Beyond Yellowstone: Stillwater County

Just beyond the borders of Yellowstone National Park, lie communities full of interesting people, incredible adventure, delicious food, and a whole lot of fun. For the next five weeks, we’ll give you a glimpse into each of these areas; blasts from the past, fun facts, and a bit of the present flavor. Join us as we explore beyond Yellowstone. 

Stillwater County

Where in the world is Stillwater County? 

Stillwater County is idyllic in its pristine beauty. Tucked up at the base of Custer National Forest, the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness and home to three National Wildlife Refuges that spread across thousands of acres of prairie and farmland, the landscape is diverse. With a population of just 9,500 people stretched across 1,805 square miles, you’ll find nothing but tranquility in this part of the state.

Photo, Jon Roanhaus

Claims to Fame 

The sandstone masonry in Columbus, Montana, makes it an architectural landmark. Michael Jacobs, a native of Italy, was a principal in the Montana Sandstone Company, and instrumental in the numerous stone buildings around town, including his Victorian residence. Jacobs and his colleague, Pasqual Petosa, even carved some interesting gravestones in the cemetery. 

“Wildcat Bill” (William Thomas Hamilton) called Stillwater County home. The 19th-century frontiersman, scout, trapper, trader, and author was well-loved by the Native Americans, who gave him his nickname and considered him a healer. Hamilton was friends with other local characters such as John Bozeman and Jim Bridger. His work with Native Americans was so revered he assisted the Smithsonian Institution in translating hundreds of Native American signs painted on Flathead Lake. 

As History Would Have It 

Columbus began as a stagecoach stop, but soon became one of the areas original railroad towns. The town still maintains the original depot. 

For well over a generation now, the annual Sheep Drive at Reed Point is a tradition that attracts people from around the state. Each September, everyone gathers to watch hundreds of sheep run through town as they move to their summer home. The event includes a car show, parade, street dance, food, drinks, and a live auction!

Photo, Trevor Manternach

What is there to do around here?

Anglers are drawn to Stillwater County with its abundance of fishing. With the Yellowstone and Stillwater Rivers, plus a plethora of creeks, it’s easy to find your secret spot!

Camping and hiking are also favorite activities. The Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness alone is 943,648 acres. That’s a lot of room to roam! Check out the Woodbine Falls campground and trailhead for a lovely day hike (and fishing!)

For over 30 years, the Musician’s Rendezvous has gathered the first weekend in August at Itch Kep Pe Park for three days of jam sessions with old friends and new acquaintances, culminating with a big pot luck on the banks of the Yellowstone River!

Scenic drives make for perfect photo opportunities. One of our favorites is Highway 419 south of Absarokee. Be sure to stop at the Fishtail General Store, the oldest continuously operating general store in Montana!

The Farmer’s Market in Columbus runs each Thursday from 4-6:30 p.m. mid-July through mid-September. 

Photo, jfisher2167

Fun Facts 

Granite Peak is the highest elevation in Montana at 12,808’ and is considered one of the most challenging rock climbs in the state.

The New Atlas Bar, in Columbus, holds the first liquor license issued in Montana. The most notable feature is over 70 mounted animals, including a two-headed calf and an albino fawn. As you walk in, please take note of the small room in the front, which was initially set up for women, since they were not allowed to drink in the bar with men.

Lewis and Clark set up camp in Park City, Montana. Stop at the gas station to see the plaque commemorating the area!

Tippet Rise Art Center is a 12,000-acre working sheep and cattle ranch, which also features classical chamber music and recitals along with large-scale outdoor sculptures. While the center will be closed for the 2020 summer season, they offer podcasts, videos, and online art options to keep the spirit of art alive and well.