The Adventure Guide to Montana
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#6: Exploring Missouri River Country

Rich in cultural history, wildlife, and geological wonder, this route is dominated by expansive plains and vast stretches of pristine landscape

Central Montana

Lewis and Clark navigated the Missouri River in 1804. More than two centuries later, there’s still a lot to discover along the river’s Wild and Scenic portion, where even novice canoeists can paddle past 200-foot-high chalky white cliffs, sprawling cottonwoods, bald eagles, and beavers. Off the river, this region is about subtle beauty, from the rolling grasslands to charming towns right out of the Old West.

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Fort Benton

Road Trip #6

Total distance: 611 miles; total days: 8-9

This old settlement is now a magnet for entrepreneurs who serve travelers here to launch river trips. Adventure Bound Canoe can rent you gear or guide you on everything from a half-day paddle to a three-day trip, camping along the way. If you choose the latter, they’ll shuttle your car to the takeout at Judith Landing. If you don’t have time to actually float the river, the Upper Missouri River Breaks Interpretive Center has a 3-D scale model of the river corridor and a short film on the White Cliffs.

MADE IN MONTANA

Lewistown Art Center
Give yourself extra time in Lewistown to browse this collection of 150 Montana-based artists who sell their ceramics, wood art, glass art, jewelry, paintings, and photography through this collective.

EAT & STAY: Wake Cup Coffee House serves buttery pastries and hearty pizzas. Recently renovated, the Grand Union Hotel is a short walk from the Upper Missouri River Breaks Interpretive Center.

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The Missouri River in Fort Benton.

Lewistown

In the midst of five mountain ranges, this ranching community in the geographic center of the state is also home to the Montana Cowboy Poetry Gathering and Western Music Rendezvous every August. The town also offers excellent brook trout fishing on the nearby Judith River.

EAT & STAY: The 123-room Yogo Inn sits adjacent to the biking and walking paths of the Lewistown Trail System. The specialty at Stetson's, the linen-tableclothed restaurant at the Yogo Inn, is Montana-cut prime rib.

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The Great Plains Dinosaur Museum in Malta.

Malta

Home to the 84,000-acre Bowdoin National Wildlife Refuge (where more than 260 bird species have been observed), Malta offers plenty in the way of wildlife and the kid-friendly Great Plains Dinosaur Museum.  

EAT & STAY: Book a room at the historic Great Northern Hotel and then order ribs at the Stockman Bar & Steakhouse.

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Fort Peck

Sitting at the head of 134-mile-long Fort Peck Lake Reservoir, Fort Peck is a mecca for anglers in search of walleye and northern pike. Surrounding the lake is the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge, a brilliant spot to hike, camp, and bird-watch. Save time to see a show—from a musical comedy to a dramatic play—at the historic Fort Peck Theatre.

EAT & STAY: Stop in at the Gateway Club for a plate of Dam Big Nachos, then relax at the Fort Peck Hotel, where wooden rocking chairs and no TVs in the rooms make it easy to unplug.

Havre

On the edge of this agricultural college town is Wahkpa Chu’gn, a 2,000-year-old bison-hunting ground. An hour southeast is Bear Paw Battlefield, where Chief Joseph famously surrendered to the U.S. Army.

EAT & STAY: Rod’s Drive In prides itself on its “ugly” burgers, a locals’ favorite. Best Western Plus Havre Inn & Suites overlooks the rolling plains and Milk River.

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