Montana's Gold West Country
Montana's Gold West Country. The name says it all. The chunk of real estate squeezed between the Gallatins and the Bitterroots taps a rich vein of mountain country. Gold rush ghost towns drowsing amid hazy memories bring the region’s history to life. Some, such as Bannack, are maintained in a state of arrested decay. Others, such as Virginia City, have allowed commercialism to obscure a gritty past. Little more than shadows are left of boomtowns like Confederate Gulch, built overnight on rumors of pay dirt and as quickly abandoned for richer diggings elsewhere. Butte and Last Chance Gulch (now Helena) upset the norm by hanging on to become thrumming cities. It’s easy to get gold fever, exploring these ghost towns to the exclusion of other adventures.
Best of Montana
The Madison River, a blue ribbon fly fishing stream, flows mostly through Montana's Gold West Country. The Blackfoot, of A River Runs Through It fame, picks up speed here. Numerous other storied rivers also course through this region: the Jefferson, Big Hole, Beaverhead, Wise, Ruby, Red Rock.
Mountains of unimaginable splendor shoulder above the river valleys. The Madison Range lies to the east of the river bearing that name, the Gravelly Range and Tobacco Roots to the west. The scenic Tendoy Mountains anchor the southern tip of Gold West Country. The Continental Divide marches across the Centennial Mountains, defining the Montana/Idaho line before wiggling north and east to circle Butte and bypass Helena. Northwest of Dillon, the Pioneer Mountains gaze over the Big Hole River to the craggy Bitterroots. The verdant Deer Lodge Valley rests in the shadow of the Garnet Range. On the west, the Sapphire Range straddles an invisible line between Gold West and Glacier Countries. The Elkhorn and other pocket-size mountain ranges recall the Earth’s sporadic upthrusting that creating the Rocky Mountain Front.
Gold West Country was at the front of the line when national forests and wilderness areas were created. The region contains all or part of six national forests. The Beaverhead, Deerlodge, and Helena National Forests are in Gold West Country. Portions of the Gallatin and Bitterroot National Forests lap over the region’s eastern and western borders. The Lolo National Forest reaches into Gold West Country from Glacier Country.
The four wilderness areas include most of the Lee Metcalf and Scapegoat Wildernesses and the Anaconda-Pintler and Gates of the Mountains Wildernesses. All invite hiking, backpacking, horse packing, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. Mountain biking and snowmobiling are banned in wilderness areas but are permitted in the national forests.
Even if you were to remain in your car, you can still take in more mountain panoramas, wildlife sightings, wildflowers and frisking rivers than memory can hold. Scenic Byways enhance driving adventures, and the region, besides, is fairly bursting with historic sites.
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