Highway 200 (MT-200) is a state route in the U.S. state of Montana. The road forms a long east-west route across the state, from the Idaho border at Heron through Missoula and Great Falls to the North Dakota border at Fairview. Highway 200 is the longest state route within a single state in the entire United States, at 1,137 kilometers in length.
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Highway 200 begins on the border with the state of Idaho at the village of Heron, located in mountainous terrain in the valley of the Clark Fork River. The road heads southeast through Kootenai National Forest and Lolo National Forest. Initially, the view of higher mountains with bare tops up to 2,400 meters, the mountains become a bit lower to the east. Highway 200 parallels Interstate 90 for some distance here, but there are hardly any paved roads connecting Highway 200 with I-90 all the way to Missoula. The road then enters a valley and leads past the National Bison Range. From here, Highway 200 merges with US 93 and then heads south for 25 miles (40 km) to the city of Missoula.
Missoula is one of two larger cities on Highway 200’s route. The road merges around Missoula with US 93, later Interstate 90, and US 12. The confluence with I-90 is not very long, on the east side of Missoula the road turns off and then leads through valleys along the Garnet Range. The road leads through a sparsely populated mountain area through the Rocky Mountains, over the Continental Divide. The watershed is formed by the not too high Rogers Pass at 1,709 meters. Then you come to the plains of the High Plains.
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Highway 200 then heads northeast across the barren steppe to Great Falls. One crosses US 287 and the road has a short double numbering with US 89 and later also Interstate 15 to Great Falls, the largest city on the route. In Great Falls one crosses the Missouri River, after which a fairly long double numbering starts with US 87. This double numbering leads almost 220 kilometers eastwards.
Highway 200 leads over the High Plains, from which rise some isolated mountain ranges, also known as island ranges. The highest of these have peaks between 2,600 and 2,800 meters, although Highway 200 itself does not rise much higher than 1,200 to 1,300 meters and has no real mountain passes. The area is sparsely populated. On the east side of Great Falls is also a short double-numbered US 89, which soon splits off. At Lewistown is also a double numbering with US 191. Further east, at Grass Range, US 87 turns south, Highway 200 takes an individual route from here.
The landscape around Jordan in Garfield County.
Then follows a long stretch across the steppe of Eastern Montana. This is a very sparsely populated region, Highway 200 is often the only paved road. There then follows an almost 270 kilometers long route to Circle that only has hamlets, and where one does not cross through north-south routes. The road heads well south of Fort Peck Lake. The landscape is flat to rolling with sometimes some badlands. Circle has fewer than 1,000 residents, but is the largest town on the route near the North Dakota border. It is also a junction of state highways, Highway 13 heads north to Wolf Point and Highway 200S heads southeast to Glendive.
Highway 200 continues eastwards over the plains, which are gradually becoming more cultivated, the barren rangeland turning into areas where agriculture is practiced. One then reaches the valley of the Yellowstone River near Sidney, with 5,000 inhabitants this is the largest city since Lewistown, more than 400 kilometers earlier on the route. Highway 200 then follows the Yellowstone River northeast to Fairview, then follows the border with the state of North Dakota.
Highway 200S is a branch of Highway 200 between Circle and Glendive. This section is 72 kilometers long and leads from Highway 200 to Interstate 94 through rolling steppe landscape with some badlands.
Highway 200 was not one of the original state highways of 1922. The road was incomplete in 1935 and the road consisted of several dirt roads.
In 1935 the road was numbered as follows;
- Idaho – Ravalli: Highway 3 (later Highway 10N)
- Missoula-Vaughn: Highway 20 (via Augusta)
- Grass Range – Circle: Highway 18
- Circle – Sydney: Highway 23
- Sydney – North Dakota: Highway 14
The parts of Highway 200 that coincided with US Highways were the best developed, partly asphalted and often at least a gravel road. The worst was the extended route from Missoula to Great Falls, this was a poorly developed dirt road. Also in Eastern Montana, the later Highway 200 was a dirt road.
Priority was the hardening of Highway 3 in western Montana, which had already been completely paved by 1937 from the Idaho border to Ravalli, where it joined US 93 to Missoula, also paved. Also, US 87 between Great Falls and Lewistown was completely paved, as was Highway 14 from Sidney to Fairview in the far east of Montana.
Around 1940 a completely new road began to be developed from the Continental Divide to Vaughn. Originally, the route went north on Highway 20 over Augusta. However, this road was not completed before the Second World War. In the early 1950s, the parts from Missoula to the east and from Vaughn to the west were paved, but there was still a dirt road over the Continental Divide through Rogers Pass until 1958.
At the end of the 1940s, the road from Grass Range to Circle was paved. This was a long route through remote terrain with hardly any places. The section from Circle to Sidney was still a dirt road in 1950. In the second half of the 1950s, work started on asphalting this part. Between Richey and Sidney this consisted of asphalting the existing road, which was completed around 1957. A new road was then built from Circle to Richey, which was completed by 1961.
In 1959, the road was first marked under a single number on the official state highway map of Montana, as Highway 20 between Missoula and Sidney. In 1960, the easternmost part of Sidney also followed to the border with North Dakota. West of Missoula, the road was still numbered US 10N / US 10A. In 1968, the entire route, including US 10A/N, was renumbered as Highway 200. There is a series of state highways numbered as Highway 200 in Idaho, Montana, North Dakota and Minnesota.
The western part of Highway 200 between the border with Idaho and Ravelli usually has 1,000 to 2,000 vehicles per day. East of Missoula, 3,000 vehicles descend to 1,500 vehicles over Rogers Pass on the Continental Divide. This rises again to about 4,000 vehicles near Vaughn.
East of Grass Range there are 500 vehicles per day. The long route to Circle has 400 to 500 vehicles per day. Between Circle and Sidney, 300 to 600 vehicles a day drive. The section through the Yellowstone River valley from Sidney to Fairview, at 5,500 vehicles per day, is the busiest section of Highway 200 that does not coincide with a US Highway.