This post is sponsored by Visit Southeast Montana
In recent years, I have discovered that there are so many things to do in Southeast Montana without the crowds of some of the more popular parts of the state. There may be fewer amenities, but in my mind, it’s worth it for the solitude, wide open spaces, and fascinating cultural and natural history.
EDIT: I wrote this post in 2020, during the pandemic. While we aren’t wearing masks or social distancing anymore, this road trip is just as relevant now. This is how we like to spend our time in Southeast Montana no matter what!
We took this road trip in the fall of 2020. You know what that means. We wanted to travel responsibly, for our own health, the health of local people, and the health of the outdoors. We mostly visited places where we could be outside by ourselves or social distance. When we did go indoors we wore masks.
Southeast Montana Road Trip Itinerary
This is a quick look at our itinerary around Southeast Montana. Keep reading for all the details on each stop.
Day 1 – Backroads, Dinosaurs, and Geology
- Drive the backroads
- Makoshika State Park
- Historic Bell Street Bridge
Day 2 – Stone Church, Steer Montana, and Walks
- Bloom Coffeehouse and Eatery
- Historic Wibaux
- O’Fallon Historical Museum, Baker
- Baker Lake
- Matthews Recreation Area
- Tiltwürks Brewhouse
Day 3 – Antiques, Boutiques, and Battlefields
- Downtown Miles City
- Little Bighorn Battlefield
Things To Do in Southeast Montana
Day 1 – Backroads, Dinosaurs, and Geology
Drive the Backroads to Glendive
We left Billings after breakfast and decided to take the backroads part of the way to Glendive. It’s easy to get off the highway and see a little more Montana. There were only a few other cars throughout our drive.
We went northeast from Billings on I-90 and quickly turned onto I-94.
There are several sections where you can leave the highway and then return, so you aren’t committed to an all-backroads or an all-highway drive. Three routes we recommend:
- From I-94, take the Pompey’s Pillar exit and go east on Custer Frontage Road. If you have time, a stop at Pompey’s Pillar National Monument is well worth it. You can read about it in my post on Lewis and Clark sites in Montana. We had too many other things we wanted to fit in, so we enjoyed the drive parallel to the Yellowstone River and the Interstate to Custer.
- From Custer, we went north on Musselshell Trail Road across the Yellowstone River and turned right on Peace Bottom Road, which turns into Myers Road (State Hwy 311) to Forsyth. This was the prettiest section, to me, and gets you away from the Interstate.
- From Forsyth, take Old Highway 10 as it parallels the Interstate to Rosebud. From there, return to the I-94 to Glendive.
We stopped for a picnic lunch at Myers Fishing Access (in the second recommended section) and had the place to ourselves. It’s in a beautiful grove of cottonwoods and right on the river. The Lewis and Clark Historic Trail goes through the area and looked great for a little walk, but we were focused on throwing rocks in the river and eating lunch.
Makoshika State Park
Makoshika is Montana’s largest State Park and it’s filled with hoodoos, capstones, sinkholes, and dinosaur fossils. The badlands are a fascinating landscape and we always enjoy hiking there.
The visitor center houses triceratops and tyrannosaurus rex fossils along with other badlands interpretive displays. Dinosaur fossils have been found in the park and you can hike the 1.0-mile round trip Diane Gabriel Trail to see hadrosaur vertebrae that have been partially excavated.
The Capstone Trail (0.5-mile loop) passes a natural bridge, along with other wacky landscape features. The Twin Sisters are probably the most photographed features in the park and can be reached in 0.1 miles.
There are other trails in Makoshika that lead you deeper into the badlands and I definitely recommend using them to get out there, just be ready for hot, dry weather in the summer and cold the rest of the year. If it’s wet, skip it altogether because the landscape turns to gumbo and is almost impossible to walk on.
Check the Makoshika website before you go as the visitor center has reduced hours in the off-season. The park itself is open daily from 7 am – 10 pm.
