Golden Valley County, Montana, is one of the best-named counties in the state because of both its natural and artificial benefits. It was formed on October 4, 1920, from the western portion of Musselshell County and the northern half of Sweet Grass County. It is a small county, with an area of only 1,175 square miles.
Ryegate, the county seat, and Lavina are the only two incorporated towns. The Musselshell River flows through both communities. Lavina began as a stage layover and river crossing for the stage lines extending from Billings to the Lewistown region.
The Milwaukee Railroad’s arrival in 1910 marked the beginning of Ryegate’s history. Ryegate has been no longer served by the Milwaukee Railroad since 1980 when the railroad removed the tracks. Located between sandstone rimrock on the north side and the Musselshell River on the south side, the settlement of Ryegate extends east to west.
Towards the north is the Snowy Mountains, which are divided into two townships that fall within the county’s boundaries. It is spanned east and west by the Musselshell River, which is supplied by a variety of tiny streams flowing from both north and south.
Careless Creek and Currant Creek, which flow from the north, and Big Coulee Creek and Fish Creek, coming from the south, are among the largest of these streams. These streams provide ample water for irrigation throughout the growing season. With a growing season of 100 to 130 days, both non-irrigated and irrigated farms have thrived for decades.
About 85% of the terrain is suitable for agricultural uses, and a significant portion of this land has already been plowed. The soil is generally a rich clay loam that has already been combined with sand on the benches. Along the streams and in the valleys the soil resembles gumbo – a geologist’s term for the stratified till found in the Mississippi Valley.
From the river to the foot of the Snowy Mountains, the northern half of the county is primarily cattle country, with grease-wood and sagebrush abundantly sprinkled throughout. During the early days of homesteading, a large portion of the area was plowed and farmed.
As farmland, the land proved to be ineffective though it does provide exceptional rangeland. In the past, this area was home to several big sheep and cattle ranches, but it seems most of the sheep ventures have shifted their focus to cattle ranching.
Much of the benchland to the south of the Musselshell River is cultivated. Oats, barley, and wheat make up the bulk of the county’s grain supply. Rangeland is also plentiful in this area. In the area south of Ryegate, six miles away, lies the Big Coulee. Many settlers were attracted to the area because of the broad open valley flanked by sandstone cliffs.
Visit the Golden Valley County Government website.
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Main Attractions in Golden Valley County
Little Snowies Range
The Little Snowy Mountains have a long and varied cultural history, dating back to the area’s earliest inhabitants and subsequent settlers. Today, huge ranches preserve the area’s open character. Pine Grove Cemetery is still the eternal burial site for the first Euro-American settlers.
A slight topographic divide separates the Little Snowies from the Big Snowies. With ponderosa pine trees dominating the slopes, this area is known for its pristine beauty. The country is mostly semi-arid, with grassy plants dominating the landscape.
Apart from areas where creeks have cut through the landform, the terrain is rolling with gentle to flat slopes. In the summer, creeks in the Little Snowies tend to dry up because they are so small. The North Fork of Pole Creek and Willow Creek are the principal drainages, both of which flow south to the Musselshell River.
Aside from camping, hunting, and wildlife watching, the Little Snowies are mainly used for dispersed recreational activities. Wild turkeys are a common sight in the region.
Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest
The Continental Divide National Scenic Trail travels about 80 miles through Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest, from the Scapegoat to the nearby Deerlodge National Forest. Several towns along the Divide have a significant mining history, including Helena, which was founded in 1864 after the discovery of gold.
Over 1,000 miles of well-maintained trails offer a wide range of activities, from mountain biking to off-highway vehicle riding to hiking, equestrian riding, cross-country skiing, and snowmobiling.
In the Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest, travelers can travel along scenic backcountry roads and see a variety of landscapes. Before embarking on a picturesque drive, be sure to check the weather and road conditions with the local Forest Service Office.
The camping and picnic places directory is a good place to start when arranging a trip. Additionally, the Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest has seven public administrative cabins available for rental. For those who like to rough it, a minimal price is all that is required to stay in one of the primitive cabins.