Driving Tour #1: Kings Hill Scenic Byway
The Kings Hill Scenic Byway is a 71-mile stretch of U.S. 89 through the Little Belt Mountains and the Lewis and Clark National Forest. You pick it up about 22 miles southeast of Great Falls, where U.S. 87 and U.S. 89 divide. Take U.S. 89 south toward the towns of Monarch and Neihart. From the south, take U.S. 89 north from just east of Livingston on I-90. For a leisurely tour, you can watch the wildlife and the scenery, then visit the ghost towns at Castle Town and Hughesville, and the historic mining site at Glory Hole. For a more active trip, go to Sluice Boxes State Park, just north of Monarch (tel. 406/454-5840; http://fwp.mt.gov), to hike along the abandoned rail line there, or fish in Belt Creek. In winter there are cross-country skiing at the Silver Crest Trail System (just north of Showdown Ski Area) and snowmobiling at Kings Hill. Memorial Falls has a nature trail that is accessible to visitors with disabilities. Primitive backcountry camping sites (free, but you must camp a half-mile or more from the trail head) and national forest access points are at numerous spots along the highway.
Driving Tour #2: The Charles M. Russell Trail
The Judith Basin inspired the work of one of the West's seminal artists, Charles M. Russell. This drive on U.S. 87/Mont. 200 between Great Falls and Lewistown provides an intimate glimpse at the unsettled West through Russell's eyes. The drive is lovely in a pastoral way, but it helps to have a copy of the interpretive guide of the trail from Travel Montana's Russell Country (tel. 800/527-5348; www.russell.visitmt.com), if you want to get the full experience. The guide uses Russell's art to illuminate the history of the basin.
These highways were designated the Russell Trail by the Montana legislature. The scruffy cowhands and toughened Indians that Russell painted have been replaced by carefully tended fields of grain, but with the help of Russell's art and a little imagination, you can put yourself back in the saddle in 1880s Montana.
From Great Falls, you go southeast through the towns of Raynesford, Geyser, and Moccasin, taking in the history of the Blackfeet, the infamous last wolves of the basin in Stanford, and the role of the railroads in Hobson. Spring and fall are the best times to match Russell's color palette with that of the scenery.
There are roadside turnouts along the highway for many of the 25 interpretive sites, including the settings for two of Russell's best-known paintings, Buffalo in Winter and Paying the Fiddler.