Start your journey in red, white, and blue Lewistown (pop. 5,813), which sits in a modest bowl bisected by Big Spring Creek an anomaly in these parts in that it has the cool waters to support a healthy trout population. It’s quickly obvious that Lewistown is the hub of a vast region. The community has all the standard services and some of the usual fast-food suspects.
Before heading out of town, check out the Central Montana Museum (406-535-9289), which chronicles the area’s frontier history along with more recent events. Like seemingly every other museum in Montana, it also boasts a replica of a dinosaur (Torosaurus); this one was discovered about 65 miles northeast of town. Lewistown also is perhaps the best place in Montana to gain an understanding of the Hutterite culture whose colonies dot the region. The King Colony Walking Tour (406-350-2307) offers an inside look at the community’s laundromat, slaughter house, upholstery shop, milking parlor, and more for $15. Hutterites, who are similar to the Amish and Mennonites, migrated to the Canadian prairies and the Dakotas beginning in the mid-1870s. The three colonies near Lewistown are among the 50 that dot the state.
Another fascination in the area is Gigantic Warm Springs, which, at 50,000 gallons per minute, is considered the largest warm spring in the world and is also said to be the third largest of any type. A dam forms a pool about the size of a football field, and the 68-degree waters are pleasant on a summer day. The springs are on a private ranch; a $3 donation is requested. To get there, drive about 10 miles north of Lewistown on US 191 and go west on MT 81 for about five miles until you reach the Gigantic Warm Springs sign.
Lewistown has one other must-do if you’re not in a hurry: The Charlie Russell Chew Choo (406535-5436) is a 56-mile round-trip nightly dinner train ride on a Milwaukee Road spur toward Great Falls. Highlights are two trestles, a tunnel, prime-rib dinner, no-host cash bar, and the obligatory train robbery by characters looking suspiciously like Butch and Sundance all for anywhere from $100 to $135.
Leaving Lewistown, US 87/MT200 winds through a pretty countryside of pine and pastures past the Ayers Colony on the left to Grass Range (pop. 103). If you’re feeling adventurous, backtrack west out of Grass Range a little more than 10 miles on gravel Forest Grove Road to a meeting with Fairview Road. Turn left until you reach the Bear Gulch Pictographs (406-428-2185) and the remarkably vivid pictures painted by ancient cultures on rock. The fact that they are on property owned by a single five-generation family, the Lundins, partially explains why they’re so well-preserved. They’re open from 10 am to noon Wednesday through Sunday; remote tours are $15.