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The Pioneer Mountains Scenic Byway
The Pioneer Mountains Scenic Byway is a forty-nine mile federally designated route that runs between Highway 278, to the west of Dillon, and Wise River, Montana. Unlike many byways and scenic drives profiled on this site, the Pioneer Byway follows a good-condition paved road from beginning to end. As such, the road is friendly to passenger cars, motorcycles, bicycles and vehicles with trailers.
The Pioneer Mountains Scenic Byway cuts through the heart of the Pioneer Mountains in Southwest Montana. Highlights of the trip include the historic ghost town of Coolidge, excellent views of the higher peaks of the Pioneer Mountains, superb camping spots and the attractive Wise River.
Beginning at the junction with Highway 278 twenty-eight miles west of Dillon, the Byway heads north on a paved road. The junction with the road that the Byway follows is well marked, both on Highway 278 and on the byway itself. Moreover, once on the byway, it is impossible to get lost as the byway follows the only paved road in the area and because numerous byway signs are located along the road.
From the junction with Highway 278, the Pioneer Mountains Scenic Byway gains elevation rapidly. For the first several miles, the route provides excellent views of the southern peaks of the Pioneer Mountains.
The byway soon reaches the Maverick Mountain Ski Area, a small ski area that few people outside of Montana have ever even heard of. Maverick Mountain, while small in terms of acreage, has a 2400-foot vertical rise and receives an average of 250 inches of snow a year.
Beyond the ski area, the Byway climbs quickly as it heads into the forest. From here until the route nears Wise River, views become a bit more limited. However, while the route for the next thirty or so miles passes through extensive forest, excellent views are located at the many beautiful meadows scattered along the route. From these meadows, visitors have excellent views of the highest peaks of the Pioneer Mountains.
Visitors with an hour or so to spare should make time to visit the historic Coolidge Ghost Town, one of the best-preserved ghost towns in Montana. The gravel road that leads toward Coolidge is well marked on the byway by several signs.
The gravel road toward Coolidge is narrow and has one steep vertical climb. As such, this road isn’t the best for trailers or other wide vehicles. However, passenger cars and motorcycles will easily be able to make the short, three-mile drive to the parking lot that is a half-mile from the ghost town.
To reach Coolidge from the parking lot, just follow the well-marked trail. The trail is nearly flat and is a very easy hike.
Coolidge itself is a wonderful place to visit. Once a thriving mining town, all that remains today of Coolidge are falling down buildings, old foundations and numerous artifacts that showcase the town’s quick rise and fall. Anyone who enjoys historic ghost towns should enjoy wandering through the remains of this well-preserved town that highlights the importance of mining in Montana’s history.
Beyond the junction with the road that leads to Coolidge ghost town, the Pioneer Mountains Scenic Byway loses elevation and soon begins to follow the attractive the Wise River. For those wishing to camp away from the developed campground, excellent primitive camping spots are located along this section of the drive.
The Pioneer Mountains Scenic Byway ends at the junction with Highway 43 in Wise River, Montana. Highway 43 is part of the Big Hole River and Valley Scenic Drive.
There are no services of any kind along the drive. Wise River has a small restaurant, bar and tourist shop. The best place to pick up supplies or find services is in Dillon.
Overall, the Pioneer Mountains Scenic Byway is a great scenic drive that anyone can enjoy due to the well-conditioned and well-marked road. Anyone in this part of Montana should make the time to explore this seldom-visited part of Montana.
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