The northeast section of Montana is not considered a tourist hot spot. Well off the Interstate Highway, it is not a place one passes through while traveling between major cities. Called "Missouri River Country" by the state's visitor bureau, it's part of North America's Great Plains region. Cultivated fields and cattle ranches are interspersed with vast open prairies. The grasslands are broken up by canyons, buttes, and badlands that bring their own beauty to the landscape.
The grand Missouri River cuts through the region, with Fort Peck Lake a huge reservoir along its route. The Fort Peck Indian Reservation, home to tribes of both the Assiniboine and Sioux Nations, is a major presence in the region. Their culture and traditions are an important part of Northeast Montana's character.
While Northeast Montana is not a popular tourist destination, visitors to the region will find plenty of fun and interesting things to see and do. From dinosaurs to Lewis and Clark, the history in the region is colorful and a personal visit helps bring that fascinating history to life. You'll find many opportunities for wildlife watching and water recreation. Here are my recommendations for fun things to do during your Northeast Montana visit:
Fort Peck and Fort Peck Lake
Impounded behind Fort Peck Dam, this huge reservoir on the Missouri River extends for well over 110 miles. A massive side arm brings the lake's size to 245,000 acres, which makes it the largest lake in Montana by area.
With miles and miles of shoreline, Fort Peck Lake is a popular recreation destination. Campgrounds, parks, and recreation areas surround the lake. The town of Fort Peck is located at the north end of the reservoir, near the dam. In addition to all the recreation opportunities, you'll find several interesting attractions to explore when visiting Fort Peck Lake.
- Fort Peck Interpretive Center
The exhibits at this museum provide a great overview of the natural and human history of Northeast Montana. Highlights include an excellent collection of dinosaur fossils and casts, displays covering Fort Peck Dam construction, and an aquarium devoted to native fish.
- Powerhouse Museum and Tour
Guided tours of the Fort Peck Dam powerhouse, including its museum, depart from the Interpretive Center.
- Fort Peck Fish Hatchery
Walleye, chinook salmon, and northern pike are among the species raised at this modern, highly-automated fish hatchery.
Wildlife Watching in Northeast Montana
You'll see wildlife all around as you travel Northeast Montana's roads and highway, lakes and rivers. Bighorn sheep, deer, elk, and pronghorn antelope are among the large mammals you'll see on Montana prairies. Birders will thrill at the variety of resident and migrating birds found in the region, including pheasants, grouse, osprey, eagles, and cranes. Several National Wildlife Refuges can be found in the region, including the 1.1-million-acre Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge, one of the largest preserves in the lower 48 states.
Dinosaurs in Northeast Montana
Many significant paleontological finds have occurred in Montana, with new finds taking place all the time. Several major sites along The Montana Dinosaur Trail are located in the northeastern section of the state. You'll see dinosaur fossils at many local museums and will also find opportunities to participate in real, hands-on fossil digs.
- Fort Peck Interpretive Center
Peck's Rex, a Tyrannosaurus Rex discovered near Fort Peck in 1997, is one of the dinosaur highlights at the Fort Peck Interpretive Center. You'll see both a life-sized model of Peck's Rex as well as a cast of the skeleton. Montana was once the site of a vast inland sea. Fossils of Montana's prehistoric sea creatures are on exhibit, along with fossils of ostrich-like dinosaurs.
- The Great Plains Dinosaur Museum and Field Station
Located in Malta, an area rich in well-preserved paleontological sites, this museum exhibits examples of Montana's prehistoric citizens. Large dinosaurs like Hadrosaurus, Triceratops, and Stegosaurus are represented as well as other ancient creatures like fish and crab. The Great Plains Dinosaur Museum and Field Station also offers the opportunity to learn by working at an active dig site. Programs are available for kids and adults.
- Garfield County Museum
It may be small, but this local history museum has some excellent dinosaur displays that showcase local discoveries, including those from the Hell Creek Formation. A full-size replica Triceratops skeleton, a T. Rex skull, and a Pachycephalosaur skull are among the paleontology highlights at this Jordan museum.
Local Museums in Northeast Montana
Small-town history museums can be fascinating, providing a focused look at topics where you're already familiar with the broader context. Native Americans, the Lewis and Clark Expedition, the pioneer and homestead eras, and the agriculture industry provide a wealth of interesting stories and artifacts that illuminate Northeast Montana.
- Valley County Pioneer Museum in Glasgow
The collections on exhibit at this Glasgow museum cover the past and the present, ranging from dinosaurs to cowboys to aviation. Special exhibits vary over time.
- Phillips County Museum in Malta
Exhibit highlights include the exploits of local outlaws Kid Curry and his Wild Bunch, an Albertosaurus skeleton, and an historic mail-order house.
- Culbertson Museum and State Visitor Center in Culbertson
You'll learn a lot about daily life during Montana's homestead era at this Old West museum.
- MonDak Heritage Center, Museum and Art Gallery in Sidney
Both art and history are the subject of exhibits at this regional museum. The pioneer and homestead eras are well represented.
Other Northeast Montana museums to check out:
- Pioneer Pride Museum in Bainville
- McCone County and Circle Museum in Circle
- Sheridan Country Museum in Plentywood
- City Museum in Poplar
- Pioneer Town and Museum in Scobey
- Historical Society and Museum in Wolfpoint
Special Events and Festivals in Northeast Montana
- Red Bottom Pow Wow (Jun)
- Milk River Days and Rodeo (Jul)
- Wild Horse Stampede (Jul)
- Phillips Country Fair (Jul/Aug)
- Wadopana Pow Wow (Aug)
Attractions Just Across the Border in North Dakota
Missouri-Yellowstone Confluence Interpretive Center
Just two miles across the border in North Dakota, this interpretive center preserves the history of the site where these two major rivers meet. Lewis and Clark, the fur trade, geology, and early settlement are covered by this facility's exhibits. The Missouri-Yellowstone Confluence Interpretive Center is part of North Dakota's Fort Buford Historic Site and is near the Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site.
Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site
Established along the Missouri River by the American Fur Company in 1828, Fort Union Trading Post was a profitable commercial enterprise that had significant dealings with the Native American people. In addition to visiting the Fort Union museum and gift shop, visitors can tour the grounds and enjoy living history demonstrations.