Biggest Ball of String

Our road trip adventures, quirky roadside attractions, generally in the United States or Canada (and with occasional travel off the mainland into Hawaii, Alaska, Caribbean and Europe – so far)

Eureka, Montana

on February 13, 2013

45 minutes south of Fernie, and just on the other side of the US/Canada border, you will find Eureka, Montana.View of Canada from Montana

Once upon a time, people would only know “Eureka” if I added the identifying “you drove through it on the way to Whitefish” (where everyone goes skiing.)  (Or if coming from somewhere other than Canada, people might have an idea where it is if I added “It’s close to the Canadian border…North of Whitefish, which is north of Kalispell, which is in Montana, which is in the northern part of the United States, and no, we don’t all live in teepees, and yes, we have electricity there, and indoor plumbing.”)Mountain ridge

Although, to tell you the truth, when we first moved there, even further back, in the “once upon a time” story, we didn’t have electricity OR indoor plumbing. But that was just us.  Well, and our neighbor. They didn’t have electricity or plumbing either… and they did live in a teepee… But, I’m pretty certain electricity and plumbing were available.  I’m pretty certain some people had it…?

We moved to Eureka from Seattle, again “once upon a time… a long, long, long time ago.”

Eureka was so “old west” back then, that the week we moved to town, there was an actual “shoot-out” from the rooftops, between some of the locals (can I call them “red-necks”?) and the sheriff and deputy.  I don’t know the cause, but a Montana meadowcouple of years ago, I was reminiscing with my Mom, and she said that wasn’t the only time that happened!

When I was in school, there was (and this is true) a bike rack AND a hitching post for those who want to ride their horses to school.  It didn’t get used often, but it DID get used!!

That was then… but now! people actually go TO Eureka! They go for the sake of being IN EUREKA! Can you believe that?

Having spent most of growing-up time in the Eureka area, this makes total sense to me, though.  An abundance of beautiful, clear, warm lakes in the summer, never crowded.  Mountains for hiking and huckleberry picking.

By the way – have you ever had huckleberries?  They are THE BEST berries EVER!! Generally, you cHuckleberry Milkshake Cafe Jaxan find huckleberry milkshakes, syrups, jams, pies, hand lotion and jelly beans in little stores (and sometimes even Wal-mart) all over Montana and Idaho. (Apparently, they are Idaho’s Official State Fruit.)

Here’s how I remember Huckleberry Picking (which I loved to do): driving way up a mountain (generally one that had, at one point or another, gone through a forest fire), climbing up a steep slope, trying to get down-wind from bears (who also love huckleberries), wrapping one arm around the huckleberry bush (so you don’t slide down the shale) while holding the ice cream bucket…

My friend, Tammy, was the best-ever Huckleberry Picker.  She would collect buckets of huckleberries for the day, and then she’d sell them for $20-$30 a gallon!! She supported herself a whole summer that way!

On the other hand, I would come back with maybe 1/3 of a bucket, purple stained fingers, purple stained lips, and scrapes and scratches, after either eating most of them OR dropping them all down the mountain.
Hungry Horse HuckleberriesHungry Horse Huckleberries 2Huckleberry goods

In the winter, we have snow mobiling, snow shoeing (which I never did because I didn’t “get” that it was recreational – at one point, my parents used it for a source of transportation), cross-country skiing, and down-hill skiing at the nearby Big Mountain, in Whitefish (or Fernie BC – see blog Feb 10, 2013). Oh! and dog sledding. (I only found out about this in the last couple of years, actually – after I went to my first Iditarod in Alaska (see future blog, starting March 3rd.)

Eureka is said to have the best weather in all of Montana. (Is it said by people who live in other places?)  Montana's Winter WonderlandWe always called it “the Banana Belt” of Montana, and now that I’m researching, I see that that’s “official”.  The summer is almost always hot and sunny (with the best lightning storms!); the winter always has the fun snow that you can go sledding in, or make a snow man – not usually too cold to go outside – it’s a Winter Wonderland! the spring is always on time, with fresh air and flowers; and fall is nice crisp air, with changing leaves. Oh! and we have Western Larch, which look like evergreens, with needles, but then the needles turn color and fall off, like leaves.

Also, since we have no pollution, you can see bzillions of stars, occasionally watch the Aurora Borealis, and/or catch a meteor shower.

Near Eureka (ok, about 45 minutes away), but “near” by Montana standards is the West Kootenai Amish ComMN Amishmunity.

