Hwy 12 Beartooths to Badlands Loop

Hit the wide-open road and wind your way from majestic mountains to astonishing badlands and back again, taking remote U.S. Highway 12 across a boundless prairie landscape to complete this six-day loop itinerary. For the first two days, the iconic Beartooth Mountains north of Yellowstone National Park act as the gravitational center, drawing you through stunning valleys and along idyllic two-lane roads into its foothills — dotted with charming rural towns and exciting options for unforgettable recreation. Next, the Yellowstone River will be your guide, rushing alongside the road that you’ll take mile by mile eastward into Montana’s spectacular badlands, rich with the fossils of the dinosaurs that once roamed here. Looping back and heading west on Highway 12, experience the kind of far-reaching vistas that earned Montana the moniker Big Sky Country.

Hwy 12 Beartooths to Badlands Loop image 1   Visit Montana
Hwy 12 Beartooths to Badlands Loop image 2   Andy Austin
Hwy 12 Beartooths to Badlands Loop image 3   Visit Montana
Day one

White Sulphur Springs to Columbus

You’ll begin your journey in White Sulphur Springs, named after the hot springs that have drawn people to its reinvigorating mineral waters for centuries. This quaint Central Montana community sits in the Smith River Valley within the Lewis and Clark National Forest, nestled among mountains — the Little Belt Mountains to the north, the Big Belt Mountains to the west and the Castle Mountains to the southeast. It’s no wonder, then, that opportunities for hiking, camping, wildlife watching, fishing and hunting abound here. White Sulphur Springs is an ideal start or end point for multi-day floats on the Smith River — a coveted Montana experience as the required permits are awarded by advance lottery and are quite limited. And in winter, Showdown Ski Area offers lots of snow, great skiing and no crowds. In town, enjoy a hot springs soak — when in Rome! — at Spa Hot Springs Motel or visit the Meagher County Museum. Better known as the Castle Museum, this local history museum occupies a restored Victorian home and features period furniture, mineral samples and artifacts from the area’s past.

From White Sulphur Springs, head south on U.S. Highway 89, the two-lane road that will take you into the orbit of the Beartooth Mountains. The scenery of the Smith River Valley will meld into the landscape of the stunning Shields Valley as you make your way south. Here, the mountains in the distance are the Bridgers (to the west) and the Crazy Mountains to the east. Stop at the Wilsall General Store in the little town of Wilsall to stretch your legs and peruse their selection of Made in Montana goods and Western accessories, or get out of the car for a fresh-air stroll — and perhaps a bite or a cold beverage — in Clyde Park.

When you reach Interstate 90, turn east toward Big Timber, where the Yellowstone River and the Boulder River meet and offer prime fishing opportunities. Take State Secondary Highway 298 south following the Boulder River and enjoy not only the views of open grassland and the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness in the distance but the fishing access sites along the way. The road will lead you to Natural Bridge Falls, a stunning 100-foot waterfall amid stone cliffs. Hike or relax in this picturesque setting before heading back north to Big Timber.

Named for the large cottonwood trees along the rivers in town, Big Timber has a history as a farming and ranching community that continues to this day — evidenced by the prairie land to the north and east. In summer, take the chance to explore this wide-open, serene landscape with a drive north and east on the gravel Route 478 to the small town of Rapelje. Nearby Dallmann Lake offers a quiet place to fish, and if you didn’t spot your fill of pronghorn antelope on the drive out, you can do some wildlife watching at the two national wildlife refuges in the area: Hailstone and Grass Lake.

Back in Big Timber, take in some local color and history. The Crazy Mountain Museum offers exhibits on the town’s history, including ones on rodeo, settlers and the sheep and wool industry. Pop into Cole Drug Store and Soda Fountain for a sundae, shake or float — they’ve been making them here since 1935 — or head to the Circle T Taproom, which serves beer locally made by Crazy Peak Brewing Company. The historic Grand Hotel is worth a visit as well. Built in 1890 and one of the early masonry structures in town, it’s been a hotel, restaurant and community gathering place for more than a century.

