The Great Northern Route

The largest town along eastern US-2, Havre (pop. 9,310; pronounced “HAV-er”) was founded by the Great Northern Railway and named, for no good reason, after the French port Le Havre, though you’d never tell by the pronunciation. Havre retains more than a little of its Wild West feel and has enough unusual attractions to merit an extended stop. West of town is a large area of eroded badlands, and just north of US-2, behind the Holiday Village Shopping Center, is Wahkpa Chu’gn “Buffalo Jump” Archaeological Site (406/265-6417, daily 9am-4pm June-Sept., $10). Dating to prehistoric times, the area was used by Plains people to drive bison to their deaths. Many of the artifacts recovered from the area are displayed inside nearby H. Earl Clack Memorial Museum (406/265-4000, Tues.-Sat. 1pm-5pm Labor Day-Memorial Day, daily 11am-5pm Memorial Day-Labor Day, donation), which manages the site.

Havre itself, home to popular former governor Brian Schweitzer, is engaging and also a little rowdy. Numerous poker clubs (everything has “casino” tacked onto it) and cowboy bars line the compact downtown area, underneath which is a defunct underground world of illicit bordellos and opium dens, all part of the whiskey trail that flourished a century ago and again during Prohibition, when copious quantities of bathtub gin from Canada, a stone’s throw north, were run through. Relaxed but informative tours ($15) are available through Havre Beneath the Streets (120 3rd Ave., 406/265-8888).

Along 1st Street (US-2) you’ll find all the usual fast-food suspects, as well as a fresher deli-café, the Lunch Box (213 3rd Ave., 406/265-6588), south of US-2. For a place to stay, the plushest of Havre’s handful of motels is the Best Western PLUS Great Northern Inn (1345 1st St., 406/265-4200, $90 and up).