Author Archives: glaciermt

Wildlife Viewing Areas in Western Montana

One of the things that makes Montana so special is that we share the land with an abundance of beautiful, wild creatures. There are plenty of undesignated places to watch wildlife in Western Montana, but some pretty amazing spots are set aside specifically for Montana’s mammals, birds and reptiles. Glacier Country’s year-round wildlife refuges and viewing areas boast a diversity of habitat and offer a look at some of the region’s most majestic inhabitants.

A drive through the National Bison Range offers a look at these majestic mammals. Photo: Andy Austin

The beloved National Bison Range in Moiese is not only an excellent place to view bison (250 – 300 head of bison call this area home), but deer, elk, bighorn sheep, pronghorn antelope, mountain lions and the occasional black bear also roam the area, along with 200+ species of birds. The range consists of a diverse ecosystem of grasslands, fir and pine forests, riparian areas and ponds. Open dawn to dusk daily, the range includes three wildlife drives. The West Loop and Prairie Drive are short year-round drives. Red Sleep Mountain Drive is open mid-May to mid-October. It’s a two-hour 19-mile loop with switchbacks and 2,000 feet of elevation gain. Make sure to bring your camera and binoculars or spotting scope. Plan your visit with seasonal visitor center hours in mind.

Keep an eye out for muskrats, waterfowl and deer while riding along Wildfowl Lane in the Lee Metcalf NWR.

In the beautiful Bitterroot Valley, the Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge—2 miles north of Stevensville—is one of the most popular refuges in Montana. Open dawn to dusk daily, walk along the 2.5-mile Wildlife Viewing Area Trail and 1.25-mile Kenai Nature Trail. Drive or bike Wildfowl Lane, a county road that runs through the refuge and provides a close look at ponds packed with migrating waterfowl in the spring and fall. More than 240 species of birds have been observed in the area, and mammals in the refuge include white-tailed deer, yellow-bellied marmots, porcupines, beavers and gophers, among others. Plan your visit with time to stop by the year-round visitor center.

Dusk is a great time for wildlife watching at Ninepipe. Photo: Dave Fitzpatrick/USFWS

Stunning Mission Valley views accompany the scenic Ninepipe National Wildlife Refuge, a pristine wetland complex in Charlo. Photographers flock here to capture the evening grandeur of the reservoir’s Mission Mountain backdrop. In addition to 200+ species of birds, you’ll find nationally acclaimed winter raptor viewing and mammals like white-tailed deer, the occasional grizzly bear and wetland creatures like muskrats, skunks, mice and voles. Explore the interpretative site for interesting information about the refuge.  Directly across the highway from the refuge, explore the Ninepipes Museum of Early Montana. Established to accommodate nesting birds, access to the refuge changes with the seasons, and there are no amenities or facilities of any kind at the refuge itself, so plan your visit accordingly. Driving on Ninepipe Road is available year-round. Walking is limited on the refuge as water comprises more than 80% of the area and much of the land is very wet during the spring.

Wild Horse Island/Flathead Lake State Park is a true Montana treasure, featuring old-growth ponderosa pine forestland and prairie grasslands with scenic trails and ample wildlife viewing. If you’re lucky, you’ll catch a glimpse of the wild horses for which the island is named. Accessible only by boat, the biggest island (3 miles long) on the largest freshwater lake west of the Mississippi—Flathead Lake—abounds with wild adventures like hiking, swimming, sailing and boating. Other island inhabitants include bighorn sheep, deer, songbirds, waterfowl, bald eagles, falcons and bears. (Note: store food in bear-safe containers on your boat.) Also, a joint state/tribal fishing license is required for anglers at this Flathead Indian Reservation site. For a fun paddling adventure, kayak to the island from Dayton. It’ll take you about 45 minutes.

Two miles south of Polson—and also within Flathead Indian Reservation boundaries—the Pablo National Wildlife Refuge provides a unique glimpse at pothole wetlands and offers hiking, biking, fishing, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. This serene setting is the site of the trumpeter swan release during the 1996 reintroduction to the Mission Valley, and continues to be an important release site. Vehicles can access the refuge along roads across the dam and along the north side of the refuge. The wetland habitat supports abundant waterfowl species and common wetland-friendly mammals, like muskrats, striped skunks, mink, field mice and meadow voles. There are no amenities or facilities of any kind here, and portions of the refuge are closed in the spring to minimize human disturbance to nesting birds, so plan your visit accordingly.

