RVing Central Montana – Great Falls, Cool Coffee & Amish Buggies

June 2018 – After leaving stunning Many Glacier in Glacier National Park, we wandered east and south through central Montana on a wonderful and leisurely tour of rolling green farm country.

Small villages and hamlets dotted the landscape, and when we pulled into the town of Choteau (pronounced “show-tow”), it was so cute we had to stop and have a look around.

Airstream trailer RV parked in Choteau Montana-min

Tiny Choteau, Montana, was so intriguing we had to stop and check it out!

Choteau seems to love summer and summertime visitors, and we were intrigued by a collection of little buildings that stood side by side on the main drag. One was an ice cream parlor and another was a one room school house!

Ice cream parlor Choteau Montana RV trip-min

Choteau had a unique flair that was very inviting.

There was a Basque sheep wagon nearby too, something we can now recognize after enjoying the fabulous Basque festival in Buffalo, Wyoming, last year (blog post here).

Basque sheep wagon Choteau Montana RV trip-min

We noticed a Basque sheep wagon on display.

We really liked the slightly funky spirit of Choteau and got a chuckle out of seeing two dinosaurs in town.

Dinosaur Choteau Montana RV trip-min

The greeter…

Dinosaur in Choteau Montana-min

…and his sidekick.

We always enjoy visiting mom-and-pop coffee shops, and we noticed an “Espresso” sign in front of a shop called Maddimo & Company.

Maddimo interior design front entrance Choteau Montana RV trip-min

Maddimo turned out to be much more than just a coffee shop!

Their front door was made of old barn boards and was very cool.

Front door Maddimo workshop design studio Choteau Montana RV trip-min

The boards in this door were once part of a barn!

Inside Maddimo we found the most intriguing and inviting little boutique shop filled with home decorations and plaques with cool sayings on them and a coffee bar too.

Maddimo interior design Choteau Montana RV trip-min


The owner, Samantha, started chatting with us as she made our yummy drinks. She explained that she holds crafting workshops right there in the shop, and she showed us a wonderful table filled with paints and other artists’ goodies.

Maddimo workshop Choteau Montana RV trip-min

Samantha offers workshops on how to make these wonderful plaques and home decorations.

Samantha makes all the plaques she sells, and she teaches other people how to make them too.

One had a saying that is perfect for would-be adventurers who are on the fence about becoming full-time RVers!

Plaque from Maddimo Choteau Montana RV trip-min


Samantha also sells stencil templates so craftsy people can make sets of plaques for friends and family.

‘It’s a work in progress,” she said, gesturing around the cute little shop. Growing up in Choteau, Samantha’s family had owned a deli restaurant that they eventually sold. After she moved away and lived elsewhere for a few years, Samantha and her husband decided to move back to Choteau and, along with her mother, they bought back the deli and opened it again.

This was the first season for their new venture, and the place was hopping. How satisfying it must be to return home to your roots and buy back and reopen the family business to great success!

Maddimo unique gifts Choteau Montana RV trip-min

There were lots of neat sayings and stencil templates to reproduce them easily.

We continued on down the road towards Great Falls, Montana, which has always had a special place in my heart even though I’d never been there. One of my childhood idols, the figure skater John Misha Petkevich, grew up in Great Falls. For years I cherished an embroidered patch from his figure skating club in my collection of club patches, and I always wondered what his hometown of faraway Great Falls was like.

We aren’t city folk, but with a name like Great Falls, we figured this town had to have some kind of fabulous waterfall, and sure enough there are several.

We drove to Ryan Island at the edge of town, a lovely little grassy park that is accessed via a suspension bridge for walkers. Tall shade trees fill the park and a short and pretty trail takes you to an incredible view of Ryan Dam and the Missouri River spilling over.

Ryan Island Park Great Falls Montana-min

The grassy park at Ryan Island has lots of big shade trees. A bald eagle had a nest in one!

