolf Creek and Glacier Nat’l Park. Thanks for writing such an inspiring and educational blog. Bobby

  4. I have never been to Montana, but I must admit that you make it seems like a great place to be. I guess since I love to go camping that it would be a wonderful place to be since all of that open space and not as much urban, city life everywhere you turn. There is nothing like being outdoors and loving life!

  5. Gail and Mike says:

    One of the “must see” places in Montana is the Bair Family Museum which is between White Sulpher Springs and Harlowton, just outside the small town of Martinsdale. Another is the “Great Falls” on the Missouri RIver in Great Falls. We read on one of the signs at the falls that it takes 99 years for the water to go 100 miles through the mountains. We are originally from MT and it is such a beautiful state. We are traveling in Arizona and I must say the Sedona area is one of the most breathtaking places we have ever been.

  6. Raquel says:

    I heard so much about Montana and almost everybody makes it a perfect place for a camping trip. Is it true that the place is abundant with beautiful wildlife and scenic views that are more than enough to make for a memorable camping trip.

  7. June Morrissey says:

    yes, Montana is beautiful. We went back this summer to spend several weeks exploring more areas. We spent 2 weeks in Helena which was our base while we explored Missoula, to the West, the Gates of the Mountains to the East, Butte and Boseman, Three Forks and the Lewis and Clark Caverns to the South. We discovered gold mines in Maryville, trout in the Missouri River, future campsites on the Blackeett River and McDonald Pass. The highlight of our stay in Montana was rodeo night in East Helena and Pioneer Days in Marysville in mid-July. The Lincoln Road RV park was a clean and friendly place to stay. They even provided dinner and fireworks for the 4th of July.

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