Situated in South East Montana, with a population of just over 8,000 (2020 census), Miles City ishas a deep history as a key horse-trading and livestock center, where rodeos and livestock auctions are still a part of everyday life today.
In this article, we take a look at 9 (free and paid) things to do in Miles City, Mt.
1. Range Riders Museum
Get a taste of the Old West at the Range Riders Museum, Miles City’s favorite attraction. You’ll need at least a few hours to explore this vast museum – with 13 buildings, all filled with thousands of artifacts detailing American history, you might need the whole day!
From dinosaurs to Native Americans to the early Modern era and the 21st Century, the Range Riders Museum offers a fascinating insight into the history of America – and more specifically, Montana.
The Bert Clerk Guns collection is impressive – a whole building is required to house all the firearms and arrowheads. The wagon depot is the largest section of the museum, where dozens of antique vehicles are kept on show. A few other exhibits in the museum include log cabins, a steeple, and the Country School, which gives you an idea of life during the old Western period.
Most of the Range Riders Museum is understandably focused on the time of Native Americans and cowboys in the Old West. Even the buildings look like a snapshot of that period!
There are also a number of authentic artifacts from the colonial and civil war eras. The museum has exhibits on famous generals: General Custer – for whom the county was named – and General Miles, the namesake of the town.
The museum is open from April to October, closing for the winter months.
2. Tongue River Winery
Beautiful vineyards and award-winning wine may not be the first thing that jumps to mind when you think of Montana. But the Tongue River Winery – the only winery in the southeast corner of the state – is working hard to change that.
Winner of the prestigious Jefferson Cup Double Gold award in 2018, the Tongue River Winery offers a delicious range of carefully cultivated wines. From the award-winning red wine Marquette, to Ice Wine, to a whole range of white and red grape – and other fruit – varieties; they are all lovingly crafted at the winery, and sourced from Tongue River’s fertile land.
The vineyards cover 3 acres of land, and are positioned a few miles outside of Miles City. You won’t be disappointed with a visit – the rolling hills, verdant scenery, and wide blue skies are a peaceful and relaxing setting; perfect for wine tasting.
The winery produces 2000 gallons of wine every year – just about enough for an evening dinner party. You can request a wine tasting & vineyard tour at the winery for an informative guide on the process of wine making.
After sampling the produce, you can go for a wander in the surrounding countryside. There’s a walk down to the Tongue River that is particularly scenic.
The Tongue River Winery is a lovely afternoon out – sipping local wine sourced from vineyards, with sweeping views of rolling green hills. It feels closer to Tuscany than Montana!
3. Main Street
Main Street is the beating heart of Miles City. Where once there were saloons, brothels, and gambling, there are now boutiques, cafes, and local independent stores.
As you stroll along the street, you can dip in and out of the many fantastic and unusual stores of Miles City. There’s a real emphasis on supporting small businesses here, making for a unique shopping experience and high-quality goods.
The oldest buildings on Main Street are late Victorian, designed by the architect Bryon Vreeland. The Chicago, St. Paul, and Milwaukee Railroad in 1907 saw over the next influx of wealth and prosperity, and finally, after a dip during the Great Depression, new buildings went into construction in the late 1930s. The modern-day Main Street is a blend of all these classic styles and a few new additions. It really has a timeless ‘Old West’ feel.
For more of that small-town charm, head to the Montana Theater, a movie theater from the 1930s. The vintage theater still shows all the latest movies – it’s over 80 years since the theater opened, and it’s been a constant presence throughout most of cinema history. To put it into perspective, Gone With The Wind was released a few years after the Montana Theater’s opening!
4. Vintage and Rustics in Montana
Just off Main Street, this famous store deserves a spot of its own.
Vintage and Rustics isn’t really an antique store – it’s an antique mall. Miles City has a strong relationship with small businesses, making them an essential part of the community. Vintage and Rustics helps even the smallest of businesses to get off the ground, with over 140 vendors selling their homemade crafts, antiques, and goods in the store.
With so many different people involved in creating and selling the products, it makes for a really unique experience. There’s so much variety in the store that each visit is a surprise – you never know what you might find.