Personally, I find the Amish culture fascinating!  They still drive around in horse-drawn buggies. They go to school in a one-room school-house, and they speak German. They don’t have electricity or telephones in their homes. They make their own furniture. They make their own candles.  You can go up to the community and buy home-made goods (jams, candles, bread, and I think, quilts and furniture).

And, my Mom tells me that nowadays, they also have an all-you-can eat dinner buffet on Friday nights.  It’s so popular, reservations are recommended.  (It kind of makes me giggly that there’s a website for this… )

If you are not completely intrigued and feel compelled to take a drive up to the Amish Community.  This can only mean one thing: I haven’t explained it properly…

Lake Koocanusa dockLake Koocanusa dock 1Row your boat - Lk Koocanusa

Lake Koocanusa
So, sometime early in the 1800’s, the great explorer, David Thompson came through the area, and because of the native strain of tobacco the Indians were growing, he named the valley, the Tobacco Plains.    Eurekans commemorate his visit, annually in April, with Rendezvous Days, where everyone dresses like mountain men and carry muskets.  (Not everyone in Eureka is a “character”, but there are more than a few REAL characters – I bring this up now because:…well, if you do go to Rendezvous Days sometime in the future, you should know that SOME of the people are not in costume, but those are really just their clothes.)
Dickey LakeDickey Lake off side of boat

Officially “founded” in the 1880’s by cattlemen and homesteaders, the area was first inhabited for centuries by the Kutenai Indians.  In 1904, the Great Northern Railroad came through the Tobacco Valley and “the town of Eureka was born.”

Oh goodness – you have to look aEurekat this website! The town now looks almost exactly like it does in the pictures!  I’m serious – I’m certain some of those buildings are still there! I know that big white building is there (or at least it was there, last time I was on that road…) (There is pavement now, and the sidewalk is concrete, too… and there’s not that many horses on main street.)

At 1037 people (as per the 2010 census), Eureka is the metropolis! Taking in the outlying areas (which were assigned to our High School area – Lincoln County High School – Grad class GO LIONS!), we include Fortine (population in 2000 was 169), Trego (no data for “Trego” town, but outlying areas – approximate population: 541), and Rexford (105 in 2010.)  My graduating class had 63 kids, and we were one of the larger classes.

Well, now that I’m talking about it, I’m feeling a tiny bit homesick…

Sunday, on to Whitefish, MT.

20 responses to “Eureka, Montana

  1. bill hunter says:

    well done,been all over the world.out side of alaska,eureka,mt is the only place i would live.people are the greatest.

  2. sandra bugg says:

    once in eureka your heart stays there the people , the land and the views not to mention the fishing ect. but most of all the wonderful friends you make there

  3. Michele says:

    Grew up in Eureka and moved away long ago ~ I STILL consider it HOME!

  4. vic workman says:

    If you have questions about real estate for the Eureka Montana area e-mail me at
    Vic Workman with Trails West Real Estate…

  5. Russ says:

    something my friend from the past has not yet added is that Eureka at one time was considered to be the “Christmas Tree Capital of the World”. That was back before tree farms and Christmas Trees in rows like corn. I have been told that the tree for the “Whitehouse” was even cut there a few times.

  6. Eureka misses you dearly too! 🙂 okay.. at least some of us Rednecks do!

  7. Colleen Brock says:

    I raised my children children are so related to almost everyone there.. great place to live.. go back when I can.

  8. mike says:

    My friend from the midwest told me about the 1st time hunting in the Eureka area… he was over in the West Kootnei and had “2” flats almost simultaneously. It was during a snow storm and though he was concerned, a truck happened by, stopped asked how he could help and drove him 2 hrs back to Eureka with his flats. Ernie Roo fixed his flats and drove him all the way back to his pickup. When he asked Ernie what he owed him… Ern
    est said, “no charge”. Now that is what best characterizes Eureka, Montana!!!

  9. MY husband and i are moving to Eureka next spring…he has lived in MI his whole live..and has heard stories from me…I lived in Helena for 4 years….that he wants to move there..he is retired due to a disability and i work at in home health care…so any advise would be great…want to rent or buy with option a small place out side of town….ty all for your help…oh yea were in our 50.s,,,kids grown….

    • 4mygypsysoul says:

      Hi there, I am SO excited for your upcoming adventure! Eureka area is beautiful! Fresh air, fresh water, friendly (mostly) town! (If you wave at all oncoming traffic as you drive down mainstreet, everyone will think you are a local – not a full wave, just raise your thumb and next two fingers off the steering wheel 🙂 You’ll see – everyone does it.)

