Stillwater County, Montana
If you’re looking to experience “authentic” Montana, look no further than the scenic vistas of Stillwater County, Montana. Located in South Central Montana, Stillwater County spans more than 1,700 square miles, anchored by the Beartooth-Absaroka Wilderness Area on the southern end, and bisected by both the Stillwater and the Yellowstone Rivers. Much quieter than neighboring counties with big cities and even bigger populations, Stillwater County has several notable small towns such as Columbus, Absarokee, Nye, Reed Point and Fishtail—leaving plenty of room for outdoor adventure. Enjoy hiking, biking, floating, and fishing or take in the views as you cruise along the 44 miles of the Absarokee Loop Scenic Drive. There are endless ways to explore the great outdoors in Stillwater County:
Traverse Stillwater County on foot and enjoy one of the many beautiful hikes in the area. Popular trails include the Woodbine Falls trail, located in the Absaroka Beartooth Wilderness. The trailhead begins at the Woodbine Campground near Nye, and is a short but steep climb to one of the tallest waterfalls in Montana. Another well-known hike is around Mystic Lake, one of the deepest lakes in the Beartooth Mountains. The lake is stocked with trout and the 3 mile loop is well maintained.
Hikers looking for a challenge can attempt the 26 mile “The Beaten Path” trail, topping out at 10,000 ft in elevation. Starting from the East Rosebud trailhead, the trek in this direction is more challenging but offers impressive views of the mountains and lakes along the way. One of the most difficult hikes/climbs is near Fishtail, starting at the West Rosebud trailhead, heading to the summit of Granite Peak. The expert-level, remote and rugged trail ends at the highest climbing point in the state, an elevation of over 12,000 feet.
The Stillwater River runs for 70 miles through Stillwater County, offering plenty of opportunities to fly fish for large populations of rainbow and brown trout, as well as the occasional brook and cutthroat trout. Floating the Stillwater River can be challenging, depending on where you put in—there is a lot of whitewater, and many rocky and shallow areas. Cast a dry fly on the Stillwater River near its confluence with the Yellowstone River, just outside of Columbus. The low fishing pressure found here, plus the fast-paced currents and memorable views make this one of the top dry fly spots in Montana. Complete information on the Stillwater River fishing access points managed by the Montana Fish and Wildlife Department (FWP) is available on the FWP website.
Start your float at Fireman’s Point to explore the calmest parts of the Stillwater River. You can float the river all the way to its convergence with the Yellowstone, ending your trip at Itch-Kep-Pe Park in Columbus. Every July the annual Yellowstone River Boat Float is celebrated, a 3-day event that includes floating and camping. The event begins in Livingston at Mayors Landing and ends in Columbus—the same route that Lewis and Clark took on their expedition.
In contrast to its name, the Stillwater River is full of powerful rapids. Experience the thrill of navigating exposed rocks, waves and holes with a guided whitewater rafting tour from Adventure Whitewater or Absaroka River Adventures. Some sections of the Stillwater River are only suitable for expert level rafters, such as the Woodbine run with class IV and higher rapids. The upper Stillwater River, near the Buffalo Jump access point in Nye features easier to maneuver class II rapids, a better fit for a day of family fun.
Small Towns, Big Adventure.
Stillwater County is just 40 miles west of Billings and an hour and a half drive from Bozeman—making for an easy day trip or weekend getaway filled with outdoor adventures. Sometimes referred to as Montana’s “hidden valley”, the drive south and west through Stillwater County via MT 78 and US 212 is considered to be one of the most scenic routes to Yellowstone National Park (Cooke City entrance).
Equally rich in Native American history as it is in stories of the American westward expansion, Stillwater County has been home to people for centuries. Originally inhabited by the Crow or Apsaalooke tribe, homesteaders began moving into the area in the late 1800s. Today, Columbus, the county seat, has a population of around 2,000, whereas the smaller town of Fishtail has just 65 residents. These quaint communities offer all the essential amenities for residents and visitors—and feature plenty of points of interest, such as the Museum of the Beartooths in Columbus, and the oldest operating general store in Montana, the Fishtail General Store. The area is also host to several events of note including weekly farmers markets in Columbus and annual events such as the Musician’s Rendezvous in Columbus and the Montana BBQ Cook-off in Absarokee. Explore all that small town Montana life has to offer in each one of the unique Stillwater County communities.
- Museum of the Beartooths (open April – December)
- Itch-Kep-Pe Park – camping, fishing, boating
- Stillwater Golf Course (9 holes)
- Stillwater Anglers – Guided fishing trips
- New Atlas Bar – opened in 1916, on the National Register of Historic Places
- Farmers Market, Railroad Park, Thursdays 4-7 PM, Aug – Sept
- Stillwater County 4-H and FFA Fair, July
- Musician’s Rendezvous, 2nd weekend in August
- Barron Ranch & Paintbrush Adventures – Dude ranch and horseback riding
- Absarokee Scenic Loop Drive (starts and ends in Absarokee)
- Beartooth Front Scenic Drive (passes through town)
- Pine Grove Campground
- Woodbine Campground
- Absarokee Days, July
- Montana BBQ Cook-Off, June
- Labor Day Farmers Market, September
- Snowflake Festival, December
- Woodbine Falls Hiking Trail
- Guest Ranches
- Fishtail General Store – oldest continuously operating general store in Montana
- Montasia Restaurant
- Tippet Rise Art Center – working ranch that serves as an art and performance venue
- Fishtail Family Fun Day, June
- Sioux Charley Lake Hiking Trail
- Stillwater Mine – not open to visitors, but the only platinum and palladium mine in the US
- Nye Goes Nuts!, July
- Canyon Creek Battlefield Monument – site of the second to last battle between Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce and the US Calvary
- Buffalo Mirage fishing access point
- Park City Day, August
RAPELJE & MOLT
- Mule Train Alpaca Ranch
- Big Lake Wildlife Management Area (part of Hailstone and Halfbreed National Wildlife Refuge) – wildlife viewing, hunting, hiking
- Indian Fort Fishing Access Point – fishing, swimming
- Great Montana Sheep Drive, Labor Day Weekend
From the foothills of the Beartooth Mountains, to its blue-ribbon rivers, Stillwater County is truly an escape into some of the most beautiful natural areas of Montana. Looking for property in Stillwater County? Explore Western Ranch Brokers featured listings below: