Shelby is a small Montana town spanning just over 6 miles and located in Toole County. It is also the county seat, even though the town started out as a small railroad community that branched out into agriculture.
The town also expanded into other avenues economically once the oil had been discovered in the 1930s, and some oil and gas are still produced in Shelby today.
With a population not much clear of the 3,000 mark, the small Montana town sitting at the junction of US Highway 2 and Interstate 15 gets passing trade from plenty of drivers heading in the direction of central regions from the east to Glacier National Park.
This includes anyone on the way to Canada–the border of which is just 35 miles south from here.
Shelby has been through the boom-and-bust cycles typical of the Hi-Line area quite well, sustaining itself in no small part by the agriculture and ranching made possible by the rich grain land surrounding the former cattle town.
It achieved some degree of exposure for the world heavyweight boxing match featuring Jack Dempsey that was somehow organized and hosted in the small town in the 1920s.
This event was largely through the efforts of a local businessman who wanted to try and stir up interest in his own real estate concerns by attracting visitors and potential investors to Shelby. Apparently, all didn’t turn out as planned with the event, especially from a financial aspect–but it did bring some publicity to the town.
A visitor center was even built for the famous Fourth of July 1923 heavyweight bout. You can watch the fight in its entirety here.
Shelby is just over an hour from Montana’s Great Falls and less than two hours from the east entrance of Glacier National Park. And while it’s true many people on the way to these places may stop off at Shelby to fill up the tanks, there is a little bit more here worth staying longer in the area to see or do.
The Marias River runs through the town, which obviously attracts some recreation, as do the variety of other outdoor activities with scenic views.
The downtown area of Shelby is somewhat quaint, with its selection of eateries and retail outlets along with museums and other attractions.
The Top 3 Hotels in Shelby
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Main Cultural, Historic, and Outdoor Attractions in Shelby
A stop-off at the community Carousel Rest Area in Shelby is a prerequisite for many visitors. The area features a fully-restored 1936 merry-go-round, complete with 900-odd lights and hand-painted animals. The carousel was a project undertaken by the local community in 2018 to provide a unique and entertaining pit stop.
The carousel is indoors, and the building also houses a unique helicopter ride for kids. During the summer there is a little ice cream shop open for a cool treat.
Just south of town the 18-hole Marias Valley Golf Course presents some challenging golf alongside the Marias River for anyone who fancies a few rounds.
Shelby’s main museum contains exhibits and collections of unique and informative items telling the story of Toole County’s past. Admission is free at the museum which opens between June and August.
The facility was actually the former home of a local resident, handed over to Toole County to house the museum by her son in 1977.
It contains a broad variety of artifacts related to the region such as dinosaur bones, military items, railroad industry, native peoples, agriculture, and homestead history, just to scratch the surface.
This is the family homestead and studio of Western Heritage artist Rhonda Wiegand.
The homestead contains a working studio and a gallery, and the artist invites you to explore Montana’s culture and heritage through her work and her approach to the region’s past history through a short tour.
Shelby’s Roadrunner Recreational Trail is a paved, five-mile loop trail that features hills, wildlife, and some spectacular vistas.
The route is asphalt and leads through undeveloped hills, passing Lake Shel-oole. The route is about 2.6 miles from one parking lot to the other, making it a 5.2-mile round trip.
You can opt for a slightly shorter 5-mile loop that goes through town and back to the starting point.
Along the route, there are benches for resting if you feel the need, and there are even fitness stations with suggested exercises if you fancy the opposite of a breather.
The trail contains periodic interpretive exhibits about the town’s history, wildlife, and vegetation.
Nearby, the Sweet Grass Hills offer more hiking options and a high possibility of catching a glimpse of wildlife like deer, antelope, elk, foxes, golden eagles, and grouse.
Not too far outside of the town, anglers both local and otherwise fish the Marias River for Walleye, Northern Pike and Lake Elwell is also popular for fishing.
The 24-acre Lake Shel-oole is a popular place for rainbow trout fishing in the summer.
The grain fields around Shelby are considered prime habitats for the hunting of various game birds and deer.
Shelby RV Park and Resort is one pretty good option. It is located at the intersection of I-15 and HWY 2 and is a well-maintained park with full hook-ups, showers, pool & hot tub facilities, and even a casino and a restaurant.
North of town, Lake Shel-oole is also the place you’ll find another campsite in the vicinity of other outdoor recreation opportunities.
There are close to 50 campsites below the dam with decent amenities like clean showers and hot water.
Accommodation–Hotels and Lodging
Special Events in Shelby
- June—Shelby Kite Festival—annual kite-flying and admiring free festival
- July—Marias Fair—huge 5-day festival featuring all kinds of activities, shows, competitions, and celebrations
Activities and other Points of Interest near Shelby
- Cut Bank
- East Glacier Park
- Great Falls
- Saint Mary
- Fort Benton
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