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The Crazy Mountains Backcountry Drive
Rising abruptly from the plains, the Crazy Mountains in Central Montana are one of the most visible mountain ranges. Viewed from the east, where the elevation of the prairie is low, the Crazy Mountains are visible from vast distances away due to their nearly 7000 foot vertical rise.
There are several scenic highways that essentially “encircle” the Crazy Mountains. US Highway 191, which runs between Harlowton and Big Timber on the eastern side of the Crazy Mountains, is an especially enjoyable drive. Yet the visitor who wants to experience far better views, and visit a part of Montana that few ever see, can do far better.
The Crazy Mountains Backcountry Drive, and the side-trip I call the Northern Crazy Mountains Backcountry Drive, take the visitor much closer to the mountains than the highway does. Moreover, the drive provides superb views of a unique prairie and grassland environment that lies at the base of the mountains.
The Crazy Mountains Backcountry Drive follows a series of primarily gravel roads between the tiny Montana towns of Two Dot and Melville. Highlights of the trip include superb views of the lofty Crazy Mountains, remote and undisturbed grasslands, and memorable views of a part of Montana few ever see.
Beginning in Two Dot at the junction of US Highway 12, the route travels south on a paved road, called Haymaker Road. As this road isn’t well marked, just remember to turn off US Highway 12 at the sign that points to Two Dot and then follow the road that crosses the Musselshell River.
The pavement ends at a road junction about seven miles later. Go west (right) to take the 6-mile side-trip along the Northern Crazy Mountains Backcountry Drive (discussed further below in this article). To continue on the Crazy Mountains Backcountry Drive, go left toward Porcupine Butte.
The drive soon passes a scenic lake, called Lebo Lake. Beyond the lake, the drive passes through a small valley, then turns to the west and heads toward the base of the Crazy Mountains.
For the next ten miles, the drive rolls through beautiful upland prairie, with the ever-increasing size of the mountains dominating the view.
After thirty-three miles, the road changes from gravel to pavement and starts to head to the east, toward US Highway 191. Along the way, the drive passes through the tiny town of Melville and past one of the most photographed churches in Montana.
The Northern Crazy Mountains Backcountry Drive Side-Trip
A scenic side trip off the Crazy Mountains Scenic Drive is also available. Visitors with extra time should strongly consider taking this route, as the views of the Crazy Mountains and grassland prairie are unsurpassed. Roundtrip, the length of the side trip is about twelve miles.
The side-trip begins seven miles south of Two Dot where the pavement ends. The side-trip heads off to the west, toward the mountains, following a gravel road for its entire distance. The road is slow going, due to all the bumps, turns and washboards in the road, although a normal passenger car will have no problems during normal summer weather.
After a few miles, the side-trip heads south, traveling along the base of the Crazy Mountains. The views of the mountains are spectacular. And since nobody ever comes here, visitors will have the road – and the views – all to themselves.
The side-trip ends after about six miles, where a gate blocks the road. If by chance the gate isn’t closed when you drive this side-trip, the road - in theory - continues on and eventually meets up with the main Crazy Mountains Backcountry Drive, to the west of Porcupine Butte.
Overall, the Crazy Mountains Backcountry Drive is a superb journey along the eastern side of the Crazy Mountains. The views offered from the drive are far superior to those seen on US Highway 191 between Big Timber and Harlowton.
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