Author Archives: glaciermt

Reel Talk: Fall Fishing in Montana is Phenomenal

Autumn anglers, this one’s for you. Fall fishing is upon us in Western Montana’s Glacier Country, and we’re chomping at the bit. While fishing the pristine waters of Montana’s rivers, lakes and streams is phenomenal year-round, autumn offers an incredibly authentic angling experience: fewer folks on the water, quieter rivers, and—spoiler alert—October and November offer some of the year’s best trout fishing, and hardcore anglers know it. We may as well call it “trophy trout season.”

Casting for cutthroat trout on the Middle Fork of the Flathead River. Photo: Montana Office of Tourism and Business Development

RIVERS + FISHING ACCESS SITES
If casting a line in a river or stream meandering peacefully through fall’s golden landscape, breathing in the cool mountain air, and hearing the bugle of a bull elk sounds like paradise to you, then grab your waders and come on over to experience the solitude of the season. Good hatches are on tap and monster brown trout are spawning—we wait all year for fall lake runs.

Fish the magical blue-ribbon trout waters of the Blackfoot River, made famous by Norman Maclean’s “A River Runs Through It” and offering some of Montana’s best fishing. Get out your mahoganies, midges and blue-winged olives for fall fly-fishing here, as well as on the Clark Fork River where rainbows are on the rise and fall colors are in full effect. Or, find multiple fishing access site along the winding and scenic Bitterroot River, flowing through the beautiful Bitterroot Valley and ready for your mayflies, hoppers and worms.

For experienced anglers who know how to navigate big rivers and plan to fish with streamers up to five inches long, the Kootenai River below Libby Dam offers huge rainbow trout, a boat ramp and easily accessible shorelines.

Up north near Glacier National Park, the Middle Fork of the Flathead River provides a scenic 9-mile fall float from Moccasin Creek to West Glacier—which takes about four hours this time of year—in stunning emerald-colored waters full of cutthroat trout.

Multiple fishing access sites are available throughout the the state. Consult Montana’s Fishing Access Sites Field Guide for maps, species and land information.

Keeping it reel on the Bitterroot River. Photo: Shea Shaughnessy

LAKE FISHING IN MONTANA
Fishing in Montana usually conjures up images of casting a fly rod in an idyllic river setting, but Western Montana boasts some pretty phenomenal lake fishing. The deep, cold waters of Flathead Lake—the largest freshwater lake west of the Mississippi—offers cutthroat and lake trout as well as whitefish and yellow pike. The Mission Mountain scenery is incredible and western hospitality abounds in the surrounding communities. Seeley Lake is a year-round recreation destination, offering stunning views of the Swan and Mission ranges and excellent bass fishing.

Straddling the U.S.-Canada border in the northwest corner of the state, the 90-mile-long Lake Koocanusa reservoir has been known to produce 10-pound rainbow trout in the fall—one of our best-kept secrets. Lake Como, a few miles north of the quintessential Old West town of Darby, is quite a popular fishing spot in the warmer season. Fall provides an opportunity to fish this local’s favorite with a little more solitude—and bask in the beauty of autumn in the Bitterroot Valley while you’re at it.

Jigging is our preferred method for deep lake fishing, and heavily-weighted jigging spoons your best bet. If you’re stillwater savvy, you might consider lake fly-fishing. Some of the largest fish you’ll find by fly may actually come out of a lake. Make sure to use a special stillwater indicator.

Going on a fishing trip with a knowledgeable outfitter like Glacier Raft Co. can help ensure a great catch. Photo: Glacier Raft Co.

GLACIER COUNTRY FISHING GUIDES
World-class fly-fishing tends to attract world-class fishing guides, and Glacier Country is chock-full of experienced and friendly outfitters and guides with the local knowledge and inside scoop on fishing in Western Montana. They’re always ready and eager to take you out to their favorite fishing spot and help you land the big one. From finding the right fall fly, to steering you toward the best stream, to guiding you down the river on a daylong or overnight float trip, this is their life’s work, and they love every second of it—you will, too.

While wade-fishing is the most common way to fish Western Montana’s rivers and streams, float fishing is becoming increasingly popular, especially on larger rivers, and hiring a guide is your best bet for a successful float-fishing adventure.

Another reason to go with a guide? Western Montana boasts endless off-the-beaten path “secret spot” streams, trickling mountain creeks and hidden alpine lakes. The best way to find these local treasures is to go with a guide who’ll happily share their spot.

For more information on outfitters and guides, visit the Montana Outfitters and Guides Association at montanaoutfitters.org.

Western Montana is a fly-fishing mecca.

FALL FISHING TIPS + TRICKS IN WESTERN MONTANA
Fish the fall run. Stripping big streamers will bring in the biggest brown trout during their fall run mid-October through November or early December. Find a stretch of river downstream of the spawning run of a lake or larger river.

Head for the hatch. November’s baetis (blue-winged olive) hatch offers excellent fall dry-fly-fishing at a time when most of our rivers are experiencing low to no fishing pressure.

Be prepared for any kind of weather and dress accordingly. We can’t say it enough: Montana’s fall weather can have a flair for the dramatic. You could wake up to fresh snow and be fishing in a T-shirt by noon. Or vice versa. Check weather reports before you head out, and always be prepared. Base layers are essential this time of year, especially when wade fishing in a cold stream.

Permits, rules and regulations. A valid fishing license is required for all types of fishing on state waters. To fish in Montana, most anglers need two licenses: a conservation license and a fishing license. Visit Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks for state fishing regulations—including catch and release guidelines and daily possession limits.

Fishing on tribal lands. Western Montana is home to two Indian reservations—the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of the Flathead Reservation and the Blackfeet Tribe of the Blackfeet Reservation. Special rules and regulations apply when recreating on tribal lands. If you’re planning to fish Blackfeet Nation Indian Reservation land, visit Blackfeet Fish and Wildlife Department. For Flathead Reservation fishing regulations, visit the Natural Resources Department of the Confederated Salish & Kootenai Tribes.

For more information on autumn angling adventures in Western Montana, click here or contact Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks.

7 Reasons to Turn a Griz Game Into a Weekend Getaway in Missoula

It’s no secret that we’re serious Griz fans here in Western Montana. The college-football community of Missoula boasts mountains of pride for the Division 1 Montana Grizzlies. Every football season Griz fans flock to the University of Montana’s Washington-Grizzly Stadium to cheer on our beloved team.

Missoula’s population jumps by more than 30 percent on these days! It’s not just the game we love, but the energy and excitement of 24,000 feet stomping to “We Will Rock You” by Queen, the boom of a cannon fired at every touchdown, and the halftime shows by the Grizzly Marching Band, featuring songs from artists like The Beatles and Pentatonix.

A Griz-eye view of Washington-Grizzly Stadium. Photo: Destination Missoula

The game-time spirit is palpable and unwavering. Eager tailgaters set up as soon as possible and the grounds around the stadium are transformed into a celebration of food trucks, vendors and die-hard fans.

With three home games left this season, come immerse yourself in one of Western Montana’s most prized events and explore the idyllic mountain town of Missoula—a Glacier Country arts, culture and recreation hot spot full of charm.

1. AUTHENTIC MONTANA LODGING + HOSPITALITY

Missoula boasts almost 70 hotels, motels and inns, from national chains to locally-owned establishments, and the warmest western hospitality around. Take note and plan ahead: Missoula hotels fill up fast for home games. If you don’t score one in time don’t fret—Missoula has plenty of VRBO and Airbnb rentals.

2. FOOD + DRINK FUN

We love to eat and drink, and we always want the best of both. From fine dining to cafés, and everything in between—including epic tailgate fare—there’s literally something for everyone in this community of creative, sustainable and delicious local cuisine. With 10 breweries, three distilleries, two wineries and a new cidery in a town of 75,000 people, it’s pretty obvious we’re serious about crafting beverages. We’re not lacking for good coffee shops here, either. Seasonal flavors abound this time of year, so it’s an excellent opportunity to savor a taste of Montana.

Enjoy a pumpkin beer or other seasonal brew at one of Missoula’s craft breweries.

3. ENDLESS THINGS TO DO IN MISSOULA

This is one Montana town that bustles year-round. Pack adventure onto either side of the Griz Game festivities. Missoula has a fast-growing renowned live music scene, museums, art galleries and unique shopping options, plus three rivers and an endless system of wilderness trails, so there’s plenty of outdoor recreation to be found here as well.

Hike the “M” for a gorgeous view of Missoula’s fall colors.

4. LOCAL EVENTS LIVEN UP TOWN YEAR-ROUND

Here’s what Missoula’s got on tap during the next three Grizzly home games.

OCTOBER 6 – GRIZ vs. PORTLAND STATE VIKINGS
It’s Grizzly Homecoming Weekend!

