Musselshell Country LEWISTOWN LOOP

ESTIMATED LENGTH: 205 miles estimated time: 6 hours to 2 days

highlights: Charlie Russell Chew Choo, Upper Musselshell Museum, Train Park, Judith Gap wind farm, Yogo sapphires, Alberta Bair Museum, Gigantic Warm Springs, Big Spring Creek, Musselshell River

getting there: Lewistown is nearly in the geographic center of Montana, so in theory you can get there from anywhere. From I-90, take one of the two Big Timber exits and drive north on US 191. From Billings, exit US 87 for Roundup. And from Great Falls, go south on US 89 to MT 3 and continue to Lewistown.

OVERVIEW

Ask longtime residents where they’d choose to live if they could somehow find the perfect blend of scenery, pace, and mix of past and present Montana, and many will whisper Lewistown. On the surface, Lewistown with its towering county courthouse rising above leafy streets seems to embody a Rockwellian ideal.

Lewistown sits in a valley and is just close enough to such mountains as the Judith and Big Snowy Mountains (called island ranges because of their isolation from other mountain ranges) to paint a classic Montana portrait, right down to the trout stream that flows through town. Yet it’s far enough away from the stark ranges and cold-water fisheries of glossy magazines to offer isolation and escape from the trophy home frenzy.

At first glance, it might seem this square-shaped central Montana route doesn’t offer much. Mesmerizing scenery isn’t the calling card here. It’s simply mile after mile of eye-pleasing, pastoral surroundings, with grasses that’s why they call them Wheatland and Golden Valley counties swaying against a distant backdrop of snowcapped mountains in every direction: the burly Absarokas and Beartooths, the deceptively brawny Crazys, the timbered Castles and Little Belts, the captivating Big Snowys, the Judiths standing guard over Lewistown, and, in the shadowy distance, the Highwoods and Little Rockies. Along the way, you’ll pass ranches and tractors, white-tailed deer and pronghorn, and get a glimpse of Montana’s energy future at Judith Gap, where fields of spinning white wind turbines protrude from the range as far as the eye can see.

THE FERGUS COUNTY COURTHOUSE IN LEWISTOWN IS ONE OF THE STATE’S MOST PICTURESQUE COUNTY COURTHOUSES

This region also factors heavily into Montana’s railroad history. The Milwaukee Road’s electrified line began in Harlowton and navigated rugged terrain for 252 miles into Idaho. You can still see the old grade snaking along the Musselshell River, along with a few weathered signals, and the periodic railroad building sporting peeling paint.

We recommend starting in Lewistown and heading east on US87/MT200 toward the little oasis of Grass Range. Continue south on US 87 through ranch country into the pine-studded environs of Roundup, an agricultural and coal-mining town that’s been through a lot in recent years and is hoping for better days ahead.

Musselshell Country LEWISTOWN LOOP Photo Gallery



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