After a long day of driving across the Hi-Line, you arrive in Havre, Montana, and you suddenly feel like you’re actually somewhere. Havre is not a “big city” by most standards, but in comparison with everything else in northern Montana, it’s downright huge. Havre’s businesses stretch out for several miles along US 2 — there are gas stations, restaurants, and places to stay. I was so happy to be back in civilization, I decided to stay for the night.
Havre, Montana is located along US 2 in north-central Montana. US 87 begins here, and runs south to Great Falls and Billings, and eventually Denver and San Antonio. North Dakota is 282 miles to the east on US 2, Idaho is 380 miles to the west.
I could have driven further before stopping for the night, but Havre looked like the kind of town that I would enjoy exploring. Also, I wasn’t sure about the odds of finding a decent motel room without driving another 88 miles to the next “big” city, Malta. So, I got a room at the Siesta Motel (more on that experience later) and checked out the town.
Havre, Montana’s railroad tracks are on the north side of US 2…
Downtown: Havre, Montana
… and the downtown district is just south of the main road. Even though US 2 is technically 1st Street, it’s essentially the center of the business district, with other businesses spreading a block or two south.
Havre has some great neon signs…
… and some pretty cool non-neon signs, as well.
There’s even some sidewalk art, to help spruce up the town.
If I had some extra time in Havre, I would have checked out the Havre Beneath The Streets tour. It’s essentially a museum that recreates and preserves Havre’s turn-of-the-20th-century underground shopping mall. Businesses relocated underground after a fire destroyed part of the town in the early days. The first tour the next morning wasn’t until 9:30, which would have cost me some precious time needed to cover hundreds of miles, but I think it would have been an interesting tour.
Small-town theaters are usually interesting, but Havre, Montana’s 4-screen cinema isn’t very exciting. No fancy marquee, no neon. It first opened as a two-screen theater, then split the rooms into four. That’s about all I’ve been able to learn about it.
As a photographer who loves to take pictures of neon signs, I was excited to spot this beautiful old PHOTO sign, brilliantly lit, as I walked around town. But, it was a block out of the way, so I decided to catch it on my return loop. No more than 20 minutes later when I arrived, the sign had already been switched off. Who leaves a neon sign on during the day, then turns it off before sunset?
Great Northern Fair: Havre, Montana
When looking for a motel, I quickly realized that it wasn’t going to be easy to find a room on this particular weekend. I had unknowingly arrived in Havre, Montana during the Great Northern Fair, which is a pretty big deal in this part of the state. After getting my room, but before walking around town, I decided to check out the fair.
The Great Northern Fair is located on the west side of Havre, on a hill overlooking US 2. You can access the fairgrounds off of 2nd Street, which is just south of the main road. There is no charge for parking, and no admission fee, so I simply wandered in. Tickets are required, however, for the rides and for the rodeo shows. I decided to get some dinner instead.
And it was a delicious dinner. But aside from a few food trucks and a handful of rides, there wasn’t much to see. I was hoping to buy a Great Northern Fair t-shirt, but couldn’t find one for sale.
Maybe I missed something — there were no signs to point visitors to different exhibits (there had to be some animals on display, right?). It didn’t take long before I developed a theory as to why. I’m pretty sure I was one of a few, if not the only, outsider. Everyone else has probably attended the fair every year, for most of their lives. They didn’t need a sign pointing to the parking area, or the entrance, or the exhibits, or the food. They all know where everything is.
I wandered around a bit, hoping to find something interesting. And then I left.
With sunset quickly approaching, I drove around for a while, hoping to find a good scene. A barn silhouetted by the sun would have been nice. Maybe a grain elevator, or even some bales of hay. But it wasn’t meant to be.
I drove north for a few miles, on Wildhorse Road — which leads to Canada. But all I found was a nice view looking back towards Havre, Montana. I mean, there’s nothing out there. Nothing.
So, I drove back into town and focused my attention on the elevators and silos that are located along US 2 at 7th Avenue. An overpass takes 7th Avenue over the railroad tracks…
… and I really thought that I would get a good shot from the bridge. But, chain-link fencing ruined that idea. You can see that the sky was beautiful, but without a good place to take a picture, I was out of luck. So, I headed back to my motel, which was just a few blocks away.
A Night in the Siesta Motel
You’re always rolling the dice when you check into a motel. Whether it’s four stars or half a star, you never know what you’ll get. But I don’t mind taking a chance from time to time, so when I spotted the Siesta Motel, I quickly read a few online reviews and decided it would be okay.
The Siesta’s funky nature starts with that beautiful vintage sign out front, but it doesn’t end there.
My room was a trip back in time to the 1970’s (with the exception of the flatscreen TV, thankfully). Again, that could be a good or bad thing, but I loved it. Everything was clean and comfortable…
… and I even had a refrigerator, which was easily a few decades older than me. The front desk clerk went out of her way to be helpful, as well, and I had a great night in Havre.
It had been quite a day, and my drive down the Hi-Line wasn’t finished. I had another half-day of driving east before I had to turn south and head towards Billings. I was in the middle of nowhere, in a town that most people would never bother to visit, seeing time-capsule towns that had changed little since the early 1900’s. This is what made my trip east across Montana worthwhile, and more of it was waiting up ahead.
Here’s a look at the drive eastbound on the Hi-Line, from East Glacier Park Village to Malta, Montana:
… and here’s a closer look at just the cities on the Hi-Line:
The Bottom Line
Havre, Montana provides a great place to stop for the night. It feels bigger than it really is, but it has everything you need. I didn’t find a lot of places to take great pictures, but the walk around town was very interesting. And, I highly recommend the Siesta Motel!