Pioneer Scenic Byway
Montana Scenic Route
The Pioneer Scenic Byway is an easy-to-drive, scenic route which travels through the Pioneer Mountains in the Beaverhead-Deer Lodge National Forest. 49 miles in length, plan on taking the day to enjoy the sites and the hikes that the scenic byway has to offer. The route takes you from the small town of Wise River, Montana, a small town on the Big Hole River, to elevations of 7800′ and then gently down into the Grasshopper Creek Valley. From there, it’s an easy drive to Dillon, Montana.
On the drive, you’ll see the rugged peaks with elevations of more than 10,000′ and lovely alpine meadows. Pull in at Grand Vistas for breathtaking scenery or a little trout fishing in the creek below.
The Wise River, a small creek actually, runs along beside the byway. Home to native cutthroat trout and brook trout, there are several places to access the creek as you ascend the byway. If fishing, hiking, and exploring are your thing, there are several high elevation lakes worth fishing in the area.
Wildflowers on the Pioneer Scenic Byway
Coolidge Ghost Town
Silver was discovered near a pair of elk horns high in the Pioneer Mountains in 1872 by a man named Preston Sheldon. The area became known as the Elkhorn district. More silver was discovered and soon prospectors started coming to the area.
The town formed in 1914. Narrow gauge rail tracks we laid and a line from Coolidge to Divide, Montana was completed in 1918 and a school district was formed. Families began moving to Coolidge. In 1922, the Coolidge, Montana post office opened and a new mill on the site began operation.
Economic times, poor silver prices, and a dam failure on the Wise River that washed out miles of road and railroad bridges took a toll on the operation. By 1932 most of the residents had moved and the post office closed. At its peak, more than 350 rugged souls lived at this high-elevation mining town.
Coolidge Ghost Town Interpretive Kiosk, Coolidge, Montana
Pioneer Scenic Byway Spots to Stop
Crystal Park is a unique recreation area at an elevation of 7,800 feet in the Pioneer Mountains. Quartz crystals are scattered liberally through the decomposed granite of the unique 220-acre site that’s been set aside by the Forest Service for the popular hobby of rockhounding. Crystals found at the park can be clear, cloudy, white, gray or purple and be smaller than your little finger or up to several inches in diameter. Also at the site, you’ll find picnic sites with tables and grills, information signs, toilets, and a paved trail with benches and an overlook.
The Grand Vista is just off the Pioneer Scenic Byway. A grand overlook, the area has ample parking, pit toilets, and picnic tables. A boardwalk takes you along the creek for photography or fishing opportunities. Bring your camera, this area has stunning views of tall peaks and the creek meandering through a willow meadow.
Lupine Picnic Shelter
The Lupine Shelter, located at an elevation of 76oo’, sits amid a stand of pines that is surrounded by alpine meadows. In the spring and early summer, the meadows are filled with blooming wildflowers such as lupines. In winter the shelter is used as a warming hut for snowmobilers who travel the road which is unplowed and closed to vehicle traffic in winter. Hiking trails and mountain biking trails can be found in the area.
Elkhorn Hot Springs
Stop in for a brew or a soak at Elkhorn Hot Springs. A natural hot spring, water temperatures coming out of the Earth at about 100 degrees. Operating year-round for travelers or skiers at the nearby Maverick Mountain Ski Area.