On this epic family adventure, you’ll avoid the mainstream but experience places that are one-off from average. And that’s what makes this Montana family-friendly trip ‘wild and wacky,’ of course. But, besides all that, the Big Sky State’s wonderful, wide-open spaces are perfect for social distancing.
Jazz Up Your Mt Rushmore Vacay by adding this Montana Family-Friendly Trip
Many families put Mount Rushmore National Monument on their summer vacation itinerary but miss the epic experiences that are easy to find in nearby Montana’s southeastern communities. All you have to do is tag three more nights onto your Mount Rushmore trip, and you’ll get Wild West experiences that are hard to come by elsewhere.
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How to Escape the Crowds at Mount Rushmore
Escape the crowds at Mount Rushmore by driving northwest towards Broadus, Montana. Then, break up the three-hour road trip with a stop in Sturgis, South Dakota, for the Harley-Davidson fans in the fam. Or for your Spielberg movie buffs, make a side trip to Devil’s Tower National Monument brought to light by the movie, Close Encounters of the Third Kind. (50 miles west of Belle Fourche in Wyoming.)
Find the Authentic Wild West in Broadus, Montana
In Broadus, rub elbows with ranchers at Powder River Historical Museum—part open-air museum, part natural history museum—which showcases Old West artifacts and memorabilia. Friendly volunteers share stories of their own lives farming and ranching in the Wild West. These docents aren’t reenactors—they’re simply sharing their real lives with visitors like us, seeking authentic western vibes.
They’ll show you saddles, antique guns and artifacts from the Battle of Powder River, a precursor to the Battle of the Little Bighorn. The Powder River Battlefield is only 34 miles / 55 km southwest of Broadus, so the museum houses many artifacts.
Bed down in Broadus
Stay at the new Sagebrush Inn and Suites, stroll along the sidewalks of this authentic western town and then enjoy a Wild West dinner at Powder River Stockman’s Club. We played Shake-A-Day at the bar, a Montana State-sanctioned gambling dice game that has become a local thing. Or, for the real outdoor adventurers, book a stay at Diamond Butte Lookout Tower. The rustic lodging is an active fire lookout in the summer but can be rented for $45/night from September through May. The rugged lookout/cabin has propane stove, lights and heater, a table, chair and three beds. Forty miles (1 hour 11 minutes) out of town, so bring provisions like food, water and bedding.
Only in Ekalaka: The Dino Shindig
The following day roll out to Ekalaka, near active dinosaur fossil discovery sites. Paleontologists seeking fossilized remains visit the out-of-the-way area each summer. Carter County Museum, where you can sift for dinosaur fossils, celebrates the 9th Annual Dino Shindig July 24-25 with talks from visiting paleontologists, music and field expeditions. Did you know, many science museums around the nation display fossils unearthed in remote Carter County?
Montana family-friendly trip event alert!
Besides dinosaurs, the Carter County Museum is also home to the wacky two-headed calf. Your family will love the wild collection. Camp at nearby Medicine Rocks State Park, which the International Dark Skies Association recently recognized as a Dark Sky Sanctuary. The magical park is a destination in itself, with huge, pock-marked monoliths standing straight up from the surrounding prairie.
World’s Largest Steer in Baker: Now THAT'S Wacky!
Get a selfie with the world’s largest steer in Baker, Montana. The goliath gained its girth from eating bootleggers’ mash during prohibition. The stuffed mammoth is only a half-hour drive from Medicine Rocks State Park. The kids will love the dinosaur fossils, tractors and antique toys displayed at O’Fallon Historical Museum. While the hot rods, muscle cars and other classic rides at Prairie Rose Classics will have the teens hungering for their first set of keys.
Montana Agate Hunting and Terry Badlands
Our next off-the-beaten-path town—Terry, Montana—is an hour and a half away, so we suggest lunching in Miles City at Tilt Würks Brewhouse. The pinball-themed gastropub is sure to thrill the whole family. In Terry, stop at Prairie Unique for Montana-made gifts and to ask Dale or Kathy for directions to the best agate beaches along the Yellowstone River. Tip: we found phenomenal Montana moss agates while rockhounding near the historic Milwaukee Railroad truss bridge.
Stay at Kempton Hotel, Montana’s longest continuously operating hotel—it’s like a night at a cowboy museum—with completely renovated rooms. The next morning, explore Montana’s big skies, banded cliffs and sandstone spires at Terry Badlands. Watch for pronghorn, petrified wood and 1800s era US Army troops graffiti. It doesn’t get any wilder than this! From here, you could return home or continue onto Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument.
Read more about Montana and fun family adventurers here.
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