Biking Great Falls and a free ferry ride across the Missouri River

20150521_143344I saw free Ferry marked on the map over the Missouri River in this incredibly small town in Central Montana just north of Great Falls.  This intrigued me since it looked liked it was a dirt road going to it and only a dirt road on the other side going to what looked like ranch land.  Turns out this ferry is only one of three small barge-like ferries that are currently in use in rural Central Montana to transport ranchers back and forth to their land across the river.

Approaching the location of the ferry

Approaching the location of the ferry

This seemed like a great photo opportunity for us — our truck camper on a small barge in the middle of the river — surrounded by hills and scrub brush.  So Montana Atlas and Gazetter map in hand, we headed out to Carter, MT population 58.  It took two trips from Great Falls because they only operate until 5:00 PM and we just missed the deadline the first time, but it was worth it.  The six miles of dirt road leading to ferry was in pretty good shape.  We passed 2 houses all the way back to the ferry.

Driving onto the ferry

Driving onto the ferry

Only three river ferries operate on the Upper Missouri River, the Carter ferry, Virgelle ferry and Stafford-McClelland ferry near Winifred. Typical season is April through November and they are free. Each ferry can carry 2 passenger cars at a time.

The Carter Ferry was established by the county in 1917 at an original cost of $850 (it has been updated since then:))  Vehicles can use the ferry stop at the boat ramp at either side of the river. You just pull up and press the buzzer for 3 seconds then the operator comes out of his house next to the ferry and using an engine and cable system pulls the barge across the Missouri between two towers anchored on the shore.  It is NOT fancy or big.

Brian has been the operator here for 20 years and is super interesting to talk to.  I had walked close to a rattlesnake earlier in the day and he commented that he just picks them up – no gloves – no anything.  One time he had a bunch of rattlesnakes in the chest freezer and his wife opened it and almost had a heart attack.DSC01507

We also spent the better part of the day biking the Rivers Edge Bike Trail in Great Falls.  It is 29 miles of paved bike paths next to the Missouri River — feels like you are not even close to a big city unless you ride the portion of the trail that winds along the city edge.  The trail passes several dams and waterfalls and goes through the Giant Springs State Park and Fish Hatchery.

Spring at Giant Springs, State Park

Spring at Giant Springs, State Park

Giant Springs State Park next to Missouri River

Giant Springs State Park next to Missouri River

 

View of Great Falls from the trail heading back into town

View of Great Falls from the trail heading back into town

 

 

The barge at Carter's Ferry
Crossing the Missouri River
Ferry isn't used much these days because ranchers have such large equipment - we fit though!

Ferry isn’t used much these days because ranchers have such large equipment – we fit though!

 

 

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2 Responses to Biking Great Falls and a free ferry ride across the Missouri River

  1. Mark from Misouri says:

    Now there is yet another benefit of having your rig. Very cool photos.

    • gconthemove says:

      We sure agree with you – a big rig would not have fit. We were so happy with the operator because we were really just ‘joy riding’ for a picture and he accommodated us wonderfully. You’d laugh if you saw our camera — it is a five-year-old ‘point and shoot’ model. We swore we would get a decent camera but haven’t gotten around to it and it is too late since the small towns we are in don’t have much selection in photo equipment.

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