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The Montana Hi-Line

The Sweet Grass Hills

Sweet Grass Hills Country
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The Sweet Grass Hills are located in North Central Montana, north of Highway 2, right near the Canadian border. The Sweet Grass Hills consist of three distinct buttes with scattered grassy hills connecting them. The three buttes are West Butte (elevation of 6983 feet), Gold Butte (elevation of 6512 feet) and East Butte (elevation of 6958 feet). The three buttes and the hills between them run for about 50 miles east to west and are about 10 miles in distance from north to south.

The two nearest main towns to the Sweet Grass Hills are Shelby to the southwest and Havre which is to the southeast. As a side note, these are known as the "Sweet Grass Hills" and not the "Sweetgrass Hills", to avoid any possible confusion.

As the elevation listed for these buttes shows, the Sweet Grass Hills are hardly towering mountains. Yet in some ways, the Sweet Grass Hills are one of the most visible mountains in Montana and are often mistaken to be part of the Rocky Mountains, especially by those traveling east to west on the Hi-Line. On a clear day, you can see these hills from staggering distances away. This is possible for several reasons.

First, while the summit elevation of these buttes is not very high, their vertical rise from the prairie right below is significant, generally more than two thousand feet. Secondly, the flat prairie below makes these small mountains visible from very far away. In short, there is nothing in the way to block their view. And third, the peculiar "sloping" nature of the prairie around the Sweet Grass Hills props up these hills another 1500 feet (the elevation in Shelby is around 3400 feet, and gradually gains elevation as you approach the hills). Lastly, the areas ultra-clear air really allows these mountains to "stick out,” especially if seen from a small hill. As such, although the Sweet Grass Hills are far from the biggest mountains, they seem very tall when viewed from a distance and also take seemingly forever to reach when driving towards them.

The Sweet Grass Hills are aptly named. By and large, the hills and the three main buttes consist mainly of tall, wavy grass. Trees are found here and there (particularly in a few spots on the buttes themselves), but generally the whole area is just plain grass.

Gold Butte in the Sweet Grass Hills
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The Sweet Grass Hills are notoriously windy. The combination of lying on the east side of the Continental Divide and their elevation can really make them a very windy place. All the more so since there is absolutely nothing to block the wind except for the occasional barbed wire fence. During the winter, this area is also very cold, even without the wind chill.

For those looking to explore the Sweet Grass Hills more fully, read the Sweet Grass Hills Backcountry Drive article for information on what routes to take and what to prepare for.

For more photos, be sure to visit the Sweet Grass Hills Photo Gallery, too.

Next Page : Havre, Montana

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