Makoshika State Park, 1301 Snyder Avenue, Glendive
Historic Bell Street Bridge
After an afternoon in Maksohika, we ordered a pizza from The Gust Hauf and walked over to the Bell Street Bridge while we waited. The bridge was built in 1926 and is on the National Register of Historic Places. It’s currently a bike and pedestrian trail, crossing the Yellowstone River. Since the bridge is so long, it actually spans more than the river and is a great place for wildlife watching in the cottonwoods below.
We stayed at the Holiday Inn Express and Suites in Glendive where masks were requested in the public parts of the hotel.
Stargazing in Makoshika
That evening we went back to Makoshika to see the stars. Unfortunately for us, it was a full moon, which was gorgeous but not starry. If the night sky is dark when you are there, be sure to stargaze.
Day 2 – Stone Church, Steer Montana, and Walks
Bloom & Vine, Glendive
Henry and I left the kids asleep at the hotel and had a breakfast date at Bloom & Vine — Coffeehouse, Eatery, and Evening Wine Bar. The café is in a greenhouse and has a lovely courtyard in the back. They have live music and other events, but the morning we visited was all about breakfast and caffeine.
We sat inside at the distanced tables and watched a stream of locals come through getting their morning coffee, breakfast, and/or pastries.
Bloom & Vine, 209 Gibson Street, Glendive
Fueled up–both our bodies and our car–we continued east on I-94 to the little town of Wibaux (pronounced We – bō). We parked at the Pierre Wibaux House Museum. The museum was closed for the season, but we peeked over the chain link fence into the courtyard. From there we walked toward the river to read interpretive signs about Wibaux the cattle baron and the eponymous town.
Then we circled around through the historic downtown and wandered up Orgain Avenue to Old St. Peter’s Catholic Church (make sure you go to the old St. Peter’s; we stood in front of the new one for five minutes wondering why we were looking at it.) The church is covered in lava rock and is very interesting. If you are into roadside attractions, like me, then you’ll want to see this.
From the church, we continued west on Orgain Avenue to Carol Park and the statue of Pierre Wibaux. In his will, he commissioned the statue of himself to look over the rolling landscape and badlands.
An interesting part of Wibaux history from Wikipedia: “Theodore Roosevelt had a famous encounter with a bully at Nolan’s Hotel in Wibaux (Mingusville, at the time) shortly after moving to the North Dakota Badlands in 1884. Arriving at the hotel late at night, Roosevelt was accosted by a drunk sheep herder carrying cocked revolvers in both hands, and ordered to buy drinks for the crowd. Roosevelt pretended to move towards the bar, then punched the man three times in quick succession, causing the drunk to fire his revolvers as he fell. The future president then took away the man’s guns before several other occupants of the hotel dragged him out into a shed.”
The whole walk took about an hour, stopping to read interpretive signs and picture the past.
Wibaux is one of those places you don’t know you are interested in until you get there and look around. Then, you want to know more.
Pierre Wibaux House Museum, 112 Orgain Avenue, Wibaux
O’Fallon Historical Museum, Baker
The drive from Wibaux to Baker feels very remote and there isn’t any cell coverage. It is the quintessential southeastern Montana prairie.
Our first stop in Baker was at the O’Fallon Historical Museum. We learned about the homesteaders in the area and looked into the one-room schoolhouse. There’s a jail in a house, and most famously, Steer Montana. You can take your picture with the taxidermied steer — the largest in the world. Steer Montana used to travel the country and people would pay to see him. It’s free for you!
There is so much in the multi-building museum complex — dinosaur fossils, vintage clothing, a frightening doll collection, a large jar of grasshoppers that all came from one stalk of corn during a particularly bad grasshopper year, and so much more.
We got a Montana Trivia book in the gift shop and the boys ceaselessly asked us questions for the rest of the trip. Thanks to our visit to the O’Fallon Historical Museum, we could answer several of the questions, including one about the grasshoppers.
