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July 23, 2019

Gates of the Mountains - Road Trip 2019

With all the construction on Hiway 2 between Browning and St Mary’s it was pretty much a no-brainer to mt464 out of Babb, just below the Canadian border and follow the rolling hills back to Browning.

I had hoped this would save some time and we could get in front of the next storm front.

Alas that was not to be.  Instead of trying to outrun it we decided to head south toward Helena, straight into it.

I figured Gates of the Mountains was a ‘tourist trap’ and would have all the facilities a traveler might need.  I could not have been more wrong!  The entire area for several hundred square miles is a Conservancy – no development allowed! The first option we found for shelter was the KOA in Helena, who offered us a spot in their storage yard! At least we were safe and off the road.

In the morning we backtracked the 10 miles up to  the marina for a 10AM cruise.  It looked like the plan worked the skies were postcard perfect!
We rode in the Sacajawea cruise open boat into the narrow passages under clear skies.

The cliffs on one side are sandstone and the other side limestone.

The cruise boat turns around just past the site of the Mann Gulch fire, where 13 smoke jumpers died in 1949.  Tim, our captain and narrator, has lived in this area for 30 years and earned his degree studying the geology (and history) of this amazing place.

Once the boat is turned around the view of the channel would be that observed by Lewis and Clark, although the water is higher now due to the dams on the Missouri River.

On the return our cruise stopped at the Meriwether Picnic area, where Lewis and Clark camped. “this evening we entered much the most remarkable clifts that we have yet seen.  these clifts rise from the waters edge on either side … to the height of 1200 feet. … from the singular appearance of this place I called it the gates of the rocky mountains.” ~Meriwether Lewis July 19, 1805

The rock formations are full of natural caves and several arches

Our cruise boat Sacajawea is heading out for another 2 hr cruise.

We would recommend this cruise ($14 ea) to anyone with time as they pass through the Helena area.  Pam and John were here just the month before us.  Their experience is HERE.

After we return to Helena we learn the National Weather Service has issued a Severe Storm Alert for Billings and Great Falls.  Great Falls will have 60+mph wind and heavy rain, while Billings will be hammered with 60+ winds and heavy hail.

The forecast left MT 12 through the Musselshell Valley as an option to squeeze between the storms.  We stay on MT 12 as far as Roundup, MT where they offer FREE camping at the fairgrounds in the valley (donations accepted).  I picked up the guide to the RiverWalk Heritage Trail that wanders to the historic sites along the Musselshell River.
As I was checking out our spot under the brittle cottonwood trees the wind hit.  It was not as severe as was predicted elsewhere, but sufficient enough that I took shelter behind one of the cottonwood trees and had to protect my wine glass.

then more rain

We spent the night with thunder rolling from horizon to horizon most of the night.  But just that initial blast was all we suffered.  Despite the storm it was more interesting than scary. 

Living on the west coast and SoCal we just have never had thunder that rolled from horizon-to-horizon, like a freight train crossing the sky throughout the night. Although small it was a nice refuge for us.  It looked even better in the morning sun.

Under clearing skies we began heading further east in the morning, saying goodbye to Montana. 

Again No Bad Days!


  1. Glad you enjoyed Gates of the Mountains. It was a very well done tour. So good to see you had some blue sky. We stayed at the KOA since there wasn't anything else.

    1. We have not been on many tour cruises, but this is by far the best we have been on. So well done and at a good value - I'd do it again!
      Thanks for leading the way :)

  2. I've never heard of Gates of the Mountains. Looks awesome with sandstone on one side and limestone on the other must have an interesting geologic story. Glad you eventually found shelter from the storm.

    1. I can see the cliffs are different on each side of the channel, but I did not grasp the explanation. It is a very scenic and historic area.


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