Montana Trip 2021 | Drive Across Montana | Camping & Hiking in the Big Snowy Mountains | September 2021
After finishing our time in North Dakota, we hopped on I-94 and entered Montana. We had about 6 hours of driving through this state today. However, we couldn’t simply just take the interstate the whole way, we had done that drive before. We knew that no matter how we chose to drive, it would be a long way, even across only half the state. But in favor of new roads and counties, we picked two different routes for our trip there and back to maximize counties gained. Thanks to this trip and our vacation with my parents earlier this summer, we’ve now completed a good portion of the state.
I had a full-circle moment when on this trip, and even now while writing it, remembering our first time in Montana 4 years ago. That was the trip when we were moving to Hawaii to live for 3 years. We wanted to drive through North Dakota and Montana since we had never been there before (along with all the other states in the Northwest!) and while we enjoyed our time in these states, our hearts were heavy thinking about how long it would be before we could go on another road trip out West. Now, 4 years later, we have taken several trips out West just in the past year, seen so many new areas, and now were even on a paid work trip to Montana! In so many ways, the life we are living right now is exactly what we have always wanted, and I can’t express enough how thankful I am for that. And who would have thought that we could find this sort of fulfillment from being stationed in Nebraska?!
Anyway, back to today: Today we left the interstate behind after Glendive and took MT-200S to MT-200 and drove all the way to Lewistown. It was a long drive with a lot of nothingness and hardly any other traffic. It probably wouldn’t be a great place to have a breakdown. It definitely wasn’t as scenic as I remember I-94 being, but that’s okay, we still had to drive it at some point and it might as well be today. We got pictures of most of the courthouses along the way, but missed one that wasn’t directly on our route and we will probably live to regret it.
Curtis had picked out a campsite in the Snowy Mountain range which was about an hour South of Lewistown and so not exactly on our route. The only issue was that this was the only campsite in that forest and he didn’t really have any backup ideas, so we were very hopeful that we could find a site and not drive an hour out of our way for nothing. Of course we had the fact that it was a Sunday night in late September on our side, and thankfully it worked out.
We hadn’t seen much fall color until entering the national forest (or trees in Montana in general) but we finally started seeing golden leaves on the aspen and cottonwood trees as we entered the national forest. It was lovely, and worth the wait! We followed the narrow road up and into the mountains until we finally came to Crystal Lake campground. We had been hoping we could kayak in the lake, but when we arrived we found the lake was completely dry. We knew there was a drought, but had no idea it was this bad. Oh well, at least this area had trails nearby so we could go for a hike and stretch our legs after a long day of driving!
After setting up our campsite, we set off on a 3 mile hike. We had heard about a waterfall hike and another to ice caves, but given the condition of the lake we thought those may not be worth the effort today. Instead, we followed signs starting at the South end of the campground heading to Promontory Point. The trail started off easy and mostly flat for the first mile following the lake, then at a trail junction we went left and began heading away from the lake. The trail began to gain elevation, and we eventually came to another trail junction and turned right, following signs to Promontory Point. The trail was the most steep at the end, but soon we were on the top of, as the name suggests, a prominent point overlooking the lake bed, but still well dwarfed by the neighboring peaks. It wasn’t a bald peak so there wasn’t much of a view, but we still sat down and enjoyed a few minutes here. My favorite parts of this trail were the moss on the trees and the pops of fall colors between the pine trees.
We made our way back to our campsite and made dinner on our stove. Along with our usual dinners of soup, mac & cheese, and couscous, this time we brought boxed dehydrated stuffing mix that rehydrates quickly, fills us up, and tastes delicious. As the sun set, we climbed in the tent and read for a while. The campground had several other groups there before sunset, but most left by dusk and we enjoyed a quiet night. We also heard deer (or something) grazing outside our tent for much of the night, which gave Charlotte plenty to sniff the next morning. It was our coldest night of camping in quite a while, but we dressed appropriately and managed to stay warm through the night.