Land on Friday and catch a Montana Film Festival show at the Roxy, then stop by Montgomery Distilling for a tour and tasting before taking part in First Friday Gallery Night (don’t miss the Radius Gallery). While downtown, grab dinner at any one of downtown Missoula’s eateries—you can’t go wrong.

Saturday, wake up and head downtown for the Homecoming Parade, featuring music performances, dancers, the Shriners, and more. Then it’s game time. After the game, follow the crowd to a local pub for post-game festivities.

Sunday, grab brunch at Draught Works Brewery and then head to Turner Farms Annual Pumpkin Fest for harvest fun. End the weekend at The Top Hat for a unique five-course Cider Dinner in partnership with Western Cider.

OCTOBER 27 – GRIZ vs. UC DAVIS AGGIES
Join in on the pre-Halloween fun that’s sure to take over Missoula this weekend.

Friday night enjoy the casual atmosphere and contemporary Asian cuisine at the Mustard Seed Asian Café or try Missoula’s new dine-in movie theater.

Saturday morning grab coffee and freshly-baked pastries at the Missoula Farmers Market (voted best of the West),  and the Clark Fork Market. Hike to the M and then head to the game early for some tailgating—hit the GAS Tailgate Party to purchase food and drinks, watch the pregame show, and listen to live music (or a DJ). After the game, make your way to the county fairgrounds for Missoula’s Haunted House.

On Sunday, grab Biers + Brunch at Bayern Brewing and then head to the University of Montana for costumed revelry at the Skeleton Skedaddle 5k & 1k races.

The energy in the stands is electric, particularly on a beautiful fall day. Photo: Destination Missoula 

NOVEMBER 17 – GRIZ vs. MONTANA STATE BOBCATS  

You’ve got two concert options for Friday night in Missoula: The Devil Makes Three takes the stage at 8 p.m. at the historic Wilma theater, and Jeffrey Foucault plays the Top Hat at 9 p.m.

See a show AND the game. The Top Hat and the Wilma are two of the hottest venues in the Northwest. Photo: Neaubauer Media/Logjam Presents

Saturday before the game, stroll the Missoula Valley Winter Market—a local farmers market—for coffee, fresh baked goods, home-grown produce, and local arts and crafts (perfect for Montana souvenirs). Then, walk along the river trail to the game.

Sunday, grab breakfast at The Catalyst Café & Espresso Bar and then hit the streets for some early holiday shopping in Missoula’s downtown galleries and shops. Start at the north end of Higgins Avenue and make your way across the bridge (over Caras Park and the scenic Clark Fork River) to Missoula’s Hip Strip. Grab a sweet treat from Bernice’s Bakery or Le Petit Outre.

5. MISSOULA IS SURROUNDED BY DAY-TRIP-WORTHY ATTRACTIONS

From Missoula you could venture out in any direction and find an authentic Montana adventure. Epic day trips are a dime a dozen here.

Take a scenic drive down the Bitterroot Valley exploring several charming towns along the way. A short way from Stevensville is the Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge, home to various types of wildlife. If you visit in October, you are likely to see large flocks of Canadian Geese resting from migration on the ponds.

Root for maroon and silver but also check out our yellows and oranges. Photo: Donnie Sexton

Or, start early and drive north through the stunning Mission Valley and stop near Moiese at the National Bison Range where you can witness 350 – 500 head of bison; if you’re visiting during the fall rut you may even hear the bugle of a bull elk.

6. INSIDER TIPS + TRICKS TO MAKE THE ADVENTURE EVEN BETTER

Pre-Game Like a Griz Fan: When it comes to tailgating, a Griz fan’s game is strong. Get in on the action and mingle with the locals before the game.

Ask a Local: We’re known for being some of the friendliest folks around, so if you’re looking for the inside scoop on where to eat, drink, or play, just ask us.

7. GETTING TO AND AROUND MISSOULA IS EASY

Flying into the Missoula International Airport (MSO) is pretty convenient, serviced by multiple major airlines with direct flights regularly arriving from 11 cities across the U.S. Once you land, car rentals are easy. Or, leave the driving to someone else and call Uber or Lyft, both of which are available in Missoula.

Pro-Tip: Park your car downtown and walk the Kim Williams Trail along the Clark Fork River directly to the University of Montana.

Discover Fall in Glacier Country

We’re sweet on every season here, but we’re especially smitten with autumn. The tapestry of golden hues and hillsides dusted with the first snow complemented by the impossibly blue sky gets us every time, and fall brings a few of our favorite things: flannels, festivals, scenic road trips, seasonal microbrews and farmers markets brimming with pumpkins, heritage apples, ciders and more of our favorite harvest flavors.

Not to brag, but our fall look is pretty spectacular.

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The crisp mountain air beckons, so we get out and about for fall frolic, and then we cozy up fireside. Autumn is our golden season—it’s vibrant, it’s quiet, it’s not to be missed. Traffic is lighter and shoulder season prices kick in. It’s a wonderful time to hop in the car and take a road trip around Glacier Country.

Here’s where and how we like to spend beloved fall days in our corner of Montana.

INTERSTATE 90 CORRIDOR – MISSOULA

The thing about Missoula is that you can explore one of Glacier Country’s hippest cultural hot spots, which bustles all year long, and then pretty much take off in any direction to add a scenic fall drive into the mix. While in town, explore the “Best of the West” outdoor market scene, visit one of 10 breweries, three distilleries and two wineries, pick out a pumpkin and conquer the corn maze, or hike any one of several trails; we love the Rattlesnake Wilderness in the fall.

Fall Bonus: Montana Cider Week (September 29 – October 7) hosts events throughout Montana, with multiple festivities taking place in Glacier Country communities. See what’s happening where and when, and prioritize a stop at Missoula’s new (and first ever) cidery—Western Cider—for a tour and a taste.

We love dining out during all our seasons, but fall cuisine has some extra special flavor. Photo: Top Hat Lounge

Trip Tip: A Missoula favorite, the Top Hat serves up mouthwatering cuisine—like chicken spaghetti squash—amid live music and friendly community vibes. Plan your visit around one of their Tunes & Taste music-infused dinner theme nights.

BITTERROOT VALLEY

This lush forested valley nestled between the Bitterroot and Sapphire mountain ranges is prime for leaf peeping, and the fall rut makes it a spectacular time for watching wildlife at the Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge. Begin in Missoula, and take U.S. Highway 93 south toward Hamilton, stopping along the way in some of Glacier Country’s most charming towns.

Hamilton’s Daly Mansion boasts 50 kinds of trees—all gorgeous this time of year—and offers haunted hayrides at the end of October. Top off your tour at Backroad Cider or betterRoot Cidery for some fresh-pressed deliciousness—the core of fall flavor.

It doesn’t get much more festive than Stevensville’s Scarecrow Festival. Photo: Donnie Sexton

Fall Bonus: Plan your trip around a Ravalli County Museum Ghost Tour, Victor’s Field of Screams, Stevensville’s famous Scarecrow Festival or Hamilton’s McIntosh Apple Day—hailed as one of Montana’s Best Fall Festivals.

Trip Tip: Bike “The Root” instead! The Bitterroot Trail is a 50-mile-long paved bike path following the same route mentioned above, perfect for a vibrant autumn cycling adventure.

TOUR 200

Montana Tour 200 in Sanders County from Dixon to Heron travels along scenic riverbanks (bursting with fall color), active wildlife and ample outdoor recreation opportunities. Stop for a soak in the mineral waters at Quinn’s Hot Springs Resort, nestled in Paradise along the Clark Fork River. Afterwards, stop in Thompson Falls for a home-cooked meal at Minnie’s Montana Café, or enjoy a drink and exceptional fall views from the deck Big Eddy’s.

Fall greets winter in Thompson Falls. Photo: Kate Baxter

Trip Tip: Lace up your hiking boots near Trout Creek and hike to the beautiful Vermilion Falls or Graves Creek Falls.

SEELEY-SWAN CORRIDOR

Between the stunning Swan and majestic Mission mountain ranges, the Seeley-Swan Valley boasts hundreds of pristine alpine lakes and beautiful hiking spots. Kayak around picturesque Holland Lake, canoe the Clearwater Canoe Trail or hike Morrell Falls, all spectacular ways to take in the fall spectacle. This exceptionally scenic valley is known for its large population of tamaracks—unique pine trees that lose their needles in the fall, setting Montana’s hillsides aflame with vivid shades of yellow and orange.

If you take U.S. Highway 83 from Seeley Lake all the way to Bigfork (as you should), this storybook village on the northeast shore of Flathead Lake, does not disappoint. Bigfork’s Whistling Andy Distilling serves up award-winning whiskeys and spirits made with Montana-grown grains and fruits. Savor some Harvest Select Whiskey, perfect for the season. From Bigfork, head south on State Highway 35 to The Raven Bar & Grill in Wood’s Bay for delicious waterfront dining, craft cocktails and some of the best views in the area.

