Given that we live in Helena, Montana, it can be hard to do long scenic drives when we have to tack on two or more hours of roundtrip driving from Helena, Montana. That is why I was stoked when I had the opportunity to do a staycation in Dillon, Montana. Dillon is a little over two hours away from Helena, and I was interested in scenic drives more easily accomplished with a stay in Dillon. Read on to learn about some of the cool things you can do in Dillon, Montana, and then read about our epic day drip.
Dillon is a small town. Forbes has listed Dillon, Montana, as one of the prettiest towns in America. Given that we visited in mid-October, I could see why: pretty fall colors framed historic architecture, many people had set up fall and Halloween decorations, and the town looked very iconic. Dillon feels like a haunted historic place, while also feeling like a link to the Old West, while also feeling like a filming location for an episode of Gilmore Girls. It all depends on what lens you want to look at the town through! This post is about the 11 Things to do in Dillon, Montana that I recommend!
Where to Stay in Dillon
For our romantic staycation, my husband and I were able to stay at the Andrus Hotel in Dillon, Montana. Here is my honest review of the Andrus Hotel I did in exchange for a comped stay. (Read my Affiliate Disclosure and Marketing Philosophy statement here.) I’m very grateful because my adventures would not have been possible without the Andrus, and we were able to save on the usual cost and guilt of putting the cats in a kennel during one of our two-day adventures.
I really loved the Andrus Hotel since it was perfect for a cozy romantic weekend getaway with the cats in tow. The hotel has pretty much everything you need, so we were comfortable and set for making breakfast, watching HBO Max, and cuddling with the cats. The Andrus is also close to many of these things to do in Dillon, Montana, as well as a comfortable home base for adventures, complete with a full-size fridge and laundry machines.
Things to do in Dillon, Montana
Dillon has a variety of fun activities for everyone!
1) Get Some Beer at Beaverhead Brewing
Beaverhead Brewing is a nice, open brewery where you can enjoy a pint of beer or get a growler to go. The space is a little loud when there is live music playing, but fun nonetheless. It could easily be a nice place for a pre-wedding hangout if you’re getting married in Dillon. We enjoyed the Beaverslide IPA. I love checking out Montana breweries, hence why I added this to the top of my list of things to do in Dillon, Montana.
2) Go Shopping
Dillon, Montana, has some cute shops. My husband and I both enjoyed the small used bookstore, which also sells some gifts, useful items, and music books. One shop I particularly enjoyed was Wildwood Floral and Gifts. There were a ton of gift items like bath bombs, stationery, earrings, and more, and the place smelled great since it is also a floral arrangement shop. It was hard to resist the temptation not to buy some flowers. If you need flower arrangements in Dillon, this looks like the place to go. There are other cool shops we didn’t get the chance to check out as well!
3) See the Beaverhead County Museum
We didn’t have time to visit the museum since it was Monday–checkout day–and the kitties were in the car. However, based on walking around and photographing the outside, as well as from what I can tell by looking it up online, I definitely want to go back and hit up this museum sometime. Some small towns in Montana have small museums I haven’t gone out of my way for, but this one by all appearances looks like a hidden gem worth exploring. I’ve shared some of my pictures below.
4) Check out a Haunted Hotel
The Metlen Hotel is haunted and has been featured on the Travel Channel’s Ghost Adventures. I saw in the town’s news flier, The Dillonite Daily, that the hotel is open Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. It sounds like there are both friendly and unfriendly entities residing there. The hotel looked pretty spooky, and the vibe definitely wasn’t helped by a couple of Halloween signs in the windows! A local resident claimed that the hotel is planning to renovate a few of its rooms but I was unable to verify this rumor yet. I would say this is one of the spookiest things to do in Dillon, Montana.
5) Patagonia Outlet
Dillon also has a Patagonia Outlet store! According to an old 2001 article from the Missoulian, the store has always been a pretty big deal and a draw for people from all over. I checked out the store and it was pretty awesome, but sadly I still couldn’t really afford anything. A friend who went to school in Dillon told me they have one or two big sales a year, which the old 2001 article was claiming would attract huge amounts of people.
6) Photograph the town
As I’ve mentioned, with historic charm galore, Dillon, Montana, is a great place to photograph. I had fun seeing if I could use fall leaves to frame some of my shots. I would guess fall and winter are some of the most picturesque times since with one you get fall and Halloween vibes, and with the other you get snow and Christmas decorations.
7) Visit Nearby State Parks
Bannack State Park – One of the best state parks in Montana, Bannack is a true gem and a mere 30 minutes / 25.5 miles away from Dillon, Montana. No trip to Montana is truly complete without a visit to this iconic state park, and this is the crown jewel of things to do near Dillon, Montana!
To date, Bannack is in my top three favorite ghost towns in Montana because I love the Meade Hotel and Bannack is absolutely gorgeous if you can catch it when it is green in the early spring. Although it was chillier than I expected it to be, it was so cool to see Bannack in the fall now as well.
Clark’s Lookout – One mile away from Dillon, Clark’s Lookout State Park promised to hold great photography potential with a monument and views of the valley after a short uphill hike from the parking lot. Sadly, it wasn’t well advertised that the park closes seasonally, it was buried on their webpage and no one bothered to update the Google hours, which was upsetting for me. The park is only open May 1st through September 30th.
Google also wanted me to drive Lovers Leap to reach the park, which is incorrect, so I had to backtrack and follow the road signs I saw pointing out the park. I tried submitting a correction to Google but wanted to list this discrepancy in an abundance of caution.
Beaverhead Rock State Park – Beaverhead Rock State Park is 20 minutes / 16.1 miles away from Dillon. The website notes it is not directly accessible to the public, and you are supposed to photograph from afar. It was called “Beaver’s Head” due to its shape by the Shoshone, and Sacagawea had recognized the landmark with the Corps of Discovery.
