Three Forks

Three Forks is situated near the convergence point of the three rivers of the Missouri River about 30 miles from Bozeman. The three forks making the confluence of the Missouri River are the Jefferson River, the Gallatin River, and the internationally-famous Madison River. The town lies at 4,081 feet and is protected by the Rocky Mountains leaving the eastern side mild in the winter with cool mountain breezes in the summer.

Historically, the three tributaries of the Missouri have brought people of various cultures together. The Indians came together at this point because it was a convergence for wildlife and a crossroads of hunting trails. Fur traders found these river junctions a useful trading location. Today the Headwaters Heritage Museum and Missouri Headwaters State Park preserve the history of this confluence of peoples and rivers.

The areas at the headwaters and of Three Forks has some of the most colorful early history in Montana. Three Forks was the crossroads of Indian trails. Just west of town, Sacajawea as a child was captured from her tribe, the Shoshones. She married a French-Canadian trapper, Toussaint Charbanneau, and together they guided the Lewis and Clark Expedition through the area in 1805.

The Corps of Discovery arrived at the headwaters of the Missouri River in July 1805. They camped for a week along the Jefferson River just above the headwaters, while Clark recovered from a fever. In 1806, Clark was guided by Sacajawea across the valley from the three forks to the pass leading directly into the Yellowstone River.

Three Forks is also the site of one of the bloodiest battles ever fought between the Blackfeet, the Flatheads, and the Crow. John Colter took part in this fight on the side of the Flatheads and the Crows in 1808. Colter's allies, though fewer in number, won the battle. In April 1810, the Missouri Fur Company established Fort Three Forks, but because of constant Indian attacks, the fort was abandoned before it was completed. Kit Carson narrowly escaped from a Blackfeet brave whom he killed on the bluffs north of Three Forks. This fascinating history is displayed on plaques at the Headwaters State Park or from the Headwaters Heritage Museum in downtown Three Forks.

Only eighteen miles west of Three Forks is the Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park, a treasure you won't want to miss! This is Montanas first state park and has perhaps the most impressive limestone caves in the northwestern United States. It is truly an underground fairyland of ancient stalactites and stalagmites created millions of years ago. There is a gradual sloping trail leading to the cavern's entrance and once inside be prepared for over 600 steps leading through hands-and-knees crawl space, narrow rock slides and cathedral-sized chambers. The cave's interior is a constant 50 degrees.

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