Your travel through Montana’s incredible “hidden valley” begins here. Nestled between the Yellowstone River and I-90, Columbus, the county seat , is a full service community. With a population of nearly 2,000, Columbus offers a wide variety of recreational, business and social services. Four city parks offer swimming, tennis, basketball, horseshoes and baseball fields with walking/jogging tracks. Camp, fish or float the Yellowstone River at Itch-Kep-Pe Park. Take time to visit the Museum of the Beartooths for an understanding of area history. Exit the interstate at Columbus to start your trip to Yellowstone National Park via the beautiful Highway 78 to Red Lodge and the breathtaking Beartooth Pass.
The summer months hold something for everyone! Farmer’s Market every Thursday afternoon and the Stillwater County Fair are favorite activities. The annual Musician’s Rendezvous in August is a must hear for the acoustic aficionado. The Rendezvous was inspired by Columbus’ “Festival of Strings” and Doc Allison’s “Old Time Fiddlers Picnic” in Livingston. Musicians have been known to travel from around the world to join together on the banks of the Yellowstone River at Itch-Ke-Pe Park. Bring your instrument or just come to listen!
Past and Present
Columbus began as a stage station on the Yellowstone Trail and is now a shipping center for the rich farm and ranch lands around it. Originally called Stillwater by its founder Horace Countryman and located two miles west of present day Columbus, it soon became known as Eagles’ Nest. Later it was listed as an Indian trading post called Sheep Dip. With the arrival of the Northern Pacific Railroad in 1881, Countryman eventually relocated to the present location. The railroad’s arrival was instrumental in the development of Columbus as a permanent city and the primary urban center in Stillwater County.
Prosperity came to Columbus when the Montana Sandstone Company was chosen to furnish the stone for the state capitol in Helena. Mountain View Cemetery, listed in the National Register of Historic Places, has many beautiful and ornate monuments cut by artists from the sandstone.
Top 10 Things to See & Do In Columbus
- Float the Yellowstone and Stillwater Rivers. The Stillwater River flows into the Yellowstone River at Columbus. You can use your own boat, or tube, and put in at Fireman’s Point on the Stillwater River to float to the boat ramp on the Yellowstone at Itch-Kep-Pe Park. The annual Yellowstone River Boat Float, held the weekend after the 4th of July, is a 3 day float from Livingston to Columbus. Call (406) 696-1996 for information on the Yellowstone River Boat Float.
- Fish the Yellowstone and Stillwater Rivers. On your own or with a fishing guide from Stillwater Anglers, the fly fishing is the best. The Fireman’s Point and Holmgren Fishing accesses are located close to town. Call Stillwater Anglers for fly fishing tips, lessons, or to book a guided float, (406) 322-4977.
- Swim in the town pool at the park or in the rivers at Itch-Kep-Pe Park or Fireman’s Point.
- Golf at the Stillwater Golf Course, a 9-hole course at 1203 East 3rd Ave S. Walk-ins are welcome. (406) 322-4298.
- Visit the Museum of the Beartooths. The museum is open April – December. It reflects Stillwater County’s corner of Montana History. The main building outlines local history back to the 1870’s. The collections reflect miners, frontiersmen, cattlemen, homesteaders and Native cultures. Also included on the museum grounds is the T.T. Brown Schoolhouse, the Albert Johnson Tack Shop, a blacksmith shop, a 6,000 square foot building that houses special large collections and a sizeable outdoor area of displayed farming equipment. Visitors may tour a 1960’s Northern Pacific caboose, donated by Burlington Northern/Santa Fe Railroad Company. Indoor exhibits include a military section, a “Welcome to Stillwater County” exhibit, and a “Hard Rock Mine” exhibit telling the history of mining in the county and about the Stillwater Mining Company, the only platinum and palladium mine in the Western hemisphere. Other exhibits include “Baaxawuaahaliiko” Wheat (bread) House In The Past – a history of the second Crow Agency, and an exhibit on the 1938 Frank Robideau hanging, the second to the last legal hanging in Montana, and much more. (406) 322-4588.
- Stop in at The New Atlas Bar on Columbus’ main street, which opened in 1916 and is on the National Register of Historic Places. It’s calling card is the mounted animals along the walls, most notably the two-headed calf. Unique stories are assigned to each animal mount. Besides the New Atlas’ archived interior, the feel of the bar is one from the turn of the 20th century. People from around the nation, and world, find themselves intrigued by the tales woven from the New Atlas.
- Drive Highway 78 from Columbus to Red Lodge. The highway is named for Columbus native Donald Jack Ruhl, one of Montana’s seven Congressional Medal of Honor recipients earned by his sacrificial death on Iwo Jima in 1945. A scenic drive towards the Beartooth range of the Rocky Mountains is one you will not want to miss. A side trip for more beauty is the drive from Highway 78 on Highway 419, just south of Absarokee, to Nye. Fishing, boating, hiking, geocaching, bird watching, and much more can be enjoyed throughout this entire area.
- Itch-Kep-Pe Park, located on the Yellowstone River, is a great place for a family outing. Fishing, boating, hiking, bird watching, and camping are all activities enjoyed here. Itch-Kep-Pe Park has 30 tent and trailer campsites, restrooms, and drinking water. The annual Musician’s Rendezvous will take place in early August in Itch-Kep-Pe Park. All interested individuals are welcome to attend and participate. Throughout the weekend there will be jam sessions ranging from Bluegrass to Jazz with fun for all. Don’t miss the Potluck Saturday evening! Call 4(06) 322-5049 for information on the Musician’s Rendezvous.
- Granite Peak Park, is the location of the town’s baseball and soccer fields. All games are free to the public. A concession stand, run by volunteers, provides refreshments.
- Mountain View Cemetery, west of Columbus, has upward of 100 unique sandstone monuments and markers quarried in Columbus at the turn of the 20th Century. The Winsett Family Monument was as prize winner at the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904.