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MacDonald Pass, Helena

4.2
#4 of 11 in Parks in Helena
MacDonald Pass, el.6312ft, (also known as McDonald Pass) is a mountain pass on the continental divide west of Helena, Montana that is traversed by U.S. Route 12. The pass is one of three passes (MacDonald, Mullan and Priest) used in the 1870s-80s for travel between Helena and Deer Lodge, Montana over the continental divide.
In 1864, when the Montana Territory was established, the territorial legislative assembly had limited funds to build roads in the territory, so toll roads were authorized to shift funding to private operators. The MacDonald road originated as part of a toll road authorized by Territorial Governor Green Clay Smith and built in 1867 by French Canadian Constant Guyot. Guyot ran a hay ranch along the Little Blackfoot River just east of Elliston, Montana. At the time the road was known as the "The Frenchwoman's Road" because it was managed by Guyot's wife who operated a hostel at the west end of the road near Dog Creek. The hostel could sleep 30 men and Madame Guyot charged $2 for staying overnight and $1 per meal.
In August 1868, Madame Guyot was found murdered and robbed of $6,000 in gold dust in the hostel. Although Deer Lodge County posted a $500 reward, no one was ever brought to justice for the murder. Constant Guyot, a drunkard and known to mistreat his wife, was considered a prime suspect but was never charged with the crime. According to local folklore, Guyot admitted murdering his wife after he left the region. Travelers believed the hostel was haunted with the ghost of Madame Guyot. Shortly after the murder, Elijah M. "Lige" Dunphy, a local sawmill owner, bought the rights to the toll road and hired a Canadian emigrant, Alexander "Red" MacDonald, to manage the road. MacDonald contracted with a stage line, Gilmer, Salisbury and Company to use the road while supplying meals and lodging to travelers at the hostel. In 1876-77, MacDonald turned over management of the road to Valentine Priest who later in 1879 built a competing road over Priest Pass. MacDonald acquired full ownership of the road from Dunphy in 1879. In 1885, because of declining use, MacDonald sold all his interests in the toll road.
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MacDonald Pass Reviews
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TripAdvisor Traveler Rating 4.5
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Google
4.4
TripAdvisor
  • Both coming in the bright sunlight and going back over in the dark, this pass provides expansive vistas in all directions. Yes, it was a clear sky and the moon/stars provided sufficient light to see f...  more »
  • If you want to get out of the city and peruse miles and miles of land virtually untouched by man, drive the MacDonald Pass between Helena and Missoula. At the top of of the pass there is a pull-out wh...  more »
Google
  • Beautiful scenery great drive you will be rewarded if you take this pass.
  • U.S. Route 12 takes you over the Continental Divide (that is, the rain that falls on the west of the Continental Divide flows towards the Pacific Ocean and rain that falls to the east goes towards the Atlantic Ocean) at MacDonald Pass connecting Western Montana to Eastern Montana. The pass elevation at 6,312 feet above sea level, often sees winter before downtown Helena (the Capitol of Montana) does, about 16 miles away.

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