Rainbow in Ryan Dam Waterfall Great Falls Montana-min

Great Falls, tamed a bit by Ryan Dam.

Back in 1805 when Lewis and Clark made their 16 month trek across America from St. Louis, Missouri, to the Pacific Coast at the mouth of the Columbia River, they came upon these waterfalls. At the time, of course, the falls flowed freely and unhindered. I got goose bumps when I read a plaque that said Merriweather Lewis had likely stood right where I was standing.

Ryan dam waterfalll Great Falls Montana RV trip-min

Merriweather Lewis stood somewhere near here!

Mandan Indian Chiefs had told Lewis that his group would encounter the falls during their voyage on the Missouri River. Lewis wrote in his diary:

“…my ears were saluted with the agreeable sound of a fall of water and advancing a little further I saw the spray arrise above the plain like a column of smoke…..it began to make a roaring too tremendous to be mistaken for any cause short of the great falls of the Missouri.”

After arriving at the falls, the entire Corps of Discovery team, about four dozen people, spent the next three weeks carrying all their boats and equipment 18 miles around the falls so they could continue their journey afloat on the Missouri River.

In contrast, we had driven up in an air conditioned truck with music playing over multiple speakers and had adjusted our heated and vented electric seats just so.

Interestingly, Captain Lewis had stood pretty close to where we were standing on Thursday, June 13, 1805. It was now Tuesday, June 12, 2018. The dates were so close yet were separated by over 200 years and such radical change. How awesome!

Rainbow in Ryan Dam Waterfall Great Falls Montana-min

The Lewis & Clark expedition had to carry their boats and equipment overland 18 miles to get beyond the series of waterfalls.

We continued our back road RV travels in Montana heading east and south from Great Falls. Pastures and farm fields stretched in every direction on gently rolling hills.

Central Montana farm land-min

Our drive through rural central Montana took us past beautiful rolling farmlands.

We passed an old truck with a straw man riding a stack of hay bales bronco style in the bed. Cute!

Bronco riding a hay bale on a farm truck in Montana-min

Ride ’em, Cowboy!

Suddenly we saw a horse-and-buggy warning road sign, and within a few minutes we spotted a horse pulling a young Amish couple in an open two person “courting” buggy that the young men drive. We had talked to a young Amish man about his cool ride in upstate New York. He was as proud of his buggy as any teen is about their new wheels. How neat to find more Amish out here in rural Montana!

Amish couple riding in a courting buggy in central Montana-min

Some Amish families have settled in this area.

Amish couple riding in a courting buggy in central Montana-min


Within a few minutes we saw another Amish horse and buggy go by. How fun!

Amish buggy trotting down the road in central Montana-min


As we dropped south and approached the small town of Harlowton, Montana, we suddenly started seeing a different kind of farming: wind farming. There were rows and rows of windmills in huge clusters here and there.

Wind farm in central Montana-min

We came across a different kind of farming!

We stopped in Harlowton and noticed that windmills adorned a lot of buildings and business logos.

Harolowton Montana wind farm appreciation-min

Windmills are a common theme on stores and businesses in Harlowton, Montana.

Even the local brewpub, Gally’s Brewing Company, had a windmill on their logo!

We decided to grab a pint and stepped inside Gally’s Brewing Company. I asked the bartender why they had a windmill on their logo and why windmills were such a popular motif all around town. She explained that the wind farms were bringing a lot of money to the community.

The brewery wasn’t open for a few more hours, so we didn’t get to taste any of their brews, but we continued chatting with the bartender and she explained a little more about these wind farms. The ranchers graze their cattle on their land and also lease it out to wind generating companies to erect windmills. The cattle just munch the grass all around the base of the windmills.

So, the ranchers make money from the leases, the community makes money from taxes that the wind generator companies pay, and there are a few more jobs to be found. “It’s a win-win,” she said with a smile.

Gally's Brewing Company Harlowton Montana-min

There was even a windmill on the brewpub’s logo!