Seeing a moose in the wild is an unforgettable experience. Photo: tonybynum.com

The Swan River National Wildlife Refuge is situated between the breathtaking Swan and Mission Mountain ranges south of Swan Lake, offering a scenic wildlife viewing adventure. The refuge provides wetland and grassland habitat for 171 bird species, white-tailed deer, mule deer, elk, and moose, plus beavers, muskrats and raccoons. Visitors enjoy hiking and snowshoeing this picturesque refuge from east to west via Bog Road. You’ll find a viewing platform and information kiosk with interpretive panels, but there are no significant facilities on the refuge, so plan your visit with that in mind.

Lost Trail’s Dahl Lake draws animals looking for a drink or a swim. Photo: Beverly Skinner

Lost Trail National Wildlife Refuge lies in the tranquil Pleasant Valley mountain drainage area northwest of Marion. Prairie grasslands, riparian and wetland areas and aspen groves serve as important habitat for a variety of wildlife including elk, deer and moose. Although elusive, wolverines, Canada lynx, fishers and grizzly bears have all been documented here as well. This remote refuge offers a secluded authentic Montana experience. Please note, GPS navigation to the refuge is not always perfect and cell phone service can be spotty, so plan your visit accordingly.

As always, remember that wildlife is just that—wild. Respect their space, keep your distance and stay safe when recreating in wild places. Read more about Western Montana wildlife safety here.

Montana’s Ronan Area: Exploring Glacier Country’s Travel Corridors

Less than 20 minutes south of Flathead Lake—the largest freshwater lake west of the Mississippi—Ronan is quietly situated against the backdrop of the majestic Mission Mountains. This picturesque community off U.S. Highway 93 is more than a small-town agriculture community. The views alone are worth the visit to the Ronan area, but there’s more to this Mission Valley gem. Year-round recreation abounds here, like fishing, hiking in the Mission Mountain Wilderness Area (by permit), birding, camping and golf.

Jaw-dropping views of the snowcapped Mission Mountains will delight visitors to the Ronan area.

Ronan offers a warm Montana welcome with the impossible-to-miss iconic Main Street Arch. If you’re anything like us, one of the first things you think in a new place is “where can I get a coffee around here?” Ronan’s got you covered. Grab a fresh doughnut and a mighty fine latte from Dobson Creek Coffee Company. Fuel up on food for your adventure with a scratch-made breakfast at Stella’s Bakery & Deli or lunch from Little Montana. Once you’ve got your fix, and you’ve also explored downtown Ronan’s shops—including Muley Bluz-Cowboys Toys—there’s much more to see.

Mmmm…nothing beats coffee and a donut at Dobson Creek Coffee Company.

The Ninepipe National Wildlife Refuge isn’t just for the bird enthusiast. This pristine wetland complex boasts more than 800 glacial potholes, a large reservoir and excellent wildlife watching opportunities. In addition to 200+ species of birds, you’ll find nationally acclaimed winter raptor viewing and numerous mammals and reptiles. Explore the interpretative site for interesting information about the refuge.

Face to face with a grizzly at the Ninepipes Museum of Early Montana.

Directly across the highway from the refuge, explore the Ninepipes Museum of Early Montana. The museum honors the history and culture of the Flathead Indian Reservation and early Montana with four rooms of artifacts, historical photographs, a selection of stunning beadwork, guns, bows and arrows and a diorama room filled with mounted wildlife and an American Indian camp circa 1880. For an exceptional view of the Mission Mountains, don’t miss the short nature trail.

North of Ronan (outside Polson), the Pablo National Wildlife Refuge also provides a unique glimpse at pothole wetlands and offers hiking, biking, fishing, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing in one of Western Montana’s most serene landscapes.

The People’s Center in Pablo showcases the history, culture and craftsmanship of local tribes.

At The People’s Center, explore a museum honoring the rich cultural heritage of the Salish, Pend d’Oreille and Kootenai tribes through rotating exhibits, educational displays and programs. The People’s Center gift shop has an extensive collection of local American Indian art and handcrafted items for sale, including paintings, beadwork, jewelry and tribal moccasins.

Pick out some cute Made in Montana and Montana-themed souvenirs at Great Gray Gifts.

 

Authentically western and cozy accommodations can be found at Ninepipes Lodge—featuring an in-house restaurant and one of Montana’s best gift shops, Great Gray Gifts. You’ll find plenty of Made in Montana items to take home, like unique jewelry, leather goods and bath and body items. You can also set up camp at Diamond S RV Park and Campground, or, for a relaxing home away from home, rent the Mission Valley Escape.

If you’re visiting in the summer, plan your trip to the Ronan area around one of the community’s annual events, like the three-day Chainsaw Carving Rendezvous taking place in June at the Ronan Fairgrounds.

For more information about the Ronan area, stop by the Mission Mountain County Visitor Center, serving summer visitors to the Mission Valley. You’ll also experience a warm dose of western hospitality while you’re there.