Just a few minutes east of Big Timber, heed the call — or shall we say chirp? — of the wild and spend some time at Greycliff Prairie Dog Town State Park to see a protected community of black-tailed prairie dogs in their natural habitat. Then head east to Columbus, a jumping-off point for outdoor recreation opportunities in the area since it’s nestled in the foothills of the Beartooths and close to the confluence of the Yellowstone and Stillwater rivers — you can even cast a line (and swim, boat and camp) at Itch-Kep-Pe Park in town. Explore the Museum of the Beartooths and its displays on life in Stillwater Country over the last 100+ years, including exhibits on the Crow Tribe of Indians, the railroad and World War I. You’ll find more local history at the New Atlas Bar — the building itself dates to 1916 and the interior is remarkably well preserved. It’s also adorned with taxidermy — including a two-headed calf.

Day two

Columbus to Billings

From Columbus, head south on Montana Highway 78 toward Red Lodge. This stretch of road known as the Beartooth Front Scenic Drive offers chances to explore quaint towns and out-of-the-way outdoor recreation as it winds through rolling hills and climbs to Red Lodge at the foot of the Beartooths. The two-lane road parallels the Stillwater River and features several fishing access sites along the way — perfect for admiring the river up close, casting a line or dipping your toes. Just keep an eye out for the signs and enjoy a refreshing river break. You’ll soon come to Absarokee, a small community where you can embark on rafting or fishing adventures or begin the 44-mile Absarokee Scenic Loop. This drive makes good on its name, delivering panoramic views of the landscape’s foothills, mountain peaks and valleys. It’s also dotted with fishing access sites. At Nye, take a short detour to the Woodbine Campground, where you’ll find the trailhead for a short hike to beautiful Woodbine Falls.

Heading back to MT-78, those inclined toward arts and culture should plan to visit Tippet Rise Art Center, just outside the charming town of Fishtail. Open during the summer and set on a working sheep and cattle ranch, the center enables visitors to experience a unique confluence of art, architecture, music and nature through its large-scale outdoor art installations and the musical performances it hosts. There are limits on the number of visitors allowed per day and concerts are ticketed, so check the center’s website for hours, events and access information. As you pass through Fishtail itself, don’t miss the Fishtail General Store, Montana’s oldest continually operated general store. Here, you can find a little bit of everything — from hunting and fishing gear and licenses to Montana-made crafts and gifts to made-to-order deli sandwiches and fresh-baked cinnamon rolls — just like folks have since the spot opened in 1900. Fishtail is also where you can head south on W. Rosebud Road — in summer only — to reach the Mystic Lake Trailhead, the start of an 11-mile round-trip hike to Mystic Lake, the largest and second-deepest lake in the Beartooths.

From Fishtail, continue south on MT-78 to Red Lodge, a mountain town that boasts stellar skiing opportunities in winter and makes a great basecamp for outdoor adventures in summer. Get a feel for the community with a stroll down its charming main street, then check out a couple attractions right in town: Carbon County Historical Society and Museum and the Yellowstone Wildlife Sanctuary. At the museum, you’ll find exhibits on many aspects of local history — including the Crow Nation, historic firearms and two families of rodeo fame — and at the sanctuary, see wildlife from the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem up close, including bears, bison, bobcats, wolves, and birds of prey. Be sure to see the historic Pollard Hotel, which was the first brick structure in town when it was built in 1893. It’s hosted its share of famous guests over the years and continues to extend warm hospitality to travelers drawn to the Beartooth Mountains today. And speaking of hospitality, Red Lodge Ales’ taproom welcomes visitors looking to try locally crafted brews — and they won’t let you go hungry, thanks to their menu of pub fare. If a more elevated dining experience is what you’re craving, look no further than the James Beard Award-nominated PREROGATIvE Kitchen on Broadway. In summer, consider making a side trip on State Secondary Highway 308 to the Bear Creek Saloon and Steakhouse in Bearcreek for a bite and a brew — and the little known but much loved Bear Creek Downs Pig Races. Enjoy the lively race atmosphere and join in the fun by placing bets on which little piggie will be the fastest — some of the money goes to scholarships for Carbon County high school students. Past Bearcreek, S-308 leads to the community of Belfry and the turnoff to reach the town of Bridger.

