Madison Buffalo Jump State Park – or, as Pat called it in a failed attempt to speak Spanish, ‘El Hoompo de Boofalo’ – is located near Three Forks, Montana, 7 miles (11 km) off I-90 on a gravel road. The park itself is very tiny – just 1 square mile – but it’s full of history.
A buffalo jump is a cliff that was used by Native Americans to kill bison prior to the acquisition of horses or guns. Well-trained individuals dressed in animal skins would chase a herd of bison into a passageway outlined by log or rock barriers so that they funnel into the narrow space and essentially stampede off the edge of the cliff. The rest of the tribe would wait at the bottom, ready to begin processing the dead animals.
Bison were crucial to the survival of native peoples – they used every single part of the animal for food, clothing, shelter, or tools. Therefore, the use of buffalo jumps was very common.
The cliff at Madison Buffalo Jump State Park was used from 500 BC to 1750 AD by numerous Native American tribes. Remains of tipis and a large village can be found on top of the jump while thousands of bison bones litter the base.
The state park is still fairly primitive. There’s a gravel parking lot marked with a sign, a bathroom, a couple picnic tables, and a quarter mile trail out to a recently-renovated interpretive plaza atop a small hill. Here you can read about the history of the area and (obviously) see the buffalo jump.
From the hilltop, you’ll also notice two narrow trails through the grass; both lead to the top of the buffalo jump. The right trail is one mile (1.6 km), very steep, and climbs up the face while the left trail leads around the side and ascends from there in a much less extreme (and slightly longer) manner.
No matter what trail you take, there are few trees here so there’s no shade. Also, Madison Buffalo Jump is prime rattlesnake country. I’ve never actually seen one there, but it’s nevertheless a good idea to wear sturdy shoes, watch your step, and keep an ear out for the telltale rattling sound that means that you’re too close to a snake and it’s feeling threatened.
And if you do encounter one, simply back away slowly to avoid startling the snake (despite the urge to scream and run away). Like I said, I’ve never seen one here – but better safe than sorry.
Anyway, we took the steep trail up the front of the cliff to the top of the Buffalo Jump, and from there, you can see for miles in every direction!
The Important Stuff:
- Getting there: located on Buffalo Jump Road, 7 miles (11 km) south of I-90 in Logan, MT
- Fees & passes: free for Montana residents, $6 per car for non-residents
- Camping: none in the park, but there are plenty of campgrounds in the general vicinity
- Hiking: there are a few trails up to the top, of varying lengths, but all are at least moderately steep and none are shaded
- Other: this is prime rattlesnake country, so it’s always a good idea to wear sturdy shoes, be on alert, and have a working knowledge of snake bite first aid