A road trip to an event on Flathead Lake is always filled with incredible views.

Fall Bonus: Visit Seeley Lake mid-October and meet some of Montana’s finest artists, see their work and tour area studios, galleries and museums during the Alpine Artisans – Tour of the Arts, or land in Bigfork on October 13 for Tamarack Time!—an annual local’s-favorite amateur food competition akin to a county fair—and be sure you’re hungry.

Trip Tip: Make your Glacier Country getaway an overnight adventure with an authentic Montana lodging experience at the Double Arrow Resort in Seeley Lake, offering four-season recreation, cozy accommodations and incredibly warm hospitality.

FLATHEAD CORRIDOR

The west side of Flathead Lake is equally as scenic and charming as the east. If you’re coming from the south on U.S. Highway 93 or State Highway 200, stop in Moiese for wildlife watching at the National Bison Range. You may even get to experience bull elk bugling in the fall rut. Further north, in Charlo, visit Ninepipes Museum of Early Montana and Ninepipe National Wildlife Refuge with stunning wide-open panoramas of the Mission Mountains. Then, on to Flathead Lake where jaw-dropping views await.

Fall Bonus: The Tamarack BrewFest take place in Lakeside, October 13. Enjoy live music, line dancing, canoe races, local vendors and evening bonfires, all taking place in this stunning fall Flathead Lake location.

HIGHWAY 2 CORRIDOR LIBBY TO KALISPELL

Running through Western Montana’s northern region, Highway 2 travels along some of the most scenic places in Glacier Country and introduces road-trippers to off-the-beaten-path treasures and well-known attractions. Begin in Libby, one of the region’s most scenic and quietest corners and end in Kalispell, the perfect mix of small-town Montana and old-west charm. Ghost chasers can head to the Conrad Mansion for a ghost tour.

Fall Bonus: Meander 4,000 bales of hay at Kalispell’s Whitefish Stage Organic Farm hay bale maze. This family-fun autumn activity also includes a barrel train ride, hay ride, super trampoline, petting zoo, pumpkins and more.

Get lost in Glacier Country. Photo: Whitefish Stage Organic Farm

Trip Tip: Linger in Kalispell for good food, shopping and museums, plus the whimsical autumn wonderland of Sweet Pickin’s Pumpkin Patch, where you’ll find plenty more than gourds.

GLACIER NATIONAL PARK SURROUNDING AREA

The park is absolutely breathtaking in autumn. Traffic is light, shoulder-season prices are in effect, and communities in and beyond the park are celebrating the season. Explore the outdoors by boat in Whitefish on Whitefish Lake, or take to the trails by bike or by foot on The Whitefish Trail or the Swift Creek Loop, and then stop in for delicious food at Casey’s Whitefish pub and grill, featuring rooftop dining options—especially scenic right about now.

Raise a glass to our amazing local brews at the Great Northwest Oktoberfest. Photo: Montana Office of Tourism and Business Development

A bit closer to the park, Columbia Falls offers the perfect place to swap adventure stories over burgers and craft beer at Backslope Brewing. Try one of their rotators on tap this fall: Chocolate Hazelnut Stout. When it’s time to turn in, Cedar Creek Lodge offers a truly exceptional Montana lodging experience, and their pool and hot tub are open year-round.

Fall Bonus: The Great Northwest Oktoberfest takes place in Whitefish, and, because one weekend is not enough, join us for two weekends of authentic German beer, food, music and fun with a Montana flair, September 27 – 29 and October 4 – 6.

Trip Tip: There’s still time to get on the green at Meadow Lakes Golf Course, open until mid to late October.

We packed quite a bit of autumn adventure in for you, and now it’s time for you to pack your bags and head to Western Montana’s Glacier Country for the perfect fall road-trip experience.

12 Things To Do in Browning: Discover Western Montana’s Blackfeet Nation

In the velvety, rolling foothills just east of Glacier National Park, the culture and traditions of the American Indian thrive. The largest community on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, Browning, Montana is home to the state’s biggest tribe—the Blackfeet Nation. Museums, shops, galleries and annual celebrations preserve the Blackfeet way of life, and give travelers an authentic glimpse into their heritage.

Browning is the heart of the Blackfeet Nation, one of the two American Indian tribes in Glacier Country.

NORTH AMERICAN INDIAN DAYS

Experience one of the largest gatherings of U.S. and Canadian tribes, featuring traditional games and dancing, a pow wow, and horse relay races. Every summer for four days during the second week of July, Browning hosts this family-friendly, not-to-be-missed authentic celebration.

Sculptures tell the creation story of the Blackfeet people. Photo: Debbie Picard

HEART BUTTE INDIAN DAYS

Witness four days of traditional American Indian dress, dancing and drumming, plus a parade, pow wow, stick game tournament and other traditional activities. Heart Butte Indian Days are held annually the second week of August in Heart Butte, just 26 miles south of Browning.

PONOKAMIITAA RELAY RACES

Head to Browning’s Charging Home Stampede Park for the unique and lively Indian relay races where loyal fans gather to cheer on their favorites. 2018’s first annual event was a roaring success and 2019 dates will be announced soon.

This historic and high-energy event is a cannot miss while visiting Browning. Photo: Montana Office of Tourism and Business Development

CHIEF MOUNTAIN

Take in the unique shape of one of Montana’s most majestic mountains, also believed by the Blackfeet to hold special powers. This natural landmark bordering Glacier National Park and the Blackfeet Reservation provided a “cultural center” for many tribes, and today makes for a scenic day trek for experienced hikers. The views from the summit are nothing short of spectacular. Visitors traveling along Chief Mountain Highway will be able to see the peak from afar.

FISHING + HUNTING ON TRIBAL LANDS

Anglers, hunters and outdoor enthusiasts find solitude and serenity on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, but make sure you are up to speed on rules and regulations for recreating on tribal lands before you head out for some much needed R&R.

Surrounded by stunning mountains, lakes and valleys, the Browning area offers incredible recreation experiences.

BLACKFEET HERITAGE CENTER & ART GALLERY

View the works of more than 500 Native American artists and craftspeople from 19 different tribes, including beadwork, jewelry, quillwork, pottery, rugs, kachinas, moccasins, carvings, bronze work and sculptures, plus baskets, rawhide and horse hair work, drums, dolls and hides at the Blackfeet Heritage Center & Art Gallery. Fine art exhibits include original watercolors, acrylics, oils, wood relief and prints. Also find commemorative coins and a complete baby Tyrannosaurus skeleton.

FAUGHT’S BLACKFEET TRADING POST

You mustn’t leave Montana without taking home something to remember us by. Authentic American Indian souvenirs and gifts can be found at Faught’s Blackfeet Trading Post. Choose from clothing—including American Indian clothing and western wear—books, pictures and prints, lotions, beading supplies and many other Montana-made American Indian arts and crafts.

LODGEPOLE GALLERY + TIPI VILLAGE

Spend the night in a tipi! Browning’s Lodgepole Gallery & Tipi Village offers unique lodging in the foothills of the breathtaking Rocky Mountains. Stay in a real tipi complete with a fire ring for an authentic American Indian experience. Explore the prairie, tour buffalo jump sites and tipi rings, and meet the village’s herd of Spanish Mustang horses. The Lodgepole Gallery displays contemporary and traditional fine art, including Blackfeet art and intricate Blackfeet beadwork.

The art, culture and skies of the Blackfeet Nation are truly amazing. Photo: Andrew Betino

GLACIER PEAKS HOTEL + CASINO

Hit the jackpot in the heart of Blackfeet Country. Montana channels Las Vegas at Glacier Peaks Casino, where locals and visitors enjoy some of the largest payouts in the state. Glacier Peaks is open 24 hours, seven days a week and offers more than 500 machines, blackjack, craps, poker, roulette and more, plus a full-service bar, fine dining and modern accommodations.

WESTERN CURIOS

This Browning mainstay has been a popular visitor attraction for years. At Western Curios you’ll find Blackfeet and Glacier Park logo souvenirs, moccasins, local crafts, Made in Montana items—including our beloved huckleberry products—breads, spices and Montana Silversmith jewelry. Stop in and find some goodies to take home with you.

MUSEUM OF THE PLAINS INDIAN

Discover the rich, historic and diverse arts of Northern Plains Tribal peoples at Browning’s popular Museum of the Plains Indian. The museum’s fascinating and educational exhibits include historic clothing, horse gear, weapons, household implements, baby carriers and toys, to name just a handful. The gift shop features fine American Indian jewelry.