We continued driving south towards Big Timber through this is a very quiet part of the country. There were lots of open spaces and small peaceful spots tucked under the trees alongside streams and rivers.

Big storm clouds swept across the sky, whipping themselves into a frenzied windy storm that dumped buckets of rain across the land.

Afterwards, a beautiful rainbow appeared.

Rainbow between the trees in central Montana-min

Stormy skies and a huge rainstorm produced a beautiful rainbow.

Rainbow over farm fields central Montana-min


And then the sun set in vibrant shades of pink and orange that filled the sky.

Montana sunset-min


If you are traveling across Montana, whether with or without an RV, these quiet roads through the middle of the state make for a rewarding trip, and the village of Choteau, the waterfall and dam at Ryan Island in Great Falls, and the town of Harlowton are fun stops along the way.

RV camping at sunset in central Montana-min


Perhaps you’ll catch Gally’s Brewing Company when they’re open for business in the afternoon and you can sample some of their brew and tell us how you like them!

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35 thoughts on “RVing Central Montana – Great Falls, Cool Coffee & Amish Buggies

  1. Great article, as usual! I love those beautiful western skies at sunset! I finally found some time to take a look at your photos of Montana….

  2. Love the pictures! The pictures you paint with your words perfectly capture the essence of the photographs. Thanks for sharing another adventure with those of us that are temporarily “job” locked!
    (Off to AK today! 😁)

  3. I have been following you for awhile and love your blog. With your writing you paint such beautiful pictures of this great land. We are headed to Montana and this route looks quite inviting. Your descriptions and photos are just beautiful. Safe travels……

    • Montana is a wonderful state, Pat, and we’ve really enjoyed exploring some of the lesser known areas like the back roads on this trip. Part of what we love is relishing the unsung beauty, and part is experiencing how people live and enjoy their lives in rural places far from the urban jungle. Enjoy your travels in Montana!

  4. I live in Harlowton, MT. Thanks for stopping for a while to explore our little town. Too bad the micro brewery wan’t open, they have some great brews! You drove right by my house yesterday when you turned south to go to Big Timber. I hope it wasn’t too cloudy to see the Crazy Mountains northwest of Big Timber, they are spectacular. Dan H

    • Wow!!! How totally cool is that, Dan?!! Our blog is always a bit behind the times simply because it takes us a while to go through our photos and ponder all we’ve seen. So, we drove past your house a few weeks back. Fortunately, we were able to see glimpses of the Crazy Mountains between rain storms and we will definitely be back to explore it all more.

  5. Where do you plan to travel in the month of September this year? Do you ever share road conditions on your blog when you encounter some challenges?

    • We are kind of aiming for the UP of Michigan, but we’re on the fence about it, so we really don’t know. It depends on how hot it gets, how bad the wildfires get out west, and how intense the mosquitoes become as we travel east. Our blog is always one to 12 weeks behind our actual travels, so we don’t report road conditions because it wouldn’t be timely. We do indicate if we drove our rig on a road that might otherwise seem impossible for a big rig, especially narrow mountain roads.

    • Thank you, Bob!! We’ve seen a ton of rainbows this year because we’ve had so much rain, so we’re getting lots of practice!! Yesterday morning there was an absolute beauty out the bedroom window, but I couldn’t get myself out of bed to go photograph it. Luckily Mark did!!

  6. What a great place, Choteau! Montana is sooo beautiful. Wonderful pictures. Have fun you three. I didn’t see any Buddy pics this time. 🙁

  7. I love all things about an area that are “non-touristy” and you got it spot on!! Wow that is a beautiful rainbow, and wow the clouds’ colors also, God’s perfect artistry!! Those waterfalls, dam, and the nice shady park look like somewhere I’d like to be one day!! Thank you for sharing because how would I know about these places otherwise???? 🙂

    • You are welcome, Deborah. There are so many beautiful places in this country, and we love poking down less traveled roads to find them. Thank YOU for reading our posts and appreciating our offerings. You’ll be out here adventuring too before you know it!

