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  • Writer's picturethebackpackingblotskes

Why East is the Beast to the Beauty of the West

Updated: Jun 23, 2021

This post is sponsored by Visit Southeast Montana

Tale as old as time...

Beautiful girl meets hairy beast and let's just say, it isn't love at first sight. Unlike many, she decides not to judge the book by its cover and begins to peel back the layers of mystery matted in the untamed mane. As time goes on, she discovers that what is hidden isn't hideous after all. In fact, the man behind the mask is rather gentle, charming and one seriously sexy beast! And, well, we all know how the story ends... happily ever after.

The Southeast Beast

Sadly, eastern Montana is often overshadowed by the western wonder. People from all over the country flock to places such as Glacier & Yellowstone National Park, Big Sky, Whitefish and Flathead Lake, just to name a few. Rightfully so, these Montana locations are certainly show-stoppers. There is no denying that western Montana abounds with beauty.

HOWEVER, the most precious of stones aren't the easiest to find. With some digging and polishing, a gem is found and brought to its purest potential. Had it not been for the curiosity and persistence of Belle, the Beast would never be seen for what he truly was.. a handsome and dashing young prince. Any well-traveled Montanan knows that the 'Beast of the Southeast' is the diamond in the rough, the heartbeat of treasure state and where the coined title, "Big Sky Country", truly comes from.

Hidden Gems

Makoshika State Park

From Billings, heading east on I-94, an unassuming person would never know what lies beyond the quiet town of Glendive, MT. Oh, ya know, it's only Montana's largest state park, with over 11,000 acres of beautiful badlands to explore. The park contains dinosaur fossils, the most common being the Triceratops, unique rock formations, a visitor center bursting with geology and fossil displays, well maintained hiking trails, an archery area, amphitheater and even a disc golf course!

Makoshika State Park very much reminded our family of a previous trip to Badlands National Park in South Dakota. Both parks exude a mysterious, magical vibe, as if you've found yourself on set of a sci-fi movie. But what sets Makoshika apart? The crowds! Or lack thereof, I should say. While summer travelers are bustling all over the country to snag a photo of their favorite "Instagram famous" location, Makoshika park remains the hidden gem that it is, giving visitors a quiet, surreal and relaxed experience. Even at full capacity, Montana's largest state park will seem like a ghost town in comparison to the sea of people gathered around Old Faithful in Yellowstone Park.

During our time here, we camped out/played in a gigantic teepee (super fun for the kids!) participated in a paleontology tour that included a hike to see a partially excavated hadrosaur vertebrae (super cool!) and took in a sunset from the top of the Diane Gabriel trail.

WARNING: Do be aware of rattlesnakes. They are very unlikely to make an appearance during the heat of the day, but once the sun begins to set, be on the lookout!

Another highly recommended trail: Kinney Coulee

Partnered with & sponsored by Visit Southeast Montana

Mahlstedt Ranch

The heart and soul of Montana lies in the calloused hands of our hardworking farmers and ranchers. There is a special beauty to the sweeping landscape of farmland, untouched by modern day city life. It's peaceful. It's calming. It's God's country.

If ever given the opportunity to experience Montana ranch life, take it! Our family was honored and privileged to tour the 5th generation Mahlstedt Ranch, led by family member, Tana Canen. From the moment we arrived on property, it was apparent of Tana's love for the family ranch. We were welcomed with open arms (and homemade chocolate cupcakes, too!) and made to feel as part of the family during our time there.

Mahlstedt ranch dog

We packed a lot into our ranch tour, getting a close-up look at heavy duty equipment, petting baby calves, gathering chicken eggs and even a quick horseback ride! The kids were in animal heaven..

While the Mahlstedt ranch isn't currently open to visitors and overnight guests, Tana has a vision for the future of the family ranch that involves a fully submersed, one of a kind, "do as much or as little" as you like, ranch life experience. Tana puts her vision into words, here:

