2016 Forest River Shockwave
2016 Forest River Shockwave
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The historic little town of Fort Benton sits about 40 miles from one of Montana’s largest cities, Great Falls and 70 miles from scenic Havre. It was built as the final stopping point for boat traffic traveling up the Missouri River in the 19th century as the waterfalls just upriver of the town required extensive portaging, as was discovered by explorers Lewis and Clark in 1805.
When you book an RV in Fort Benton it's like stepping back in time – many of the most famous buildings from its heyday are still standing, including the beautifully restored Grand Union Hotel and Culbertson House. Given its history as a river port, Fort Benton is centered around the Missouri and most of the shops and restaurants that would interest visitors can be found on Front Street, facing the gently flowing waters.
While the drive from Great Falls to Fort Benton would lead most visitors to assume that it sits on a featureless plain, nothing could be further from the truth. The final stretch opens to views of a deep canyon carved through the plains by the mighty Missouri River, providing endless recreational opportunities for adventurous tourists.
The Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument is roughly a three-hour drive east of Fort Benton near Lewiston and contains some of the most pristine badlands terrain in the United States. The area is virtually unchanged from the days when Lewis and Clark explored it in the early 19th century. An interpretative center in Fort Benton explains the region’s history and the importance of its preservation. Numerous trails cross the monument, but if you’re not much of a hiker, the scenic Backcountry Byway from Winifred (just a day trip from Fort Benton) to the James Kipp Recreation Area is the perfect way to spend the day with your Fort Benton RV rental.
Another popular activity is to float the “Wild and Scenic” section of the Missouri River from Coal Banks Landing to Judith Landing, past a series of stunningly beautiful white sandstone cliffs. Kayak and inner tubes can be rented in Great Falls and launched from a boat ramp just outside of Fort Benton.
Being such a small town, Fort Benton has only a handful of dedicated RV parks. However, unless it’s peak tourism season (July and August), you probably won’t have trouble finding a place to park the camper rental in Fort Benton.
Benton RV Park and Campground offers full hookups, Wi-Fi, laundry facilities, and a boat launch nearby. Another option is D & S RV Park. Sites have full hookups (or just electricity if that’s all you need) and are very close to the town’s riverside greenway.
If you'd prefer to get out of town a bit, you can do that too. Montana is full of more rustic places to camp with your Fort Benton motorhome rental. Canoe Launch Campground is just south of D & S RV Park and has fairly basic sites with picnic tables, fire rings, and vault toilets.
One of the closest Walmarts is located in Great Falls, which although not exactly a quick drive from the town, could be a good option if you’re only staying for a couple of nights with your Fort Benton RV rental and want a place to park. You’ll also find a lot more options for shopping and fuel in Great Falls.
To get a sense of the town’s history, check out the Fort Benton Museums and Heritage Complex. Exhibits there showcase how this little community became “The Birthplace of Montana” as the final stop for steamboats traveling from as far away as New Orleans. The complex also highlights the life of homesteaders in the 19th century and an agricultural center focuses on contemporary farm productivity in Montana’s “Golden Triangle” wheat growing region.
One of the most prominent landmarks in Fort Benton is a statue of a dog overlooking the Missouri River. It commemorates Shep, a faithful canine that lived here in the 19th century and has a rather touching story. The dog visited the train station every day for years after his owner died and his casket was shipped back east by rail - every day hoping that his master would return.
Food options in Fort Benton are somewhat limited with most of them being located on Front Street or just off of it. Coffee shops, ice cream parlors, burger joints, and steakhouses can all be found there, but don’t expect anything more exotic like Indian or Thai cuisine to be available.
If you’re planning on getting an RV rental in Fort Benton, MT, during the summer, consider visiting at the end of June when the annual Summer Celebration is happening. Each festival has a different theme, but all of them include live music on Front Street, dancing, games for the kids, and a foot race. It’s fun for the whole family and is great for getting a sense of local culture.