Experience: prairie lands, wildlife, Native American culture

Discoveryland (north-central Montana) Havre – Glasgow – Great Falls – Choteau

North-central and northeast is Discoveryland. Most of the region is vast open plains, with few trees. The Missouri River flows through the heart of Discoveryland.

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In the spring of 1805, the Lewis and Clark Expedition traveled west across the northern plains in search of a water route connecting the Mississippi River with the Pacific Ocean. For much of the journey, members of the expedition, called the Corps of Discovery, followed the upper Missouri River through this area of Montana. Many cities in Discoveryland celebrate the deeds of these bold and and courageous explorers.

During the 1800s, northern Montana was home to vast herds of buffalo. The buffalo flourished because of the abundant grasses so common on the plains at that time. Buffalo skeletons, from early times, can be found in areas called buffalo jumps. At a site called the Ulm Pishkun buffalo jump thousands of buffalo died when they were stampeded over a high cliff by Native Americans. Today the site is First Peoples Buffalo Jump State Park. The park, near the town of Ulm (southwest of Great Falls), has a visitor center for interpreting the archaeology and history of the area.

Northern Montana is one of America’s richest agricultural regions, producing millions of bushels of wheat and barley. Wheat produced in this region helped Montana achieve a ranking of 4th among all the states in total wheat production in 1996, according to the Montana Department of Agriculture. The brew served in many a pub around the nation likely is made from Montana barley grown in Discoveryland.

West of Great Falls, Montana, the plains transition to the Rocky Mountains. A vast area stretching north-south for about 150 miles in front of the mountains is aptly named the Rocky Mountain Front. In this region of Montana, grizzly bears still wander out of the mountainous wilderness onto the plains.

For a wonderful guide to cultural tours of north-central Montana, order a copy of the Hands of Harvest guidebook from the Cascade County Extension Service, 1807 3rd St. NW, Great Falls, MT 59404 or call (406) 454-6980. The 80-page guidebook is only $12. Harvest_Guidebook

Great Falls

Great Falls (pop. 59,178) is the largest city in north-central Montana. Most people who live in the region go to Great Falls for shopping. Holiday Village, the main mall in Great Falls, with over 80 stores, is located south of the downtown area on 10th Avenue South.

In Great Falls, Hoglund’s Work and Western Wear is the place to go to buy cowboy boots and hats. Hoglund’s has the best selection of brand-name western wear in the Rocky Mountain West, outside Denver. Hoglund’s store is in the downtown area. For quick information about Great Falls, try the Great Falls city guide.

The C. M. Russell Museum is a well-known attraction in Great Falls. A famous western artist, Charlie Russell produced many paintings depicting Native American and cowboy life on the northern plains in the early 1800s. Many of Russell’s paintings and drawings are owned by the museum. Charlie Russell’s original studio, on site near the museum, is, by itself, worth a visit.

The Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail Interpretive Center is a don’t miss attraction in Great Falls. The center sits on a bluff overlooking the Missouri River. It is near the great falls of the Missouri where Lewis and Clark took eleven days to make the 16-mile portage around five separate falls on the river in 1805. The center has numerous exhibits which describe the expedition’s journey up the Missouri River and on to the Pacific Ocean.

The Montana State Fair is a huge attraction in Great Falls in late summer. In 2015 the Montana State Fair runs from July 24- August 1. Fun for everyone.

For Great Falls, Montana lodging, the Great Falls Inn (406) 453-6000 is tops. It’s near the city’s major mall on the south side of Great Falls. Children and adults enjoy the free popcorn.  Also popular is the Hotel Arvon (406) 952-1101.

Great Falls has many good dining spots. JB’s Resturant offers family dining and is near major shopping areas and the city’s main mall. JB’s fresh strawberry pie served with whipped cream is great!

Steak and seafood lovers head for Eddies Supper Club. On Friday and Saturday nights, patrons enjoy the music around Eddies’ famous piano bar. The Sip-N-Dip Lounge is another hot spot in Great Falls. Sandwiches are wunderbar and a reasonable price at Wheat Montana Bakery & Deli.

