Last revised: October 26, 2023
By: Adam Burns
The open vistas and stunning scenery of Montana draw hundreds of thousands of visitors each year, especially those heading to Yellowstone National Park which just clips the state's southwestern boundary.
You can still see the state's beauty by rail although only our nation's national passenger carrier, Amtrak, offers intercity service through Montana via the Empire Builder. This historic train travels from Chicago to Seattle, and runs the state's northern periphery through Glacier National Park over the old Great Northern Railway's main line.
However, there is one experience in Montana which offers the chance to experience rail travel as was long ago, the Charlie Russell Choo Choo located just outside of Lewistown.
This excursion train uses tracks owned by the Central Montana Rail, Inc., a short line freight carrier, with a heritage that can be traced back to the Milwaukee Road. Among their many trips are dinner trains hosted throughout the warmer months. They also host special events, such as the North Pole Adventure during the Christmas season.
If you're interested in other ways to enjoy Montana outside of a train ride, the state offers a wide range of outdoor activities for the whole family during the summer months. From hiking to swimming, to exploring the state's many national parks.
Hiking is one of the most popular activities. The state has a vast network of hiking trails that range from easy to challenging, making it easy to find a trail that suits your family's needs. Some of the most popular trails include the Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park, which offers stunning views of the park's glaciers and mountains, and the Beaten Path Trail in the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness, which takes hikers through a scenic landscape of forests, meadows, and lakes.
Another popular activity is swimming. Montana is home to many lakes and rivers, making it a great destination for water activities. Flathead Lake is the largest natural freshwater lake in the western United States and offers a variety of water activities such as swimming, boating, and fishing. The Madison River is also a popular spot for swimming and tubing.
For families looking for a more adventure, Montana offers plenty of opportunities for rock climbing, rafting, and zip-lining. The state's vast network of rivers offers some of the best whitewater rafting in the country, while its mountain ranges offer world-class rock climbing and zip-lining.
Montana is also home to several national parks that offer a variety of family-friendly activities. Glacier National Park is one of the state's most popular destinations, offering hiking trails, wildlife viewing, and guided tours of the park's many glaciers. Yellowstone National Park, which spans across Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho, is another popular destination, offering opportunities for hiking, wildlife viewing, and exploring the park's many geothermal features.
For families looking for a more relaxed activity, Montana has several museums and cultural attractions that offer a glimpse into the state's history and culture. The Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman is home to one of the largest dinosaur collections in the world, while the Montana Historical Society Museum in Helena offers exhibits on the state's history and culture.
(Lewistown): A sometimes forgotten dinner train operation is the Charlie Russell Chew Choo is based in Lewistown along the only former Milwaukee Road still intact in the west-central region of the state.
The train covers 28 miles (56-mile round trip) and operates nearly every weekend during the summer season. The views and open vistas afforded on this trip are incredible.
The Charlie Russell Chew Choo is a unique dining experience that combines the beauty of Montana's landscape with delicious food and historic railroad travel. This dinner train ride takes passengers on a journey through the heart of Montana, offering stunning views of the rolling hills and scenic landscapes of the region.
Located near Lewistown, the Charlie Russell Chew Choo is named after famed Western artist Charlie Russell. The train takes its passengers on a journey back in time, offering a glimpse of what life was like during the golden age of rail travel. It departs from just outside of Lewistown with the train traveling to the town of Denton before returning. Trips lasting approximately 3 ½ hours.
The Charlie Russell Chew Choo offers a variety of different dining options, including a three-course dinner, a prime rib dinner, and a brunch option. The train's chef prepares all meals fresh on board the train, using only the freshest ingredients available. The menu changes seasonally, so passengers can always expect something new and exciting.
The train ride itself is a unique experience, as passengers are seated in vintage rail cars that have been beautifully restored. The cars feature comfortable seating, elegant décor, and large windows that offer stunning views of Montana's countryside. As the train travels through the rolling hills and open fields, passengers can sit back, relax, and enjoy the beautiful scenery.
The preeminent attraction is crossing the massive Judith River Trestle which spans the Judith River Valley. It is 1,953 feet long and soars 135 feet over the valley. Completed in September, 1913 it was severely damaged by flooding in 2011 but restored to service in the fall of 2014.
Throughout the journey, passengers are entertained by live musicians who perform classic country and western songs. The train also features a bar car, where passengers can purchase drinks and relax with friends or family.
The Charlie Russell Chew Choo is a perfect choice for anyone looking for a unique dining experience or a romantic evening out. The train is also a popular choice for special events, such as weddings, birthdays, and anniversaries. The train's staff is always happy to work with passengers to create a customized experience that meets their needs and preferences.
Overall, the Charlie Russell Chew Choo is a unique and memorable way to experience Montana's beauty and charm. With its delicious food, stunning scenery, and historic charm, the dinner train ride is a must-try experience for anyone visiting Lewistown, Montana.