The Museum of the Plains Indian has exhibits depicting the rich diversity and history of the tribal peoples of the Northern Plains. Photo: Racene Friede

SCENIC DRIVES

Highway 2 from Browning to East Glacier Park really holds its own, especially if you’re thinking about beating the crowds and saving the Going-to-the-Sun Road for another day. You’ll find 14 miles of stunning scenery, and there’s just something quite awesome about driving towards the majestic peaks of Glacier National Park. Along the way, spot the Blackfeet’s own herd of bison.

Highway 89 from Browning to Saint Mary Lake makes for an unbelievably stunning drive that picks up the east end of the jaw-dropping Going-to-the-Sun Road. Stay and play at the awe-inspiring lake, or continue on to crisscross Glacier National Park via one of the most beautiful drives in the U.S.

It doesn’t get much more scenic than this. Photo: Debbie Picard

Off-Road Adventures: 5 ATV Trails to Explore in Western Montana

We have plenty of hidden treasures here in Western Montana, and sometimes the best—and only—way to discover them is to go off-road into our beautiful backcountry and heavenly high country. You can cover quite a bit of ground when you get off the main roads and explore our pristine alpine lakes, lush forests and mesmerizing mountain meadows. From technical to family-friendly rides, alpine all-terrain vehicle (ATV) adventures abound in Glacier Country.

It’s time to revel in the rugged—here’s a handful of our favorite rides.

New to ATVing? Go with a guide! Photo: Montana Office of Tourism and Business Development

ASHLEY LAKE ATV TRAIL #812
Open: June – October
This local’s favorite west of Kalispell is popular in the summertime, but if you’re looking for a quieter ride, venture over in the late spring or early fall before big-game hunting season begins. The trailjust north of Ashley Lake—offers 7 miles of scenic ATV terrain, and the lake itself provides off-trail recreation like swimming, fishing and camping. Pitch a tent on one of three campgrounds and reel in one of the huge rainbow-cutthroat trout hybrids the lake is known for. GETTING THERE: From Kalispell, take U.S. Highway 2 west for 4 miles, turn onto Ashley Lake Road (Forest Service Road #912) for 15 miles, then turn onto Forest Service Road #10236 for about 4 miles. The trailhead is marked with signs.

BLUE MOUNTAIN ROAD
Open: May – November
For picture-perfect views of the Missoula Valley as well as the Sapphire and Rattlesnake Mountains, Blue Mountain Recreation Area boasts about 15 miles of motorized vehicle trails, four of which are open to ATVs. There’s a fire lookout tower in service from July – August, and you can climb to the top for stunning views of Lolo Peak, the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness and the Mission Mountains. Be sure to pick up an off-road sticker (available at the Missoula County Courthouse) before hitting Blue Mountain on your off-highway vehicle (OHV). GETTING THERE: From Missoula, head south on U.S. Highway 93 for about 2 miles, making a right (north) onto Blue Mountain Road for 1.4 miles. Turn left onto Forest Service Road 365 for 1.2 miles, and the staging area will be on your left. 

Every season in Western Montana lends itself to an ATV adventure. Photo: Kurt’s OffRoad

HUNGRY HORSE MOTOCROSS TRACK
Open: Year-round (weather dependent)
Just east of Columbia Falls in Hungry Horse, Montana, this natural terrain track is open to ATVs and packs a punch with steep and challenging elevation gains. You’ll also find camping and other adventures at nearby Hungry Horse Dam. Time your trail trip right and you’ll get to see a race event held by the High Country Motocross Association. GETTING THERE: From Columbia Falls, take U.S. Highway 2 east for about 6 miles. When you see the Forest Service station on your right, turn south onto Colorado Boulevard for about 1.25 miles. Look for a gravel road on the left and turn there. The track is about a half mile down on the right. 

KOOCANUSA SAND DUNES AND TRAIL SYSTEM
Open: Year-round (weather dependent) 
Sand dunes in Montana? Don’t mind if we do. Mix things up off trail in the dunes and play pits of this large open area at the northeast corner of the Koocanusa Reservoir, best accessed late March through late June when the water levels are low. You’ll also find 20 miles of trails that lead into the woods surrounding the reservoir. Fun Fact: This is the original site of the city of Rexford. You’ll discover American Indian burial grounds in the area, which are well marked and closed to riding. GETTING THERE: From Eureka, take U.S. Highway 93 north for 5 miles to State Route 37. Take a left on MT-37 for 2.2 miles, then veer right onto Douglas Hill Road for half a mile, turn right onto Sophie Lake Road for 1 mile, veer left onto Iowa Flats Road for .1 miles, and then turn right onto Sophie Lake Road for 3.5 miles toward the lake.

ATV trails are often shared with hikers and bikers. Photo: Kurt’s OffRoad

OVERWHICH FALLS TRAILS 182 + 248
Open: December 2 – October 14
South of Darby past Painted Rocks Lake, this “destination ride” offers a scenic 8-mile excursion to Overwhich Falls. This easy ride does have a few steep, rocky sections to be aware of, and encounters with horses, hikers and mountain bikers are possible, but the views—and the falls—are worth it. GETTING THERE: From Darby, head south for 4.3 miles. Turn right onto West Fork Road, heading south past Painted Rocks Lake to Forest Service Road #5703, where you’ll head east for about 2 miles to Forest Road #5706. Turn north and follow this road to the trailhead. There is a good turnaround and parking for vehicles and trailers about 7 miles from the trailhead in NW Section 17, west of Gentile Creek. 

Cover ground in Western Montana, through sage, pine and fresh mountain air. Photo: Montana Office of Tourism and Business Development

BONUS: DARBY TRAILS – BITTERROOT NATIONAL FOREST
Just last summer, the Bitterroot National Forest opened 50 miles of trails to ATVs, including two loops—#1, a 28-mile loop and #2, a 15-mile loop—on the old Darby Lumber Lands, also south of Darby. This new trail system is popular with beginner and intermediate riders, and, as always, the views are spectacular. GETTING THERE: From Darby, head south on U.S. Highway 93 for about 4 miles and take a left on Rye Creek Road. For Loop #1, take Rye Creek Road for 4 miles to North Fork Rye Creek Road/North Fork Road, where you’ll take a left and drive for about 6 miles until you reach Road #1127 and the trailhead. For Loop #2, take Rye Creek Road for 6 miles. Before the Rock Creek Road divide, you’ll see a parking area on the left with signage for Loop #2. 

KNOW BEFORE YOU GO, and ride safely. For information on road designations, conditions and closures, as well as registration (resident and nonresident), permits, maps and off-roading laws, visit Montana State Parks.

TRIP TIP: Did you know? It’s legal to drive ATVs on roads and highways, as long as they’re equipped with “street kits.” This means that all public-land roads are open for riding!

 

Fire Update for Western Montana’s Glacier Country

Updated SEPTEMBER 4, 2018: Glacier National Park

Our fire update today is some good news! We’re thrilled to report that Glacier National Park will be offering limited shuttle and tour access from the west side of the Going-to-the-Sun Road beginning on September 7. And of course the east side of the road has always been open, as is the majority of the park including Apgar, Two Medicine, St. Mary, Many Glacier and the North Fork.

The Howe Ridge fire is burning in less than 1% of Glacier’s 1 million acres. The temporary closure area for public safety and fire suppression access is approximately 93,500 acres, or less than 10% of the park.

Updated AUGUST 24, 2018: Glacier National Park

A majority of Glacier National Park is open for business, folks. But, you may have read the news that the west side of Going-to-the-Sun Road is temporarily closed, and Lake McDonald Lodge recently closed early for the season because of air quality and safety issues related to the Howe Ridge Fire. There is also a new fire, called The Boundary Fire, located in northeast Glacier National Park a mile west of Waterton Lake. This is certainly not great news, but it comes with the territory—literally. We want to make sure you’re kept up-to-date with accurate information about fire conditions in our region. So here’s the skinny on Lake McDonald Lodge, Going-to-the-Sun Road and Glacier National Park.

The lightning-caused Howe Ridge Fire is located northwest of Lake McDonald, approximately nine miles from West Glacier. Because of its location, safety issues, and staying-out-of-the-way of those fighting the fire, the Going-to-the-Sun Road is closed from the foot of Lake McDonald (near Apgar) and Logan Pass.  But it is OPEN, from the east side between St. Mary and Logan Pass. We’ll keep you posted if that changes.

Lake McDonald Lodge also announced on Friday it was closing for the season because of the fire.  Although we have our fingers crossed and crossed again that the fire will be suppressed soon, it’s hard to keep a staff on hold waiting for that to happen.  So we understand the decision.  Glacier National Park Lodge’s sister property, Many Glacier Hotel, remains open, as do a majority of other accommodations and businesses in the area.  The iconic Red Buses are still operating, (with altered routes in some cases), as are Glacier Park Boats Tours with the exception of Lake McDonald.  And there’s also still horseback riding, whitewater rafting, hiking and fishing, visitors to the park just need to be flexible about where.

