The wide-open spaces and canyons of eastern Montana take travelers through epochs, from dinosaur bones to the Little Bighorn battle site to classic western ranching towns like Miles City. If history, solitude, and space are what you’re after, you’ll find them in abundance on this road trip.
Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument
Road Trip #5
Total distance: 628 miles; total days: 5-7
Book one of Indian Battle Tours’ Native American guides to explore the site where soldiers led by Lieutenant Colonel George Custer clashed with Sioux and Cheyenne warriors under the leadership of Sitting Bull. In addition to highlighting the history of the battle and the life of the Plains Indians, the site is also home to Custer National Cemetery, the interment site for unknown veterans of past wars.
MADE IN MONTANA
Warrior Trail Jewelry and Gifts
This mother- and daughter-owned boutique in Lame Deer specializes in Montana-made goods, from hemp and goat-milk beauty products from Butte to one-of-a-kind handpainted jewelry made from birchbark and rawhide by Ojibwa-Dakota artist Katie Bendickson.
EAT & STAY: Buy one of the many historical books at the Custer Battlefield Trading Post & Café, then sit on the patio and order a hand-cut rib-eye steak. Oakwood Lodge, 25 miles west of Broadus, sits on 1,000 acres, and its owners whip up a hearty ranch breakfast.
Ekalaka and Surroundings
On the way to Ekalaka, detour to the Chalk Buttes, white sandstone formations in the Custer Gallatin National Forest. There are no designated trails, so make sure you have the proper maps and supplies before you set out to explore these lesser-known buttes. In Ekalaka, visit the Carter County Museum, home to the first juvenile T. rex skeleton, before moving on to Medicine Rocks State Park, which Teddy Roosevelt called “as fantastically beautiful a place as I have ever seen,” thanks to its sandstone pillars and abundance of antelope and sharp-tailed grouse.
EAT & STAY: Not surprisingly, RB’s Home Cooking in Ekalaka offers home-cooked daily specials. In Baker, 36 miles north, stay at one of ten new Jackson Village Cabins, each with full kitchens and barbecue grills.
Makoshika State Park
Makoshika State Park, off I-94, is Montana’s largest state park and a bounty of badlands fun, with more than ten miles of hiking and mountain biking trails and a newly remodeled visitor center that houses a triceratops skull.
EAT & STAY: In Wibaux, 30 miles east of Makoshika State Park, Beaver Creek Brewery makes pizza and brews tasty beers. Yellowstone Bluffs Bed and Breakfast sits on a sandstone bluff overlooking the Yellowstone River.
Billings will feel like a metropolis after the solitude of the last few days. The Yellowstone River flows right through town. Check in with Big Sky Fly Fishers to hire a guide on the Yellowstone or nearby Bighorn River. The sandstone Rimrocks surrounding the city are where the locals blow off steam climbing, hiking, and mountain biking. Steep World Climbing and Fitness has details on climbing, and the Spoke Shop rents mountain bikes. Be sure to check out the Western Heritage Center downtown, which covers the history of the 72,000 square miles of the Yellowstone watershed.
EAT & STAY: After visiting one of the city’s eight breweries, be sure to save room for meatloaf at The Fieldhouse. The freshly rehabbed Northern Hotel has an impressive wood-burning fireplace in the foyer and antlers on the carpeting.