Big Sheep Creek Backcountry Byway


View of an old sheep shearing plant in the sagebrush along the Big Sheep Creek Backcountry Byway
An old sheep shearing plant along the Big Sheep Creek Backcountry Byway
A view in the BLM campground along the Big Sheep Creek Backcountry Byway

The Big Sheep Creek Backcountry Byway is a 50-mile route in southwestern Montana over mostly 2-lane gravel roads, but there is a short strip of one-lane dirt. At the south end, the route passes beneath the high rock cliffs of Big Sheep Creek Canyon before entering a long valley with the Beaverhead Mountains to the west and the Tendoy Mountains to the east. This is a beautiful drive through gorgeous countryside. Make the drive in the early morning or in the evening and you'll probably come across deer, elk and bighorn sheep along the way. At the lower end of Big Sheep Creek you'll find the Deadwood Gulch Campground: a rustic campground with 6 sites, toilets, picnic tables and fire rings, but no drinking water. In several places there are also gates across the road: leave them the same way you found them. Other than the fences and the odd structure, this countryside is still the same way it was when the first mountain men came through almost 200 years ago. Once you get past the canyons of the Tendoy Mountains, you might pass 2 or 3 cars at most along the route.

The northern end of the Big Sheep Creek Backcountry Byway is west of Clark Canyon Dam on State Route 324. The southern end of the Backcountry Byway is at Dell, via exit 24 on the I-15 (24 miles north of the Idaho-Montana state line). Depending on the weather, road conditions along the route can vary dramatically, and sections of the road may be impassable when wet. The safest time of year to make the drive: from May to early October. Along the route there are side roads that lead to trailheads in the mountains on either side. In the mountains you may come across abandoned mining claims: be careful of tunnels and holes in the ground. Any structures still standing are probably also unsafe. Figure on spending about 3 hours to make this drive, unless you come across something you'd like to explore further and get hooked...

A flint chipping area where Native Americans made arrowheads, spear tips and other stone tools many years ago
An old Native American chipping area, where tools and arrowheads were made
Ancient Native American pictographs on the walls of Big Sheep Creek Canyon
Native American pictographs
Big Sheep Creek Backcountry Byway area map
Big Sheep Creek Backcountry Byway area map
Photos of Native American chipping area, pictographs and shearing plant courtesy of Ruth Little
Small photo of camper courtesy of the Bureau of Land Management. Map courtesy of National Geographic Topo!