You’ll take U.S. Highway 212 from Red Lodge to I-90, a stretch with rural Montana treasures awaiting your discovery. With the Beartooths at your back, pick up the road in Roberts to Cooney State Park. This gem of a park offers great boating, swimming and camping, incredible fishing for walleye and rainbow trout, and out-of-this-world stargazing. A little farther along the road, the town of Joliet makes a picturesque place for a pit stop, thanks to its numerous historic residences and buildings. Keep an eye out for the metal sculptures by local artist Charlie Ringer visible from the road: “The Creature” is an 18-foot-tall favorite that skiers and snowboarders heading to Red Lodge have dubbed “The Snow God.”

US-212 intersects with I-90 in Laurel, where several markers on Main Street detail some of the history of the area, including a stop by Capt. William Clark during his travels in the West, the passage of the Nez Perce Indians during their flight to Canada (and the battle they fought against the U.S. Cavalry north of town) and the arrival of the railroad. Laurel is also the first place you’ll encounter on this trip that features a site on the Southeast Montana Burger Trail — Sid’s East Side Bar & Grill earned a spot on the trail with its delicious Doc Holliday burger.

You’ll end the day’s travels after a short drive on I-90 in Billings, where there’s much to explore in and around town, thanks to its vibrant downtown, museums, historical sites and opportunities for outdoor recreation. Visit the Yellowstone County Museum, the Moss Mansion Museum or the Western Heritage Center to familiarize yourself with the history and the inhabitants of the landscapes you’ll see in the days ahead. Time it right and catch one of the Western Heritage Center’s Hoof It with a Historian walking tours of historic Billings locations — you may encounter the Northern Hotel, a fixture of downtown Billings since 1904. Its current building — constructed in the early 1940s after its original structure was destroyed in a fire — was thoroughly renovated and updated in 2013. East of Billings, experience turn-of-the-20th-century farm life at the Huntley Project Museum, which tells the story of an innovative U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project to bring water to the dry farmlands of eastern Montana and the towns and homesteads it created through artifacts, farm equipment and historic structures on its 10-acre campus.

If Montana inhabitants of the furred and feathered variety are more your speed, head to ZooMontana, where you’ll see bison, grizzly bears, grey wolves, bald eagles and red-tailed hawks as well as some other species from the 45th parallel. At the Yellowstone Art Museum, let historic and contemporary artwork primarily by artists in the American Northwest inspire you, or take your own tour of the public art found throughout downtown. Take in the impressive overlook views of Billings and the scenery beyond from Swords Park, Zimmerman Park and the 3-mile-long, multi-use Skyline Trail that connects them along the Rimrocks — or “Rims” as they’re locally known. These sandstone outcroppings, the prehistoric river's edge, form a distinctive feature from which you can see the entire city, including six mountain ranges on a clear day. Nearby, Four Dances Natural Area just outside of town affords wildlife watching and hiking opportunities along the way to Pictograph Cave State Park, where you can view rock paintings and artifacts left behind by prehistoric hunters 2,000 years ago.

If you’ve worked up an appetite after your full day of exploration, check out one — or all three (we know a person on a mission when we see one) — of Billings’ Southeast Montana Burger Trail stops: Diamond X Beer Co., The Burger Dive or Stacked | A Montana Grill. You’ll find two more fun ways to explore Billings and its food and drink offerings in Trailhead Treats and the Billings Brew Trail — trails that lead to establishments in town that will satisfy any sweet tooth or craft beverage craving.

