Montana’s most southwestern corner is home to some of the most pristine land in the state. Beaverhead County offers a wide selection of recreational opportunities, scenic drives and vistas, historical sites, and hot springs! If you are looking for an authentic Montana experience, the Beaverhead Dillon Area is sure to fit the bill!
1. Follow the Lewis and Clark Trail
As some of Montana’s most famous tourists, the Lewis and Clark expedition left a long-lasting mark on the Montana imagination. It was in the Dillon area that the Expedition came head-to-head with one of their biggest obstacles – the Rocky Mountains. From Beaverhead Rock, the distinctive landmark that gives the region its name, follow the Jefferson River south to Clark’s Lookout overlooking the Beaverhead Valley. At Camp Fortunate, south of Dillon, the Expedition met the band of Shoshone who sold the Expedition the horses that allowed them to cross the Continental Divide at Lemhi Pass.
2. Big Hole National Battlefield
One of the many sites marking the path of Chief Joseph and the non-treaty Nez Perce as they fled across Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana. The beautiful valley of the Big Hole Battlefield is both a memorial and interpretive center, allowing visitors to understand the events of the historic battle.
3. Bannack State Park
Site of Montana’s first gold strike, Bannack is one of Southwest Montana’s most historically significant locations. Kept in a state of ‘arrested decay’, the ghost town is surprisingly lively. It features a wide range of living history, historical reenactments, interpretive displays and tours, and year-round community activities, including Bannack Days, Ghost Walks, and ice-skating.
4. Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge
Created in 1935, Red Rock Lakes Wilderness Area is home to over 250 species of birds, including trumpeter swans, sandhill cranes, bald eagles, and even the occasional whooping crane. It is also home to some of the state’s rarest mammals and fish. Portions of the Wilderness Area are accessible by car, including the 2 primitive campgrounds and the 56 mile backcountry drive.
5. Continental Divide Trail
The most rugged of Southwest Montana’s visitors might want to venture along the Continental Divide Trail. Running from Canada to Mexico, the CDT is one part of the “Triple Crown” of through hikes (along with the Appalachian and Pacific Crest Trails). But, there is no need to commit to all 3,100 miles of the CDT. The portions of the trail that wind through Southwest Montana are excellent hikes in their own right.
6. Beaverhead County Museum
Although Dillon’s first flush-toilet outhouse is almost certainly the pièce de résistance of this local museum in downtown Dillon, the Beaverhead County Museum also features excellent displays on Lewis and Clark and the Beaverhead region’s long agricultural history. It is the go-to stop for orientation to the history as you explore the region.
7. Natural Hot Springs
The Beaverhead Area is home to two fantastic hot springs – Jackson Hot Springs in Jackson and Elkhorn Hot Springs in nearby Polaris. Hot Springs are, of course, the ideal accompaniment to a day of downhill or cross country skiing, but they are also the perfect way to recover from an arduous outdoor adventure. And outdoor adventure is easy to come by in Jackson and Polaris, both located deep in the Pioneer Mountains.
8. Pioneer Mtns Scenic Byway
Long country drives are a classic of Montana summers, and the Pioneer Mountains Scenic Byway is one of the best. The 49 mile byway runs through the heart of the Pioneer Mountains section of the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest. Paved and well-maintained the whole way, it is a rarity among backcountry byways. Beyond the beautiful scenery, highlights of the route include two hot springs (see above), exploring Coolidge Ghost Town, and rockhounding at Crystal Park.
9. Maverick Mountain
Maverick Mountain Ski Area 40 miles outside of Dillon in the Pioneer Mountains, is a gem of a ski hill. with 2,000 feet of mountain, the ski hill is beloved of skiiers and snowboarders alike. It is the ideal destination if what you crave includes plenty of good skiing, uncrowded slopes, and stunning mountain scenery.
10. Clark Canyon Reservoir
With its easy access and high quality fishing, Clark Canyon Reservoir has long been popular among boaters, fishers, and all manner of water sports enthusiasts (including ice fishers in the winter months). Not far from Dillon, Clark Canyon makes an ideal destination for the long, hot summer days.
11. Beaverhead Brewing Company
It would be an utter shame if a Southwest Montana top-10 list to didn’t include at least one brewery, and thankfully the Beaverhead Brewing Company does not disappoint. For nearly a decade the brewery has been slaking Dillon resident’s thirst. The year-round classics are not to be missed, but like most micro-breweries, the rotating selection rewards second and third (and fourth and fifth) time visitors. It’s a must-stop every time you’re passing through Dillon.
If you choose to travel through Southwest Montana, make sure you are up-to-date on the latest travel information for the State!