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Missouri Breaks National Back Country Byway

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Issue #1 (May 2009)
Issue #2 (February 2010)
Issue #3 (December 2010)

2010 Manager's Report
The Setting

The Missouri Breaks National Back Country Byway traverses one of the most geologically unique and historically significant areas in Montana. Nature worked overtime here to fashion a ruggedly spectacular landscape that was first described by Lewis and Clark as “the Deserts of America.” Fur traders would later refer to this section of the Missouri as Mauvaises Terres, the “Bad Lands.” U.S. Geological Surveyor F.V. Hayden coined the term "breaks" when he was describing the rough terrain at the mouth of the Judith River in 1854.

Traveling the Byway

The Byway begins at the community of Winifred, 38 miles north of Lewistown on Montana Highway 236. From Winifred travel east on the DY Trail Road approximately 12 miles to a junction of the Byway’s two major routes, DY Trail Road to the north and the Knox Ridge Road which continues eastward. The Knox Ridge Road is an all-weather road with gentle grades except within the C.M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge. The road within the Refuge is not surfaced and can turn into gumbo and become impassable when wet. The Knox Ridge Road provides glimpses into the Missouri Breaks and superb prairie scenery. Most of the DY Trail Road is not surfaced and penetrates into the more rugged “breaks” country along the uplands of the river. The Byway can be exited from the Wildlife Refuge junction to U.S. Highway 191. The last couple of miles of this unsurfaced road are very steep and narrow.


gumbo in a wheel well

The Missouri Breaks National Back Country Byway consists of gravel roads and unsurfaced roads that become totally impassable when wet. Check the weather, and do not attempt to travel the Byway if wet weather is threatening. Even a brief shower can turn the dirt roads into “gumbo” which is extremely slick and binds tenaciously to everything it contacts. Even a 4-wheel drive vehicle, the obvious choice for most back country travel, is no match for the clinging mud. There are no services along the Byway, so be sure you have plenty of fuel, water and other essentials. Cell phone coverage is non-existent.

Stay Alert and Drive Defensively

All of the unsurfaced roads around the Back Country Byway are narrow and visibility is often limited, so drive cautiously. If you meet another vehicle on one of the steep grades, the uphill vehicle backs up until it can pull out of the way. This procedure is safer than backing downhill.