  • Perfect for:
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  • Adventurers
  • Sightseers
  • History Buffs
Day three

Billings to Glendive

Head east on I-90 out of Billings, continue east on Interstate 94 and make your first stop of the day when you reach Pompeys Pillar National Monument, a massive sandstone outcropping that drew the attention of Capt. William Clark as he and his team explored the Yellowstone River and surrounding land in 1806. Explore the on-site interpretive center and follow a boardwalk trail to the spot where Clark inscribed his name in the rock — the mark remains the only known physical evidence of the expedition left on the route, and it joins the inscriptions, petroglyphs and markings left by other visitors to the site over the last 11,000 years. Climb 202 steps to the top of the butte for a chance to see far and wide over the Yellowstone River valley.

Back on I-94 heading east, you’ll soon encounter Hysham. This charming town, bordered to the north by the Yellowstone River and situated near its confluence with the Bighorn River, naturally offers excellent river-related recreation. It’s prime hunting ground for Montana moss agates, which are only found on the banks of the Yellowstone, and offers excellent fishing and boating access. In fact, Hysham marks the western end of the Lower Yellowstone River Trail. The many deer, antelope, pheasants, turkeys, grouse and ducks in the area make for excellent wildlife watching or hunting, in season, as well at the Isaac Homestead Wilderness Management Area. In town, the Treasure County 89’ers Museum is the place to go for local history — you’ll find exhibits on the Crow Tribe of Indians, Lewis and Clark, the railroad and homesteading. You’ll also learn about Frank Borman, a local rancher, farmer and astronaut who flew on NASA’s Gemini 7 and Apollo 8 missions in the 1960s. Don’t miss the landmark Yucca Theater across the street or the quirky figures of Sacajawea, Capt. William Clark, a woolly mammoth and a saber tooth tiger, among others, created by local sculptor Bob Schulze. If you start getting hungry, have no fear — Hysham also boasts a stop on the Southeast Montana Burger Trail: BW Grill and Bar.

Continue east on I-94 through the Yellowstone River valley, past Miles City and Terry (don’t worry — you’ll be circling back to them) and on to Glendive, as sweeping prairie landscape gives way to more and more badlands terrain. The Tyrannosaurus rex sculpture on the “Welcome to Glendive” sign is an appropriate greeter for an area that developed on the late-Cretaceous Hell Creek Formation and has been a hotbed of significant fossil finds for more than a century. In town, visit the Frontier Gateway Museum — a stop on the Montana Dinosaur Trail and a Talking Trail site — to see a collection of dinosaur fossils as well as a full-size skeleton cast of a Struthiomimus named Margie for the “finder” who discovered it nearby. (The museum showcases more recent history too, featuring Native American and homestead-era artifacts and historic structures from the area). At the Glendive Dinosaur & Fossil Museum, view more than 23 full-size dinosaur and fossil exhibits, including an 18-foot-tall T. rex, a 39-foot-long Acrocanthosaurus and a 40-foot-long Tylosaurus, presented in the context of biblical history. If you’ve worked up an appetite after your museum visits, you’re in luck: Glendive is home to American Legion Post 28, whose Legionnaire burger earned it a spot on the Southeast Montana Burger Trail.

Next, head to the southeastern outskirts of Glendive to explore Makoshika State Park and its remarkable badlands formations — “Makoshika” (pronounced muh-KOH-shih-kuh) is a variant spelling of a Lakota phrase that translates to “bad land” or “bad earth.” A variety of hiking trails wind through the striking landscape, where wind and water erosion have sculpted caprocks, natural bridges, pinnacles, pedestals and fluted hillsides and helped to reveal dinosaur remains — the park is a site on the Montana Dinosaur Trail. Ten dinosaur species have been discovered at Makoshika, including T. rex, Edmontosaurus and the rare Thescelosaurus. You can see partially uncovered hadrosaur vertebrae in a hillside on the 1.5-mile Diane Gabriel loop trail, and the park’s visitor center features a triceratops skull in addition to other dinosaur remains and badlands interpretive displays. Makoshika State Park is Montana’s largest state park, and offers lots of activities beyond hiking and dinosaurs. Visitors will find scenic drives, a disc golf course, an archery range, a picnic area and campgrounds, and some trails that can be used for biking and horseback riding. The park is also a site on Montana’s Trail to the Stars — it’s a breathtaking place for stargazing.

