While much of Southwest Montana is rich in mining history, the Deer Lodge Area was settled by ranchers. They found the valleys to be prime for raising cattle which could be marketed to mining towns throughout the region and settlers traveling the Oregon Trail. This area runs all the way north to Ovando and Lincoln, offering an outdoor paradise for recreators.
Deer Lodge Area Communities
‘Avon’ is the Welsh word for river and this small community, settled on the Little Blackfoot River, certainly lives up to its namesake. Visitors come from near and far to fish the Little Blackfoot, go cross country skiing on MacDonald Pass, or take a stunning and scenic drive along Highway 141 toward Lincoln. The Avon Family Cafe offers a hearty meal and the perfect place to gather with friends.
Despite its mining town origins, Deer Lodge is more well-known for existing as an agricultural hub. The Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site is a physical representation of Montana agriculture, and it is great for those looking to learn about the cattle industry, specifically in the years between the 1860s and 1960s. The Old Montana Prison Museum Complex serves to further enrich the town’s historical significance by providing visitors the opportunity to visit five museums and further explore the tale of Montana’s past.
As you drive from Helena toward Missoula, you’ll find yourself passing through Elliston as you traverse Highway 12. Elliston sits just miles from the MacDonald Pass Recreation area providing opportunity for incredible outdoor recreation – you’ll find everything from hiking and camping to cross country skiing and snowmobiling in the area.
The community of Garrison was named after abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison. The community sits at the junction of I-90 and Hwy-12. Garrison is near Grant-Kohrs National Historic Site and Gold Creek, where the golden spike was driven to mark the completion of the Northern Pacific Railroad in 1883.
Gold Creek is claimed to be the location where gold was first discovered in Montana; although the amount found was not enough to make mining in the area feasible. Gold Creek is near where the last spike of the Northern Pacific Railway was driven. Today, you can enjoy a Mennonite family-style dinner on Thursdays or visit the Deli/Store daily offering bulk food items, quilts, crafts and Amish products.
Where Nevada Creek empties into the Blackfoot River, you will find the small community of Helmville. Like much of the Deer Lodge area, agriculture is key in Helmville and you’ll find farmers and ranchers from miles around gathering here. If you are looking for a scenic drive, try the 13-mile dirt road that connects Helmville and Ovando.
The dazzling natural beauty of Lincoln sets it apart; Lincoln provides easy access to countless outdoor activities, including ATVing, snowmobiling, hiking, camping, and fishing. The Sculpture in the Wild provides visitors in Lincoln with a beautiful walk in a unique artistic showcase created by individuals from around the globe. It is also the starting point of the Race to the Sky, a 350 mile dog sled race which serves as a qualifier for the Iditarod.
Between the Swan and Garnet Mountains sits the small agricultural and fishing community of Ovando. With the Blackfoot River running through town, you’ll find fishermen in the area year round. Ovando is the perfect retreat; large enough for a number of restaurants and small stores (even a museum), but small enough to claim to allow more scenery per capita than any other small town in Montana.
We’re committed to keeping Montana’s outdoor spaces, communities, residents, and visitors safe. As you enjoy all the area has to offer, please join us in following these guidelines for responsible recreation.
- Know before you go
- Practice physical distancing
- Plan ahead
- Play it safe
- Explore locally
- Leave no trace
- Build an inclusive outdoors