Unique Adventures in Central Montana

The phone rings. It’s my cousin and she’s looking for ideas for a summer vacation. Before I ask what interests her family has, I start blurting out an entire list of ideas.

Inside Two Medicine Dinosaur Center in Bynum

Knowing there are kids involved I immediately think of our our summer dinosaur digs and our six amazing museums on Montana’s Dinosaur Trail. If they are traveling on US Hwy 2 (Montana’s Hi-Line) they could stop at the Blaine County Museum in Chinook and see the gorgosaurus. There is also a room in the lower level of the museum called the Look, Touch and Wonder Room, where you can get hands-on with the fossils. The Clack Museum in Havre (located in Holiday Village Mall) displays 75 million year old dinosaur eggs and embryos. Next on Hwy 2 is the little town of Rudyard and the Depot Museum (yes, this was the old railroad depot). The town is known for having an “Old Sorehead” and one of their dino finds (which is fully articulated) is named the Gryposaurus (gripe-o-Saurus). Keep traveling on Hwy 2 until you reach US 89, then turn south and stop in Bynum at Two Medicine Dinosaur Center. The entire center is devoted to dinosaurs – displays, a bone prep lab and here they’d have the opportunity to participate in an actual paleo dig. Further south on US Hwy 89 (just 13 miles) is Choteau’s Old Trail Museum. You can’t miss the museum because a couple of dinosaurs are roaming outside the museum! Inside you’ll find bones of Maiasura (good mother lizard, Montana’s state dinosaur). To reach the sixth dinosaur facility in Central Montana my cousin’s family would need to get to Harlowton and the Upper Musselshell Museum. The star attraction here is “Ava” an avaceratops found nearby. Following the dinosaur trail could be a vacation itself! I’ll need to remind them to get Dinosaur Passports at the first museum and then have them stamped at each museum they visit.

The gravesite of Shep, Forever Faithful, on a bluff overlooking Fort Benton

I want to give my cousin ideas that will appeal to everyone though, so next I mention Fort Benton’s famous dog – Shep. He’s been referred to as “Forever Faithful” ever since his master died and the body was loaded onto a train. Shep stayed at the railroad depot and met every train for almost six years. That’s faithful, and a very touching story.

A statue sits on the river levee in downtown Fort Benton and Shep’s grave is up on a bluff overlooking the town. That wouldn’t be a lengthy vacation idea but Fort Benton has several museums and the Old Fort which I think all ages in a family would enjoy.

There is at least one hiker in the family that I’d like to impress with some ideas for nearby hikes. If they headed to the Rocky Mountain Front they could access an amazing number of trails on the Helena-Lewis & Clark National Forest from either Choteau or Augusta. We also have several island mountain ranges, easily accessible, and they all have a variety of hiking trails. I’m not sure of the activity level of my cousin’s family but if they didn’t want a long hike they could even walk the Rivers Edge Trail as it follows the Missouri River through Great Falls.

Hiking in the Little Snowy Mountains

An incredibly unique idea would be to tour Bear Gulch Pictographs which is about 45 minutes east of Lewistown. A short hike led by the tour guide takes you to the largest collection of pictographs that I have ever seen (they say there are at least 2,000). The tour guide gives groups lots of history (my cousin’s husband would probably take notes) and the hike to the rock art is beautiful. I hope they do this and if possible, I might try to join them at Bear Gulch.

History, both preserved and interpreted, can be learned in every corner in Central Montana.

Lewis & Clark sites are visible throughout a large portion of the tourism region and the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center in Great Falls appeals to all ages. My cousin’s children probably will learn more about this epic expedition in fifth or sixth grade so this would give them a head start on that. Since one of the

Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center in Great Falls

main routes for the Lewis & Clark Expedition was the Missouri River I’d love it if they could do a short canoe or raft trip too. We’ll see how the weather is when they are here. And, the third weekend in June each year is an annual Lewis & Clark Festival in Great Falls – living history – and I know they would all like that.

I’m going to mention one more stop just to round out a variety of things for my cousin’s family to do and that is a visit to the Sip N Dip in Great Falls. Yes, it’s a tiki lounge but I’d watch the kids while the adults stopped in one evening to have a “fish bowl” cocktail. They could listen to a funky piano player named Pat (she’s been there a looong time) and then they could watch the mermaids swim. It’s unique and it’s fun! If their timing is right, there is a Mermaid Brunch on the first and third Sundays and it is family friendly.

I have so many more ideas but I don’t want to overwhelm them. I’ll wait a couple weeks and then call my cousin again!

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