Google Maps will try leading you down a private road right by Beaverhead Rock. You actually need to stop at the Beaverhead Rock Historical Marker at 1420 MT-41, Twin Bridges, MT, right off the highway, which has some informational displays and a direct view of Beaverhead Rock you can photograph.
8) Visit the UM Campus
The University of Montana Western Campus in Dillon is actually very gorgeous, with the historic Main Hall looking like a filming location for a hit dark academia show or a posh drama set at a fancy school. There were stately trees on the campus with great fall colors. This gorgeous building immediately caught my eye when we drove by, and I knew I had to stop for some photographs!
9) Get Coffee or Drinks at these Dillon locations
The African Oasis Cafe is one of the most interesting cafe/shop combos I’ve ever seen. It is part coffee shop and part gift and art shop. They have a wide variety of decor, furniture, gifts, art, and more from Africa, with prices ranging from inexpensive to expensive, all sourced from North Africa.
Another unique thing is that they have a wide variety of taxidermied African animals and skulls throughout the cafe. While this might evoke mixed emotions, from anger in animal lovers, to fascination in those who don’t mind this sort of thing, it is pretty unique and allows you to see some animals up close you might not see otherwise without a visit to Africa.
I tried some pour-over coffee from Africa, and we also ordered sweet drinks. The sweet drinks seem to have been made with a Nespresso machine or something akin to that based on what I witnessed, so manage your expectations if you’re expecting all the machines you see at a city coffee shop. They also have one of the nicest bathrooms in Dillon.
Nestled in the YMCA currently, Susie’s was a smoothie shop my friend recommended. I didn’t try the teas but my husband and I both tried their smoothies. Note that the smoothies are made from Herbalife products.
Muffaletta’s Cafe is a hidden gem I found on my own. I loved that we were able to get boba tea or boba smoothies there, and they had a great latte!
10) Grab a Bite to Eat at these Dillon, Montana, Restaurants
Muffaletta’s Cafe also serves food! Sadly, their renowned Muffaletta Sandwich was unavailable that day, so I tried their pho and my husband tried their avocado toast. Everything is served to go, so you can eat in the cool cafe, or you can take your food to go and eat at a park, your hotel, or wherever your adventure is taking you.
My friend who went to school in Dillon recommended eating at Mac’s, at Papa T’s, or at Sparky’s Garage. Daniel wasn’t in the mood for a sports bar, and Sparky’s was closing early for a private event and we missed the seating deadline by 30 minutes, so her only recommendation we got to try was Papa T’s.
Papa T’s is great if you’re craving some American comfort food or fried goodness. We enjoyed the cottage fries as an appetizer, and shared some of their lovely fried chicken. Daniel had a burger and said it was fantastic, while I had a very tasty Philly cheesesteak sandwich. We left feeling fat and happy, with leftovers to spare.
When we were turned away from Sparky’s, we went to The Den, which is the date-night restaurant I secretly wanted to try. My husband really enjoyed his burger, I enjoyed the French Dip, and we both liked our truffle fries. The ambiance is dark, cozy, and romantic. My two critiques are that my cocktail was so-so (the huckleberry vodka they use has an unpleasant artificial taste), and the bathrooms are kind of a tight squeeze with awkward saloon doors instead of legit bathroom doors. As my friend surmised: just don’t use the bathroom there!
11) Take an Epic Day Trip!
We did an epic road trip to Bannack State Park, the Pioneer Scenic Byway, Crystal Park, and Coolidge Ghost Town. Read about it on this blog post.
Dillon is also close enough to do trips to Yellowstone, Helena, Elkhorn State Park, Butte, Virginia City, and so much more, including if you want to head down to Idaho Falls, Idaho. I’ve written about Yellowstone, Helena, ghost towns near Helena, and Virginia City if you explore my blog post archives.
Dillon is also close to Elkhorn Hot Springs and other hot springs locations, but I haven’t been able to personally check them out.
A Note on Managing Expectations
The main frustrating thing about Dillon (and other towns in Montana) is that the shops and restaurants can randomly close, or might be closed the day(s) you are in town. But that’s the beauty of small towns, isn’t it? They are a step away from the big city life. Closures happen in cities too. Small towns are the way to go back to simpler times, to get a glimpse back to our childhoods from one-horse towns or the type of towns many of our parents and grandparents grew up in.
Someone told me about how their son came all the way from Bozeman for the sandwich they loved at Muffaletta’s Cafe, but Muffaletta’s was randomly closed on a Friday. I highly recommend that if you are set on trying a particular place, call ahead to ensure they’ll be open, plan your trip around their open hours, or keep a flexible schedule over the span of a few days so you don’t only have one shot at trying a place you have your heart set on.
One coffee place I wanted to try randomly closed on the Monday and Tuesday I was there, and I had to rush to Dillon on my arrival day to ensure I didn’t miss out on trying the African Oasis Cafe, since they were open on Saturday but closed on Sundays and Mondays. I could have tried Sparky’s had I wanted, but I had prioritized trying Papa T’s first, so I missed out the second night. Prioritize your choices each day and see where the chips fall.
I am a control freak at times, and always worry I won’t be able to visit a place again, so I totally understand the frustration of playing things by ear. However, during this trip I did try to relax a little, especially because someone who had visited Dillon before warned me about the random closures that could happen, and I had a much better time since I tried to view the trip as an adventure and be more flexible than usual.
If there is a Dillon, Montana recommendation I forgot, if you have questions about Dillon below, or if there is a Dillon location you want me to visit, make sure to leave a comment below! Thanks for reading my post, and let me know if this post helped you plan a trip to Dillon, Montana!