The Big Snowy Mountains Backcountry Drive
The Big Snowy Mountains Backcountry Drive is a seventy-seven mile route that travels along the eastern and southern base of the Big Snowy Mountains in Central Montana. The route, which follows primarily gravel roads, runs between Lewistown and Judith Gap.
Highlights of the trip include excellent views of the Big Snowy Mountains, East Fork Dam and Reservoir and simply a drive through a remote and seldom visited part of Montana.
The drive begins in Lewistown and heads south on Montana Highway 238, also known as East Fork Road. The first eleven miles of the drive are paved, and the first five miles closely follow Big Springs Creek.
Soon after the pavement ends, the route reaches East Fork Dam and East Fork Reservoir. Built during the 1970’s for flood control along the East Fork Big Springs Creek, the reservoir and recreation site behind the dam provides solid fishing as well as excellent camping. The campground at East Fork Reservoir is the only developed campground along the entire Big Snowy Mountains Backcountry Drive.
After leaving East Fork Dam, the road changes names to Red Hill Road, and begins to meander through a small valley while paralleling the East Fork Big Springs Creek.
Initially, the route travels in the open through grasslands and agricultural fields, allowing unrestricted views of the Big Snowy Mountains. However, as the road approaches the eastern base of the mountains, the landscape changes to a mix of forest and open meadows. Although this area is forested, most of the property is privately owned. There’s only a few small areas where the road passes through designated National Forest lands.
The Big Snowy Mountains Backcountry Drive reaches the Ulhan Trailhead, the sole access point to trails that lead into the mountains, twenty-six miles from Lewistown. Although there isn’t a developed campground here, primitive camping seems allowed. The trailhead also has a vault toilet, the last “service” for the remainder of the drive to Judith Gap.
Beyond the trailhead, the scenic drive continues to meander pleasantly along the eastern base of the Big Snowy Mountains, passing through a mix of fields and forest. Twelve miles from the trailhead, the route passes through a fairly large fire scar before losing elevation and leaving the forest behind.
The Big Snowy Mountains Backcountry Drive reaches the road junction with East Red Hill Road forty-five miles from Lewistown. To continue following the scenic drive toward Judith Gap, turn right at this junction. After a few miles another road junction is reached. Take a right (going west) on Judith Gap Road.
The next twenty miles of the drive is, in my opinion, the most scenic. The route runs out in the middle of a beautiful grassland prairie, with the mass of the Big Snowy Mountains rising abruptly off the prairie. The road along this section of the drive is also in excellent condition, allowing for very quick travel should visitors so choose.
As the scenic drive nears Judith Gap, the gravel ends and the road turns to pavement. The large wind farm recently built south of Judith Gap also becomes very visible. The scenic drive ends at the junction with US Highway 191 in Judith Gap.
Overall, the Big Snowy Mountains Backcountry Drive is a very remote drive through Central Montana that few people even know about, let alone take. There is virtually no traffic along the route, the roads used are all-season and in excellent condition, and the views the drive offer of the Big Snowy Mountains are unparalleled in Montana.
One last word, too. The pictures I have of this route are, well, kind of boring due to bad weather on the day I drove this route. In other words, visitors shouldn’t be turned off from taking this drive due to the so-so photographs I've posted. What’s seen in “reality” is far superior to the so-so photographs seen on my site!
- Length: 77 miles
- Highlights : Big Snowy Mountains
- Road Type : Primarily gravel, with about fifteen miles paved
- Nearby Towns : Lewistown, Judith Gap
- 4wd needed? : No
- Traffic : Light
- Trailers? : Yes
- Season : Open year-round, weather permitting.
Map of the Big Snowy Mountains Backcountry Drive
The map below shows the route and location of the Big Snowy Mountains Backcountry Drive and other neary scenic byways.
Where to Stay & Other Services
There are no services or lodging along the backcountry drive. Lewistown is the best place to buy gas and other supplies that are needed.
There is one designated campground along the route, at the East Fork Dam recreation site just outside of Lewistown. Some primitive camping spots do exist where the road passes through National Forest Lands. That said, these spots are limited as the drive primarily passes through private lands.
For lodging, the best (and only) real place to find a hotel is in Lewistown.
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