Situated in Central Montana, where the Missouri and Judith Rivers weave through the countryside, Winifred is a small town with a diverse topography ideal for exploring the many geological terrains of Montana’s wondrous landscape.
Thanks to its convenient location along the two rivers, the region of Winifred has served as an essential position for both early Native American tribes and the Western settlers that would later follow.
The first fort in the region, Fort F.A. Chadron, was completed in 1843 and opened the door for western trappers and traders to begin hunting the local area’s buffalo populations.
While reaching the fort’s isolated location was difficult during its early years, the introduction of steamboat travel along the Missouri River in 1860 meant that Winifred’s breathtaking countryside became much more accessible to the average homesteader.
Among the new arrivals to the region were brothers James and Andrew Fergus. Establishing Armells Ranch in the summer of 1880, the brothers began ranging a massive area of the countryside, including the Dog Creek-Armells drainages.
However, their monopoly on the property was short-lived, and squatters began popping up over their countryside throughout the 1880s and early 1890s. As a result, a local community began to develop and received an even more significant influx of immigrants around 1910.
By this point, the region hosted a moderate population, and the community officially established itself as a town by acquiring a post office on September 26, 1913.
While Winifred has always been a small town, the community did experience consistent growth in its first few decades.
By 1940 the community had reached its peak of 300 full-time residents and featured two livery barns, a newspaper, a pool hall, a doctor, a drugstore, three hardware stores, and at least one grocery store.
Today, Winifred boasts a little more than half the population from its heyday, with approximately 172 residents as of the 2020 census.
Despite its small size, Winifred remains a fantastic spot in Central Montana for exploring the state’s diverse landscape and the indigenous wildlife that calls it home.
From rolling prairies to timbered canyons, Winifred promises grand outdoor adventures as visitors explore the region’s many wildlife watching and hunting opportunities.
The Best Hotels in Winifred
Main Attractions in Winifred
The Winifred Museum is a fantastic destination for exploring the complete history of the community and the landforms that surround it.
From early homesteading tools to incredible dinosaur fossils, the museum features artifacts that display the region’s storied past, from its extinct prehistoric inhabitants to the modern community that now lives there.
Among its many artifacts, the museum features many displays within its archaeological, homesteading, and military exhibits. However, the museum’s most significant claim to international fame is its collection of Tonka Toys.
With over 3,000 Tonka miniatures, the museum’s collection is often considered the largest in the world and has even been featured on Montana PBS in their popular Montana Backroads series.
Admission to the Winifred Museum is free, but donations are happily appreciated to help improve the facilities.
Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument
Introduced to the Department of the Interior’s National Landscape Monument System in 2001, the Upper Missouri Rivers Breaks National Monument features 375,000 acres of preserved landscape with extensive biological, historical, and cultural significance.
At the heart of the monument’s preserved area is the 149-mile-long Upper Missouri National Wild and Scenic River, which spans from Fort Benton to the Fred Robinson Bridge.
The remote isolation of this segment has served as natural protection from human influences, and much of the natural wonders that first awed western exploration during the Lewis & Clark expedition can still be experienced by visitors today.
Along with many iconic landmarks first described in Lewis’ and Clarks’ journals, the monument also boasts some of the most significant elk herds in Montana and one of the country’s largest big horn sheep herds.
Many more wildlife species, plant varieties, and indigenous fish can be spotted throughout the preserved land and are easily explored via the park’s hiking trails and fishing access sites.
Central Montana Historical Museum
Located a forty-minute drive south in the heart of Lewistown, the Central Montana Historical Museum features one of the best collections of exhibits preserving and displaying the vibrant histories of Fergus County and its small-town communities.
Beginning in the 1870s, the museum displays its exhibits according to the chronological order of the area’s history.
Starting from when the land was largely unsettled and primarily only roamed by herds of buffalo, the museum explores the prairie’s Homesteading Era, the development of local industry, and the evolution to the current modern town that now occupies the landscape.
Among the museum’s famous attractions are exhibits displaying firearms, fossils, military tools, musical instruments, wedding dresses, St. Joseph’s Hospital equipment, and many more relics telling the story of Fergus County’s past.
Bear Paw Battlefield
One of three sites in Montana that are a part of the Nez Percé National Historical Park, the Bear Paw Battlefield immortalizes the location where the Nez Percé people surrendered to the US Army on October 5, 1877.
Retreating from their homeland in Idaho, the Nez Percé tribe traveled 1,300 miles on their retreat to Canada but were ultimately caught in the Bear Paw Mountains, approximately 70 miles north of Winifred.
The Bear Paw Battlefield marks the spot Chief Joseph officially surrendered to the US Army, ushering his famous words, ‘From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever.’
Honoring the brave retreat, the park is fully serviced with picnic tables, restrooms, and various informational kiosks guiding guests through the history of the Nez Percé’s traditional past, final retreat, and ultimately tragic surrender.
Many great hiking trails are weaving their way through Fergus County. One of the best hiking trails starting near Winifred, MT, is the Limekiln Trail.
Maintained by the Bureau of Land Management, the trail features well-established paths and two alternative hikes.
The first hike follows the trail approximately 4.5 miles out and back to the Lewistown Overlook. From this vantage point, visitors will have some of the best views of the county seat and the surrounding countryside.
Alternatively, hikers seeking a more challenging experience can attempt the trail’s entire 7 miles out and back length.
Doing so will guide walkers to Burnette Peak/New Year’s Peak, where the panoramic views of the country’s mountainous landscape are enough to take anyone’s breath away.
For the best fishing in the area, visitors to Winifred should head down to Ackley Lake State Park.
At the heart of the park’s 290-acre property is a 226-acre lake. Visitor can cast their lines from the shore or launch their boat from the on-site campground’s easily accessible boat launch.
Rich with cold-water species, wranglers to the park can expect to catch Brook Trout, Brown Trout, Kokanee, Mount Whitefish, and Rainbow Trout.
Fergus County is one of the best regions in the state for camping in Montana’s countryside. Ackley Lake State Park offers a fantastic campground and is an excellent spot for visitors already planning on fishing its waters.
However, campers who want to establish themselves a little closer to Winifred should book their site at the Judith Landing Campground.
Only 24 miles from the town, Judith Landing features eight sites serviced with a fire ring and picnic tables, along with access to the ground’s vault toilets and trash dumpsters.
Located on the Upper Missouri National Wild and Scenic River, the campground provides guests with fantastic water and fishing access.
- Winifred International Suites— Winifred, MT
- Old Bank Lodge— Winifred, MT
- Judith Mountain Lodge— Lewistown, MT
- Trails End Motel— Lewistown, MT
With no annual events of their own, many Winifred residents and visitors frequently head about 40 miles south to Lewistown for the many yearly festivals celebrating the greater Fergus County community.
- January– Montana Winter Fair
- July– 4th of July Festival
- July– Central Montana Fair
- September– Chokecherry Festival
- November thru December– North Pole Adventure
Activities Near Winifred
National and State Parks
- Nez Percé National Historic Park
- Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument
- Helena-Lewis & Clark National Forest
- Ackley Lake State Park
- War Horse National Wildlife Refuge
- Dog Creek Outfitters
- James Kipp Recreation Area
- Judith Landing Campground
- Judith Mountains Limekiln Trail
- Pine Meadows Golf Course