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Sweet Grass Hills

The Sweet Grass Hills from Highway 89 between Birch Creek and Two Medicine Creek, Blackfeet Country, Montana

Montana has over forty individually named mountain ranges, the result of a complex geologic history of sedimentation, deformation caused by compression, igneous activity, and most recently, extensional block faulting.

The Sweet Grass Hills, located on the plains of north central Montana between the Canadian border and the Milk River, are one of Montana's outstanding spectacles to view as it seems to take forever to reach them when driving closer.

The Sweet Grass Hills from Highway 2 between Cut Bank and Shelby Montana The Sweet Grass Hills consist of three distinct butte complexes with scattered grassy hills connecting them.  The three buttes are West Butte (elevation of 6983 feet, on left), Middle or Gold Butte (elevation of 6512 feet) and East Butte (elevation of 6958 feet, on right) along with two smaller features (on far right), Grassy and Haystack Buttes.

The Sweet Grass Hills are prominent landmarks, rising nearly 3,000 feet above the surrounding plains with rolling hills extending on the north almost to the Canadian border and are visible for more than 50 miles.  Although the Sweet Grass Hills are far from the biggest mountains, they seem very tall when viewed from a distance and can also take seemingly forever to reach when driving toward them.

The three buttes and the hills between them go for about 50 miles east to west and are about 10 miles in distance from north to south.  The major river in the area is the Marias, which drains the Sweet Grass Hills to the south.  West and Middle or Gold Buttes are located in northern Toole County and East Butte is in northern Liberty County.

From Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park, created in 1957 in Southern Alberta and located just north of the Montana border, one is offered a southerly view of the Sweet Grass Hills.  The park's spectacular sandstone cliffs are decorated with the largest known selection of ancient Aboriginal carvings (petroglyphs) and paintings (pictographs) of North American plains bison.  This park contains North America's largest concentration of Native rock art.

Carved, scratched or engraved into sandstone cliff faces at about 50 sites are thousands of figures created by native artists.  Artifacts indicate that the area was inhabited for at least 3,000 years, but scientists have been unable to date the artwork.  While some may be prehistoric, researchers believe that the Blackfeet Tribe's recent habitation created most of the rock art. 

While the Blackfeet were there during the 1700s they found unexplained carvings which they attributed to the spirits.  The place was named “Aysin'eep”, or “has been written” and warriors came seeking spiritual guidance, leaving inscriptions recording their battles and deeds.  The Blackfeet have also long considered the Sweet Grass Hills as sacred land.  In Blackfeet, the Sweet Grass Hills are known as the Sweet Pine Hills, referring to the balsam fir that grows upon them.

The Sweet Grass Hills in Montana possess special significance to the Blackfeet Indians and other tribes on the northern Great Plains.
Seen from U.S. Highway 2 along the Hi-line from Browning to Havre, Montana, you can reach the Hills by traveling on north bound roads out of Chester and Shelby, Montana and on east bound roads along Interstate 15 north of Shelby.

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