Located in Central Montana, with only 496 inhabitants, Petroleum Country is the seventh-least populous county in the United States. Originally part of Fergus Country, it was established in the Montana Legislature in 1926. As you could suggest from its name, it was the first place to discover petroleum in Montana.
Petroleum County covers an area of 1,674 square miles, 20 square miles being water. At its eastern boundary, you can find the Musselshell River. If you head towards the north, the county even extends into the Missouri River. Over here, you have access to the vast natural beauty of the Charles M. Russell Wildlife Refuge.
Likewise, multiple other wildlife refuges can also be found here. For instance, the War Horse National Wildlife Refuge is located northwest of Winnet, the county’s seat, and largest town. It contains 225 acres of fragile soil with an acid shale forest of ponderosa pine sits.
Within War Horse, eight miles south of Winnett, is also the Yellow Water Unit Refuge. Its combination of shallow water, mudflats, and deepwater areas creates an ideal environment for diverse water-dependent species. As a result, stocked with the finest trout, Yellow Water is a go-to spot for a pleasant fishing retreat.
The bulk of Petroleum County’s economy consists of ranching (for both cattle and sheep). But the region is also home to pronghorn (antelope), elk, mule deer, Hungarian partridges, or white-tailed deer hunting. Other important economic sectors are fishing, tourism, and agriculture, while the most popular activities here include fishing, hiking, boating, wildlife watching, and bird watching.
Petroleum County is famous for its significant dinosaur discoveries. This includes evidence for Tyrannosauridae and Alamosaurus dinosaurs. However, though fascinating, most infrastructures are only research-related. There are no museums or scientific centers open to the public.
Visit the Petroleum County Government website.
Main Attractions in Petroleum County
Charles M. Russell Wildlife Refuge
Ideal for hikers and hunters, Charles M. Russell’s refuge is one of the more popular tourist attractions in Petroleum County. Full of numerous engaging recreational and wildlife-watching opportunities, the most favorite being fishing, boating, and backpacking, the county offers something for everyone. With its vast aquatic wildlife, you can find fishing activities permitted in the Missouri River and Fork Peak Reservoir.
Being the second-largest wildlife refuge in the United States, one can find numerous species of deer, antelopes, prairie dogs, and pronghorn antelopes. Similarly, more than 235 species of birds are found in Petroleum County, with bird watching and photography being common pastimes.
The refuge’s northern grassland species are favored by wildlife enthusiasts. These include birds such as the mountain plovers, Chestnut-collared longspurs, western meadowlarks, and prairie falcons. We recommend referring to this Bird List for more details on possible sightings.
On the offside that this extensive wildlife refuge spurs a fear for more dangerous animals, you can rest easy. Most native predators, such as bobcats, coyotes, and mountain lions, are less common and secretive.
War Horse National Wildlife Refuge
Established in 1958, the War Horse National Wildlife Refuge is a breeding ground for many migratory birds. The area is split into three different regions: Yellow Water Reservoir, War Horse Lake, and Wild Horse Lake. They each have unique opportunities for outdoor activities and are all open to the public for hunting and wildlife observation.
Most commonly, you’d find the refuge’s elk population, established in 1951. You can also look out for ferrets, released in 1993, and other species that include sage grouse, peregrine falcons, long-billed curlews, and black-tailed prairie dogs.
Other than that, a fun sight for many tourists in War Horse National is the acid shale forest. Named after its fragile and acidic soil that’s covered with shale, the natural habitat is a sight to behold. With just bare shale under thin layers of grass, many are amazed by how trees could encompass 225 acres of the land.
As the only town in Petroleum County, Winnett is the center of all the action. If you’re looking for an escape into the open and quiet prairies, this town would be your ideal stop.
With fewer than six hundred people inhabiting the area, its quaint and homely nature is perfect for charming retreats.
However, in addition to its natural beauty, Winnett is also loved by its community. With numerous bars and cafes, it’s well-known for its mouth-watering home-cooked local food and pies.
They even have an annual food festival known as the “Winnett Christmas Stroll.” You can indulge in lip-smacking holiday treats and drinks while buying various gifts for the festive season.
In contrast, like most places in Petroleum County, Winnett can also serve as an ideal place to develop a better connection with nature. With the Twin Creek Ranch just a few miles south of Winnett, you can expect nothing but premium lodging, delicious food, and one-of-a-kind wild pheasant hunting experiences.