Welcome to Park and Sweet Grass counties

Downtown Livingston is a historical district, a vibrant shopping area and a great place to find a cowboy doing roping tricks during the Roundup Parade on July 2.

Park and Sweet Grass counties are what the rest of Montana would like to be. For it is here the Rocky Mountains give way to the plains that stretch to the horizon, blue-ribbon fishing streams turn and head to the Missouri River, and the Big Sky opens up.

In the late 1800s, these wide-open spaces brought settlers from the East to claim a piece of the frontier. Still others came in search of gold, while many more came to work on the Iron Horse that helped settle the West.

The railroad provided Livingston’s economic lifeblood for more than 100 years.

In Sweet Grass County, sheep raising became a major economic factor, and by 1895, Big Timber had the largest wool market in the United States.

The laborer, the rancher and the farmer all came to Park County, since it was here the Northern Pacific Railroad established its locomotive repair shops, and it was here land was plentiful and the soil was rich.

Once the steel rail was laid across Montana, many more came through the two counties to see the splendors of the nation’s first national park — Yellowstone. Tourists came aboard the Northern Pacific’s North Coast Limited and changed trains in Livingston to board the Park Branch Line for the trip to Gardiner.

Park County is a product of the railroad.

The Northern Pacific founded Livingston in 1882 and provided thousands of jobs.

The branch line south to Yellowstone Park carried countless tourists throughout the years and provided local residents transportation to and from their ranches. To the north, the Shields Branch Line helped create the towns of Wilsall and Clyde Park, and each year in the fall that same line carried the farmers’ wheat and livestock to market.

The landscape you see around you hasn’t changed much since those early days — the days before the Iron Horse and before Capt. William Clark and Sacajawea ventured through here on the Lewis and Clark Expedition’s return trip home — when the land belonged to the Plains Indians and bison, and when grizzly bears, wolves and elk roamed freely across it.

Although life has changed here in the last 130 years, it seems some things haven’t changed at all: The breathtaking snow-capped mountains, the historic buildings on Main Street that still evoke images of yesteryear, the friendly folks in Big Timber, and Yellowstone’s natural features that still draw scores of visitors.

As you enjoy your stay in Park and Sweet Grass counties, we hope this visitor’s guide will provide you with some useful information about the area — past and present.