The Madison, Gallatin, and Jefferson rivers intersect to form the 2300-mile Missouri River within the Missouri Headwaters State Park’s boundaries.
Historically, the Missouri Headwaters area has been an essential geographical focal point to Native American traders, trappers, and settlers. Many Native tribes such as the Bannock, Flathead, and Shoshone Indians used to fight to gain control of the region’s resources.
As time passed, people realized the importance of the vegetation around this area and decided to protect it for the future, hence establishing the Missouri Headwaters State Park. The park covers most of the region’s rich fauna, lush greenery, and natural splendor, drawing visitors for thousands of years.
The park offers 17 campsites, picnic spots, walking routes to local attractions, and interpretive displays on the region’s natural and cultural heritage. Popular activities include river rafting, picnics, fishing, hiking, cycling, educational programs, and photography.
Take a Peek into the Rich History of Montana
Missouri Headwaters State Park is famous for being the campsite for the Corps of Discovery and the expeditionary team of Lewis and Clark. Sacajawea, their guide, a Shoshone Indian, was kidnapped as a child by the enemy tribe near the Missouri Headwaters.
As time passed, Sacajawea joined the Lewis and Clark expedition as a guide and interpreter. She became the only female to join the team by taking on crucial roles. As a result, Sacajawea cemented her position as one of the most influential historical figures.
John Colter, a Lewis and Clark expedition member, returned multiple times to this region to pursue furs and started his legendary run nearby. The surrounding area was gradually settled by pioneers, who created a profitable farming business. You can visit the Missouri Headwaters State Park and learn more about the rich history of Montana.
Make your stay at Missouri Headwaters State Park a memorable one by indulging in the activities offered at the park. The park offers different activities depending on the season.
Hunting is a popular sport in Montana. People from all around the state travel to Missouri Headwaters State Park to hunt for various animals such as geese, pheasants, and moose.
Before hunting, you have to show your hunting license. Moreover, you are only allowed to hunt within the park’s perimeter, keeping in mind that your actions should not interfere with other activities taking place in the park.
Fishermen will find that the Missouri Headwaters river system is a rewarding place to cast their lines. It’s possible to catch cutthroat trout, rainbow and brown trout, as well as brook trout in the area’s crystal-clear streams. Anglers of all levels will enjoy their time on the river, whether novices or seasoned veterans.
A fishing guide can help you learn the ins and outs of Montana’s rivers if you’re a novice. Try to catch a fish for dinner by bringing your fishing gear and a valid fishing license, as they are mandatory in Montana for people above 12 years old.
Throughout the summer, the park provides a variety of events aimed at educating and entertaining visitors of all ages. Some events revolve around entertainment, food, and music, while others aim to inform visitors about the area’s history as well as the park’s natural and historical significance.
Canoeing and Kayaking
If you enjoy water sports like canoeing and kayaking, Missouri Headwaters State Park is a great place to take your boats and explore the Missouri River.
However, before your boat can enter into the state’s waters, it must undergo a pre-entry examination as part of an effort to eliminate invasive species.
To access the river, visitors can use the boat ramp. If you don’t have a boat, don’t worry! Many locals rent out canoes and kayaks to visitors and even offer guided excursions.
The Missouri Headwaters State Park Campground is open all year round and accepts reservations as well as walk-ins. There are no hookups at this campground, but it does have basic facilities for its visitors, such as fire rings, picnic tables, and gravel driveways.
Moreover, the campground also has vault toilets and water spigots. However, there are no dumping sites or garbage cans, so you will be required to collect your trash and dump it elsewhere. From 10:00 p.m. until 7:00 a.m., the park is silent.
During these hours, please turn off your generators. The campsite costs range from $4 to $34 per night. Furthermore, the price may vary based on the season and the visitor’s utilization of extra amenities.
Hikers and cyclists will all enjoy the park’s multi-use pathways. Make sure you’re on one of the routes that accept bikes before embarking on a biking excursion.
When you arrive at the park, pick up a park map from the office and check which route best suits you.
The trails are signposted, with trailheads, junctions, and other relevant information provided along the pathways. It doesn’t matter which path you choose; you’ll get a good workout and see something unique along the way!
Best Trails in Missouri Headwaters State Park
The best way to explore the Missouri Headwaters State Park is to hike through the trails present at the park and immerse yourself in the nature surrounding it.
There are eight trails present at the park for you to venture out into the wilderness. However, out of the eight, six stand out for easy accessibility and scenic views.
Fort Rock Trail Loop
Fort Rock Trail Loop is a 2.1-kilometer loop trail with an easy rating located near Three Forks, Montana. The track is accessible year-round and is primarily used for walking, running, hiking, and bird watching.
Along the trail, there are seats and picnic tables for relaxing. Hikers with wheelchairs or strollers may require help or avoid the steeper areas for safety reasons.
- Est: 35 min
- Length: 2.1 km
- Elevation: 25 m
Gallatin River, Headwaters, Fort Rock, and Headwaters North Loop
Gallatin River, Headwaters, Fort Rock, and Headwaters North Loop is a 4.5-kilometer loop trail with an easy rating. It is the longest trail present at the park.
Regardless of the long-distance, the track is accessible to people of all ages and skill levels. The picturesque view of the landscape surrounding the trail will make the hike worthwhile.
- Est: 1 h 10 min
- Length: 4.5 km
- Elevation: 20 m
Headwaters Trail is a 2.6-kilometer out & back trail with an easy rating. The route travels through cottonwood trees and ponds before ending on the shores of the Jefferson River.
Alongside the rich vegetation, the trail also provides hikers with a serene view of the surrounding meadows and mountains. The accessibility of the track for all ages allows you to take your loved ones on this spectacular trail.
- Est: 40 min
- Length: 2.6 km
- Elevation: 14 m
Ling Rock Trail
Ling Rock Trail is a 1-kilometer out & back trail with an easy rating. Birds such as pheasants make the track ideal for bird watching. Moreover, it is suitable for people of all skill levels.
- Est: 14 min
- Length: 1km
- Elevation: 0 m
Gallatin River Loop
Gallatin River Loop is a 1.1- kilometer loop with an easy rating. This trail catches all of the area’s grandeur without the height rise, with moss-covered stones, soaring cliffs overhead, and lodgepole pines. The rugged nature of the track makes for a perfect adventure for a biker looking to try something new.
- Est: 17 min
- Length: 1.1km
- Elevation: 2 m
Headwaters Trail Loop
Headwaters Trail Loop is a 2.9-kilometer loop with an easy rating. The breathtaking view of the emerald green meadows and the crystal clear water makes this trail stand out from the rest.
Moreover, it is easy accessibility for people of all ages and skill levels gives you the chance to enjoy the view with your loved ones.
- Est: 44 min
- Length: 2.9km
- Elevation: 4 m
Hiking is the most pleasing way to see everything the park offers, but you should take precautions to protect yourself from unpredictable situations you may encounter on your trip. Some measures include:
- Always make sure that you know the weather conditions before you go hiking.
- Take a map or guidebook to ensure you use the right path. Avoid deviating from the original track as you can get lost.
- Offer a pleasant “hello” when you come across other hikers. It helps in creating a positive environment on the trail.
- Do not interact with the wildlife present at the park, as it could put you in a hazardous situation.