Welcome to Mahlstedt Ranch; homesteaded in 1912 and now operated by the third, fourth, and fifth generations of Mahlstedts! We are a dryland operation. Cattle, Quarter Horses, and farming of feed grains are our livelihood. We invite you to get away to our quiet part of the world. Come stay for a weekend or long enough to write a book. This is a unique Montana tourist destination spot as it allows the visitor to do as much or as little on their vacation as one desires. Not only is this original Montana ranch house pet friendly, it has horse boarding pens and miles of unlimited riding available for you and your horse or bicycle. We do not offer guided tours or ranch horses, but you can bring your horse and go explore!
The tar paper shack was first built in the summer of 1911. It was added on various times through the years. In the fall of 2020, our family began renovation of the house. We strove to maintain as much of the original aspects of the house as possible including kitchen cupboards, doors throughout the house, and what furniture we could. There is a wheelchair ramp into the house main level. Three bedrooms with queen beds have bedding washed with unscented detergent in consideration of those with allergy sensitivities. There is 1 handicap accessible bath/shower, a fully equipped kitchen with oven, microwave, dishwasher, toaster, coffee maker, reverse osmosis water, wifi, books & games, barbeque grill and our own MRI grain fed beef available for purchase for your grilling pleasure! This quiet, comfortable home is the perfect escape. Our nearest neighbors are 2 miles away. The general sounds are ranch animals & tractors, meadowlarks, and coyotes.
Our ranch is part of the Fish Wildlife & Parks Block Management program allowing free public hunting of the mule & whitetail deer, antelope, upland birds, and coyotes that are on our land.

Known for their roan quarter horses

Stay tuned for this extremely unique Montana getaway! Visit for more information on this family-owned and operated ranch.

Local Eats

We were pleasantly surprised to find some very solid choices when it came to meal time! Southeast Montana definitely delivered a satisfying menu for each family member, and that's what we like to call, a WIN!

Glendive, MT

Bloom & Vine - Coffeehouse & Eatery

Family Favorites: Nola Bowl, Breakfast Bowl, Sweet Potato Burrito, Thai Latte

The Gust Hauf

Family Favorite: We blended the BBQ Chicken & Veggie Pizza... Delish!!

Wibaux, MT

Beaver Creek Brewery

Mom & Dad Favorite: Beaver Creek Raspberry Cream

Kid Favorite: Root Beer Float

Baker, MT

Compass Coffee

Family Favorite: Bagel/Wrap Meal, Salted Caramel Mocha & Homemade Peanut Butter Cup

Historical Sites

Saint Peter's Catholic Church in Wibaux, MT

Don't overlook the museums and small town sights! Southeast Montana is rich in history. To fully appreciate something is to fully understand its origin, how it came to being. Taking the time to learn, ask questions and look behind the scenes, will unlock a particular beauty that the general passerby will never see.

Pierre Wibaux Museum

Located in the quaint, little town of Wibaux, Montana, this museum is packed with fascinating antiques, dating back to the late 1800's, from the world's largest cattle rancher, Pierre Wibaux. Take a tour through his office building, barber shop, livery stable and a Montana Centennial train car.

Images from Pierre Wibaux Museum in Wibaux, MT

O'Fallon Historical Museum

Baker, Montana, is home to the world's largest steer, born in March of 1923. If this massive mammal isn't reason enough to stop by, maybe the classic automobiles, the old Willard school house, the Lambert house of 1907 or the Fallon County Jail built in 1916 will lure you in! With so much to look at and learn about, the O'Fallon Historical Museum quickly grabbed the attention of our family, including the kids!

Images from O'Fallon Historical Museum in Baker, MT

Medicine Rocks State Park

Arguably one of Montana's best kept secrets, the wide open prairie of sporadically placed sandstone rock formations in Medicine Rocks State Park is a visual delight. Designated as an "International Dark Sky Sanctuary", this remote location is a photographer's wonderland!

Located 25 miles southwest of Baker, MT, and 11 miles north of Ekalaka, MT, it's safe to assume the possibility of having the place to yourself! While the western part of the state is buzzing with the sounds of busy tourists, you can enjoy the peace and quiet of nature in its purest form, as it was meant to be.

Our visit was short, but we were still able to enjoy all that Medicine Rocks State Park has to offer. We climbed rocks, explored the trails and went for a sunset bike ride. The weather did not allow for a campfire that night, but we were able to watch a nearby lightning storm, as the darkness set in. Our time was well spent and the overall experience truly felt like the definition of an outdoor adventure, unspoiled by modern day amenities and summer crowds. This is a park very deserving of a spot on your "Montana bucket list".

A quick crack of lightning caught on camera

Beauty and the Beast

And so, as the story goes, beauty finds her one true love in the beast, and the rest is history. Much is the same for eastern Montana. Once discovered, a love is birthed and deepened by the depth of its history, culture and heritage. Yes, it requires a little more work and effort to unveil its charm, but in doing so, well... the rest is history. #southeastmontana #outhereMT

Huge THANK YOU to Visit Southeast Montana for sponsoring and planning our trip!

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