If you want to check out the Glacier National Park webcams, you can see for yourself what it looks like in one of our favorite parts of the world. In the blog below you will also find links to a number of resources which will update you on fires and make suggestions for alternative activities.  And, our friends in Whitefish offer great resources for the visitor, including an article on How Will Wildfire Affect My Vacation,

In the meantime, we here at Glacier Country have been doing the rain dance daily, and today it looks like it’s paying off.


AUGUST 12, 2018: Western Montana

Recently, Western Montana has been experiencing wildland fires, or fires that take place mostly in the backcountry and are usually sparked by lightning. They’re a natural part of our ecosystem. One of the results of these fires is that the air can become smoky, and occasionally plans have to be altered because of a road closure. We’re here to help in case either of these situations impact your trip to Montana’s Glacier Country.

Find gorgeous views and blue skies around every bend on the east side of Glacier National Park.

It’s unfortunate—we agree. We’d rather it weren’t smoky either. But it’s not calamitous, and there are many, many places in Western Montana, and the state in general, that are smoke-free. And if there does happen to be some smoke in the air, we have lots of indoor activities to keep visitors entertained. Museums? Breweries? Arts? Great dining options? We’ve got it all.

Things to Do in Glacier Country

Secondly, check out some of the resources below. They’ll let you know where the fires are (or, more importantly, where they aren’t), where the smoke is and if your visit to Western Montana will be impacted by either. Chances are, it won’t be, but if it is, here are a few things to keep in mind.

  1. You’re safe. Most of the fires are in the backcountry, miles from civilization and any structures. Montana is home to 3,443,038 acres of wilderness, and most of the fires are there. If, by chance, a fire gets close to a community, our firefighting experts communicate, evacuate if necessary, and communicate some more. You will not find yourself unwittingly in the midst of a wildfire while driving down the highway. Ever. Public safety is always the first concern. If an area is open, it is safe.
  2. Montana is huge. Vast, in fact. Over 145,556 square miles or 94,109,440 acres, to be precise. If you read that a fire is 6,400 acres, keep it in perspective, as that’s only a tiny, tiny fraction of Montana’s total acreage. Sometimes newspaper headlines or social media posts can be unnecessarily dramatic and imply that Montana as a whole is “on fire.” It sounds better than to say .000068 of Montana is on fire, which is actually more accurate.
  3. Fire is a natural part of our region’s ecology. Most fires are started by lightning, and are responsible for maintaining the health and perpetuity of certain fire-dependent ecosystems. We don’t pretend to be scientists, but we do have a lot of scientists in our area and resources in our partners at the state and federal levels, and we’ve attached a link to fire ecology below.
  4. And, because we always think the glass is at least half full here in Glacier Country, when the sky is a bit smoky, the sunsets are truly phenomenal. And, morel mushrooms, which are comparable to the delicious caviar of the mushroom family, like to grow in post-fire areas. We like that.

We’re already looking forward to a great morel mushroom crop next summer!

Here are some links that will help you plan your trip, and help you make informed travel decisions. Check back often, as these sites are updated daily.

We are lucky to have many webcams set up across Western Montana so we can see the beauty of Glacier Country at any time. Here are a few so you can see what is happening right now in our area:

If your travel plans have been affected by the current closures in Western Montana, Glacier Country Tourism’s call center can help you revise your travel plans. Chat online here or call 800.338.5072.

12 Hidden-Treasure State Parks + Camping Sites in Western Montana

Part of what makes Western Montana’s great outdoors so great is the abundance of explore-worthy, off-the-beaten-path public lands. Admittedly, we’re a little obsessed with visiting the lesser-known gems of Glacier Country, where crowds are light or non-existent and the adventure is always one of discovery.

Montana State Parks

Montana’s state parks are preserved for their natural beauty and amazing recreation opportunities. These heavenly places are some of the greatest natural and cultural treasures around. Here, we’ve listed a few that aren’t usually overcrowded and offer unforgettable authentic Montana experiences. State park campsites can be reserved, and you’ll also find ample water recreation activities like fishing, swimming and boating, plus RV access, picnic areas and latrines.

Lake Mary Ronan State Park

Known for epic fishing, Lake Mary Ronan State Park—just 7 miles west of Flathead Lake—also offers numerous hiking trails and individual campsites among lush forestland, perfect for spotting wildlife and wildflowers. For season and hours, plus amenities, activities and contact information, click here.

Lake Mary Ronan State Park is quaint and quiet, but offers plenty of recreational activities and beautiful views. Photo: Pat Doyle

Thompson Chain of Lakes + Logan State Park

How does shoreline access to 18 sparkling glacial lakes within a 20-mile stretch sound? Thompson Chain of Lakes offers 3,000 acres of excellent fishing, boating, camping, birding and hiking. Logan State Park, located on Middle Thompson Lake, is a heavily forested family-fun hot spot. For season and hours, plus amenities, activities and contact information, click here.

Thompson Falls State Park

Relax in the quiet Clark Fork Valley among old-growth pine, and explore the Thompson Falls Trail along the scenic Clark Fork River. The park also features a family fishing pond, camping and bird-watching. For season and hours, plus amenities, activities and contact information, click here.

Whether you’re camping, fishing or simply enjoying the scenery, Thompson Falls State Park is the perfect place to be. Photo: Andy Austin

Camping at Fish Access Sites

Here’s a fun little secret: many Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks fishing access sites offer camping. Sites can’t be reserved in advance, however, so make sure you have a backup plan. Check links below for individual site amenities, but note that these are all dry camping spots with no electric/water/sewer services available. Most sites also include boat launches, and all include opportunities to recreate.

Harpers Lake
Camp along the beautiful Clearwater River at Harpers Lake or neighboring Blanchard Lake. Sites are close to the road, offering easy access.
14 campsites + gravel boat launch
31 miles east of Bonner on Highway 200, turn north on Highway 83 for 2 miles

Fishing access sites are a great camping option throughout Western Montana. Photo: Montana Office of Tourism and Business Development

Island Lake
One of Montana’s newly developed fishing access sites, Island Lake has enhanced the fishing opportunities between Libby and Kalispell and the small number of campsites means solitude under a starry night sky.
3 campsites + boat launch
46 miles west of Kalispell

Upsata Lake
Enjoy stunning views of the entrance to Montana’s Bob Marshall Wilderness as well as lush, rolling prairie land.
6 campsites + gravel boat launch
37 miles east of Bonner on Highway 200 to milepost 38, then 4 miles north on Woodworth Road

Blackfoot River Corridor

Made famous by Norman Maclean’s “A River Runs Through It,” the Blackfoot River is one of Montana’s most popular, and the 26-mile Blackfoot River Corridor offers some of the best trout fishing in the state. This favorite of floaters ranges from slow-moving to whitewater, and the corridor’s numerous fishing access sites offer a diversity of camping options in the heart of one of Montana’s most treasured areas. Added bonus: the Blackfoot River Corridor Scenic Drive.

The Blackfoot River is a Glacier Country gem. Photo: Montana Office of Tourism and Business Development

Russell Gates
Russell Gates—a popular rafting put-in and take-out—lays on the charm with a fantastic view, plenty of shade trees, wide-river fishing and lots of deer.
12 campsites + gravel boat launch
River right, mile 40, 34 miles east of Bonner on Highway 200

Ninemile Prairie
Solitude abounds at Ninemile Prairie, with only a few campsites.
3 campsites
River right, mile 25, 25.5 miles east of Bonner on Highway 200, turn west (just before mile marker 27) on Ninemile Prairie Road for 4.2 miles

Corrick’s River Bend
Sleep out under our signature sky among majestic ponderosa pines at this scenic river spot.
12 campsites + boat launch
River right, mile 23, 25.5 miles east of Bonner on Highway 200, then 6 miles west on Ninemile Prairie Road 

Thibodeau
Find fun tubing down Thibodeau Falls ending at this popular campsite, and by night experience the peaceful sound of the river flowing.
6 campsites + potable water
River left, mile 18, 10.3 miles east of Bonner on Highway 200, turn north of Johnsrud Park Road for 5.5 miles

Main Blackfoot River

There’s even more solitude to be found the higher you go on the Blackfoot. Up the river from Russell Gates, you’ll find the following Western Montana gems:

Harry Morgan
This popular launch point makes for a great rustic overnight camping experience on the edge of crystal-clear Blackfoot waters.
4 campsites + gravel boat launch
River right, mile 2, 3.5 miles south of Ovando on the Ovando-Helmville Road

River Junction
Set up camp at River Junction for access to one very spectacular stretch of the famous Blackfoot River.
6 campsites + primitive boat launch
River right, mile 52, 38 miles east of Bonner on Highway 200, turn southeast on an unmarked county road (FAS sign at the junction) for 9 rough miles, follow the signs

Blackfoot River Float-In Campsites

Turn your float-fishing trip into an overnight adventure. The float-in campsite program on the Blackfoot lets you float right into your rustic overnight accommodations. Float-in sites are River Junction, Clearwater, Corrick’s River Bend and Ninemile Prairie. A special permit is required. Click here for more information.

