Montana Stops on the Way

Lose the Crowds in Northeast Montana

Visit authentic small towns, like Glasgow and Sidney, and discover the dinosaurs, dark skies and deep waters of Montana’s Missouri River Country.

There may be no better place to get away from it all than northeastern Montana, where there’s less time to stress and more room to roam. This vast corner of Montana, which includes towns like Malta, Glasgow, Sidney and the tiny mining town of Zortman, is home to gorgeous rolling prairies and unique landscapes, like the Little Rocky Mountains. It’s cut by the mighty Missouri River—just one of three rivers that crisscross the region.

Montana's Fort Peck Reservoir
Montana’s Fort Peck Reservoir Photo: by Andy Austin courtesy of Missouri River Country

Start your trip at the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge, which hugs the shores of Fort Peck Reservoir south and east of Glasgow. Stop by the Fort Peck Interpretive Center at the Fort Peck Dam to learn about the area’s wildlife, prehistoric residents and dam operations. Then, head out on a driving or hiking tour. 

The Slippery Ann Elk Viewing Area is a great place to visit in the fall to see one of the refuge’s most majestic creatures. During the elk rut—or mating season—in September and October, nearly 500 elk come through the area. Other times of year in the refuge are just as spectacular. Keep your eyes peeled for more than 250 species of birds, large mammals including elk, bighorn sheep, pronghorn, coyotes and more. Download a map for hiking at americanprairie.org. 

Fort Peck in Montana
Fort Peck in Montana Photo: by Bradley Castaneda courtesy Visit Montana

To get out on the water, head to Fort Peck Reservoir—the largest body of water in the state, with more miles of coastline than all of California. It stretches south from Fort Peck. Launch your boat at one of the reservoir’s many marinas, or find a tranquil spot to fish along the endless miles of shoreline—there’s no shortage of room to recreate when you’re on the Fort Peck Reservoir. Head to spots like Hell Creek Marina to reserve a cabin, hire a local fishing guide, buy bait and tackle and get local advice on where to cast your line for walleye, northern pike, smallmouth bass and more. 

Northeastern Montana is home to several authentic small towns, like Zortman, nestled in the Little Rocky Mountains and once home to nearly 2,000 residents and multiple booming gold mines. Fast forward just over a century, and Zortman is now a sleepy town of approximately 70, where visitors can stargaze and pan for gold. The white structures of the St. Joseph Catholic Church and the Zortman Jail still stand today. Stop by the Zortman Motel & Garage or Buckhorn Store, Cabins & RV to rent gold panning gear and get information from the locals on where to pan and to check in for a quiet night’s stay.

Panning for gold in Missouri River Country
Panning for gold. Photo: Courtesy Missouri River Country

Or, head to Malta where you’ll find Blue Ridge Brewing, a great spot to grab a local brew and enjoy the patio and hunting-themed taproom. In fact, this corner of Montana is home to five breweries and two annual brewfests, so microbrew enthusiasts will find themselves at home. 

Brewfests aren’t the only events worth checking out—all eight counties in northeastern Montana hold their own county fair every summer, on top of the National Rodeo Association’s and Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association’s yearly rodeo events.

Malta is also home to the Great Plains Dinosaur Museum, where visitors can participate in a real dinosaur dig alongside paleontologists. Millions of years ago, long before the formation of the Missouri River, this area was a lush wetland where dinosaurs roamed. While the region bears little resemblance to its  prehistoric landscape, the remnants of these giants live on beneath the surface. The world’s first scientifically described T. rex was excavated here in 1902, and more T. rex fossils have been found in Montana than anywhere else.

Dinosaur Exhibit at the Fort Peck Interpretative Center and Museum
Dinosaur Exhibit at the Fort Peck Interpretative Center and Museum Photo: Courtesy Missouri River Country

At the end of a day spent exploring, relax in nearby Saco at the Sleeping Buffalo Hot Springs Resort where tired travelers have stopped for centuries to soak in the storied mineral waters. Visit for the day or enjoy a relaxing stay in one of the cabins or campsites. Located next to Nelson Reservoir, Sleeping Buffalo is the only hot springs resort in all of northeastern Montana and has been voted one of the top spots to soak in Montana. For a bite to eat, stop at Pip’s Diner in Saco for burgers, sandwiches and milkshakes at the old-fashioned counter.

Night skies over Missouri River Country in Montana
Night skies over Missouri River Country in Montana Photo: by Bradley Castaneda courtesy Visit Montana

There’s so much more to see here after the sun goes down. This part of the country is home to some of the darkest skies in the lower 48 states, with virtually no light pollution to get in the way of stargazing. For the brightest views of the cosmos, head to Brush Lake State Park near Dagmar. Reserve one of the campground’s 12 sites in advance to experience gorgeous night skies just steps from your tent or RV. During the day, cool down at the swimming beach where you’ll find crystal-clear waters. Other great spots for night-sky viewing include Hell Creek State Park near Jordan, The Pines Recreation Area near Fort Peck and the Little Rocky Mountains on the Fort Belknap Reservation.


For more information, visit missouririvermt.com.