Madison Buffalo Jump State Park isn’t far from Three Forks, and it’s well worth a stop. This scenic spot rounds out the triple crown of state parks surrounding the Headwaters region. Here’s all you need to know when you’re planning a trip to this significant historic site.
The hiSTORY of the Jump
Native Americans used this jump site for 2,000 years, up to a time as recent as 200 years ago. Imagine the pounding of stampeding bison, a resounding clamor that carries across the valley and shakes the ground. The herd moves as one, turning together, guided by mysterious figures running shrouded in wolf skins. The herd carries onward, not realizing what lies ahead. And then it’s too late, and they’re over the edge, plunging down, down, down until they hit bottom.
The women of the tribe come to put them out of their misery and begin the process of skinning, butchering and preserving. A single 2,000-pound bison is the food equivalent of 8,000 cheeseburgers, feeding native families for months. The hide would be used for clothing and shelter, cured using the brains of the animal.
Today, the jump pays homage to the long history of survival in this often harsh landscape. Before the arrival of horses in the region in the 1700s, jump sites made it possible for the nomadic tribes of the region to survive and thrive.
At Madison Buffalo Jump State Park, you’ll find rustic amenities. Non-Montana residents can pay their daily entry fee ($6 per car) with cash or US check at the unmanned fee station, and there is a latrine at the gravel parking lot.
From there, visitors can take the short walk up to the interpretive plaza, a covered area with displays to help you learn more about the history and the landscape in front of you. There are several miles of trails to enjoy, and you can get stunning views of the surrounding valley and mountain ranges when you head to the top of the jump. Just be sure to look for the archaeological remains of tipi rings as you go.
How to Spend your Time
Whether you have a few minutes or a few hours to kill, Madison Buffalo Jump makes a scenic stop along the way, or a quick diversion during your day.
Take a quick walk up to the interpretive plaza, and get a view of the cliffs from below. You can learn a lot and see plenty in just a few minutes, with time to scope out the flora and fauna of the park along the way. Plus, as you turn around and head for the parking lot, you’ll still get a good view of the Tobacco Root Mountains on a clear day.
1 HOUR (OR LESS)
It’s worth spending an hour to hike to the top of the jump. For most folks, that includes time for photos at the top of the limestone cliffs. On a hot day, be sure to come prepared with sunscreen, a hat and water, since the trails are exposed to the elements. This is a taste of the plains, with grasses, sagebrush and cactuses along the trail.
Take a bigger loop and get a good walk in. You can take advantage of several miles of single-track trail, open to hikers, bikers and horses.
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