Despite having a population of not much more than 4,000, the modern downtown area of Dillon actually appears surprisingly large to many visitors.
The shopping area stretches well outside of the central area, particularly at the Interstate 15 interchange, and Dillon receives many visitors throughout the year because of its location along I-15–the road from Yellowstone to Glacier National Park–which is often surrounded by snow-capped mountains.
Let’s jump into some awesome things to do in the town of Dillon, MT.
The 10 Best Things to Do in Dillon
This is the actual site of Montana’s first-ever gold strike, although it is now one of the major ‘ghost towns’ of the area. Bannack is one of Montana’s most significant historical locations in the southwestern region, and it comprises a wide range of living history, which can be seen through various historical re-enactments, displays, and tours.
The park hosts community activities throughout the year such as ghost walks, interactive tours, and even ice-skating.
Montana is well-known for its hot springs, and the region of Beaverhead contains two impressive examples, namely Jackson Hot Springs in Jackson and Elkhorn Hot Springs in nearby Polaris.
Many visitors like to use the springs after a day skiing, but they are a great way to recover from any outdoor adventure, of which these areas have many to offer. Or maybe you just want to relax and experience the revitalizing qualities of the springs.
If you are the rugged, outdoor type, then you might consider venturing some way along the Continental Divide Trail. The trail actually stretches from Canada to Mexico, but obviously, you’ll just be picking up a stretch of it in the SW Montana area.
The sections of the trail that wind their way through the region surrounding Dillon are excellent hikes in their own right, whether you are looking for something challenging or not.
The names Lewis and Clark, and in particular their famous expedition, certainly left a long-lasting mark on the region of southwest Montana. Dillon was the area where the expedition came face-to-face with one of its biggest adversaries, by way of the Rocky Mountains.
From Beaverhead Rock, the distinctive landmark responsible for the name of the area, you can follow the Jefferson River south to Clark’s Lookout overlooking the Beaverhead Valley. Just south of Dillon, at Camp Fortunate, is the place that the expedition encountered Shoshone, from whom they bought the horses that allowed them to get across the Continental Divide at Lemhi Pass.
Since 1935, the Red Rock Lakes Wilderness Area has been home to vast varieties of animals and birds, with more than 250 species of birds, including a few rare breeds. It is also where some of the rarest mammals and fish in the region live. The huge Wilderness Area can be accessed by car in some regions, and the expanse of the park includes 2 campgrounds and a 56-mile backcountry drive.
If you like boating, fishing, or any other form of water activity, then you’ll love the easily accessible Clark Canyon Reservoir. Located not far from Dillon, Clark Canyon makes an ideal destination for long, hot summer days. It also happens to be the site of Camp Fortunate, a significant spot on the Lewis and Clark Trail.
The expanse of the area covers almost 5,000 surface acres with 17 miles of shoreline and is renowned among fishing enthusiasts for rainbow and brown trout. You’ll also find a marina with boat ramps and picnic shelters here.
Another feature of SW Montana is long country drives, especially in the summertime, and the Pioneer Mountains Scenic Byway is one of the most popular. The byway covers almost a 50-mile stretch that runs through the Pioneer Mountains section of the Beaverhead National Forest.
This is a well-maintained route with beautiful scenery, and the route also features two of the region’s hot springs, Coolidge Ghost Town, and Crystal Park, which is famous for rock-hounding.
If you have leanings towards trout fishing then this is one of the premier rivers in the region to check out. The Beaverhead flows for 80-odd miles from the Clark Canyon Reservoir, to the confluence of the Jefferson River.
The Beaverhead River is actually one of the most famous and prominent rivers in Montana, located along the Lewis and Clark Expedition route. You can find several outfitters and guides along the river, offering trips and tours for those wanting to try their hand at fishing the local wild trout.
Clark’s Lookout State Park is a historical landmark in the region located above the Beaverhead River. This is the spot that provided the Lewis and Clark Expedition with a view of the route ahead in 1805. The site is located on 8.2 acres of land at more than 5,000 feet, and here you can hike and learn about the historical expedition if you wish.
There are also opportunities for picnicking, wildlife viewing, and bird watching. From the top of the lookout, you’ll be privy to magnificent views of the Beaverhead Valley. You can find Clark’s Lookout State Park 1 mile north of Dillon off Highway 91, and interpretive signs are stationed to explain the methods that the expedition used to navigate the area.
