Willow Creek, Montana

Elevation: 4160 FT

Population: 210

County: Gallatin

Named for the willow-lined creek it sits on the edge of, Willow Creek is a quaint and charming community backed by the beautiful Tobacco Root Mountains with a front-row seat to the scenic, 10,604-foot Hollowtop Mountain—the highest peak in the range.

Like you’d expect of NY small Montana town, Willow Creek has a post office, a church, a school, a fire hall and a bar. You won’t find a stop light in Willow Creek, or even a stop sign for that matter, however. This tiny, off-the-beaten-path town has always been a place locals are proud to call home, and that’s apparent when they start chatting you up on the sidewalk.

Willow Creek is close to Lewis & Clark Caverns State Park, with bragging rights to one of the largest-known and most highly decorated limestone caverns in the Northwest. Camp and hike in the park, and take a guided tour of these geological wonders May through September. The upper half of the cavern is toured with the use of electricity, but the lower half of the cave is shown by candlelight, and it’s pure magic. Incidentally, this is Montana’s first state park and is listed on the National Register of Historic places.

Nearby Madison Buffalo Jump State Park is also a must explore. This historic spot where American Indians stampeded vast herds of bison off a massive half-moon limestone cliff offers impressive views of the Madison River Valley. Archeologists have located tipi rings here, and buffalo bones remain buried at the base of the cliff.

The Willow Creek Café and Saloon—housed in a 1910 building complete with a pressed-tin ceiling and floral wallpaper—serves ribs that are arguably the best ribs this side of the Mississippi. Folks drive in from as far as Bozeman and Butte just to get their fix at this Willow Creek icon.

Fun Fact

Stanley Gordon West’s novel about Class C basketball, “Blind Your Ponies,” is set in Willow Creek.

True Story

In January of 1865, an unidentified man froze to death in a blizzard near Willow Creek and was buried right in the spot where he perished. Shortly thereafter, the land around his burial site was donated to the town by the family who owned it, and thus the Willow Creek Cemetery was born.

Trip tip

Hit up the Willow Creek Art Walk the third Friday of the month all summer long. In addition to local galleries, the town fire hall full of local artists, family events, music and a farmers market. A half-dozen artists who call Willow Creek home organize the event.

Live Like a Local

Order the above-mentioned ribs from the Willow Creek Cafe & Saloon. There’s even an impressive wine list to boot. On any given night the specials might include chicken saltimbocca, a New York steak with a brandy mushroom sauce or oysters on the half-shell. Everything in the Willow Creek kitchen in handmade.

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