While most of the Southwest Montana region was settled by miners, the Deer Lodge Area was settled by homesteaders and is home to significant agricultural activity to this day. Deer Lodge is also known for housing the Montana State Prison. There’s more to the Deer Lodge Area than initially meets the eye as it runs north to include Ovando and Lincoln.
1. Old Prison Museum Complex
For over 100 years, the Old Montana State Prison complex in downtown Deer Lodge was the main prison for the state. The prison began in 1871, but buildings were added to in fits and starts since then, leaving the 9 acre complex with an eclectic mix of buildings. Today, the complex is home to five separate museums: the Prison Museum, the Montana Auto Museum, an antique toy museum, Frontier Montana, and the Powell County Museum. Reputed to be haunted, the museum also offers ghost tours and frequently features on paranormal TV shows.
2. Grant-Kohrs Ranch
The Grant-Kohrs Ranch has been a working ranch since Canadian fur-trapper Johnny Grant first brought his herd of cattle to the area in 1862. As a result of its long history, visitors to the Grant-Kohrs ranch get to see a cross-section of the history of agriculture in Montana from the earliest days to the present. Not only do visitors to the ranch get to see cowboys and haying crews in action, the ranch, operated by the National Parks Service, offers ranger- and self-guided tours, a museum, a working blacksmith shop, and an interactive chuckwagon.
3. Sculpture in the Wild
The 26 acre Sculpture in the Wild on the outskirts of Lincoln brings together a unique blend of contemporary art and Montana forest. Inaugurated in 2014, the park is home to temporary instillations as well as a collection of permanent pieces. Throughout the year, the park also plays hosts to a variety of events including concerts and presentations by artists in residence. It’s a unique and fascinating place for a wander.
4. Garnet Ghost Town
Garnet Ghost, like it’s namesake, is a mountain gem. With thirty buildings preserved in states of arrested decay, the sprawling mountain village is one of Montana’s best preserved Ghost Towns. Gold was first discovered in the area in the 1860s, production peaked in the 1890s, but the town continued into the 1950s. Today, there are a variety of self-guided trails, the buildings have interpretive signs, and are filled with memorabilia from the town’s heyday.
5. Fish the Little Blackfoot
One of Southwest Montana’s more overlooked rivers, the Little Blackfoot is nonetheless popular with fishers in the know. Flowing through the the Boulder Mountains and accessible by a Forest Service road, the upper half of the river is ideal for wade fishing. The lower half runs mostly through private property, is also a welcome environment for wading and fly fishing.
6. Hi-Country Trading Post
Jerky. Made in Montana foods. Made in Montana craft goods. A historical museum. Could you ask for a better combination of things? Since 1996, Hi-Country jerky and snacks have been a key ingredient of the best Southwest Montana roadtrips and hikes, so it makes sense that the Hi-Country Trading Post is a roadtrip destination in its own right. Not only can you stock up on your road trip (and gift basket) fare, but the trading post is also home to the museum of the Upper Blackfoot Historical Society.
7. Bob Marshall Wilderness
Where do you start with the Bob Marshall Wilderness? This vast expanse of roadless territory–one of the largest wilderness areas in the continental U.S.–is an ever-popular destination for all sorts of outdoors people. As just a hint of how wild the area is, it is home to one of the largest populations of grizzly bears in the U.S. It is a delight for backpackers and overnighters, but it is also an ideal destination for day hikes.
8. Warm Springs WMA, Browns Lake, Blackfoot Waterfowl Area
The Deer Lodge region is a major hit with birders. In the south, near Deer Lodge, is the Warm Springs Wildlife Management Area. Once a Superfund site, the meandering streams and ponds of Warm Springs are now a paradise of all kinds of bird. At the north end of the region, you have Browns Lake and the Blackfoot Waterfowl Area, both between Lincoln and Ovando. As well as being home to wetland birds, song birds, and raptors, all three have excellent fishing, hiking, and picnicking opportunities.
9. Parker’s Restaurant
Parkers in Drummond is a Montana institution. With its Coca-cola memorabilia and its small-town diner vibe, you know you’ve picked a winner as soon as you step through the doors. But what really sets Parkers apart is the 135 burgers on the menu. Yep, you read that right. 135. With everything from classic cheese burgers to the surprisingly popular Elvis (1/4 pound burger topped with peanut butter, bacon, and bananas), Parkers has something to please any palette, and is even happy to cater to non-burger lovers.
10. Scenic Drive along Montana Highway 141
Montana 141 cross the Garnet Mountains to connect Avon to Helmville and Highway 200. 141 takes you through lush high-mountain cattle pastures with hardly a house (let alone town) in sight–nothing to get in the way of the incredible scenery. With the mountain scenery, the pastures and hay meadows, Nevada Lake Reservoir, and the broad valley down into Helmville, 141 offers a classic slice of Southwest Montana.