Recreation Along the Montana Hi-Line
When one thinks of the Montana Hi-Line, outdoor recreation usually doesn’t spring to mind. After all, this is Montana. And in Montana, when one thinks of outdoor activities the usual suspects of Glacier National Park and Yellowstone National Park generally come to mind. For the more adventurous, other areas like the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex or the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness Area may also be remembered. But the Hi-Line? Few people ever think of the Montana Hi-Line as a place to visit for outdoor recreation. This is especially so for tourists from out of state. For most out of state visitors, the Montana Hi-Line region is simply a place to pass through on their way to Glacier or some other exotic place out in western Montana.
Indeed, the relative proximity of Glacier National Park and other famous areas of the state are probably one of the curses of the Hi-Line area. Hundreds of thousands of people pass through the Hi-Line region each year, virtually all of whom are destined for the mountains of Glacier. These visitors, who are often on a tight schedule or have fixed plans, generally see or do little along the Hi-Line region. Instead, most visitors to the Hi-Line arrive with an attitude of “let’s get the hell out of here” as fast as possible. As such, while the Hi-Line sees tons of people venturing down the highway during the summer, few visitors do more than buy gas, some snacks, perhaps munch on some junk food in Havre and, for the stranded, take out a cheap motel room somewhere along the way.
Now it is indeed true that the Hi-Line lacks the soaring mountains, endless forests and the beautiful rivers found in Glacier National Park and other areas of western Montana. Yet the person who takes the time to explore the Hi-Line will be rewarded with the regions own type of beauty and will discover many interesting outdoor activities along the way. While I can’t honestly say that the Hi-Line can really compete with Glacier in the outdoor recreation department, the Hi-Line DOES have many activities available. The problem, of course, is that these activities are scattered are all over the place and are frequently never promoted, either.
So let’s go over some of the outdoor recreation activities you’ll find along the Montana Hi-Line. Many of the places listed below have separate pages on this site you can visit for additional information (just follow the links).
Fishing : The Hi-Line isn’t exactly known as the hot bed of blue water trout fishing in Montana. The Hi-Line will not soon be giving the Madison River a run for its money. Yet, scattered here and there, the adventurous angler will find quality trout fishing in various places, like Beavercreek Reservoir, which is south of Havre. Cameron Reservoir is a “hole in the wall” body of water that has excellent trout fishing in a very unique environment. Beaver Creek, which feeds the Beavercreek Reservoir, also has decent trout fishing. Baileys Reservoir, which is also located near Havre, also has decent fishing for average sized rainbow trout. The Marias River, below Tiber Dam, also has very good brown trout fishing.
OK. So it’s not a huge list of trout waters. However, what the Hi-Line loses in trout fishing it makes up for in warm water fishing opportunities. Fort Peck Lake has monstrous Walleye inhabiting the lake. Nelson Reservoir near Malta has fine fishing for Northern Pike. Fresno Reservoir is a huge reservoir near Havre that also has solid Northern Pike fishing. Tiber Reservoir, which is near Fort Benton, also has excellent Walleye fishing, just be prepared for some windy conditions.
Additionally, the Milk River, while kind of an ugly river at times, has excellent fishing for large northern pike, catfish, walleye and the occasional lost bass. The lower Missouri River, below Fort Peck Lake, also has excellent walleye fishing although access can be difficult.
Hunting : Of all the activities that people visit the Hi-Line for, hunting probably has to top the list. During the fall, various places along the Hi-Line become surprisingly crowded at times. Hunters from all over Montana visit the Hi-Line area to take advantage of the excellent mule deer, whitetail deer and upland bird hunting that is available. Moreover, you can find some fine elk hunting grounds around the Missouri Breaks National Monument, in the Sweetgrass Hills and in the Bearpaw Mountains – although access can be difficult to all of these places. If you plan on hunting in the Hi-Line region, just remember to bring warm clothes since this area can get real cold real very fast beginning in November.
Scenic Drives : The Hi-Line region is also home to three superb scenic drives for those who seek adventure. The Bears Paw Mountains Backcountry Drive is a scenic alternative route that runs between Chinook and Havre, and takes visitors through the remote yet beautiful Bears Paw Mountains. The Sweet Grass Hills Backcountry Drive, which runs roughly between Sunburst (north of Shelby) and Chester (west of Havre), is a superb drive to take that takes visitors into the heart of a beautiful Montana prairie. Finally, the Missouri Breaks Backcountry Byway is a rugged, remote route that travels through the seldom-visited Missouri Breaks region of Montana.
Rafting : One of the least known recreational opportunities in the Hi-Line area is river rafting. Indeed, one of the finest floats in Montana is located in the Hi-Line region. Considered one of the premiere wilderness float trips in Montana, the Missouri River float between Fort Benton and Fort Peck Lake cuts through a wild wilderness that has scarcely changed since Lewis and Clark first saw it back in 1805. Indeed, much of the river is classified as a “Wild and Scenic River.” While floaters will not see towering mountains or experience waves of whitewater, a floater will see towering canyon walls, unique wildlife and be able to float in near perfect solitude on all but the occasional day here and there. A float between Fort Benton and Fort Peck Lake takes a minimum of 7 days – often times more. Shorter trips in the 3-4 day range can also be arranged, too.
Horse Riding : Like to ride horses? There is nothing quite like riding horses over a vast prairie. While riding up in the mountains is fun, I still like riding in the open areas. The open terrain allows you to make your own trail without problems or risk of injury to the horse. And the Montana Hi-Line, with its vast expanse of public lands, is the perfect place for the rider to explore. In addition, it is almost a guaranteed bet that you’ll have whatever place you explore all to yourself. In particular, the BLM has huge public land tracts around Fort Peck Lake which are ideal for riding.
Skiing : Oddly enough, the Hi-Line has its own ski area, called Bearpaw Ski Area, which is located about thirty miles south of Havre. The ski hill is open on the weekends during the winter (assuming there is enough snow) and has a vertical rise of around 900 feet. While it’s not a huge ski area and won’t be stealing customers away from Whitefish Mountain Resort anytime soon, it’s nice to know that it is there.
Overall, the Hi-Line area has an extensive amount of outdoor recreation activities available. The main difference between the Hi-Line region and other popular places in Montana is that the locations for outdoor activities are scattered around, often times requiring long drives between places. To take full advantage of the outdoor activities on the Hi-Line, in short, requires a bit more of an adventurous spirit than in other places in Montana.
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