Traditional leaf-peepers think of forests and mountains but out here we know that the prairies, buttes and breaks of Southeast Montana have their own beauty in autumn. We look to river valleys for the golden splendor of massive cottonwoods, but remember that the leaves on prairie grasses change, too – the mauve colors provide a rich surprise.
We suggest daybreak and dusk as ideal times for prairie “colors,” especially as they pertain to photography and wildlife watching. Try these regional routes for maximum autumnal surprises.
Montana Highway 7 from Wibaux to Baker to Ekalaka cuts across the rolling prairies of Southeast Montana. Be sure to stop at Medicine Rocks State Park for a closer look at the pictographs and petroglyphs from past centuries. If you are a craft beer aficionado (and have a designated driver) be sure to stop at Beaver Creek Brewery in Wibaux and Old Skool Brewery in Baker. As is true in all small towns, the locals add the flavor and we have it on authority that the grilled ham-and-cheese at the Wagon Wheel Café in Ekalaka is the best deal going.
PRAIRIE TOUR II
The Warrior Trail, or what is locally known as the “212 Cut-off,” crosses both the Crow and Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservations and exemplifies fall’s beauty across Southeast Montana’s prairies. Just east of Ashland, the Custer National Forest astounds visitors with more jagged terrain, dotted with pines that contrast the terra-cotta colored gravel roads, bisecting the undulating prairies. For more details on recreation areas, see the Ashland Ranger District map.
MUSSELSHELL RIVER TOUR
Follow Montana Highway 12 from Ryegate to Roundup to Melstone, Ingomar and Forsyth. Stop at the RiverWalk in Roundup for a closer look and to stretch your legs. Be sure to grab an ice cream treat at the Corner Cafe Malt Shop or Vintage Main Street Cafe. Along the way, you will want to visit the Jersey Lily in Ingomar, just to say that you ate sheepherder hors d’oeuvres in Montana. From Forsyth, follow the Yellowstone River tour but don’t forget to stop at a local shop for a bite to eat.
YELLOWSTONE RIVER MIDDLE TOUR
Montana Old Highway 10, which skirts between the Yellowstone River and Interstate 90, and features golden cottonwood colors and several stops along the Trail to the Little Bighorn, a series of 19 roadside markers that highlight the U.S. 7th Cavalry’s activities leading up to and immediately following the Battle of Little Bighorn.
Traveling west from Forsyth, take Old Highway 10, which becomes Montana Highway 311, continue through Hysham (stop for a selfie with the statues at the Yucca Theater) on 311, and veer right when 311 turns to become Myers Road/Highway 311. Cross the Yellowstone River on Myers Bridge – stop on the south side for a brief walk-about at Howrey Island Recreation Area– continue on Myers Road, which becomes Pease Bottom Road to Musselshell Trail Road south to Interstate 90 in Custer.
From Custer, continue along the Custer Frontage Road and follow signs to Pompeys Pillar National Monument.
Plan to spend at least an hour here. The interpretive center “frames” the pillar where Captain William Clark, of the Corps of Discovery, carved his name in 1806 – some of the only remaining in-the-field evidence of Lewis and Clark’s incredible journey. Climb the 202 steps to the top of the pillar for an uninhibited 360-degree view of fall splendor along the Yellowstone River.
The five-mile ridgetop drive from Last Stand Hill to the Reno-Benteen Battlefield at the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument reveals more undulating, fall-flaming prairies with the Wolf and Bighorn Mountain ranges in the distance. For a more enriched experience, continue east on highway 212 and turn south on Montana 314 to the Rosebud Battlefield State Park, where the “Girl Who Saved Her Brother” battle was fought.
FALL DOES NOT MEAN CLOSED
Several attractions continue with seasonal hours, so be sure to check websites – or, call in advance and talk to one of our friendly locals. Chances are they will accommodate you with personal tour. We are like that out here.
Regional museums in Southeast Montana that are open year-round:
- Big Horn County Museum
- Carter County Museum
- Custer Battlefield Museum
- Frontier Gateway Museum (seasonal)
- Glendive Dinosaur & Fossil Museum
- Huntley Museum of Irrigated Agriculture
- Moss Mansion
- Musselshell Valley Historical Museum (through September)
- O’Fallon Historical Museum
- Powder River Historical Museum (seasonal)
- Range Riders Museum (through October)
- Richey Historical Museum (seasonal)
- Schoolhouse History & Art Center
- Labre Indian School Museum
- Treasure County 89’ers Museum (seasonal)
- WaterWorks Art Museum
- Western Heritage Center
- Wibaux Museum (seasonal)
- Wise Wonders Children’s Museum
- Yellowstone Art Museum
- Yellowstone County Museum
- Yucca Theater (seasonal)