The community is located along the Tongue River, at the mouth of Otter Creek. Originally known as Birney and Strader, Ashland was formally established in 1886, and it is situated in the Custer National Forest.
The name reportedly relates to the trees in the surrounding forest areas, and Ashland functions as a ranger division HQ for the national forest, not to mention the fact that at just over one-and-a-half million acres, the Ashland Ranger District is the largest continuous stretch of federal land in the east of the state.
The area provides expansive opportunities for outdoor recreation like hiking, riding, camping, hunting, and winter activities like cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.
In economic terms, the small community of Ashland is something of a hub for cattle ranching trade. As it borders the Northern Cheyenne Reservation on the east side, and many of the reservation’s population are also involved in the ranching trade in the town.
The region in general has many prominent sites related to Native Peoples including historic schools and museums in Ashland.
Main Cultural, Historic, and Outdoor Attractions in Ashland
The school was founded in 1884 by the Catholic Mission for the purpose of serving as a boarding school for the Cheyenne people.
It started out as a humble log cabin with three classrooms run by four sisters of the order and functioned as a place to live, eat and study for many young Indians who were otherwise roaming the area aimlessly.
A replica of the original log cabin now stands on the mission’s site as a testament to humble beginnings.
The school today looks after the educational needs of a number growing closer to 1,000 every year. The Cheyenne Indian Museum section features various exhibits and artifacts and visitors are welcome for tours between 8.00 am and 4.30 pm.
The related Church St. Labre Church is along Highway 212 at the St. Labre Indian Mission, which you should reach after a turning northwards at the gas station and motel and then heading towards the tepee-shaped building—the church!
This church is now something of a historic and prized building as the architecture ably indicates the intended congregation with its references to the Plains Indians’ tepee, including a ‘smoke-hole’ opening at the top.
Here you will find a quiet and remote park covering just over 3,000 acres of land that was designated a National Historic Landmark in 2008 to commemorate the famous Battle of the Rosebud.
The site of the battle itself is largely unchanged since the time of the battle in the 1870s, and the park is also related to other aspects of the area’s long history before and after the battle.
The Rosebud Valley was used for hunting and gathering and includes another famous Indian site by way of the “buffalo jump” that still contains some of the original petroglyphs. These can be checked out more closely via a short hike up to the cliffs.
After the battle, the area was taken over by homesteaders, and Rosebud Creek became more well-known for its ranches for a while before the State of Montana acquired the property for the purpose of a state park in 1978.
The lookout is a former lookout post now available for rent to anyone who likes hiking up to high spots and then staying the night.
The cabin sits at the top of a 30-foot tower, and as you can probably imagine, it does have some fairly extensive views of the surrounding land. Though furnished with basics like mattresses, tables, and chairs, the lookout has neither water nor electricity.
So if you fancy the couple of hundred feet, a steep hike from the spot which is the location of the parking lot and the toilet, you’ll need to have supplies and be prepared.
To get to the lookout head east on Highway 212 for 3 miles out of Ashland, turning southwards onto Otter Creek Road for another 20 miles. Then you’ll take another turn east past the Fort Howes Work Center, then 12 miles more to Sonnette Divide Road, which presents the last turn, onto the Diamond Butte Road, leading up to the lookout point.
The cabin is a former ranger station of the 1900s’ Whitetail Reserve built by the Civil Conservation Corps. It is a former administrative site now available for rentals year-round and is accessible mostly by vehicle.
The cabin contains basic furnishings like tables, chairs, and bunk beds although amenities don’t stretch much further than an electric cook stove—there is no available water.
The property is surrounded by a kind of corral area and around 5 acres of fenced area for livestock purposes—and there is other wildlife in the area including bears.
The Forest Service offers both the Whitetail Cabin and the Diamond Butte Lookout for rent throughout the year, at an approximate cost of $30.00 per night up to a maximum of four nights. More details and reservations can be looked into HERE.
These areas cover about 40,000 acres and offer plenty of opportunities for outdoor pursuits and nature studies. These are non-motorized vehicle areas, with clearly-signed boundaries.
There are no developed or maintained trails to speak of at present, but maps are available at the Ashland Forest Services offices in Camp Crook, over on the south side of Highway 212 across from the elementary school.
The prairie hills of South-eastern Montana are where Tongue River Reservoir State Park is situated, and water-based activities here are at their best.
Fishing is one of the prime activities here, and the reservoir contains excellent crappie, walleye, bass and northern pike fishing.
Fly fishermen are best-advised to head down to the river below the dam to test their skills, and there is plenty of wildlife around in this region as well in the fishing areas. In the winter, Tongue River Reservoir is a popular ice fishing location in the region.
Red Shale Campground in the Custer-Gallatin is just 6 miles to the east of Ashland on Highway 212, and it covers 5 acres at elevations of 3,000 feet. The 8-site campground has very basic camping amenities with a 30-foot maximum on trailers and a 10-day limit on stays.
This is a free facility operated on a first-come, first-served basis.
Holiday Spring Campground is located in the Custer Gallatin National Forest, just 15 miles to the northeast of Ashland along Highway 212, then north on East Fork Otter Creek Road for 10 more miles.
There are 3 campsites here and although there are limited amenities such as lack of available water, the facility is free. It operates on a first-come, first-served basis and gets busy during the summer months.
Cow Creek Campground is 30 miles to the southeast of Ashland and has five sites and toilets. There are other limits like 30 feet on trailers and no available water. The campground is within Custer National Forest and is a free facility with a 10-day limit on stays.
The campground is accessible via Highway 212 by taking a turn south onto Highway 51 for Fort Howes. After 20 miles or so you take a right onto Cow Creek Road where you will find the campground after another 5 miles.
Tongue River Reservoir State Park also offers 81 campsites with electric hookups, some of which are reservable. The majority of sites have a fire ring and a picnic table, and other services like a dump station and water faucets are available seasonally.
The park also features a fish cleaning station and more than 20 vault toilets in the campgrounds. Anyone with a boat will find two ramps available for use—one at Camper Point by the marina and one at Pee Wee North.
There are also day-use areas with sheltered picnic tables at some areas in the park-like Campers Point and Sand Point.
Accommodation–Hotels and Lodging
There is nothing to speak of by way of formally-advertising hotels in the area aside from a few small local ones who seem to be without websites.
- Check out more information on them HERE.
Special Events in Ashland
- Labor Day Weekend—Ashland Labor Day PowWow—Annual event featuring tribal dancing and drumming, food, art, and a variety of other events and activities