By: Melynda Harrison of Traveling Mel
We are big fans of Southeast Montana and relish any opportunity to visit. From carefully scampering across the natural bridge in Makoshika State Park to sipping wine in Miles City to looking for agates along the Yellowstone River near Terry, we always find fun ways to recreate.
Now more than ever, my family is trying to recreate responsibly. For us that means considering our impact on the people and places we visit. That can mean being extra nice and patient at understaffed restaurants, calling ahead to be sure a place is open, and leaving no trace when we hike, bike, or otherwise play outdoors.
There are seven tenets to recreating responsibly and we try to meet every one on every trip.
Here’s how we do it out here.
Know Before You Go
When we are planning our itinerary we call ahead to make sure the places we want to visit are open during our trip. Some spots have limited hours or may be closed. I prefer to look online, but not everyone has a website, so sometimes I have to make a phone call.
When we arrived in Makoshika State Park in the fall, we discovered the visitor center was closed the day we were there. Whoops! A quick check and we could have planned our trip for an open date.
It’s a good idea to be pretty self-sufficient on a trip around Southeast Montana. Pack hand sanitizer, water and trash bags in case local stores are out of stock. A few snacks make everyone feel better when we pull up to a diner that closed early for the day.
The distance between towns can be long and cell service weak or non-existent, that’s part of the draw of exploring this corner of Montana. You just need to be ready for it.
Driving from Wibaux to Baker and then Baker to Miles City is about two hours of nothing but countryside outside of the three towns, for example. It’s highly scenic and wide open, and we enjoy it more when we have a full fuel tank, snacks and water in the car.
Practice Physical Distancing.
We like a little space anyway, so physical distancing is pretty easy. It doesn’t mean you can’t go anywhere, just know the local guidelines and be considerate of how your actions affect locals and other visitors.
One of our favorite places to spend a day is Ekalaka (and not just because it’s so fun to say). We start with tea, coffee and pastries at Stompin’ Grounds, but wait until the morning rush is over.
Then we take a walk around Medicine Rocks State Park, where there is plenty of room to roam. If others are hanging out on a hoodoo, we choose another. It’s easy to step off the trail and let others pass.
It’s lunch to go from Wagon Wheel Cafe, enjoyed in the Ekalaka City Park. And we can spread out in the Carter County Museum while we look at some of the best paleontological discoveries in the United States.
Play It Safe.
My family likes to have adventures like hiking or biking in the Terry Badlands, floating down the Yellowstone River in a raft and paddling around Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area.
As more and more people are out here recreating, when someone gets hurt it puts a strain on already limited rescue services and heath resources. That’s why we are still getting outside and playing, but keeping it mellow and limiting risky behaviors.
Easy trails like the ones at Pompey’s Pillar or Chief Plenty Coups State Park offer high rewards with low risk of injury.
Be Wildland Fire Aware.
We are in the middle of a hot, dry summer. There is smoke in the air and fire restrictions abound. There is a fire ban across most of Montana. We’ve decided not to have any fires, regardless of regulations, until the conditions change.
Before you make a campfire, an integral part of a camping trip, check local guidelines about IF and WHERE it's safe to build a campfire. If it’s ok to have a fire, never leave it unattended and make sure it’s totally out when you are done. Pour a lot of water on top and stir it around as sneaky embers can hide and relight once you have left.
Head to mtfireinfo.org to check the fire restrictions for your destination.
Leave No Trace.
The tenets of Leave No Trace apply all the time, but as we are seeing more visitors and locals getting out, they are more important than ever.
Anything you bring to Southeast Montana’s parks, public lands and recreational spots should go home with you. Don’t assume there will be a trash bin (remember the “Plan Ahead” section where I suggested bringing trash bags?) and be prepared to pack out whatever you pack in.
This includes human waste. Bury it 6-8 inches deep and bring extra zip-top bags to carry your toilet paper out. I know it’s gross, but it’s even more disgusting to find someone else’s used toilet paper behind a bush.
We keep a little toilet kit (T.P., trowel, hand sanitizer, several zip top bags) with us in case nature calls while we are in nature.
You can read more about the Seven Principles of Leave No Trace here: https://lnt.org/why/7-principles/
Build an Inclusive Outdoors.
One of the main reasons I share my outdoor adventures on my website and social media is to encourage EVERYONE to get outside and explore. Southeast Montana is full of wonders that we can all enjoy together (while social distancing, of course).
It doesn’t take much to be friendly at a trail head or share a map when someone isn’t sure which way to go.
I hope you enjoy getting out and exploring Southeast Montana as much as we do. By remembering to recreate responsibly, we can all have a good time while protecting the places and people we are visiting.