See the gorgeous rolling mountains of Montana and the spectacular Missouri River like the first explorers may have seen them when you visit Lewistown, Mont. Located in the geographical center of Montana, Lewistown lives up to its name as the heart of Montana. From big game and bird hunting to fishing, camping, biking, hiking and skiing, take advantage of the many outdoor recreation opportunities in the beautiful Judith Basin.
Surrounded by five stunning mountain ranges, Lewistown is steeped in the history of the old West. It’s close to Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument, which sits along side the shores of the Missouri. Along with its beauty, you’ll find sites where Swiss-French artist Karl Bodmer captured scenes of the American West while he was on a Missouri River expedition with German explorer Maximilian zu Wied-Neuwid from 1832-34.
Cattle ranching, wheat farming and hay production still provide the primary economic base. Coupled with manufacturing businesses and local entrepreneurs, Lewistown is a thriving hub of activity.
Aside from its traditional western heritage, musicians, craft persons and artists contribute to the weekly events and happenings. A big event is the Montana Cowboy Poetry Gathering and Western Music Rendezvous that takes place every August. In 2021, it will start Thursday, Aug. 12 and run through Sunday, Aug. 15. This multi-day event is the second oldest cowboy gathering in the country, second to the one held in Elko, Nevada.
Don’t miss the Charlie Russell Chew Choo, a dinner train, and the Charles M. Russell National Wildllife Refuge while you are in town. Russell was a Montana-based painter whose work captured real-life scenes of the Native Americans and settlers who lived in the West.
Board the Dinner Train, the Charlie Russell Chew Choo
Enjoy a spectacular evening traveling by train on a scenic 56-mile roundtrip journey with great views of wildlife. Be sure to watch out for the masked bandits. Rumor has it hold-ups can occur when you least expect them!
The 3.5-hour trip in climate-controlled, non-smoking coaches includes a full-course prime rib dinner and dessert, no-host cash bar and music by local area entertainers.
For tickets and more information, visit MontanaDinnerTrain.com.
Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge
At the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge, experience wildlife and scenic grandeur in nearly the same surroundings as encountered by the Lewis and Clark expedition 200 years ago. The refuge includes native prairies, forested coulees, river bottoms and badlands often portrayed in the paintings of Charlie Russell, the colorful western artist for whom the refuge is named.
One of the main access points to the refuge is a little over an hour north of Lewistown on Hwy. 191. Some of the most popular activities include:
- Elk viewing during the fall rut at the Slippery Ann viewing area
- Archery mule deer and elk hunts
- The 20-mile self-guided auto tour
- Birding (235 species identified)
Crystal Lake Campground
Located in the Big Snowy Mountains, Crystal Lake boasts spectacular scenery and lots of hiking, biking, walking and horseback riding trails. A U.S. Forest Service campground hosts 23 large campsites. A boat launch is available for all non-motorized boats.
Stocked each year with fish, the lake offers a wonderful family get-away. A nominal $10/night fee is charged with a maximum of 10 people per campsite. Stays are limited to no more than 16 days.
Ackley Lake State Park
Ackley Lake State Park is a local favorite only a 30-to-40-minute drive from Lewistown on Hwy. 87 near the town of Hobson.
Views of four mountain ranges along with spectacular sunsets are visible from any of the 23 campsites. There are no fees, running water or garbage bins. However, the park has two vault toilets, and each campsite has its own fire ring with a cement picnic table and lean-to. The maximum length of stay is 14 days during a 30-day period.
Ackley Lake is extremely popular during summer weekends, and it is much easier to claim a camping spot during the weekdays. The lake is stocked with fish annually.
Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument
One of Montana’s top destinations, the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument straddles the Missouri River from Fort Benton to the Robinson Bridge on US Highway 191. Swiss painter, illustrator and printmaker Karl Bodmer traveled through the area by river on an expedition in 1832-34, charged with capturing scenes of the West and its people along the way. You can see Karl Bodmer cultural landscape painting sites along the river.
The Missouri Breaks National Backcountry Byway, east of Winifred, is a great scenic drive, providing views of the Missouri River, the overall geographical landscape, historic trails and several wilderness study areas.
Montana Elk Viewing at Slippery Ann
Less than an hour’s drive from Lewistown, watch hundreds of elk return to the Slippery Ann Wildlife Viewing area at the end of September for their annual mating ritual. In this no-hunting zone, bull elk compete for herds of cow elk and fend off competitors in sparing matches.
The Slippery Ann Wildlife Viewing Area is clearly marked along Highway 191 just north of the Fred Robinson Bridge over the Missouri River. Get a good space along the gravel road by arriving at the viewing area no later than 5:30 p.m.
For more information:
408 E Main Street, Lewistown, MT 59457
Related story: Montana Cowboy Poetry Gathering and Western Music Rendezvous
Where to Stay in Lewistown:
406-535-8721, 211 E Main
406-535-5496, 520 E Main
406-538-2581, 102 Wendell
The Historic Calvert Hotel
406-535-5411, 216 7th Avenue S
Trails End Motel
406-535-5468, 216 NE Main