  8. Always a pleasure to receive your posts of new places across the fruited plains. This country is full of amazing things, and the beautiful colors you bring to us all. I don’t think they’ll all ever be spotted in a single lifetime. Wow, for a moment there on the gorgeous waterfalls, I thought at first, are you kidding, that’s a dam now? Oh my. As full timers, we’ve not been to MT yet, and many other places, but now we’ve bought land in the TX Hill Country, we’ll be establishing a home base and hopefully keep touring 6-8 months of the year. Hey, just a small typo I spotted…’June 2016′ at the beginning should get corrected. No one’s said anything yet?

    • There is definitely more in this beautiful country than one person can see in a single lifetime, Darin, but we’re going to keep on trying! Montana is a wonderful state, and despite quite a few return trips we have still just scratched the surface.

      We LOVE Texas Hill country and have very fond memories of riding our bikes there when we were Texas residents a few years before we started full-timing. It is an ideal home base that will give you lots of options for seasonal travel loops to the east, west and north.

      Too funny about the typo. I put the internet aspects of this post together while Mark drove us around town because we were camped in an area with no internet access. It was a crazy rush to complete all the steps that require the internet as he pointed out things to look at and the puppy climbed on and off my lap for hugs, narrowly missing the keyboard every time!

  9. LOVE, LOVE, LOVE your posts, Emily and Mark ! The Amish buggy and “sheep wagon” remind me of the horse-drawn gypsy caravans in the exhibit I saw yesterday…small world !

  10. Excellent post as usual! Montana’s wild beauty is tough to describe but you are capturing it perfectly. I’m curious, since you travel so many back roads with a large fifth wheel, do you use any resources (map, website, road atlas, etc.) to avoid situations that may be difficult for your rig? Especially when traveling in the mountains? We are looking at a 40 foot and also plan to stay off the interstate as much as possible, and I don’t want to have to try to turn that thing around if the road gets too dicey!

  11. Great post.
    The photo banner at the top. It is a location that you stayed at recently that relates to this post? Curious where that spot is.

  12. Hi Emily and Mark;
    Haven’t written you in awhile due to our conversion to full time rving. As always, loved you images and stories about Montana and we will be spending a few weeks there this fall. One downer I wanted to share with you about the wind turbines. Yes, they are great for the communities and produce great inexpensive energy; unfortunately, they also kill hundreds of golden eagles annually in the Montana, Dakotas, and Wyoming. As you may recall I am a raptor trainer in Alaska and this was something I was concerned about. Golden eagles are now much lower in numbers than Bald eagles. Please keep the great articles and images coming—we really enjoy them. Wishing you safe travels.

    • Great to hear from you again, Dan, and how wonderful that you are out and about in your RV full-time now! It is so sad about the wind turbines and the birds. I’ve heard about that too, and being a big bird lover it breaks my heart. From what I understand, the spacing of the individual turbines makes a difference, and newer wind farms space them better so fewer birds are killed. Another downer is that wind farms are a terrible blight on the landscape and they destroy many a beautiful view. So, not being a particular fan of wind farms myself, it was fascinating to find a community that reaps so many benefits from them and appreciates the industry to such a degree that they have wind turbines on their logos all around town! Enjoy your continuing travels and your visit to Montana.

  13. Hello! I really enjoyed reading about your adventures here in our little town of Choteau! I am the 2020 President of the Choteau Chamber of Commerce. One of my focus points is to improve our web presence – to that end, you’ve got our old website linked at the end of your post – would you be willing to update it to our new address? https://choteauchamber.com

    Thank you so very much!

    • How fun to hear from the 2020 President of the Choteau Chamber of Commerce! I’ve updated the link and hope our readers check out your wonderful new website. It looks like Choteau would have been a great place to watch the Superbowl over a bowl of chili yesterday!


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