Big Sheep Back Country Byway Updated 09.01.2016
Located in the far southwestern corner of Montana near the Idaho border, this 50-mile scenic dirt road, administered by the Bureau of Land Management, travels between Dell on Interstate 15 and Highway 324 near Clark Canyon Reservoir. You’ll discover a mostly 2-lane road that’s in good condition, although a short portion near Highway 324 becomes a quagmire after a good rain. The road is open from May to October.
Alan and I drove the Big Sheep Back Country Byway while on a road trip that also explored the Pioneer Scenic Byway near the Big Hole Valley.
Starting in Dell, the drive travels through an open valley before following Big Sheep Creek into Big Sheep Canyon. For the next 10 miles, the road winds through the canyon following the course of the creek. If you have a Montana fishing license, stop to test your luck with the trout. Although bighorn sheep and deer also make the canyon their home, we saw no signs of them during our drive.
At mile 17, take the right fork that points to Cabin Creek. Here, the vast Medicine Lodge Valley is the center of attention.
A power line and a fence are the only reminders of human habitation. It’s as if you’re looking back through time, sharing the view with a Native American band of hunters or a group of wanderers from prehistoric days. Alan pulls the car over several times so that we can sit and take it all in, including the dramatic rise of the Beaverhead Mountains to the west.
At the top of a steep hill, a sign designates the Old Bannack Road. It’s a temptation for another day—one we plan on taking.
We used the Montana Benchmark Road & Recreation Atlas to plan our route. The atlas includes highways, secondary roads, byways, four-wheel-drive roads and hiking trails.
Eventually ranches appear and the dirt becomes a country road. At Highway 324, Alan follows the signs to Bannack State Park where we walk the streets of Montana’s most well preserved gold mining ghost town for a historical end to an adventuresome day.
Are you a fan of out-of-the-way places? Read our off-the-beaten-path in Montana recommendations.
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