Day four

Glendive to Terry

From Glendive, head north on Montana Highway 16 to reach Sidney, an agricultural community on the banks of the Yellowstone River (and the eastern end of the Lower Yellowstone River Trail). The town, with views of bluffs, badlands and red-capped hills, is a convenient jumping-off point for the area’s plentiful hunting and fishing opportunities. Take a walk into the past at Sidney’s MonDak Heritage Center, an art and history museum that features artifacts of area history from dinosaur bones to a 1906 Model N Ford, as well as an extensive early 1900s street scene complete with boardwalks. The center is a Talking Point on the Missouri River Country Talking Trail. From Sidney, follow the Yellowstone River north to where it meets the Missouri River, and at the confluence you’ll find Fairview, the easternmost town in Montana. In fact, the community is so far east it’s actually split between Montana and neighboring North Dakota — Interstate Street in town runs on the state line, so people on opposite sides of the street are standing in two different states. Take a little jaunt into North Dakota to see the Fairview Bridge and Cartwright Tunnel, points on the Talking Trail and relics from the days of the Great Northern Railroad’s plan for its Montana Eastern Railway that have since been developed into a walking trail.

Back in Sidney, head south on MT-16 and when it intersects with Montana Highway 200, head west. Before too long, you’ll encounter Richey, a small but proud farming and ranching town. Richey celebrates its rural heritage with its own museum of local history — the Richey Historical Society & Museum shares its homesteading past through artifacts and six buildings with strong historical significance to the town — and by hosting events like the Richey Rodeo, an annual highlight on the community’s calendar for nearly 70 years. From Richey, your drive will afford views of rolling hills and hints of badlands terrain as you approach Circle, at the crossroads of MT-200 and Montana Highway 13 in McCone County (a Talking Point on the Missouri River Country Talking Trail). Here, stop into the McCone County Museum — you’ll know it by its quirky collection of concrete dinosaurs outside. The small-town museum focuses on the area’s homesteading history and houses more than 10,000 artifacts in its exhibits and on-site historic structures. Be sure to check out the information kiosk on the Big Sky Back Country Byway in the museum as you’ll be driving the southern part of it from Circle to Terry.

The Big Sky Back Country Byway runs north-south between Wolf Point in the north and Terry in the south, providing a link between the Missouri and Yellowstone rivers. Pick up the scenic byway leaving Circle by heading west on MT-200 and turning south on State Secondary Highway 253 when you get there. And the byway is scenic — the wide-open prairie landscapes interspersed with badlands features make the big sky here seem even bigger. As you approach Terry, look for another byway information kiosk on the west side of the highway for details about the byway and local history and culture.

In Terry, the county seat of Prairie County, stop at Prairie Unique, a shop — and unofficial visitor center — where you’ll find a wealth of Made in Montana goods, like gourmet treats, skin care items and gifts crafted from antlers. The kindly owners are a friendly source of local knowledge to boot. For an intimate perspective on turn-of-the-20th-century life in Terry and its surroundings, check out the photographs of Evelyn Cameron; you’ll find them at the Prairie County Museum and Evelyn Cameron Gallery and across the street at Evelyn Cameron Heritage. Another spot to take in some Terry history is the Kempton Hotel, the oldest continuously operated hotel in Montana. Built by homesteaders and opened for business in 1902, it has hosted the likes of Theodore Roosevelt and Calamity Jane, and continues to welcome travelers to stay in updated rooms that still retain historic charm. For its part, Roy Rodgers Bar Grill & Casino in town welcomes burger enthusiasts as another Southeast Montana Burger Trail stop.