O’Fallon Historical Museum, 723 South Main Street
We made a quick stop at Baker Lake with the intent of going for a walk, but it was so windy that we decided to enjoy the view from the car and move on to lunch. It’s an unexpected and lovely spot with a play park, walking trails, beaches, docks, and of course the lake. If the weather is at all decent, stop and wander. I’ve heard the fishing is good.
We grabbed bagel sandwiches and wraps for lunch in Baker. Compass Coffee has a charming atmosphere, good food, and caffeine! It’s a big space with socially distanced seating. We were ready to drive to Miles City.
Compass Coffee, 21 South Main Street
Matthews Recreation Area, Miles City
Our first stop in Miles City was meant to be the Waterworks Art Museum. I wrote about a previous visit in this post, but the museum was closed for a week when we arrived this time.
Instead, we drove to the northeast end of town and Matthews Recreation Area. This BLM area is great for bird watching, picnicking, wildlife watching, throwing rocks in the river, and enjoying some time outside.
There are vault toilets, grills, and campsites.
Matthews Recreation Area, 249 Tusler Rd, Miles City
Tilt Würks Brewhouse
This jukebox-themed brewery is a fun place for dinner. It’s a sports bar, so there are a lot of T.V.s, which we don’t love, but the food and beer make up for it. I had the sesame ginger salad and a Hit and Run Sour beer. Yum!
Tilt Würks Brewhouse, 420 Pacific Avenue
We spent the night at the Miles City Hotel and Suites. They are making extra efforts to sanitize, the staff wore masks, and they request guests wear masks in public areas. They are still serving a continental-plus breakfast and have a staff member making waffles etc, instead of having guests do it themselves.
Day 3 – Antiques. Boutiques, and Battlefields
Downtown Miles City
Miles City is known for being the home of the World Famous Miles City Bucking Horse Sale, held the first weekend of May, but the sale isn’t the only reason to visit Miles City.
We started our day at Vintage and Rustics in Montana, an antique mall and soda fountain/café that is full of nostalgia.
We grabbed tea and hot cocoa and sat down among the locals. I can highly recommend the cinnamon rolls. Vintage and Rustics is home to the original Woolworth lunch counter/soda fountain that was put in during the 1940s, and several folks were bellied up to the bar.
The antique and vintage mall spans most of the block and could hold your browsing attention for hours. In addition to vintage and antique items, they sell candy and gifts.
Before leaving Miles City, we grabbed lunch to-go at Main Street Grind.
Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument
Little Bighorn Battlefield is always a moving experience. I’ve visited recently, but it has been at least eight years since Henry and the kids have been there. Anders and Finn don’t really remember their first experience, so it was nice to revisit the place and history.
Little Bighorn National Battlefield “memorializes the US Army’s 7th Cavalry and the Lakotas and Cheyennes in one of the Indian’s last armed efforts to preserve their way of life. Here on June 25 and 26 of 1876, 263 soldiers, including Lt. Col. George A. Custer and attached personnel of the US Army, died fighting several thousand Lakota and Cheyenne warriors.” NPS
You might know it as “Custer’s Last Stand.”
The visitor center was closed, but we used the map-brochure handed to us at the entrance kiosk to plan our trip and get an overview of the battlefield’s history.
We started at the main parking area and walked up to Last Stand Hill and the 7th Cavalry Monument. From there we crossed over to the Indian Memorial and then back to our car.
We then drove the 4.5-mile tour road to the Reno-Benteen Battlefield and walked the short-loop trails there.
There are interpretive signs along the way to help you picture what took place here. Many of them have a phone number that connects to audio narration.
In addition to being a sacred and historic place, it’s also quite scenic. We spent about two hours here, but you could see it in less time, though I don’t recommend it, or take more time to soak it in.
Little Bighorn National Battlefield, 756 Battlefield Tour Road, Crow Agency
If you are thinking about a road trip to Southeast Montana, let me know in the comments. I’ll try to answer any questions!