Pro-tip: Always be sure to be up to date on all closures and restrictions before heading into any of these state parks or campsites.

8 Things To Do in the Charming Town of Cut Bank, Montana

The treasured little Glacier Country town of Cut Bank is cozied up against the backdrop of the breathtaking Rocky Mountains just under an hour from Glacier National Park. Along the eastern border of the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, history, tradition, western adventures and outdoor opportunities abound in this stay-and-play, full-service community, complete with comfortable lodging, friendly hospitality and a personality all its own.

We’ve got a list of things for you to see and do in Cut Bank, one of Glacier Country’s most charming small towns.

EVENTS + FESTIVALS

Montana Shakespeare in the Parks makes an annual stop in Cut Bank City Park each summer, and the whole town turns out for the beloved annual Lewis and Clark Days Festival, featuring live music, a chili cook-off, a parade, a car show, games and more.

The Cut Bank City Park is home to the community’s popular events for locals and visitors to enjoy.

GLACIER COUNTY HISTORICAL MUSEUM + ARCHIVE

Devoted to local history, the 14-acre Glacier County Historical Museum includes a 1917 schoolhouse, an oil worker’s house and derrick, an old caboose, Lewis and Clark exhibits, and a replica of a homestead house and farm. On weekends, interact with costumed characters circa 1915, who help demonstrate what life might have been like for Montana homesteaders.

History runs deep in Cut Bank. Learn all about it at the Glacier County Historical Museum. Photo: Racene Friede

HISTORICAL SITES

Three historically significant sites along the Lewis & Clark Trail are located in the Cut Bank area: Camp Disappointment, Cut Bank Camp and the Meriwether Lewis Fight Site. Follow in the Footsteps of the Corps of Discovery, the first American expedition to cross the western portion of the United States.

DOWNTOWN HISTORICAL MURALS

Set against the wide-open landscape, explore multiple downtown murals dedicated to the history of this unique community, commemorating Cut Bank’s homesteading roots, the importance of agriculture and cattle ranching, the Lewis and Clark Expedition and American Indian history.

Murals depicting the history, lifestyle and rich culture of the area can be found all around downtown Cut Bank.

OUTDOOR RECREATION

Enjoy some of the best stream fishing in the state, plus tubing, boating, upland bird/waterfowl hunting, bird-watching and camping. Or, take to the green at the Cut Bank Golf and Country Club, offering a 9-hole course (for all skill levels) and excellent views.

CUT BANK TRAILS

Hiking and biking your way around Cut Bank keeps getting easier with the expanding Cut Bank Trail System. Take the Coulee Trail along the Cut Bank Creek Coulee, using the east trailhead at 7th Avenue S. and Dean Drive, or the west trailhead at Mountain View Boulevard and Lookout Road.

The Coulee Trail System along Cut Bank Creek is easily accessible and seriously scenic.

CUT BANK CREEK BREWERY

What we love most about the Cut Bank Creek Brewery—aside from their exceptional, finely crafted brews—is their philosophy of good people, good beer and good living. We can’t help but agree. Stop by this neighborhood gathering place for cold beer, handcrafted ginger ale, locally roasted coffee, live music and board games. Rub elbows with the locals and see just how good living in Cut Bank is.

Add the Cut Bank Creek Brewery to the list of Montana breweries we love.

CUT BANK FARMERS MARKET

One of the things Montana does best is put on a good farmers market. Cut Bank lays on the charm Wednesdays from 3 – 6 p.m. (seasonally) at Cut Bank City Park. Shop local—from fresh foods, baked goods, produce and flowers, to artisan crafts, woodworking and handmade soaps. The Hutterites are a mainstay of the Cut Bank Farmers Market—try their fresh, local eggs!

From homegrown fruits and vegetables to pies, breads and homemade jams, the Cut Bank Farmers Market is the real deal.

TRIP TIP + PHOTO OP: Do not miss the 27-foot-tall penguin—Cut Bank’s roadside landmark is actually impossible to miss. The towering penguin claims bragging rights to calling “the coldest spot in the nation” home.

See Glacier Country’s most famous penguin!

Come see Cut Bank; getting here is easy, with an international airport for private planes, an Amtrak station, and easy access off U.S. Route 2. Road trip anyone?

How to Spend 6 Days in Western Montana

Start your Western Montana adventure with Glacier Country.

It can be a little overwhelming—albeit exciting—to wrap your head around how you might spend your time exploring Western Montana’s Glacier Country. With our glacial-carved terrain, 1-million-acre national park, 75+ charming small towns and limitless adventure, you’ve got a lot of choices. We’ve put together a six-day itinerary that might help you along the way.

Day 1: The Bitterroot Valley
A short 15-minute drive south of Missoula on Highway 93 is Lolo, home to Travelers’ Rest State Park—a centuries-old gathering place and campsite where Lewis and Clark rested and prepared for their journey—and Holt Heritage Museum (tours by appointment only), including memorabilia and an expansive collection of American Indian artwork as well as western wear, including hats and boots worn by some pretty famous cowboys and cowgirls.

Continue south on Highway 93 to the town of Florence and travel east on the Eastside Highway to the Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge. A naturalist’s paradise, look for tundra swans, woodpeckers, bald eagles and white-tailed deer from the comfort of your vehicle or walk the 2.5-miles of nature trails near the Bitterroot River. Continue south on the Eastside Highway to the community of Stevensville, with a quick detour to Fort Owen State Park. The first permanent pioneer settlement in Montana, Stevensville is home to the historic St. Mary’s Mission.

After lunch at a local eatery, stroll through the downtown shops with a stop at Valley Drug and Variety for something sweet at the old-fashioned soda fountain.

Head farther south to visit the Daly Mansion just outside of Hamilton, the summer home of Copper Baron and millionaire Marcus Daly.

Tour a marvel of a mansion formerly owned by Copper Baron, Marcus Daly.

Continue a few more minutes south and you’ll soon be in Hamilton—the largest town in the valley. Experience the vibrant arts scene with many galleries and shops full of work from local artisans.

You’ll also find sapphire mining for that perfect gem at Sapphire Studios in Hamilton, casting a line on the Bitterroot River or continuing south for 15 minutes to Darby and visiting Jimmy “the hat man” Harrison at Double H Custom Hat Co. for a custom handmade felted fur hat.

For dinner, stop at one of the Bitterroot Valley’s four craft breweries for a taste and a tour. Enjoy a wood-fired pizza or burger and a microbrew before returning to Missoula on Highway 93.

Taste a refreshing and crisp local beer at Lolo Peak Brewing Company.

IF YOU GO:
Bitterroot Valley Chamber of Commerce – 406.363.2400 – bitterrootchamber.com
Daly Mansion – 406.363.6004 – dalymansion.org
Fort Owen State Park – 406.273.4253 – stateparks.mt.gov/fort-owen
Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge – 406.777.5552 – fws.gov/refuge/lee_metcalf
St. Mary’s Mission – 406.777.5734 – saintmarysmission.org
Travelers’ Rest State Park – 406.273.4253 – travelersrest.org
Valley Drug and Variety – 406.777.5591 – mainstreetstevensville.com

EATS:
Bitter Root Brewing (Hamilton) – 406.363.7468 – bitterrootbrewing.com
Bouilla (Hamilton) – 406.361.0223
Lolo Peak Brewing Company (Lolo) – 406.493.6231 – lolopeakbrewery.com
Romeo’s Italian Kitchen (Stevensville) – 406.777.4499 – romeositaliankitchen.com

STAY:
Alta Ranch (Darby) – 406.349.2142 – alta-ranch.com
Bear Creek Lodge (Victor) – 406.642.3306 – bear-creek-lodge.com
Bitterroot Cabins (Hamilton) – 406.363.2258 – bitterrootcabins.com
Bitterroot River Ranch (Darby) – 409.531.4939 – bitterrootriverranch.com
Rye Creek Lodge (Darby) – 406.821.3366 – ryecreeklodge.com
Time After Time Bed and Breakfast (Victor) – 406.642.3258 – timeaftertimebb.com
Triple Creek Ranch (Darby) – 406.821.4600 – triplecreekranch.com

Day 2: Missoula – The Garden City
Missoula is Montana’s cultural hub and sits at the confluence of three rivers. The city boasts nine historic districts, funky boutiques, live theater and music, a symphony and delectable dining. It’s also home to the state’s oldest university.