There’s great fishing to be had on the Yellowstone River (for the likes of paddlefish, perch and walleye), so if you’re inclined after your in-town explorations, head to the fishing access site in Fallon, about 9 miles east of Terry. In addition to fishing, it’s a perfect spot to hunt for Montana moss agates. Another breathtaking dose of otherworldly badlands terrain awaits at the Terry Badlands, a Bureau of Land Management Wilderness Study Area (WSA) that also offers rock collecting and backcountry hunting opportunities. Reach a stunning scenic overlook via S-253 north of Terry for views that are spectacular both during the day and at night — the area’s dark skies make the Terry Badlands Overlook a phenomenal site for stargazing, earning it a place on Montana’s Trail to the Stars. You can also head west from Terry on Old Highway 10 (the frontage road) to access the Terry Badlands via the Calypso Trail, which delivers a panoramic view of rugged, untouched prairie that looks much like it would have more than a century ago. From the Calypso Trail you can access the Natural Bridges Trail, a short, moderate hike to hoodoos and natural bridge formations. Note that you should visit the rough WSA terrain only when the road is dry and in a high-clearance, four-wheel-drive vehicle.

Day five

Terry to Roundup

Departing Terry, the Yellowstone River will once again be your companion as you travel west on I-94 through vast prairie land and badlands, this time stopping when you reach Miles City. (You can also take the two-lane Old Highway 10 west from Terry for part of the drive, passing a scenic overlook and interpretive signage close to where the Powder River meets the Yellowstone.) Miles City’s roots as a horse trading and livestock center are alive and well today — cattle auctions take place weekly and the renowned Bucking Horse Sale, a major rodeo stock auction, lights up the town annually. Visit the Range Riders Museum to explore 38,000 square feet of exhibits — some of them in historic structures — highlighting the area’s dinosaur, Native American and, later, military and pioneer history. Near the spot where the Tongue River meets the Yellowstone, check out WaterWorks Art Museum, housed in the 1910 waterworks facility that produced the city’s drinking water into the 1970s. In addition to showing regional and national exhibits, the museum displays pieces from its permanent collection, which includes vintage photographs from acclaimed photographers who documented the West at the turn of the 20th century. Try a burger at one of the four Southeast Montana Burger Trail stops here — June’s Bungalow, Tilt Würks Brewhouse, Tubb’s Pub or Vintage & Rustics in Montana — before making a side trip to Strawberry Hill Recreation Area, just a 15-minute drive away. Hike through native grasses, sagebrush and ponderosa pines and on rugged rock formations to catch the view of the Yellowstone Valley at this 4,000-acre area. Spot wildlife here or, at night, a sky full of stars — Strawberry Hill is another site on Montana’s Trail to the Stars.

About 45 miles farther west on I-94, take some time to explore the friendly town of Forsyth, right on the Yellowstone River and below a striking rim of badlands. With easy river access, boating, fishing and agate hunting at the water’s edge are favorite pastimes here. Explore the town’s railroad and homesteading history through the Rosebud County Pioneer Museum's displays of everyday items from the turn of the 20th century, farming equipment and a restored steam engine. Following the Southeast Montana Burger Trail? Pop into the Joseph Café, Forsyth’s lone trail site, to refuel before getting back on the road.

