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Eastern Montana’s Parks Make for Adventurous Vacation

by Aoife O'Riordan

Oct 5, 2022

Gates of the Mountains © Aoife O’Riordan

Multigenerational

Montana’s vast and diverse terrain means endless adventures and historic experiences for family travelers to enjoy. Montana alone boasts more than 170 state parks, and Eastern Montana’s state parks allow visitors to see some of the most breathtaking landscapes and learn about the indigenous populations of the region.

 

Buffalo

© Aoife O’Riordan

 

First Peoples Buffalo Jump State Park

One of the largest buffalo jump sites in the country and one of only three protected buffalo jumps in Montana, this cliffside saw native peoples use the region for more than 1,000 years to catch buffalo in bulk. The mile-long sandstone cliff looms over the rest of the relatively flat terrain. Between 30 and 50 feet high, the cliff made for the perfect spot for native peoples to chase buffalo off the edge to allow for large quantities of food and other resources. The park’s on-site educational visitors center offers a look at buffalo culture exhibits and a bookstore to learn more about this fascinating technique of hunting buffalo.

 

The park offers several trails up to the cliff, some longer than others. Wear sneakers as the trail contains many small rocks. At the top of the cliff, look for little heads popping up from the ground, as this area is home to prairie dogs. Stand where buffalos stood before meeting their end, and imagine the courageous native peoples as they neared the cliff to provide food for their families. Walking to the top also allows for panoramic views of the Rocky Mountain Front, Missouri River valley, buttes and grasslands. On a windless day, listen to animals both near and far.

 

springs

© Aoife O’Riordan

Giant Springs State Park

First recorded on the Lewis and Clark Expedition in 1805, Giant Springs not only features a massive pool of erupting fresh water, but also offers various recreational and educational activities. This park lies just outside Great Falls and provides space for biking, hiking, fishing, hunting, boating, bird watching and picnicking. River’s Edge Trail system spans nearly 60 miles around the Great Falls area. On the trail, stop to look at the four Missouri River waterfalls, the same waterfalls that challenged Lewis and Clark back in 1805.

 

The park contains one of the largest freshwater springs in the United States. More than 156 million gallons pour out of the springs every day! This water flows into the Roe River, considered by many as the country’s shortest river. A narrow walkway circles the spring, with a wooden dock perched at the front to better see the clear water up close. Next to the spring sits Giant Springs Fish Hatchery. Here, visitors can walk through the visitor center and feed fish in the show pond. This pond contains several different types of trout, from rainbow to blue to albino trout. The visitor center shares more information on how to protect trout and how the hatchery cultivates the fish before release.

 

Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center

Located just next to Giant Springs State Park, this center overlooks part of the Missouri River. Spanning 25,000 square feet, the center includes an education room for hands-on activities, a permanent exhibition hall, a large theater and a retail store. Visiting the center not only shares insights and details of the Lewis and Clark Expedition but also delves into the lives of the two men.

 

The exhibition hall contains images, text, audio, visual, and audiovisual and hands-on elements, allowing visitors of all ages to engage. Tickets are $8 per person and free for children aged 15 and under.

Gates

© Aoife O’Riordan

 

Gates of the Mountains

Hop on a boat and glide down the Missouri River to witness the rock walls and strange formations just as Lewis and Clark did. Monikered Gates of the Mountains because of the continual rock walls sloping into the river at staggered angles, this area features stunning natural beauty. The Gates of the Mountains boat tour brings visitors on a two-hour tour, with the boat guide explaining different natural features and historical events associated with the area. Look for bald eagles, deer, bears and more in this area. The tour guide points out caves in the rock walls, unusual shapes in the cliffs and even Native American wall art.

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