Named after the dramatic sunrise that illuminates the local fields as it peaks over the Sweetgrass Hills, Sunburst, MT, is only 8 miles from Canada and serves as the state’s gateway for visitors traveling from the Great White North.
Western homesteading first came to the region of Sunburst in 1907. Immigrating from Alberta, Canada, W.G. Davis established his new ranch in the shadow of the Sweet Grass Hill known as West Butte.
Not long after establishing his ranch, Davis witnessed the region’s eponymous sunrise as he tended to his sheep in the early morning.
The young rancher observed as the sun crept over the Sweet Grass Hills and reflected a spectrum of colors in all directions. This wonderous moment influenced Davis to name his new property “Sunburst Ranch.”
In the years that followed, the region of the Sweet Grass Hills continued to grow, with several other ranches and farms popping up throughout the countryside.
When Davis acquired more land in 1913, he got together with some of the other surrounding land owners, with whom he collaborated to organize the growing community and establish the foundations for a town that would later become Sunburst, MT.
As a community, Sunburst thrived as a quiet cattle, sheep, and farming country for almost a decade. However, it wasn’t until Gordon Campbell discovered oil in the area in 1922 that Sunburst experienced a sudden industrialization boom, and immigration to the town flourished.
For the following 50 years, Sunburst was defined as an oil refinery community, and the beautiful countryside of the Sweet Grass Hills was overshadowed by oil rigs and industry.
Then, just as suddenly as it had arrived, the oil development in the area ceased in the 1970s. Returning to its agricultural roots, Sunburst is once again the peaceful ranching and farming town that promises an easy-going lifestyle and dramatic sunrises.
Today, Sunburst welcomes guests to come and explore the tallest free-standing hills in Montana while enjoying the quiet relaxing lifestyle that the state’s small-town communities have become known for.
The Top 3 Hotels in Sunburst
Best Western Shelby Inn & Suites
- ATM on Site
- BBQ Facilities
BEST BUDGET HOTEL
Comfort Inn & Suites Shelby
- Indoor Pool
- Pets Allowed
- Free WiFi
A very nice place to stay! The room was clean and comfortable...- A recent guest
BEST BUDGET HOTEL
O'Haire Manor Motel
- Free WiFi
- Free Airport Shuttle
Best location for a good price. Rooms are clean...- A recent guest
Main Attractions in Sunburst
As the northern gateway to Montana, Sunburst is a community that opens the door to the many beautiful outdoor landmarks that dot the state’s landscape.
Comprised of four free-standing hills, the Sweetgrass Hills has been a prominent landmark in Montana long before western settlers reached its abundant countryside.
Reaching 6,983 feet at its tallest point of West Butte, this iconic land formation has been known by many names over the centuries.
It was called Koto-yi-six (Sweet Pine Hills) by the Blackfoot tribes that once lived in the area. It was later called Three Paps in 1802 by the Hudson Bay Company and again was renamed the Tower Mountains in 1806 by Capt. Meriweather Lewis during the Lewis & Clark Expedition.
Today the hills are named after Hierochloe Odorato, colloquially known as sweet grass, a native species highly abundant in the area.
While not as rugged as many of Montana’s mountainous terrains, the Sweetgrass Hills still offer plenty of hiking opportunities as visitors explore the greater cultural significance the landmark has held to a diverse set of communities that have once called the region home.
And of course, waking up early to catch the sunrise is an essential experience when visiting Sunburst.
Early waking visitors to the town will witness first-hand the dramatic light show as the sun slowly crests over the free-standing hills as they experience the wonder that first awarded the town its name way back in 1907.
Situated just outside Sunburst, the unique stone formation known as the Jerusalem Rocks is one of the town’s best-kept secrets.
Characterized as Hoodoos, the Jerusalem Rocks are the pinnacles of sedimentary rock which have been topped with a harder layer. Over the years, heavy erosion has carved out the local landscape but has left these stone spires behind thanks to their heavy top layer.
The result of this phenomenon is the totem pole-like stone structures that occupy the land today. The Jerusalem Rocks can reach over 100 feet tall and offer a fantastic hiking destination for visitors to explore the natural development of Montana’s countryside.
Glacier National Park
Located a little over an hour’s drive from Sunburst, the Glacier National Park is the town’s nearest national preservation area and is a must-visit when staying in the Toole County community.
Established as a National Park in 1910, the protected area offers beautiful views and rugged terrains that have been carved out over millennia by the ancient ice rivers that once flowed through the region.
Visitors to the park can explore various topography and geological landmarks, including alpine meadows, roaring waterfalls, dense forests, approximately 25 glaciers, and over 200 beautiful lakes.
Classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Glacier National Park offers many fun, environmentally friendly ways for visitors to explore its preserved wonders.
Along with the plentiful hiking trails available, visitors can kayak the park’s many lakes, camp overnight in designated sites, or engage in wildlife spotting of many native animals and migratory bird species.
The primary draw to this Northern Montana community is the beautiful iconic attractions of the rolling prairie hill landscape.
Sunburst offers many outdoor activities and opportunities as guests venture into its breathtaking countryside.
There are several fantastic hiking trails surrounding Sunburst, and visitors to the town will have their selection of exploring the Sweetgrass Hills, the Jerusalem Rocks, or even the nearby Glacier National Park.
The West Butte of Sweet Grass Hills Trail is one of the best local hikes for exploring the regional landmark and offers phenomenal views of the Sunburst community and surrounding county.
This 2.9-mile out-and-back trail leads visitors to the highest point of the Sweet Grass Hills, where they can observe the sweeping prairies spanning all directions.
Sunburst has a few great fishing sites, with the nearby Lake Frances and Tiber Reservoir being two of the best.
Bordering the town of Valier, Lake Frances is one of the region’s best warm water fishing sites and features access to species that include Northern Pike, Rainbow Trout, Yellow Perch, and Walleye.
Also known as Lake Elwell, the Tiber Reservoir is a warm water fishing site and is the region’s premier spot for fishing for Black Crappie, Channel Catfish, Brook Stickleback, and the Flathead Minnow.
One of the best ways to catch the iconic sunrise over the Sweet Grass Hills is by visiting Sunburst while camping. Those traveling with an RV can park their car at the M & R RV Park situated directly in town.
However, for the best experience, the Bureau of Land Management allows visitors to engage in dispersed camping directly in the hills. From here, guests can watch as the morning rays gleam over the hills and reflect off of the small community below.
Be sure to visit the Bureau of Land Management’s Sweet Grass Hills webpage for more information regarding camping on undeveloped BLM-administered lands.
With no hotels available in the town, visitors will have to look to other nearby communities for accommodation options.
The nearest accommodation can be found 9.3 miles north of town, in the Canadian community of Coutts, AB. Alternatively, visitors to Sunburst can book their stay in the larger Montana town of Shelby, which is only 27.3 miles to Sunburst’s South.
- Double Tree Inn—Coutts, AB, Canada
- Best Western Shelby Inn—Shelby, MT
- Comfort Inn & Suites—Shelby, MT
- O’Haire Manor Motel—Shelby, MT
Between Sunburst’s own festivals and those of the nearby County Seat Shelby, there is always a good time to celebrate when visiting the small town of Northern Montana.
- Spring—Gala Days—Sunburst, MT
- May—Biker’s Poker Run—Sunburst, MT
- June—Shelby Kite Festival—Shelby, MT
- July—Maria’s Fair—Shelby, MT