At Forsyth, you’ll leave the interstate behind and begin the U.S. Highway 12 two-lane stretch of your trip. With a landscape of only the most gentle hills and occasional sandstone outcroppings at first, your view here goes for miles to the horizon, the endless space giving real meaning to “open road.” It’s easy to imagine the train that once crossed this land, stopping in the little towns spaced out along the route. Eventually, bigger hills make an appearance as you enter the Musselshell River Valley and approach Roundup, which sits surrounded by hills along the Musselshell River — a great spot for catching trout and catfish or collecting mussels known as “the jewels of the Musselshell.” The hills secured the town’s destiny as an ideal location for ranchers to round up their cattle — a heritage that’s memorialized in a sculpture at the town’s courthouse of cattle crossing a river during a traditional roundup. Stop at the Musselshell Valley Historical Museum to explore Roundup’s cowboy and ranching history and to learn more about life in the valley from the time of the dinosaurs to the days of coal mining and homesteading. With an 8-mile drive north on U.S. Highway 87, you’ll find Lake Mason National Wildlife Refuge, a tranquil spot for wildlife watching, photography and hunting. Stretch your legs a bit along the Roundup RiverWalk, which skirts the Musselshell River, and don’t miss the standout barbeque and in-house baked goods at The Backporch, a James Beard Award finalist. Prepared with many local ingredients and a healthy amount of tradition, it’s the ultimate comfort food done the Montana way. If you’re in more of a burger mood, head to The Grand — another Southeast Montana Burger Trail stop — and enjoy a warm cowboy welcome to boot.

Day six

Roundup to White Sulfur Springs

From Roundup, your US-12 drive will continue west through the Musselshell River Valley. Enjoy the hilly scenery on the way to Lavina, where you can turn south on Montana Highway 3 to reach Acton Recreation Area and its plethora of opportunities to mountain bike, hike, hunt (in season) and watch wildlife among sandstone bluffs, minor badlands and steep drainages. Camping is allowed here, which is handy because the lack of city lights makes it an incredible spot for stargazing — in fact, it’s a stop on Montana’s Trail to the Stars.

From Acton Recreation Area, head back north on MT-3. Turn west on US-12, and with the Musselshell River running alongside, continue your drive through the serene prairie landscape. The area around the farming and ranching community of Ryegate — the site where the Nez Perce crossed the Musselshell River in 1877 in their ill-fated attempt to reach Canada — offers opportunities for fishing, boating and camping.

Farther west along the highway, the town of Harlowton awaits. Like Ryegate, it sits on the banks of the Musselshell River. “Harlo,” as locals sometimes call it, marked the eastern end of the electrified stretch of the Milwaukee Road when it was still in operation. Visit the Harlowton Milwaukee Depot Museum, housed in the restored depot, for a look at the history of Harlowton and the railroad that was integral to its past. The Upper Musselshell Museum, housed in two historic sandstone buildings, also puts a spotlight on area history. The museum is a stop on the Montana Dinosaur Trail, so among the rotating displays on life in the Upper Musselshell Valley, you’ll also find dinosaur fossils, including the skull of an avaceratops — the first of its kind and discovered in nearby Shawmut. As for its present — and future — Harlowton has become known for the Judith Gap Wind Energy Center, a 90-turbine wind farm north of town that is, at times, the highest producing wind-energy facility in the U.S. You can find visitor kiosks at the center’s entrance on U.S. Highway 191.

West of Harlowton, you’ll gradually gain some elevation as the prairie fades into more mountainous terrain. US-12 will lead you all the way back into the Smith River Valley, snaking between the Castle Mountains and the Little Belt Mountains to deliver you once again into White Sulphur Springs. Bring your journey full circle with one more soak in the hot springs — a true Montana finale to your road trip adventures.

  • Perfect for:
  • Families
  • Adventurers
  • Sightseers
  • History Buffs

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Hit These Trails

Great Wide Open road trips intersect with a handful of engaging Montana trails — the Montana Dinosaur Trail, Montana's Trail to the Stars, the innovative Talking Trail app and the Southeast Montana Burger Trail — and our itineraries note when a point of interest is a site on one of them. These trails enrich your travel experience in Montana, highlighting places where you can learn about dinosaurs, listen to stories of local history, nature and culture, find great spots for incredible stargazing or discover some truly remarkable burgers. Visit each trail's website to learn more.