Beyond Yellowstone: Sweet Grass County

Photos, Loretta Hurley

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. 

 Sweet Grass County


Where in the world is Sweet Grass County?

Sweet Grass County, Montana, holds a special place in Yellowstone Country’s heart. With a county-wide population of just 3,710, we’re pretty sure the wildlife numbers are probably on par with humans! The vast prairies are home to many family-owned farms, cattle, and sheep ranches, a unique rarity in today’s modern culture. Tucked between the Crazy Mountain and Absaroka-Beartooth mountain ranges, the views are stunning. Big Timber, the main town and county seat, sits in the valley formed by the confluence of the Yellowstone and Boulder Rivers.

 Claims to Fame

Robert Redford filmed his famous, The Horse Whisperer, in Sweet Grass County.

World-renowned Western photographer Barbara Van Cleve was born and raised in Big Timber, and the location of many of her famous shots.

Greycliff Prairie Dog Town State Park is precisely what it sounds like, a vast acreage full of prairie dogs. If you’ve never seen these cute little critters, it’s worth a trip.

A portion of A River Runs Through It was filmed in Sweet Grass County.

The rifle used in Quigley Down Under was made in Big Timber by Shiloh Rifle, and Tom Selleck came to Big Timber to learn how to use it.

Big Timber used to host a one-day rodeo, known as the biggest one-day show in the west and attracting people such as Gene Autry!

As History Would Have It

Sweet Grass County was once the world’s largest exporter of wool. The industry came to the area when Charles McDonnell and Edward Veasey brought 3,000 head of sheep from California to Montana. At one point in time, Sweet Grass exported more than one million pounds of wool each year.

Legend has it the Crazy Mountains are named after a Native American woman who wandered into the mountains to live the rest of her life alone after the rest of her family died during the settlement of the west.

Big Timber's Carnegie Library was built in 1913, with funds provided by Andrew Carnegie.

The Grand Hotel, built-in 1890, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and beautifully restored to its original dignity. Built by a pair of sheep ranchers for $20,000, you’ll love the food, rooms, and jovial atmosphere of this historic bed and breakfast, restaurant, and bar.

Be sure to check out the Crazy Mountain Museum, with lots of ranching artifacts, history about the sheep and wool industries, the Norwegian influence in the area, and of course, rodeo.

What is there to do around here? 

Explore the Natural Bridge and Falls Picnic Area. While the original natural limestone bridge which spanned the river collapsed in 1988, the 105’ waterfall is still impressive! And, a stretch of the river flows underneath the ground. If you’re visiting in the spring, this is a must-do when the waterfalls rage from the runoff.

Go camping! There are eight no-host campgrounds and two hosted campgrounds in Sweet Grass County. Or, for a unique stay, try one of the four rustic and primitive Forest Service Cabins, which were all former ranger stations or fire lookouts.

Cast a line! The fishing is phenomenal. Between the West and East Boulder, the Yellowstone River, and seven creeks that run throughout the valley, this land is an angler’s paradise.

Kayaking. The Class V rapids on Big Timber Creek include an 80ft slide that tightens at the bottom called The Pinch. Another favorite, The Gambler, is a right-banking slide into a crooked hole.

Explore the Crazy Mountains on foot or horseback. There are very few access points in the Crazy’s, making it a beautiful and remote place to hike or ride. Big Timber Falls near Half Moon Campground is a local favorite. Every couple of years, you’ll catch kayakers come down the raging falls in the spring.

Check out the Roadkill Café’- (no, they don’t serve roadkill, although the name certainly is intriguing!

Take home a Montana memento from Sweet Grass Emporium! All items are handmade by local artists and crafters.

Fun Facts