10. Crystal Park
Enjoy a day out with the family digging for crystals! Crystal Park is an area of land in the Pioneer Mountains which has ample scatterings of quartz crystals throughout the 220-acre site. It comes under the care of the Forest Service and has been specifically reserved for the popular local hobby of ‘rockhounding’ – digging for crystals and any other strange rocks or stones.
The quartz crystals tend to be hexagonal, prism shape of varying size, and they are either clear, cloudy, white, gray, or purple due to the minerals. The most highly prized purple ones are called amethyst, although the crystals don’t have too much value aside from being collectible.
Crystal Park opens for day use and has picnic sites with tables and grills. There is also a paved trail with occasional seating and some impressive views.
Free Things to Do in Dillon
Drop into the local visitor center as a useful first stop-off point. The helpful staff can give you lots of insights in terms of information about the local area, as well as Montana in General. They can recommend various tours such as the Dillon walking tour. The center also has lots of free brochures, maps, and other literature on the local area which can set you off to a great start when considering how to best spend your time in the area.
The 4.5- mile Agnes Lake Trail can be found up in the Pioneer Mountains. This is a trail that climbs for around a mile-and-a-half and starts near Brownes Lake at the State campground. The end of the trail is near Long Branch Lake on Willow Creek Road, and the grade does get steep in certain stretches.
Outdoor, earthy types will be at home on this trail, much of which goes through fairly dense stretches of woods, with occasional openings for taking in some of the elevated views. Agnes Lake itself has an expanse of almost 100 acres, and has its own sandy beaches which can be seen from the north side of the lake.
Out in the expanse of Beaverhead Rock State Park you can find the huge outcropping of rock that gets its name due to the fact that it resembles the head of a swimming beaver. This is a natural and listed landmark, and although the rock itself is not directly accessible, you can view it and take photographs from a distance not too far away.
There isn’t much else by way of amenities in this open park though – it has neither a visitor center nor any staff to speak off. It is worth a hike out into the open expanse to see the impressively large rock though.
Reportedly this was the rock that, upon being spotted by a guide who comprised part of the Lewis and Clark Expedition in 1805, indicated the location and allowed the party to find the local Native peoples who sold them the horses for their trip across the remainder of the mountains.
The Best Tours in Dillon
Fly and float fishing tour with professional guides to ensure a quality experience fishing for wild trout. Wade into restricted waters of the Beaverhead and Big Hole Rivers, and this is one of the few outfitters with permits to fish the pristine waters running through Beaverhead National Forest. For fly fishing, guides utilize boats and rafts, positioned to give you the best opportunities.
15. Horseback Riding
Explore the high country from the back of a horse on hourly tours or day trips. Experience spectacular scenery, and even a combination of fishing and a lakeside lunch if required. Rides are between 1.5 and 3 hours one-way on the day tours. See the wildlife-rich Pioneer Mountains or even take a horseback tour through some of the area’s gold rush ghost towns.
16. Outlaw Express
This is a sightseeing tour of Dillon conducted from a covered wagon with bench seating and a team of horses. The trips cover Dillon and the surrounding area and offer a pleasant and relaxing opportunity to take in the local sights and sounds. The prices vary depending on distance and travel time per journey.
Take an ATV, UTV, or snowmobile tour, or rent your own, to explore the heart of Beaverhead County in Dillon. The routes follow the Pioneer, Tendoy, and Blacktail Mountain Ranges, and trips or rentals can be tailored to include lodging and touring of the area.
Check out the impressive underground caverns that are part of the Lewis & Clark Caverns State Park. Here you’ll see one of the biggest caverns in the northwestern region. This is a great one for the kids if they don’t mind going underground for a while, and gives them the opportunity to witness impressive stalactites and stalagmites. Once you arrive at the park the tours leave every 30 minutes between 9 am – 4:30 pm. The caverns are open between May 1 and Sept 30.
The Bannack Ghost Walks are short tours that feature reenactments of particular occurrences related to the history of Bannack. These entertaining shows introduce you to various ghosts of Bannack’s colorful past and are limited to 100 people.
They are quite popular, so reservations are necessary, as is a coat and a flashlight. Admission is around $15.00 for adults and $10.00 for children 12 years old and under…if you dare show up!