Judith Basin County is located in central Montana and is a vast, open area surrounded by several mountain ranges, namely the Little Belt Mountains, the Highwood Mountains, the Judith Mountains, and the Snowy Mountains.
The mountains form a rim around the area and create the basin, which is covered in grass and wheat. Needless to say, agriculture is the region’s primary economic source by way of wheat and other grain crops, as well as ranching.
Stanford is the county seat of Judith Basin County and is accessible just off US Highway 87 between Great Falls and Lewistown. The other incorporated towns are Hobson and Geyser, and the main unincorporated communities include Utica, Moccasin, and Raynesford.
The county also includes close to 300,000 acres of the Lewis and Clark National Forest, which offers a wide range of recreational activities, and the region’s Judith River was actually named after Captain Clark’s sweetheart.
This is a scenic and relaxed stretch of ranching country where wildlife viewing is popular, particularly in the Judith River Wildlife Management Area to the south of Utica. This area covers close to 10,000 acres and offers prime wildlife viewing for bears, moose, and mountain lions as well as hunting opportunities elk, deer, and other game.
Famous Montana Cowboy artist Charlie Russell lived in the area and included many of its scenic backdrops in his paintings. Anyone familiar with his work can revisit some of the scenes of his paintings by way of the C. M. Russell Auto Tour which follows US Highway 87 on a loop through Utica and various. Art is still alive in the region today with the various art and sculpture studios dotted around the county.
Visit the Judith Basin County Government website.
Special Events in Judith Basin County
- July – CM Russell Stampede Rodeo
- September — Montana Bale Trail: What the Hay
- September – Utica Day Fair
- October – Scarecrows in the Garden
Main Attractions in Judith Basin County
The Ackley Lake State Park
Ackley Lake is located right in the heart of Montana’s central regions, in an area that eventually became classified as a state park. It has some impressive views of the surrounding Little Belt and Snowy Mountains amidst the agricultural terrain.
Ackley Lake State Park provides plenty of opportunities for water-based activities like boating, canoeing, water skiing, and jet skiing, as well as fishing, ice fishing, and swimming. There are some other great options as well by way of birding, mountain biking, and hiking.
The lake itself is approximately 160 acres in size – the same as the land area in the park – and there are 15 campsites with shelters and picnic tables.
The Judith Basin County Museum
The Judith Basin County Museum is next to the County Court House in Stanford, and first opened its doors more than 50 years ago. Here you can see exhibits and other evidence of the history of the county from the beginnings of the coming of the homesteaders, as well as a few nods to both the stagecoach and railroad periods.
Through the exhibits including historical pictures, clothing items of early homesteaders, and various other interesting artifacts including a few Native Indian ones, visitors get a true taste of Judith Basin County from the past.
The aforementioned Charles M. Russell, chronicled much of the early history of the Old West, and a display of prints of some of his paintings is also on show in the museum, which has no admission charges.
The Utica Museum
The Utica Museum contains another collection of artifacts from the Homestead Era by way of clothing, furniture, tools, leather goods, and various other items.
The museum has published two books on the history of Utica and the people who lived in the area, and many of the pictures featuring local homesteaders are included in the museum collections.
The Utica region has another claim to fame by way of the Yogo Sapphire Mine, and these famous Montana gems are still mined in the region today. Charles Russell’s name crops up yet again when we hear that he lived in a cabin in the Little Belt Mountains above Utica when he first came to this area as a younger cowboy
Judith River Wildlife Management Area
Judith River Wildlife Management Area is a vast wilderness of close to 10,000 acres. It is home to wintering elk and various other wildlife species, keeping the elk numbers balanced with its plentiful available forage.
Winter is actually one of the best times to catch sight of the elk and other wildlife, although the area is closed to recreational activities between December and May.
White-tailed deer and antelope can be seen in the warmer seasons, and there are various available hunting opportunities for elk, deer, and black bear for licensed hunters, and hunting for elk requires a special permit.