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Road trip: Clarkson, Montana



Story and photos by Pamela Bussi

Bright yellow sunflowers line the
15-mile road to Clarkston. The freshly
paved road winds through hills, around
corners and through land that was
once home to a small town. Set along
the Missouri River in the Clarkston
Valley a few miles north of the Missouri
Headwaters, this small, remote
community was established in the early
20th century.

Around 1910, W. Guy Clark came to
the narrow valley from western Dakota
on the newly built Northern Pacific
line. He bought a ranch, and through
his efforts, the community soon had a
store, school and grain elevator, according
to the Three Forks Area Historical
Society. Clark initially named the town
Magpie, after the black and white birds
common in the area. Later, “not liking
the name Magpie, [he] had the station
name changed to Clarkston,” the Historical
Society’s website recounts.

Soon all the homesteads were taken,
most of the land was plowed, and the
district had three schoolhouses. But
drought, influenza, harsh winters and
the Great Depression cleared out this
fast-growing area.

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The rail line still runs through
Clarkston, but trains continue past
as though nothing exists there: no
whistles, just the clattering sounds of
the track. The town kept its post office
until 1958; today the town is a rural
residential subdivision.

Horses roam miles of pastureland. Old
machinery sits on the open range, the
sun, wind and rain taking its toll. Old
homesteads and barns as well have
fallen to Mother Nature, now skeletons
of what they once were. Like many
rural Montana towns, the railroad made
the town. When the railroad disappeared,
so went the town.

Clarkston is nestled at the foot of the Horseshoe Hills near the Missouri Headwaters
State Park. Approximately 15 miles away, Three Forks is the nearest town. This
beautiful part of the valley has miles of hiking and horseback riding trails, as well as
hunting, fishing and floating on the Missouri River.

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How to get there:
For a great drive through beautiful country head toward Three Forks. From
Bozeman, take the old highway at Logan, turn off at the Logan Shooting
Range and drive through the hills.

Check out the cement plant at Trident for an alternative route. Again, take
the old highway from Logan, take a right at Buffalo Jump Road, and go past
the Missouri Headwaters State Park, through the plant. Both routes have
plenty to see.

Pamela Bussi grew up on a farm and ranch in northern Montana along the hi-line.
She attended high school in Shelby, 42 miles from home. She grew up loving the land
and her lifestyle, and now writes and photographs small towns in Montana. She and
her husband Paul live in Bozeman and own Ideal Photography.

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