Choteau

Choteau, Montana (pop. 1,686) is located on U.S. Highway 89, about 52 miles northwest of Great Falls on U.S Highway 89. Choteau is also idealy situated along U. S. Highway 287, the north-south route connecting Yellowstone National park with Glacier National Park. Choteau’s charm lies in its location, only 26 miles from the Rocky Mountains. The landscape is home to mountain goats, big horn sheep, coyotes, mule deer, and smaller mammals. While rural in spirit, Choteau is still a sophisticated small town. Old Trail Museum is well-known for its dinosaur fossils. Plenty of friendly merchants, taverns, and good resturants make Choteau a nice place to visit or a great overnight stopover. The Stage Stop Inn (406) 466-5900 offers extra nice accommodations and includes an indoor pool and a spa.

Fort Benton

Some of the most rugged and beautiful scenery in the West is found along the Missouri River, downstream from the town of Fort Benton (pop. 1,456). Magnificent towering sandstone cliffs and deep canyons border the river. Segments of the river are known as the White Cliffs region and the Missouri River Breaks. Kayaking and Canoeing are favorite activities along this stretch of the river. The federal government recently designated this area as the Upper Missouri Breaks National Monument. The wildness and solitude of the Missouri River make a float trip on the river an event long remembered.

Lewis and Clark traveled up the upper Missouri River in 1805 in a keelboat. Modern day “explorers” want to experience this earlier period. Call Montana River Outfitters (406) 761-1677.

In Fort Benton, the Museum of the Northern Great Plains is a major attraction. As an added bonus, Fort Benton visitors can see the magnificent Lewis and Clark Memorial, a huge bronze statue of Meriwether Lewis, William Clark and Sacagawea, near the banks of the Missouri River. For special accommodations, book a room at the historic Grand Union Hotel (406) 622-1882 in Fort Benton.

U.S. Highway 2 is the northern, east-west route across Montana and Discoveryland. The towns along U.S. Highway 2, and in most parts of this region, are small and often far apart. A traveler can go from Culbertson, near the eastern border of the state, to Browning, at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, a distance of 421 miles, without seeing a stop sign, or so it seems. Welcome to the Great American Outback. Other towns along U.S. Highway 2 are Glasgow, Malta, Havre, Shelby, Cut Bank, and Kalispell.

Montana wheat harvest: “Wheat Harvest”

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Source: Montana Department of Agriculture

Havre

Havre (pop. 9,846) is a small town on U.S. Highway 2. The city is near Canada and the Canadian provinces of Saskatchewan and Alberta. Visitors to this area of Montana enjoy water sports and fishing for northern pike and walleyes on the Fresno Reservoir, a lake created by a dam on the Milk River. The Bearpaw Mountains, a small mountain range south of Havre, are another popular destination. An important historic site is the Bear Paw Battlefield, southeast of Havre. In 1877, Chief Joseph and his small band of Nez Perce Indians waged a futile battle with the U.S. Calvary. Nice lodging is offered by the TownHouse Inn (406) 265-6711 in Havre.

Glasgow

Fort Peck Lake is the major attraction in northeast Montana. The lake was created in the 1930s when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built Ft. Peck Dam on the Missouri River near Glasgow (pop. 3,364). Today, Fort Peck Lake is a huge reservoir extending some 130 miles upstream from the dam. Fort Peck Lake is a hot spot for sport fishing, camping, boating and other outdoor activities. Salmon, walleye, lake trout, smallmouth bass, and rainbow trout are abundant in the lake. Charlie Long, a guide for Elk River Outfitters, in Fort Peck, helps fishermen find and land the big ones.

Lewis & Clark explored this area of Montana in 1805.  Read an account of their adventures in The Journals of Lewis and Clark (an abridged version of the  original journals), edited by Bernard DeVoto in 1953.

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Copyright © 2017 John Sandy

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Montana Travel: Best in 2017