There’s a huge space to explore, as the building covers 50,000 square feet – though this also includes the store’s equally popular dining hall. The bakery and cafe are quirky and fun. Like the products in the store, the food is famous for its excellent quality!
5. The Bucking Horse Sale
For the people of Miles City, this event might as well be a national holiday. It’s the biggest event of the year for the town and one that draws in rodeo lovers from all over the country.
Cowboys competing on bucking stock, an auction of prize horses, a Kick Off Concert, bull riding, and horse racing: this wild weekend is packed with things to see and do. It’s also a unique insight into the culture of Eastern Montana. Life on a ranch might seem like something wholesome you’d watch on tv or a relic of the past, but it’s still a way of life for many in Montana.
The Bucking Horse Sale brings people together, and reflects the significance of the ‘cowboy’ figure to the state – it’s a joyous occasion with historical roots; a real paragon of American Western culture.
The Bucking Horse Sale occurs somewhere between mid and the end of May, on the third weekend of the month every year.
Miles City holds weekly livestock auctions, so even if you aren’t in town for the big event you can still get a rustic cowboy experience!
Free Things to Do in Miles City
1. WaterWorks Art Museum
A historic building in a picturesque setting down by the Yellowstone River, the WaterWorks Art Museum is one of Miles City’s most popular attractions.
The museum building was built in 1910 and was once used as a water treatment facility for Miles City. After 60 years of supplying the town with drinking water, the building was repurposed.
It was transformed into a museum in 1977, becoming an important site of education and culture for the area. With over four decades of experience, the museum has perfected its style of reflecting local culture through the visual arts.
The gallery is home to an ever-revolving door of new and exciting art installations and exhibitions, as well as permanent fixtures of local artists’ work and historic photography. You can learn more about the state of Montana through the ‘Home to Montana’ exhibit, which features a mixture of artwork and photography.
There are also classes available for those wanting to develop their own creative flair!
The gift shop is, unusually, worth a stop. It’s filled with the fantastic craftsmanship and artwork of local artists and designers.
The museum and gallery are free to enter, though donations are accepted.
2. Pirogue Island State Park
Two miles north of Miles City is the Pirogue Island State Park, 269 acres of lush greenery, cottonwood trees, and rare flora and fauna.
It’s a popular place for picnics, walks, watersports, and fishing.
As the island is situated in the Yellowstone River, reaching it requires crossing the channels, which means wading through shallow water – if there has been heavy rainfall, the island can become inaccessible due to high waters. When the water is flowing, it is recommended to avoid crossing.
Once you have reached the island, 2.8 miles of hiking trails await you. The routes are lovely and scenic, and accessible to most fitness levels – as the ground is fairly flat, you don’t have to worry about climbing up any huge inclines.
Pirogue Island State Park is rich in wildlife. It’s a particularly worthwhile excursion for birdwatchers, as the park is visited by a wide range of birdlife, including passerines, belted kingfishers, and bald eagles. Other species you could spot roaming the park are fox squirrels, as well as whitetail and mule deer.
3. Spotted Eagle Lake
Or the Spotted Eagle Recreation Area, if you include the 123 acres surrounding the lake, is a great place to go for families and nature lovers.
The lake is ideal for a family day out, as there are enough activities available to keep the kids entertained. You can go boating, swimming, fishing, and hiking – keep in mind that there are no lifeguards on duty, though it is possible to swim in the lake. Spotted Eagle also has a designated trap and skeet shooting area.
There are facilities for picnics, a number of marked hiking trails, and restrooms, making the lake a great choice for a full day out.
Fly fishing is popular in the Miles City area: Bonfield Fishing Access Site and the Yellowstone River are a few other options for fishing.
4. Go Sculpture Hunting
For a fun little treasure hunt in Miles City, visit each of the town’s sculptures while you explore the area.
There’s the Patriotic Cowboy Metal Sculpture, which sits as a stark silhouette high on a hill on the east side of town. It looks most spectacular at sunset when the outline contrasts most vividly with the sky.
Another metal sculpture is the Steele Grit Horse Statue, created by local artist Erin Thormodsgard to commemorate the world-famous Bucking Horse Sale.
More of her metalwork and sculptures can be found in the Girl Ran Away With The Spoon store just off Main Street.