The Northern Rocky Mountain Front Backcountry Drive
The Northern Rocky Mountain Front Backcountry Drive is a fabulous 31-mile excursion that runs between Choteau, Montana and the Sun River where the river emerges from the mountains of the Rocky Mountain Front. The drive provides spectacular views of the Rocky Mountain Front for its entire length while passing through the windswept grass prairie of Central Montana. Additionally, the drive passes by Pishkun Reservoir, which provides solid fishing and makes for a very scenic campsite in the shadow of the Rocky Mountain Front.
The drive begins just a mile to the south of Choteau, Montana, off US Highway 287. The easiest way to find the road, called Belleview Road outside of Choteau, is to look for the road signs that point toward Pishkun Reservoir Fishing Access Site.
The first seventeen miles of the drive – up to Pishkun Reservoir – are quick and easy. The road, although gravel, is wide and generally in excellent condition. Moreover, despite the many roads that lead off Belleview Road, it’s hard to get lost since the Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks did a nice job marking all the major turnouts with signs that point toward Pishkun Reservoir. In short, just keep following the signs to Pishkun Reservoir.
This portion of the scenic drive up to Pishkun Reservoir winds its way through the rolling hills of the grass prairie of Central Montana. The views of the Rocky Mountain Front are spectacular, with the mountains running across the horizon to the north and south. When driving this stretch of road, don’t be surprised to be sharing the road with large herds of cattle, too. In addition to cattle, other wildlife often seen on this stretch of the drive includes antelope and mule deer.
The drive reaches the very scenic and popular Pishkun Reservoir after seventeen miles. Pishkun Reservoir itself has solid fishing for rainbow trout. However, as the reservoir is rather large, anglers should consider bringing a motor boat or an inflatable fishing boat to reach the best fishing waters of the reservoir.
In addition to solid fishing, Pishkun Reservoir has a designated campground. Should the campground be full, or you don’t feel like paying the rather high fees to use it, primitive camping can be done anywhere around the reservoir.
Beyond Pishkun Reservoir, the road changes character. Trailers are prohibited on this stretch of road due to the narrow width and its twisty nature. Additionally, soon after leaving Pishkun Reservoir, the road starts to follow a canal called Pishkun Canal for several miles. Be careful on this stretch, as the road is very narrow (room for only one car) and there is nothing to prevent a car from dropping off the side into the canal or down a deep embankment.
After several miles, the road leaves the canal behind and travels across a broad, grassy plateau in the shadow of the Rocky Mountain Front. While the views are excellent along the entire drive, I find the views on this section the most spectacular. The Sun River also provides a very scenic viewpoint where the river snakes around a horseshoe bend deep down in a gorge that lies right along the Rocky Mountain Front.
From here, the road drops down rather steeply to a one-lane bridge that crosses the Sun River. On the other side of the river, the road climbs steeply where it reaches the Sun River Road (part of the Sun River Loop Scenic Drive), and marks the end of the Northern Rocky Mountain Front Backcountry Drive.
The portion of the Northern Rocky Mountain Front Backcountry Drive between Choteau and Pishkun Reservoir is open year-round, weather permitting. Between Pishkun Reservoir and the Sun River, the road is open when “conditions permit.” While the road is not gated, the road isn’t maintained during the winter.
During the summer, two-wheel drive vehicles will be able to traverse the entire Northern Rocky Mountain Front Backcountry Drive provided the road is dry. Low clearance vehicles, however, will have to be careful when navigating a few tricky parts, particularly right beyond Pishkun Reservoir and again right where the drive ends at the junction with the Sun River Road. It is NOT advised to drive the road between Pishkun Reservoir and the Sun River Road when the road is wet, especially in a two-wheel drive vehicle.
Overall, the Northern Rocky Mountain Front Backcountry Drive provides spectacular views of the sprawling grass prairie of Montana and the towering peaks of the Rocky Mountain Front. Anyone who enjoys vast vistas will greatly enjoy this drive. Additionally, this drive can be combined with portions of the Sun River Loop Scenic Drive to make for a very scenic, albeit much longer, route between Choteau and Augusta.
- Length: 31 Miles
- Highlights : Sweeping Views of the Rocky Mountain Front and the adjoining prairie, Pishkun Reservoir, Pishkun Canal, the Sun River.
- Road Type : Gravel. Road is generally in excellent condition (weather permitting) between Choteau and Pishkun Reservoir. Beyond Pishkun Reservoir, road is very narrow and might occasionally pose problems for low-clearance vehicles or during periods of wet weather. This portion of the road is also not maintained during the winter.
- Nearby Towns : Augusta, Choteau.
- 4wd needed? : No, except in spots when the road is very wet.
- Traffic : Very light to non-existent.
- Trailers? : Yes, up to Pishkun Reservoir. No, between Pishkun Reservoir and the Sun River.
- Season : Except during periods of snow, the drive to Pishkun Reservoir is usually open year-round. Beyond Pishkun Reservoir, the road will be open provided it isn't snow-covered.
Map of the Northern Rocky Mountain Front Backcountry Drive
The map below shows the route and location of the Northern Rocky Mountain Front Backcountry Byway and other nearby scenic drives. The drive begins just outside of Choteau, Montana.
Where to Stay
Bring your tent, camper or RV, as there are no services of any kind located along the drive. For in-town lodging, a few small motels are located in Choteau. Gas and other supplies also can (and should be) picked up Choteau.
A developed campground exists at Pishkun Reservoir. Primitive camping is also available around the reservoir in the event you don't want to pay the camping fees. Additional primitive camping is also available at various points along the drive on the various federal lands the drives passes through.
For hotels, limited lodging is found in Augusta. Choteau has one nice hotels. Great Falls, about an hour+ away, has by far the most lodging options.