Begin your day in Missoula with one of many self-guided tours and maps offered by the Missoula Downtown Association. Caras Park, located in the heart of downtown Missoula, is a great place to start. Be sure to stroll over to the Brennan’s Wave overlook, where you are likely to see a kayaker (or several) playing on this man-made whitewater wave on the Clark Fork River.

Wander art galleries, wineries and boutiques, or explore a museum or historical tour.

Nearby you’ll find various locations that host the Missoula Farmers Market, Clark Fork River Market and The Peoples Market (open Saturdays, May – October), as well as some of Missoula’s most popular festivals.

Have lunch or dinner at one of Missoula’s downtown eateries featuring locally sourced products like Dixon melons, wild huckleberries and grass-fed beef.

You’re in elk country, so a visit to the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation Visitor Center is in order. More than a museum, this visitor center features a number of interactive exhibits where you can learn more about elk, elk country and the role the organization plays in conservation throughout North America.

No visit to Missoula is complete without a visit to the Smokejumper Visitor Center. As the nation’s largest training base for smokejumpers, the visitor center showcases displays, dioramas and videos related to the lore of America’s legendary parachute wildfire fighters.

If local history is what you are looking for, visit The Historical Museum at Fort Missoula. Built in 1877, the fort sits on 32 acres and features 13 historical structures. It provides a rich history lesson about the search for gold in the area and the impact the railroad had on western expansion. The Rocky Mountain Museum of Military History, also located at Fort Missoula, tells the story of the United States Army, from frontier times to present day.

For an evening out, check out a concert at The University of Montana, Big Sky Brewing Company Amphitheater or KettleHouse Amphitheater, located on the banks of the Blackfoot River. Several venues downtown, including the Wilma Theatre, often host live music performances. You can also catch a Missoula Osprey baseball game, Missoula Maulers hockey game or the Hellgate Rollergirls for some roller derby.

Sit back and listen or stand up and dance to the variety of live performances playing throughout Missoula. The KettleHouse Amphitheatre is a cannot miss. Photo: Logjam Presents

IF YOU GO:
Historical Museum at Fort Missoula – 406.728.3476 – fortmissoulamuseum.org
Missoula Downtown Association – 406.543.4238 – missouladowntown.com
Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation Visitor Center – 406.523.3495 – rmef.org
Rocky Mountain Museum of Military History – 406.549.5346 – fortmissoula.org
Smokejumper Visitor Center Association – 406.329.4934 – fs.fed.us
The University of Montana – 406.243.4051 – umt.edu/griztix

EATS:
Biga Pizza – 406.728.2579 – bigapizza.com
Big Dipper Ice Cream – 406.543.5722 – bigdippericecream.com
Scotty’s Table – 406.549.2790 – scottystable.net
Tamarack Brewing Company – 406.830.3113 – tamarackbrewing.com
Top Hat Restaurant & Bar– 406.728.9865 – logjampresents.com/top-hat-restaurant-bar

STAY:
Best Western Grant Creek Inn – 406.543.0700 – bestwestern.com
DoubleTree by Hilton Missoula Edgewater – 406.728.3100 – doubletree3.hilton.com
Gibson Mansion Bed and Breakfast – 406.251.1345 – gibsonmansion.com

Day 3: Flathead Lake
Head north on Highway 93 to your first stop at the St. Ignatius Mission in St. Ignatius. (one hour, 30 minutes from Hamilton). Founded in 1854 by Jesuit missionaries, the mission, and especially Brother Carignano’s remarkable frescoes, are a must-see for anyone who appreciates historical landmarks (30-minute self-guided tour).

Watch nature roam in Glacier Country’s National Bison Range, home to bison, elk, deer and more. Photo: Andy Austin

Then head toward Dixon on Highway 200 and north to Moiese to visit the National Bison Range. Home to hundreds of bison, as well as elk, white-tailed and mule deer, pronghorn antelope, bighorn sheep and black bear. The visitor center provides interpretive displays and orientation videos, as well as a bookstore. A 6-mile loop is accessible to motorcoaches (one-hour self-guided tour).

Wake up to views of majestic mountains and pristine waters at Ninepipes Lodge.

Check out The Ninepipes Museum, located six miles south of Ronan and adjacent to the scenic Ninepipe National Wildlife Refuge. Enjoy the 2,000+ acre scenic refuge for native birds, and the museum’s collection of early photos, artifacts and antiques representing more than a century of life in the Flathead Valley.

The People’s Center, 1 mile north of Pablo (20 miles/25 minutes from St. Ignatius) on Highway 93, is the place to experience the rich cultural heritage of the Salish, Pend d’Oreille and Kootenai Tribes. The center features an exhibit gallery, educational programs and Native Ed-Venture interpretive tours focusing on American Indian heritage, natural history and cultural interpretation (one-hour tour).

The Best Western Kwataqnuk Resort in Polson (8 miles/11 minutes from The People’s Center) is your next stop, located on the southwest shore of Flathead Lake. This is the perfect place to stop for a meal and to overnight with magnificent lake views. Enjoy exploring downtown Polson or take a boat tour from Kwataqnuk Resort’s marina. Choose between a narrated bay cruise (1.5 hours) or cruise to the shores of Wild Horse Island, the largest island on Flathead Lake (three hours). Take advantage of Kwataqnuk’s group packages that include lunch and a boat cruise.

IF YOU GO:
National Bison Range – 406.644.2211 – fws.gov
Ninepipes Museum of Early Montana– 406.644.3435 – ninepipesmuseum.org
The People’s Center – 406.675.0160 – peoplescenter.org
Polson Chamber of Commerce– 406.883.5964 – polsonchamber.com
St. Ignatius Mission – 406.745.2768 – stignatiusmission.org

EATS:
Glacier Brewing Company – 406.883.2595 – glacierbrewing.com
Finley Point Grill – 406.887.2020 – finleypointgrill.com

STAY:
Kwataqnuk Resort and Casino – 800.882.6363 – kwataqnuk.com
Ninepipes Lodge – 406.644.2588 – ninepipeslodge.com
Red Lion Inn & Suites – 406.872.2200 – redlion.com/polson

Day 4: The Going-to-the-Sun Road

Hop in your car and prepare for epic views of Glacier National Park…and don’t worry, there are plenty of places to pull over and capture the moment.


Head north and spend your day in Glacier National Park driving the stunning Going-to-the-Sun Road. You can drive the road from west to east and back or you can turn it into a loop tour by driving the road from West Glacier to St. Mary and heading back to West Glacier via East Glacier Park and U.S. Highway 2. Be sure to take advantage of the various pull-outs and scenic viewpoints along the way. Recommended stops include Trail of the Cedars, Logan Pass Visitor Center, Jackson Glacier Overlook, Sunrift Gorge and Sun Point. 

IF YOU GO:
Logan Pass Visitor Center – 406.888.7800 – nps.gov/glac
St. Mary Visitor Center – 406.888.7800 – nps.gov/glac

STAY:
Glacier Outdoor Center (West Glacier) – 406.888.5456 – glacierraftco.com
Glacier Park Lodge (East Glacier Park) – 406.892.2525 – glacierparkcollection.com
Izaak Walton Inn (Essex) – 406.888.5700 – izaakwaltoninn.com

EATS:
The Dining Car at Izaak Walton Inn (Essex) – 406.888.5700 – izaakwaltoninn.com
Eddie’s Café & Mercantile (Apgar Village) – 406.888.5361 – eddiescafegifts.com

Day 5: The North Fork
Today will take you to one of the wildest sections of the park: the North Fork, one of the most scenic and off-the-beaten-path sections of the park that’s accessible by car. Take advantage of the stunning views as you make your way up the Outside North Fork Road. Polebridge, a small off-the-grid town just outside the park’s border, anchors the area. Here you’ll find a historic mercantile, saloon, cabins for rent and a hostel. Be sure to stop at the Polebridge Mercantile for some of the best pastries in the West. After fueling up on goodies, rent a kayak or canoe (or bring your own) and head into the park to Bowman or Kintla lakes for a few hours of paddling on the clear blue waters. If you’re feeling adventurous, take the Inside North Fork Road through the park to Polebridge. Check the road status before you go and be sure you’re in a high clearance, four-wheel drive vehicle.

Take a trip back in time while enjoying some of the finest pastries in the West at the Polebridge Mercantile.

