Those that have followed this blog through the years know I like to explore little-known, out-of-the-way places. Mission Canyon located near Hays, Montana on the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation is definitely one of those places. The canyon features steep, multihued limestone cliffs that tower hundreds of feet above you.
Within the canyon are natural bridges, arches, windows (hole through a rock face), waterfalls, and a unique grotto called Devil’s Kitchen that can be reached by climbing a ladder made out of lodgepole pines. The canyon has been carved over centuries by People’s Creek as it flows downstream out of the Little Rocky Mountains.
Most of the sites can be seen by traveling the well-graveled road which wends its way along the creek. Along the way, you will find roadside picnic stops (many can accommodate RVs) and interpretive signs erected by the tribe telling stories of the canyon and their ancestors.
To enjoy everything the canyon has to offer, plan on hiking the Hole in the Wall Trail (1-mile roundtrip with 500 feet elevation gain) where you can walk under a natural bridge, enjoy stunning views of the canyon, and stand upon a small arch.
As you depart Mission Canyon while traveling in the upstream direction, look for a side canyon departing to the east (left) where you will find a small waterfall and more beautiful views of limestone cliffs. (Note: This side road is not suitable for RVs.)
If you find yourself visiting in August, you might also take in the Hays Pow Wow featuring Native American dancing, music, and cultural events. The Pow Wow is open to the public and provides a chance for visitors to experience the traditions of some of the indigenous cultures that shaped the region.
Tribes that called the Fort Belknap Reservation home are the Assiniboine, or Nakoda, along with the Gros Ventre, who refer to themselves as A’aninin or “People of the White Clay.” The combined population is approximately 4,000.
Visiting Mission Canyon
Navigate to Hays, Montana just off Highway 66 in the north-central portion of Montana. Continue southwest on paved Main Street through town. After about a mile or so, you will reach a welcome sign at the mouth of Mission Canyon at N47° 58.129 W108° 40.130 where the road becomes gravel. There is a wide spot at the mouth of the canyon where you can drop your RV and proceed in your tow vehicle or dinghy if desired.
While there were signs in Hays indicating a campground in the area, I did not have the chance to check it out. As noted, there are pull-outs in the canyon featuring fire rings, picnic tables, and BBQ grills, it’s possible you may gain permission to camp in one.
For more information, contact the Fort Belknap Indian Community located at 656 Agency Main, Harlem, MT 59526 or call 406-353-2205.
Enjoying a scenic canyon while learning about the tribes that call it home, just another adventure in RVing!