- Approximate Mileage: 130
- Approximate Drive Time: 3 hours
You actually have two excellent options for a tour through Southwest Montana's northern reaches. Both tours start in Helena. One travels an easterly route through Augusta. The other heads west towards Lincoln and Ovando. Both provide ample opportunities to see wildlife and are right next door to the Bob Marshall and Scapegoat Wilderness Areas.
Augusta Route (131 Miles)
Start this loop tour on Highway 279 north of Helena. When you get to the sign for Marysville, turn left for a seven-mile side trip to the site of the Drumlummon Mine and surrounding ghost town. Back on Highway 279, drive northwest to Canyon Creek. Be sure to check out the views from 6,130 feet at Flesher Pass on the Continental Divide.
Eight miles farther north, you'll reach the junction with Highway 200. At this point you can go left to make your loop through Lincoln (see Lincoln Route below). Or continue on the Augusta Route by turning right on 200.
You'll cross the Continental Divide again at Rogers Pass soon after the turn from 279. At the junction of 200 and 287, go left towards Augusta. The dramatic mountainsides you see here are the imposing Rocky Mountain Front. Gravel roads north of Augusta take you to Willow Creek Reservoir, Nilan Reservoir or to Gibson Dam on the Sun River.
When you turn back from Augusta, follow Highway 287 all the way to I-15 and head for Wolf Creek. You can exit the Interstate to take a look at Holter Lake and the Missouri River. I-15 takes you up the canyon and all the way back to Helena.
Lincoln Route (130 Miles)
To make your loop tour in the other direction, begin on 279 as noted on the Augusta route, but turn left off 279 when you reach Highway 200 from Flesher Pass. As you head towards Lincoln, you'll begin to see the Blackfoot River as it winds its way through this valley. This area is great for snowmobiling, fishing, camping and hiking. Lincoln is a great place to stop for refreshments before continuing on your tour westward on 200.
Browns Lake, a designated wildlife viewing area, is further ahead. You can continue on to the small town of Ovando, enjoying your view of the Scapegoat Wilderness to the north. Then backtrack on Highway 200 to the junction with Highway 141 and turn south. This road will take you to the ranching community of Helmville at the foot of the Garnet Range.
From Helmville, get back on 141 and make your way through this agricultural valley to the town of Avon on the Little Blackfoot River. You may see beaverslide hay stackers in the fields, unique to this part of the country. Highway 141 becomes Highway 12 after the town of Elliston. Stop at the viewpoint at the top of MacDonald Pass for a glorious view of Helena and the surrounding mountains. From the top of the pass, you'll descend swiftly back into Helena.