More often than you’d think, customers ask us what to do on a day off from the river (yes, some do take a day off!). In the immediate area we have 3 attractions. Boat tours of the Gates of the Mountains on Holter Lake, a quick but steep hike at Tower Rock State Park near Hardy Creek, or the excellent hike/interpretive center at the First Peoples Buffalo Jump State Park at Ulm.
Located 30 minutes north of Craig, the First Peoples Buffalo Jump is not the most well known historical/interpretive location in the area. Both the Charlie Russell Museum and Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center in Great Falls are better known. But the First Peoples Buffalo Jump constantly gets favorable reviews from those who have visited all 3.
I’m ashamed to admit that while I’ve heard all of the great things about this site, I didn’t visit it until recently. My wife and I took a daughter and friend out for the 3 mile hike, and to participate in some of the activities they occasionally offer.
The interpretive center has some very interesting information on the history of Buffalo and the Plains Tribes that hunted them. From the website:
First Peoples Buffalo Jump State Park is an archaeological site with possibly the largest bison cliff jump in North America. Native peoples used this site for at least a thousand years before Lewis and Clark passed through here. The bison jump site consists of a mile long sandstone cliff; there are remnants of drive lines on top of the cliff and there are up to 18 ft. of compacted buffalo remains below the cliff. The park has an interpretive trail, picnic tables and a protected black-tailed prairie dog town to help the visitor better understand the epic history of hunting on the high plains.
The hike is listed at about 3 miles, and it’s no longer. The mostly flat trail has numerous interpretive markers along the way. Old fire rings, tepee rings, interpretive displays and wildlife – including Rattlesnakes – are among the things you’ll see. Grab a guidebook at the visitor center and you can read details about each stop along the way.
The trail does have a short, steep section as you approach the top of the “jump”. It may involve a little scrambling as well, depending on the route you take as it branches out through the final cliffs. You can also drive to the top, and there are outhouses and parking there.
The view from the top is pretty spectacular. You’ll look mostly east and south towards the Smith River country and Square Butte. While you probably wouldn’t think the view of the Great Falls area is beautiful, it really is.
The trail down is pretty easy and shorter. If you think 3 miles is more than you want to tackle, go up the “down” way (the trail is a loop). It’s shorter.
Occasionally the Park has interpretive guides teaching any interested how to perform some old school Plains skills. Fortunately, we hit one of those days. The girls had a chance to shoot the Bow & Arrow and try the Atlatl spear thrower. All activities were overseen by instructors, of course. There was also hatchet throwing and fire-starting. Pretty cool and the kids enjoyed it a ton.
So, some very interesting history, and a little outside the traditional “discovery” stuff we are saturated with around here. An excellent walk to get the blood pumping, with some pretty nice views of our area. This would be an excellent morning recovery activity if you were out a little late in Craig.
The First Peoples Buffalo Jump is a highly rated non-angling activity if you’re looking for something to do on a day off (or half day off) in the Craig area.
And here is the Buffalo Jump…