The Nicest Place in Montana: Ovando

NICEST PLACES IN AMERICA 2019 FINALIST
"Bikers' Oasis"

A tiny town in the middle of nowhere has an outsized reputation for helping strangers.

A tiny town in the middle of nowhere has an outsized reputation for helping strangers.

Ovando, Montana, is easy to miss.

“Drive past on the highway, and all you’ll see is Trixie’s Bar and a road sign that says, ‘Ovando, Population 71,’” says Bill Brockett, a Web developer from Kalispell, Montana, about 100 miles north, who nominated the place.

Tracy Burge is sure glad she didn’t miss it. In June 2015, during the annual Tour Divide Mountain Bike Race, word came in that a rider was in trouble.

“We got a call that a woman, about fifty years old, was all by herself at the end of the line,” says local Kathy Schoenfelter, who runs a fly-fishing shop in town. Burge showed up half-frozen, exhausted, and famished, and the town responded with warm blankets, a sandwich, and a place to sleep.

“She burst into tears,” says Schoenfelter. It was a tiny act of kindness that made all the difference—for both Burge and Schoenfelter. “We thought, Hey, that felt good! What else can we do?”

Burge told friends what happened, and before long Ovando had a reputation as an oasis on the grueling Rocky Mountain rides. The town began stocking spare bike parts and looking out for other riders who might need help. Today it welcomes some 1,000 cyclists all summer long. They sleep in an old sheep wagon or the old town jail, load up on food and supplies, then head back out on the road.

The boom has given new life to this old ranching village. Surrounded by low-rolling foothills of the Rockies, Ovando is not far from the Blackfoot River fishing holes made famous in Norman Maclean’s memoir, A River Runs Through It.

“When I got here, nobody knew where we were,” Schoenfelter says. “And all of a sudden, we’re known from Banff to Belgium. It just blows our mind.”

—The Editors

The Nomination

This little town is making friends from around the world.

montanaShane Rauch/Shutterstock
Natural beauty put Ovando on the map. Inner beauty is keeping it there.

Some years ago a cyclist was lost and struggling on the trail. The people of Ovando helped her and she spread the word. It’s been a hunting/fishing town for awhile, but now it’s a cycling destination for riders from around the world.