A small town of only 167 full-time residents, Westby occupies Montana’s eastern border with North Dakota and is only a few miles from Canada.
Westby is an excellent town for exploring the underdeveloped regions of Montana’s northeastern corner, featuring panoramic views and a quiet prairie community atmosphere.
Despite being located along Montana’s easternmost edge, the community of Westby derived its name from the fact that it was initially settled in the western part of North Dakota’s territory.
The earliest homesteader to arrive in the Westby region was Sig Nelson. Driving his cattle northward from the Nelson Lakes area, Nelson was technically considered a squatter in the region for five years.
This means he and other settlers in the region simply arrived in the area, claimed their 320 acres, and waited for Montana to open for homesteading, which it did in 1908 officially.
Even once homesteading in the state began, life in the Westby region continued to be complicated. Located anywhere from 30 to 60 miles from the end of the railroad tracks, even traveling to the area required a long and tedious journey on horseback or by wagon.
Despite the local struggles, the population of the region continued to grow. By 1909 a community of Danish immigrants came together and applied for a post office, which they called Westby in recognition of being the westernmost North Dakota town.
Westby continued to grow until word came about that the Soo Line was extending their railroad westward and would pass through nearby regions. The only problem was that the line would miss the community by about three miles to the Northwest.
As a result, Westby uprooted their foundations and moved its community to its current location in Montana. While much of the town’s business district was abandoned at their North Dakota site, the new railroad opened the door for rapid development.
Today Westby is a small prairie farming community in Montana’s Sheridan County. Located along a major north-south bird migration route, Westby’s location is the perfect setting for spotting exotic bird species while exploring the spectacular attractions of Northeastern Montana.
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Main Attractions in Westby
From local museums to the several nature preserves catering to the region’s migratory birds, there is plenty of fun and exciting ways to explore the history and natural landscape of Westby and Northeast Montana.
Medicine Lake National Wildlife Refuge
The preserved area consists of two tracts of land that total 31,702 acres of countryside and hosts hundreds of thousands of migratory birds each year.
For this reason, the Medicine Lake National Wildlife Refuge is the premier spot in the state for bird watchers. It features such exotic species as chestnut collared longspur, Baird’s sparrow, McCown’s longspur, and the grasshopper sparrow.
While camping is not permitted on the preserved grounds, visitors are welcome to explore the wilderness through the park’s Wildlife Drive, hiking paths, fishing access sites, and permitted hunting zones.
Daniels County Museum and Pioneer Town
About an hour’s drive west of Westby is the Daniels County Museum and Pioneer Town. The museum features 35 restored buildings spread out along its 20-acre property.
Buildings featured on-site include turn of the 20th-century homes and businesses and are displayed to depict an early 1900s Montana town. Also included in the museum is an extensive collection of antique cars, tractors, and historic machinery.
The Daniels County Museum and Pioneer Town hosts its annual Pioneer Days during the last full weekend in June and is known internationally for its “Dirty Shame Show.”
The variety show features primarily local talent and is an entertaining way to explore the region’s history.
Sheridan County Museum
Another great way to explore the local histories of Sheridan County is by visiting the Sheridan County Museum.
Established in the late 1960s by local county residents, the museum preserves and displays many historical artifacts from the early settlements of the region.
The museum’s exhibits include the original Dooley Post Office boxes, a 1920s general store, and a series of depression-era typewriters, irons, and radios.
Also found within the facility are displays of an early school room and dentist’s office, a dress shop, and even fossils.
Finally, visitors to the museum can explore the facility’s extensive collections of photographs that encapture the lives of the early settlers that worked the land to form Montana into the modern communities we know today.
Brush Lake State Park
Located only 20 miles south of Westby, Brush Lake State Park features a deep, clear lake surrounded by white sandy beaches, grass fields, and linear stands of spring wheat.
The 280-acre lake offers guests public swimming, boating, and camping access. The day-use area located in the park’s northern section is fully serviced with vault toilets, boating ramps, picnic tables, fire rings, and a designated swimming area.
While the water’s high alkali levels mean there is no significant fishing in the lake, there are still plenty of fun outdoor activities to be had exploring the park.
Guests can relax on the lake’s beautiful beaches, explore the waters via boat or canoe, or hike one of the many trails lining the preservation while spotting a series of exotic birds.
Surrounded by vast spanning prairies, national wildlife preservations, and numerous beautiful lakes, Westby offers several opportunities for visitors to explore the wonderous countryside of Sheridan County.
Westby, MT, is a favorite travel destination for bird enthusiasts and hobbyist birdwatchers in the middle of a significant north-south bird migration route.
With a series of protected wilderness refuges dotting the countryside, there is a massive selection of locations well suited for spotting diverse species.
Medicine Lake National Wildlife Refuge is traditionally believed to be the best park in the area for bird watching.
However, many exotic species can also be spotted at the nearby Brush Lake State Park while enjoying the added amenities of the park itself.
Many lakes around Westby offer fantastic fishing opportunities. Medicine Lake National Wildlife Refuge is a great spot for boat, shore, and ice fishing and features species of northern pike.
Alternatively, wranglers can head over to the nearby Homestead Lake. This cold-water lake offers one of the best fishing opportunities in the region for catching the official State Fish of Montana, the Westslope and Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout species.
Many campgrounds around Westby allow guests to enjoy the beautiful outdoors of Sheridan County. However, for the best experience camping in the countryside, visitors should book a site at Brush Lake State Park.
Along the white sands of the lake’s shores are a series of campsites, all fully serviced with electricity, fire pits, water, vault toilets, and access to the ground’s boat launch and other public services.
In the fall, Westby becomes one of the premier spots in the state for its deer and pheasant hunting season. Visitors should visit MonDak Tactical for their hunting gear when visiting the town.
Hunting permits are required in Montana and should be acquired before visiting. For more information and to apply for a license, visit the Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks website.
There are no hotels in Westby. For accommodations, visitors to the town will have to book their stays in either one of the nearby Montana towns or head over the state border to North Dakota.
As such a small town, Westby does not host any annual festivals of its own. Luckily, the seat of Sheridan County, Plentywood, is only 25 miles away and offers plenty of community events for Westby’s residents and visitors.
- July — Sheridan County Fair
- November — Shop Small Saturday
- November — Sheridan Health Care Foundation’s Annual Christmas Kickoff
- Mondays — Plentywood’s Farmer’s and Artisan Market