December in Montana: Fort Benton

Ready for more Montana?

I am.

I think I might just stretch these posts out until May when I’m back in Montana.

Kidding.

Fort Benton, Montana. Small doesn’t even begin to describe it. I think the entire length of the town is about 2 miles. There aren’t any fast food restaurants. There’s one (maybe two?) gas station. There’s a grocery store, a post office, a very small hospital, and a couple of banks. The kids go to either the elementary school or the high school – there’s no separate middle school. There are more churches than anything else, except maybe bars.

I’ll be honest. When we arrived….which was literally taking a right turn off the interstate and then all of a sudden appearing in the middle of town….I wanted to leave. I couldn’t imagine what on earth I was going to do for the one night I was there.

I realize that makes me sound like a horrible, terrible, high-maintenance, snobby person.

And it’s even worse because I live in a small town. Well, by most people’s standards. My town is about 6 times the size of Fort Benton.

But.

Fort Benton is actually a really awesome place, and I think I will forever feel like a shit for complaining about it and thinking it was anything less than wonderful.

It’s considered the “Birthplace of Montana,” and is one of the oldest settlements in the western part of the country. It was the last trading post along the mighty Missouri River before crossing into Canada, and was a pretty happening spot in the late 1800s. There’s a painting inside the Grand Union Hotel that shows what it looked like in those days.

Fort Benton PastSo you see this painting, and you think…wow, that’s pretty awesome. And then you step outside, and it’s like…holy Batman did I step out of the painting????

Fort Benton PresentNot so different, 150 years later. You can absolutely imagine yourself in the 19th century, dodging horses and gunfights and fur traders.

The town of Fort Benton really prides itself on the way they’ve maintained their history. Everyone is ready to tell you about the “way it was,” and we learned so many interesting things in the short time we were there. I’m looking forward to learning even more in May.

We spent the night at Montana’s oldest operating hotel, the Grand Union Hotel. It’s the red building in the painting above…this is what it looks like today. Well, with a filter, because I thought that looked cool.

Grand UnionHave I mentioned that being in Fort Benton was like stepping back in time? I have? Ok. Just making sure.

The Grand Union is a beautiful hotel. It’s small, and the rooms are all unique. Everything has been restored, and the original pieces kept when possible. The bar is the original bar. The staircase is slanted, the window ledges are slanted, and it’s just beautiful.

Grand Union Room

Grand Union BarMy room was clean and comfortable. There was Wifi, though it was a little spotty. The bed was amazing. I loved the view from my window (it was actually that street view above). The bathroom had little Gilchrist and Soames toiletries, which I now wish I had brought home with me. And the restaurant was heaven. Serious, serious heaven. If you’re ever even remotely close to Fort Benton….like, within 4 hours….go to the Grand Union and eat. RIGHT NOW.

Grand Union RestaurantIt’s worth every penny. And you’ll spend a few. But you won’t care, because you’ll be in tastebud bliss.

Fort Benton also has this local hero, Shep the dog. Shep’s story is actually pretty horrific, so I won’t share it, but he’s the town mascot. Here’s his statue. And the river.

ShepSo we ate, and then we decided to check out a couple of the bars, because well….that’s what you do. And Montana has crazy good beer. We made friends with the locals (who are all again, super nice), stayed out way too late, and had our picture taken in the middle of the street. Because, why not? And because it was the only way to somewhat capture the adorable Christmas lights lining the street. And in case you’re wondering….Shep is to the right of the photo. The Grand Union is what we’re looking at, so behind the photographer. And this is the entire main drag of Fort Benton.

Dec in Fort BentonIt’s small. It’s not entirely exciting. But the people are wonderful, the history is rich, and the views….well, the views are just out of this world.

Fort Benton MTI entered Fort Benton wanting to leave, and left it wanting to stay.

Missouri River