Plan for Vacation Day: 5 Places to Disconnect in Southeast Montana

2022-01-17 22:57:06

It is a documented fact:  Americans work too much.


In fact, more than half of American workers are working more hours than when they were in the office and 61% now find it more difficult to unplug from work. And that’s a problem.

Now the good news:  We have a solution – plan a vacation in Southeast Montana.

Out here, we know that the secret to authentic connection is disconnection. Oftentimes even being on vacation doesn’t mean you are truly “disconnected” from work. With that in mind, here are five places in Southeast Montana where you will be refreshingly disconnected because cellular and broadband communication is scarce, at best.

And that, our friends, is where the real connections happen.

1. Custer Gallatin National Forest

A forest in the midst of Eastern Montana’s prairies? You betcha – we love surprises like this. Located near Ashland, the 436,000 acre Ashland Ranger District offers rolling grasslands, steep outcrops, buttes and dense stands of Ponderosa pines. Get off the grid here to hike, bike and camp. Or, bring your horses – the four-legged variety or the wheeled ones measured in HPs – to ride trails as long as the day. Cook Mountain, King Mountain and Tongue River Breaks are favorites.

Insider info:  The National Forest Service offers cabin rentals, when not being used by NFS employees, as an alternative to camping. Be sure to pick up supplies at local stores, such as the Warrior Trail Store or Ashland Merc, in the nearby town of Ashland.

Photo by Makenzie Hall

2. Terry Badlands

Located near the namesake town of Terry, the Terry Badlands Wilderness Study Area encompasses 44,000 acres of relatively untouched butte, breaks and badlands. It is an off-the-grid nirvana for the truly adventurous. If you like to hike, bike or simply be, this is the place for you. Discover natural bridges, hoodoos, petrified logs and even graffiti from Army troops, circa late 1800s, on Sheridan Butte. Alternatively, stop at Terry Scenic View for a nearly eternal sunset experience.

NOTE:  High-clearance, 4WD vehicles on dry roads are a must and all wheeled traffic, including bikes, must stay on the two-lane, dirt roads as per WSA rules.

Insider info: Stop at Prairie Unique in Terry to ask about road conditions, best place to eat and anything else. This, dare we say “unique,” store distributes a charming combination of Made in Montana products, RC airplanes and drones, and close-to-the-source visitor information. If owners Kathy and Dale don’t know about it, it doesn’t exist.

Photo by Andy Austin

3. Lake Mason National Wildlife Refuge

Managed by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, this refuge water level ebbs and flows seasonally, providing an ideal staging and nesting area for migratory birds. Greater sage grouse, sharp-tailed grouse, gray partridge, mountain plover and burrowing owls call this area home. You may also see pronghorn, elk, mule deer and black-tailed prairie dogs. If you are a stargazer, this prairieland offers wide-open night skies for your celestial entertainment.

Learn more about the birds of Musselshell County on this blog, written by a local rangeland ecologist.

Insider Info:  Visit nearby Roundup for dining, supplies and lodging like Big Sky Motel, a four-generation family-owned facility. Or, delve into local history at the Musselshell County Museum then share stories at The Grand Bar & Grill.

Photo by Doug Roane

4. Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area – North Unit

Not only will you be unplugged in Bighorn Canyon, we guarantee you will be mesmerized. Bring your own boat, load your kayak or rent a pontoon seasonally at Ok-a-Beh Marina to cruise this 71-mile-long lake that straddles the Montana-Wyoming border. With a breeze in your face and colorful cliffs towering more than a thousand feet above, you won’t even miss conductivity. Picnic at Black Canyon and keep your eyes open for black bears, bighorn sheep (typically near south unit), mule deer and approximately 231 species of birds. Add value by bringing camping gear for boat-in-only campsites.

Insider Info:  Stop at the Yellowtail Dam Visitor Center (open seasonally) for an up-close-and-personal look at this hydrological wonder and learn how it came to be, including the intersections with the Crow Tribe.

Photo by Visit Southeast Montana

5. Tongue River Reservoir State Park

For a true “off the beaten path” experience, reserve a campsite at Tongue River State Park and idle your time away fishing, boating or swimming. This 12-mile-long reservoir has provided several state records; perhaps the next one will be yours as you cast for crappie, walleye, bass and Northern pike. Alternatively, head down the road to Rosebud State Park to meander the fields where Northern Cheyenne warriors stopped Brigadier General Crook’s advance just days before the Battle of Little Bighorn in a fight known as “Where the Girl Saved Her Brother.”

Insider Info:  During winter months, Tongue River Reservoir morphs into a quiet ice fishing mecca, including 11 campsites that offer electrical hook-ups year-round. To make your trip planning even easier, use the Itinerary Builder on to customize your trip and Plan for Vacation in 2022.

Photo by Andy Austin