Better known as the Missouri Breaks, or, by locals, as simply The Breaks, this 375,000-acre national monument was created in 2001. Within its boundaries lie almost 82,000 acres of private inholdings and close to 39,000 acres of state land. The Monument land proper is managed by the federal Bureau of Land Management.
Upper Missouri River Breaks lands more or less parallel the Missouri River from the historic inland port of Fort Benton, Montana through the western edge of the Charles M. Russell Wildlife Refuge to the Fred Robinson Bridge where U.S. Highway 191 crosses the river. This 149-mile waterwat, federally designated as the Upper Missouri National Wild and Scenic River, is one of the most remote wilderness rivers in the lower 48 states, and requires no permits to float. Permits are required for recreational use of state lands within the monument.
That said, access to the dry portions of the Breaks is minimal. While U.S. Highway 87 accesses the monument's western portion at Fort Benton, and U.S. Highway 91 traverses the Monument at the James Kipp Recreation Area, and Montana Highway 236 borders the Monument at Lewistown, Winifred and Big Sandy, most Monument lands are accessible only via unimproved dirt roads, many of which become impassibly slick with wet clay after rains. More of the Monument still has no roads at all, and since off-road motor travel is prohibited, hiking is the only way—and a hard way—to go. The Monument contains no lodging, no gas stations, and no restaurants. If you're going, be sure to gear up in one of the backcountry's gateway communities.
The upside to such remote inaccessibility is that the Missouri Breaks remain in large part unchanged since Lewis and Clark passed this way in 1805 and 1806, and for that matter since Blackfeet, Assiniboine, Gros Ventre, Crow, Plains Cree, and Plains Ojibwa tribes roamed the biologically fertile landscape before them, leaving trails and teepee rings behind. Elk, bighorn sheep, and prairie dogs maintain strongholds in the Breaks, and the river supports 48 species of fish, including goldeye, drum, sauger, walleye, northern pike, channel catfish, small mouth buffalo, blue sucker, shovel nose sturgeon, sicklefin, sturgeon chub, the endangered pallid sturgeon, and one of just six remaining paddlefish populations in the United States.
Overhead, sparrow hawks, ferruginous hawks, peregrine falcons, prairie falcons, golden eagles, bald eagles survey the water-carved badlands. Great blue herons, pelicans, and a diverse array of waterfowl patrol the Missouri's shores.
Visitors looking for a low-impact education on the area can check out the Missouri Breaks Interpretive Center at 701 7th Street in Fort Benton from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, excepting federal holidays. Summer hours (the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend through September 30) are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. seven days a week.
For a more modern (and possibly somewhat fanciful) take on the area's anglo history as a hideout for desperados, queue up the 1976 Arthur Penn film The Missouri Breaks, written by Montana eminence Thomas McGuane and starring Jack Nicholson, Marlon Brandon, and Randy Quaid.