2020 Update from Great Strides on Great American Rail-Trail Virtual Celebration

The preferred route of the Great American Rail-Trail through Montana will connect communities already well-known for their outdoor recreation assets—including Livingston, Bozeman, Three Forks, Butte and Missoula. History abounds along the route as well: The area around the state’s Great American gateway trail—the developing Headwaters Trails System in Three Forks—has a history stretching to Sacajawea and the 1804–1806 Lewis and Clark Corps of Discovery expedition; and in Livingston, the Highway 89 South Pedestrian Trail travels through the original gateway town for the country’s first national park: Yellowstone.

Close collaboration with trail managers and public officials in Montana will help facilitate the creation of the 325 miles needed to complete the Great American route over the next several decades.

Montana Great American Rail-Trail Map 2022

From Rails to Trails Magazine’s Spring/Summer 2019 issue

The Headwaters Trail System and Sacajawea

The area around the Headwaters Trail System in Three Forks, Montana, brims with a history that goes back to the earliest records of western expansion. It was here that Sacajawea of the Lemhi Shoshone tribe—who was serving as a guide and interpreter for the Lewis and Clark expedition (1804–1806)—recognized the area whence she’d been captured as a 12-year-old by a warring tribe. Her familiarity helped the expeditioners in choosing the best path westward.

During the expedition in 1805, while crossing the Continental Divide, Sacajawea was happily reunited with her tribe and several of her siblings, including her brother Cameahwait, now chief. The tribe gave further assistance to the expedition as they successfully made their way to the Pacific Ocean. Read about more historical connections along the Great American Rail-Trail here.

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The “Great American” Route Through Montana

RTC’s route analysis defines the preferred route of the Great American Rail-Trail through Montana as 427 miles—comprising 102 existing trail miles and 325 gap miles. Click the links below to view full trail descriptions of Montana’s host trails on

Gateway Trail

Headwaters Trail System | Photo by Scott Stark
Headwaters Trail System | Photo by Scott Stark

Headwaters Trail System

The trail connects to Missouri Headwaters State Park, where three rivers meet to form the Missouri River: the Jefferson, Madison and Gallatin. This is Big Sky country, a place where the pioneering expedition of Lewis and Clark trekked during their journey across the country. Offering nearly 12 miles of trail in and adjacent to the City of Three Forks, the trail enables travelers to take in the scenery of open grasslands, distant mountains, marshlands and river valleys as they follow along portions of the old Milwaukee Road rail corridor.

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Be a Part of the Movement to Complete the Great American

Like you, we can’t wait to see the Great American Rail-Trail vision come to life—but we can’t do it alone. Help us reach 1 million pledges for the Great American, showing the strength and solidarity of the trails community.


Completing the Great American Rail-Trail: Catalyst Initiatives in Montana

In every state along the preferred route of the Great American, needs for completing the trail vary. To spur trail completion, RTC has identified initial catalyst initiatives—projects or challenges that would most benefit from RTC’s national breadth of resources. (View the complete list of catalyst initiatives and criteria here.) Through these initiatives, RTC will support local and state partners, investing time, expertise and organizational resources in specific projects that are critical to the ultimate completion of the Great American Rail-Trail.

Paradise Valley in Montana | Photo by Kevin Belanger, courtesy Rails-to-Trails Conservancy
Paradise Valley in Montana | Photo by Kevin Belanger, courtesy Rails-to-Trails Conservancy

Great American Rail-Trail Gap #68: Highway 89 South Pedestrian Trail Extension

RTC will work with Park County and the Park County Environmental Council to define and pursue alternative routes for completing the trail, providing the necessary technical and planning assistance. Assistance will include a feasibility study and concept plan for the trail segment between Emigrant and Livingston; education and outreach within the community; a signage plan; and design, engineering and construction assistance. In addition, RTC will serve as a technical resource to Montana State Parks in the implementation of the Trails Program authorized and funded through S.B. 24 in the 2019 Montana legislative session.