IF YOU GO:
Polebridge Mercantile – 406.888.5105 – polebridgemerc.com

STAY:
North Fork Cabins – 406.871.7717 – polebridgecabins.com
North Fork Hostel & Square Peg Ranch – 406.888.5241 – nfhostel.com

EATS:
Polebridge Mercantile and Bakery – 406.888.5105 – polebridgemerc.com
The Northern Lights Saloon and Café – 406.888.9963 – facebook.com/northern-lights-saloon-1

Day 6: West Glacier
Spend the final day of your trip participating in some of the activities and adventures around one of the park’s hubs—West Glacier. Start your morning on a trail ride with Swan Mountain Outfitters at their West Glacier corral. After taking in the view along the trail, head out on a half-day fly-fishing or whitewater rafting trip along the Middle Fork of the Flathead River. Along the way, you’ll learn about area history and local legends. Round out the night with dinner at the Belton Chalet. Learn more about Glacier National Park by participating in one of the ranger-led activities.

Saddle up, cowboys and cowgirls. Experience a classic way to see the park and cover miles of scenic terrain.

IF YOU GO:
Swan Mountain Outfitters – 406.387.4405 – swanmountainoutfitters.com
Glacier National Park Conservancy – 406.888.5756 – glacier.org

STAY:
The Belton Chalet – 406.888.5000 – beltonchalet.com
Glacier Guides Lodge – 406.387.5555 – glacierguides.com
Glacier Haven Inn – 406.888.5720 – glacierhaveninn.com

EATS:
Belton Grill Dining Room – 406.888.5000 – beltonchalet.com
Belton Tap Room – 406.888.5000 – beltonchalet.com
Health Haven Café – 406.888.5720 – glacierhaveninn.com

SUP: Top 12 Places to Stand-Up Paddleboard in Western Montana

Come see what’s SUP in Western Montana. Stand-up paddleboarding, or SUP, is an increasingly popular way to explore Montana’s sparkling alpine lakes and scenic, lazy rivers. In fact, SUP is the fastest-growing water sport in the world. Surfing meets kayaking in this epically fun way to play on the water.

Glide across Western Montana waters on a SUP board. Photo: Noah Couser

If you’re new to the sport, your best bet is to go with a guide. Many local outfitters here in Glacier Country offer rentals, lessons and guided trips, so, you’re in luck. Here’s a list of our top 12 SUP spots as well as the folks who can help you get on the water for your Western Montana stand-up paddleboarding adventure.

ASHLEY LAKE
Fifteen miles west of Kalispell, Ashley Lake is a real charmer. Easy on the eyes, the alpine aqua waters of this special SUP spot make for an unforgettably picturesque day.
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FLATHEAD LAKE: WAYFARERS STATE PARK
Paddle the largest freshwater lake west of the Mississippi. Wayfarers State Park has some of the best Flathead Lake access, including a beach area as well as rocky cliffs along the shoreline. The water is clean and clear and is typically sheltered from wind and waves, though it can make for some fun SUP action when the swell picks up and creates near surf-like conditions, which are also great for downwind paddling. Wayfarers happens to be one of the best spots on the lake to watch the sunset, too.
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Base Camp Bigfork has got you covered on rentals, instruction and location tips. Photo: Base Camp Bigfork

The north shore of Flathead Lake offers miles of undeveloped shoreline. It’s a great place to spot waterfowl, eagles, osprey and deer, and take in amazing mountain views. If you access the lake via Bigfork Bay, you’ll be able to paddle right into the storybook town of Bigfork for some post-SUP food and drinks or delicious Sweet Peaks Ice Cream. If you’re up for a celebration, plan your trip around the Northern Rockies Paddlefest at Wayfarers State Park, held annually in May.

Anywhere you decide to put in on Flathead Lake, great views and cool waters will meet you there.

SWAN RIVER
The Swan River flows into the Bigfork Bay, which allows the more adventurous to try paddling moving water. There are several access points, which allow for more of a downriver journey while the river winds through a picture-perfect landscape. There are miles of slow-moving water perfect for beginners. There is also a nice class 2+ rapid stretch, which is popular for inner tubing, but also ideal for paddlers looking for an introduction to whitewater paddleboarding.

SWAN VALLEY LAKES: SWAN LAKE, ECHO LAKE AND HOLLAND LAKE
These three lakes offer authentic Montana SUP adventures. Paddle to the sandbar in the middle of scenic Swan Lake, experience the famously warm waters of Echo Lake, or combine your Holland Lake paddle with a 3.3-mile out-and-back hike to gorgeous Holland Falls.

The Swan Valley lakes offer amazing paddling in pristine waters. Here a paddleboarder cruises Swan Lake.

TRIP TIP: For Swan River plus Ashley, Flathead and Swan lakes SUP gear, rent a board at Base Camp Bigfork and get complimentary delivery and pickup as well as on-the-water instruction. Base Camp also rents boards to those who want to self-drive their gear to any number of lakes in Glacier National Park.

BLACKFOOT RIVER
The clear, cold, trout-filled waters of the Blackfoot—made famous by Norman Maclean’s “A River Runs Through It”—offer the scenic splendor of canyon walls often dotted with majestic bighorn sheep. Paddle the Blackfoot in July for unobstructed flows.

CLARK FORK RIVER
Experience the eclectic town of Missoula from the waters of the winding Clark Fork River. Put in at the Sha-Ron fishing access site in East Missoula and then hop off the water at the river’s edge in downtown Missoula, where you’ll find good eats, plenty to drink, and lots to see and do.

BITTERROOT RIVER
This scenic valley waterway is flanked by the beautiful rolling Sapphire Range to one side and the dramatic Bitterroot Mountains to the other. Hop on the water at Bells Crossing and paddle to the Stevensville Crossing site to hop out.

LAKE COMO
Solitude abounds at this Bitterroot Valley gem 8 miles south of Hamilton in the Bitterroot National Forest. There’s a sandy beach at the north end of the lake, perfect for paddling and swimming. Bring a picnic lunch and your hiking shoes…abundant trails surround the lake.

TRIP TIP: For Blackfoot, Clark Fork, Bitterroot and Como SUP rentals, guides, gear and tips, check out Missoula’s Trail Head, or Bob Ward’s, with locations in both Missoula and Hamilton.

UPPER WHITEFISH LAKE
This Stillwater State Forest stunner north of Whitefish, dazzles and is the perfect tucked-away spot for a quiet day on the lake. Feeling adventurous? Head south to Whitefish (1.5 hours) for post-paddle food, drinks and fun.
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TALLY LAKE
West of Whitefish, the warm waters of Tally Lake offer a peaceful paddle among the lush trees and scenic cliff walls of the Kootenai National Forest. Head to the east shore for a serene evening paddle.
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FLATHEAD RIVER: THE NORTH AND MIDDLE FORKS
The stunning emerald waters of the Flathead River offer a Glacier Country experience like no other. Paddle the Middle Fork from West Glacier to Blankenship Bridge, passing through a jaw-dropping gorge with a perfect cliff-jumping spot. The North Fork is one of only four Wild and Scenic Rivers in Montana and forms the western border of Glacier National Park. Breathtaking scenery is a given, and black bear sightings are not unheard of.

It doesn’t get much better (or prettier) than the Flathead River. Photo: Noah Couser

TRIP TIP:
For Tally Lake and Flathead River SUP rentals, plus the goods on gear and guides, visit the friendly folks at Tamarack Ski & Lake Shop.
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LAKE KOOCANUSA
This trout-heavy reservoir between the Purcell and Salish mountains in Libby, Montana offers scenic-byway landscapes, a sandy beach, wildlife watching and the opportunity to take a pre- or post-paddle Libby Dam tour.
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TRIP TIP: For Lake Koocanusa access and gear rentals, head to the Wilderness Club, just a short walk to the Lake Koocanusa beach area.

SUP SAFETY
Before you hit the water for your Western Montana SUP adventure, contact one of the outfitters listed above for details on where to float when, based on water flows and temps, and always check the weather before you head out (especially when lake paddling away from shore). Spring runoff means fast-moving rivers. (If you’re new to SUP, stick to a late-summer guided river trip or take a calm lake tour.) Learn basic techniques and safety tips from these local outfitters, too.

Our lakes and rivers offer amazing experiences, but proper preparation and equipment are always recommended.

On the river, wear a quick-release leash around your waist. It’s IMPERATIVE that you use quick-release technology in SUP, as ankle leashes can get hung up on rocks and other debris. Wear a PFD, a helmet, a wetsuit and protective gear, especially in shallow rivers.

On the lake, bring a flotation device, try to confine your trip to an hour or less, and stay closer to the shore. SUP is a full-body workout. Plan your trip with that in mind. Learn more about safety, rules and regulations through Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks.

Lastly, have fun paddling paradise. That’s what’s SUP in Western Montana’s Glacier Country.