Halfway between Butte and Bozeman, Montana, lies …. pretty much nothing. Big fields. Expansive views. A few cows. Guys in trucks who tailgate and drive really fast. But also ….. Lewis and Clark Caverns! This unassuming little Montana state park packs quite a wallop, and you’re gonna have a cavern-sized hole in your heart if you miss it when in this area!
These superstar caves are the largest limestone caverns in the Northwest, and super-dee-dooper fun to tour! Rather than just walking from area to area, you’ll find yourself bending, crouching, duck-waddling, squishing and sliding on your butt, just like the early explorers of the cave! (Side note: NOT Lewis and Clark. They were in the area, but didn’t find this place. Whaa, whaa.)
To get to the caverns, you’ll be driving three miles from the campground up a verrrry steep hill, and THEN you’re going to be taking a 30 minute hike up 1,000 feet elevation, just to get to the entrance of the cave!
But will it be worth it? Ahhhhh, yes it sure will! With twisty/turny passageways and steep steps up and down (over 600 steps, that EACH took three days to carve into the rock) …
…. stalagtites, stalagmites, and those other “ites” you have forgotten about since failing high school geology …
… columns and pillars growing toward each other from floor to ceiling at the snail’s pace of 1″ per century …
cave “popcorn” and “bacon” (mmmm, now I’m getting hungry) …
…and even a crystal-clear pool of water deep down under ….
… plus bats! Sleeping bats, not-to-be-disturbed bats, don’t they get dizzy hanging upside-down bats? Awfully cute bats!
Our tour guide, who is a fourth-generation guide here at the Caverns, was funny, interesting, and downright fun! Side note: besides this “Classic Tour,” there is also a “Paradise Tour,” which is less vigorous, and therefore less fun, IMHO. This underground underworld is a delight!
They thoughtfully provide a free outdoor kennel for use while you’re in the caverns. (I mean, our spoiled dogs would prefer to be in the RV bed with the space heater on, but if they weren’t so wimpy, we’d be ALL about this amenity!) If only every state and national park were so accommodating of pets …
Back aboveground, a large network of hiking trails are generally of the “steep and straight up” variety — remember how we’re on a very steep mountain! But the Greer Gulch Loop was doable, and pretty, and still a good workout.
Lastly, back down at the bottom of the hill, the campground is nestled across from the Jefferson River, surrounded by absolute beauty, with spacious sites and peacefulness. Ahhhh … can’t you just smell the fresh air?
Continuing eastward about 50 miles, we spent a few days in the bigger city of Bozeman. A college town with a laid-back vibe, Bozeman is “like a postcard waiting to be explored” (according to the marketing masterminds of the city) — surrounded by forested mountains and snow-capped peaks, even in June. Bozeman and nearby Livingston’s downtowns are charming, walkable, shoppable, and adorable.
Parts of the movie “A River Runs Through It” were filmed here, though I can only remember scenes where Brad Pitt flashed his darling crooked smile, so I couldn’t tell you exactly where. But here. Somewhere here.
The Museum of the Rockies is here, and being a Smithsonian affiliate, we found it to be both somewhat impressive and somewhat boring. Big Mike the T.Rex, a bronze sculpture made from fossil bones excavated in 1990, greets you at the entry, giving a hint of what is to come.
It has some pretty impressive dinosaur fossils, and people working on impressive dinosaur fossils. You can tell this is important work because they are concentrating so hard — this is what my face looks like when I’m trying to figure out the daily Wordle.
We learned a lot about dinosaurs … for instance, did you know one ancient species looked a lot like Garth from Wayne’s World?
It has a planetarium, so that allowed me an unintentional 25 minute nap, and other exhibits covered “period transportation” and the Apsaalooke Native Americans (what Americans call Crow Indians), who really have a thing for attaching elk teeth to their clothing. I’m thinking there must be a whole buncha toothless elk roaming around Montana, looking for a limited-time only special price on crowns and implants.
Outside, a living history museum with costumed docents exhibiting various aspects of farm life. We tried to leave a couple times and they kept shooing us back in, demanding “you have to go see the blacksmith!” “what, you didn’t check out the sewing machine upstairs? how about the chamber pot?” “did you go into the root cellar?” Maybe this is like a timeshare presentation — you have to stay for a certain length of time, or else.
Whether you want to jump on a trail within City limits, or head into the backcountry, Bozeman has great hiking right out your door. Because we old, and we tired, we passed on the super-steep “M Trail” and instead took on Drinking Horse Mountain, with a parking lot right across the from the M. With views back toward the city, and approximately 3,082 unleashed dogs running amok, it was a steep climb to the top …
… but my-oh-my was it ever a spectacular 360 degree vision at the top!
Another day, we joined the parade of campers heading southeast toward Yellowstone (only about an hour away to their northernmost entrance), and were treated to gorgeous scenery on our way to a hike at Pine Creek Falls.
If you're actually going into Yellowstone, here's our post about it and all its wildlife wonder!
Despite (or maybe because of) having to dodge a ton of mud from recent snowmelt, the path to the falls was a lot of fun with multiple creek crossings, bridges made from fallen trees, and so forth. Here is the one and only “civilized” bridge crossing on the trail:
But most of the crossings were more like this one! How that log supported all that weight at once, I dunno. We teetered off more times than not, and had some very squishy socks at the end of it all.
Our new puppy Finn is an English Cream Golden Retriever, which is just like a regular Golden, except that she gets dirty 10x faster. Being a retriever, she also loves water, and watery puddles, and watery mud. Note to RV adventurers, getting a white dog = very bad idea. Her paws tell the tale!
Being in a big(gish) city, we attended to various mandatory errands (hellloooo, Petsmart! hellllloooo, Crumbl Cookies!) and proceeded to basically eat our way through the town at standout places like Wild Crumb Artisan Bakery (get the huckleberry scones!), Sweet Peaks Homemade Ice Cream, and one of the various taco trucks that dot the Bozeman skyline. Other popular establishments include Montana Ale Works, with local craft beers in a cool historic railroad building, and Storm Castle Cafe for breakfast. Thankfully, there is no bathroom scale in the RV.
A personal highlight was a fireside evening with Shea, the daughter of a dear friend, who moved from Phoenix to Bozeman and works as a Montessori preschool teacher. I’ve know her since she was a little girl … and now she’s a grown woman, and a delightful one at that!
You could easily spend a couple weeks here in Bozeman, but alas, we are moving on after just 4 short days, now heading to Theodore Roosevelt National Park in southern North Dakota. Can you guess what number national park this is for us?