      OK. I just added my contact email at the bottom of my blog (am surprised I didn’t do that before…) – Please email me( and I will get you whatever information I can (after their reputations pass inquiries from locals (friends and family) I trust). (I have some emails and texts already sent for you.)

  10. maymev says:

    I loved reading this about eureka! The history is fascinating and I just love “old” towns and the feel that is there. Especially with the influence of the amish/Mennonite communities. Your post gave me a great idea of the size of the schools. My husband and I just got home from a week long road trip touring northwestern Montana and the Idaho panhandle, scouting out a rural place with acreage to move to. We loved eureka and it was one of our favorites even though we didn’t get a lot of time to explore there. 🙂

    Both of my parents were born and raised in small western Montana towns (graduating class of 10) and yet neither had ever been to eureka so we had to check it out. We loved the variety of mountainous areas mixed with openness, and that you could live rural/remote in the forest fairly quickly out of town, with great fishing and hunting and outdoor activities. There seemed to be some community of naturally minded folk there which is important to us as I am a student midwife and we have a small farm where we grow/raise our own food. My husband’s only concern is that it appeared to be a retirement town as most people we met had already raised their families elsewhere and then moved there in their retirement. Nothing wrong with that 🙂 except that we are still in the childrearing stages and wondered how it is for raising a family.

    • 4mygypsysoul says:

      Hi there! I moved away before raising a family in Eureka, but it was a wonderful place to grow up! We just were in Eureka for the weekend, and even with the influx of modern technology, kids are still out visiting, going to the lake, riding bicycles, instead of glued to their cell phones! I also love that the town is still so small, that everyone knows everyone and it’s generally safe enough to just “be”. Outdoor activities (bicycling, swimming, etc.) are right at your finger tips and I don’t remember ever being bored!!! The school system is good – the teachers are in touch with their students, and classes are small enough for individual instruction when required. If your children are interested in sports, they have all the usual sports teams too, in which your children can participate. (The reasons that people have moved, who are still in the childrearing stages, is more to do with job opportunities- I don’t think people would ever move away otherwise!) Please let me know if you go or have other questions. (I’m sorry for the delay in responding!!)

  11. dave says:

    i left eureka ten years ago. i still return to visit my friend i moved to bozeman montana near yellowstone . there is no place like eureka it is heaven on earth. it is all that these others say it is and more i plan a trip back there very soon.

    • 4mygypsysoul says:

      Hi there! We just got back from Eureka, and even though it’s changed a tiny bit, the atmosphere and friendliness remains the same!! Beautiful weather, beautiful scenery, friendly people! I forgot how much I missed it!

  12. Aicia Curran says:

    Small towns that meet the bustle of culture and embrace it, use it. That was Eureka, Mt, so quaint with its local diners and boutiques with handmade dresses. we were the type of hippies I haven’t quite seen anywhere else. The school kids were like any you’d see with a town of just 2,000, catching world trends late and dating each others exes(even if ya’ll were best friends). Eureka is unique partly because it has Canada as a neighbor, and with things being so damn expensive over there they poured into our bars and summer homes like lies out of Donald Trump’s mouth. Yes we were a bit Libertarian, or Republican to say the least. So Canadians made things interesting, putting us on the map. They inhabit the town seasonally, getting local businesses buzzing from open to close. What tends to happen when towns like this get attention is expansion, but not eureka. It stayed wholesome and the people stayed humble, only the right type of people become locals.

  13. Renee says:

    Grew up in Eureka, left, and came back because no place else ever felt like “home”! The people are amazing – a little quirky at times -but the salt of the earth.

  14. Dick Ivers says:

    Fun reading for sure….Fortine alum/LCHS class of 66. Currently living in Austin Texas….I like Fortine/Eureka better!

  15. John (Jack) Sanders says:

    Drove to the top of Burma Road one afternoon after school. We had a flat up on top, did ,not have the right tools to get the wheel off, Contacted brother Don by CB, Hour and one half later, Don and Ernie Roo drove up, changed the tire,no charge, They brought a pint of Apricot brandy to cheer us up, but, unfortunately, drank it all on the way up. We were happy with the rescue nevertheless.

  16. Michelle Stout (Ward) says:

    I grew up in Eureka and have the best memories there! Some family still lives there, so I get to go back at least once a year with my daughter. Everyone is super friendly, and I love going to old downtown for some shopping and ice cream. I can’t believe Montana Market is still there, it’s truly an “old school” grocery store…love it!!

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