by J.B. Chandler
Choteau the town and Chouteau the county were both named for Pierre Choteau Jr, an early French fur trader
who lived in Montana. Choteau (the town) lies between the changing landscapes of prairie, benchlands, and mountains. It’s a beautiful area that has had a few celebrity residents; David Letterman, for sure, but let us talk about our homegrown Montana celebrity: A.B. Guthrie.
Born in Indiana, then growing up in Montana, Guthrie has blessed Montana with some great historical fictional books about our past. From fur trading to ranching to dry land farming, Guthrie takes us on a journey across five books and multiple generations, and at the center of many of these books is Choteau.
Called by many names, Choteau is a unique town, with many unique features that make it the halfway jewel on our trip to Glacier National Park.
Tansytown and Arfive, Guthrie renamed Choteau in his books, maybe because he didn’t want to let people in on this beautiful, secret little town. The big brick courthouse bisects the town with the highway having to split and go around the impressive structure. Continuing through the quaint downtown area, most businesses in town lie within a few blocks of this intersection of Highway 89 and Highway 221, where the lone streetlight in town guards traffic.
The Log Cabin stands along the roundabout surrounding the courthouse; look for the wagons on the roof! A family restaurant where the whole family can get a good bite of food and giant slices of pie await your tasting. John Henry’s Restaurant is a great place where you can get a burger and a beer. Feeling tired at the halfway point to Glacier? Stop at the Bridges Coffee Shop for a shot of espresso, or for a stiffer drink, try the Wagon Wheel or Antler Bar. If you have too many drinks you’ll need to spend the night at the Stage Stop Inn, which during ski season offers a bus to Choteau’s beautiful ski resort, Teton Pass.
Teton Pass is a local in every sense of the word. Great Falls being the closest, large city, most patrons come from other small towns along the Rocky Mountain Front. Snow permitting, the resort opens around Thanksgiving and closes around Easter. This season, they were able to stay open for an extra Saturday due to all of our spring snow. Family days, ladies night, and back-country skiing can get people of all ages and experience levels to come up the mountain and enjoy the slopes. In the spring and summer, when the slopes lack snow, instead stop at the Cave Mountain trailhead, which is en route to the ski lodge, and take a beautiful hike into an area that always lacks the crowds.
Shelby native Jack Horner, of Jurassic Park fame, jumpstarted his paleontology career just south of Choteau
at a spot now dubbed “Egg Mountain.” Twisting our way up a rugged hillside southwest of town, we will find the red roadside marker for Egg Mountain. Many will look to the Rocky Mountains for an egg-like mountain, but we are already standing at the top of it. The grass atop the hill gives way to the rugged badlands that stretch before us from this vantage point. These badlands once hid what was thought unbelievable: dinosaur eggs and dinosaur infants. Jack Horner discovered these fossils locked into the sandstone, making him one of the most famous paleontologists living today. Just past the red sign, the fence line stops most from continuing too far onto Egg Mountain, but even still, good pictures of the badlands can be had from the side of the road.
Getting back into town, heading north on Highway 89, we find the Old Trail Museum in an area of town that looks like a mini-shopping center built in the pioneer days. Of course, a dinosaur guards the ice cream. Across the street lies the Outpost Deli which is a great little sandwich spot, serving great breakfast, Italian sodas, and good coffee.
In Choteau you might only be halfway to Glacier, but for residents, this is a spot to stop and spend a lifetime.