Strictly speaking, the Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site is in North Dakota. The Montana-North Dakota border bisects the parking lot, and the fort itself is a few paces east. But Fort Union was so important to Montana's development that it should be part of any trip through the eastern part of the state.
For 30 years after 1828, Fort Union was the edge of the frontier -- the most important trading post in John Jacob Astor's beaver pelt and buffalo robe empire in the Northern Plains. This National Park Service site has been spectacularly reconstructed from pictures and descriptions. The main gate of the glistening, whitewashed wooden stockade overlooks the wide Missouri, and two tall stone bastions stand sentinel over the river at the fort's corners.
Lewis and Clark camped near here on their trip to the Pacific, on April 25 and 26, 1805. Lewis commented in his journals on the "wide and fertile vallies" and how ideal the site would be for a fort. The Bourgeois House has been converted into a modern visitor center, and contains excellent exhibits detailing the life and times of the fur traders. Artist George Catlin visited in 1832, as did Karl Bodmer in 1833, and John James Audubon in 1843. In 1867, the U.S. Army acquired the fort, and its lumber was used to expand nearby Fort Buford and fuel steamboats.
Getting There & Visitor Information -- From I-94 exit 213 at Glendive, take Mont. 16 northeast to the North Dakota border, then North Dakota 58 north to the fort (it's about 75 miles). Contact Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site, 15550 N. Dak. 1804, Williston, ND 58801 (tel. 701/572-9083 or 572-7622; www.nps.gov/fous). Admission is free and the park is open daily from 8am to 8pm during the summer and 9am to 5:30pm in winter.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.