Western Montana Wings: Birding in Glacier Country

Western Montana’s pristine landscape makes for prime bird habitat. Our skies are graced with soaring raptors, our lakes and rivers are flush with waterfowl and shorebirds, and our grasslands and woodlands are visited by beautiful songbirds. Whether you’re an avid birder checking birds off a life list, or someone who just wants a look at something wild and free, there’s plenty of opportunity to catch some good glimpses of Glacier Country’s feathered residents.

There’s no better way to locate and learn about Western Montana’s birds than to go on a birding trip with a local expert. Glacier Country is home to four chapters of the Audubon Society: Bitterroot Audubon, Five Valleys Audubon, Flathead Audubon, and Mission Mountain Audubon. These groups frequently offer free or low-cost outings, but you may need to sign up in advance. Usually the group leader sets up a spotting scope for everyone to share, but you’ll want to bring your own binoculars. Check out The Montana Natural History Center in Missoula for birding events, like Naturalist Field Weekend: Sage Grouse Experience at the end of April and Naturalist Field Day: Birding by Ear in May.

The Montana Natural History Center offers birding classes and outings. Photo: Montana Natural History Center

If you’d like to do some birding on your own, check out the following hot spots:

In the Bitterroot Valley there’s no better place to bird-watch than Stevensville’s Lee Metcalf Wildlife Refuge. More than 225 species of birds have been recorded there. Hit the riparian habitat along the walking path by the Bitterroot River trail. Don’t miss the ponds on the north end of the park that fill with migrating waterfowl in the spring and fall.

Downtown Missoula is steps away from the Riverfront Trail, where even without binoculars you can often spot osprey, great blue herons, kingfishers, and more. If you’re willing to venture a little further, the Rattlesnake National Recreation Area is teeming with avian life. Word is, birders often don’t even need to leave the parking lot.

The Flathead Valley’s Owen Sowerwine Natural Area abounds with songbirds and waterfowl. Also scope out the West Valley Ponds, where there’s a new viewing area from which to see hundreds of sandhill cranes during fall migration.

Base your birding adventure out of the Mission Valley. There are three outstanding destinations here: the National Bison Range, Ninepipe National Wildlife Refuge and Pablo National Wildlife Refuge.

NOTABLE GLACIER COUNTRY BIRDS

A western meadowlark bursts into song. Photo: Brian Williams

Montana’s state bird, the western meadowlark, can be seen in abundance at the National Bison Range in the spring and summer. This medium-sized songbird with a striking yellow neck and chest nests and forages in tall grasses, so you’ll often hear its beautiful voice before seeing it. Luckily, you won’t have to wait long before it flies up to perch on a fence or a shrub to put on a concert for you.

Who ordered take-out? An osprey delivers a fish. Photo: Alan D. Wilson

The osprey is one of Glacier Country’s most recognizable birds. Not only is the city of Missoula’s semi-pro baseball team named after this charismatic raptor, but the stadium includes a nesting platform where an osprey pair can be reliably seen from April through September. It’s a real treat to watch one fishing—osprey plunge feet first into the water to grab a fish, which they’ll hold facing forward and upright in their talons as they glide off to find a dining spot.

Male harlequin ducks are a sight to be seen. Photo: Alan D. Wilson

Glacier National Park claims the densest population of harlequin ducks in the state and is, therefore, one of the best places to find them. Still, one researcher claims it’s rarer to spot a harlequin than a grizzly. Harlequins are the only North American duck that breed and forage in clear, fast rivers and streams. Keep an eye out for these distinctively colored ducks during May and June at Upper McDonald Creek near the Going-to-the-Sun Road.

A variety of woodpeckers call Western Montana home for part of the year. Named after Corps of Discovery adventurer Meriwether Lewis, Lewis’s woodpeckers can be spotted in Council Grove State Park from roughly May through August. Look for dead trees, where the birds nest in cavities. Their greenish-black back and wings, salmon-colored bellies and red faces make them easy to identify.

Look for pileated woodpeckers in areas with large dead trees. Photo: Alan D. Wilson

Over a foot long, with black bodies, white-striped faces and flaming red crests, pileated woodpeckers are always an exciting find. Their loud calls and drumming will help you locate these year-round residents in their forest habitat, like the cottonwood snags in the Owen Sowerwine Natural Area.

Mountain bluebirds match the color of Western Montana skies.

Glacier Country’s skies get even bluer when mountain bluebirds and western bluebirds arrive in the spring. The males of these two species of songbirds are easy to tell apart; mountain bluebirds are blue all over, while western bluebirds sport an orange chest. Western bluebirds prefer open woodlands like Blue Mountain in Missoula. Mountain bluebirds are prevalent at the National Bison Range. Like western meadowlarks, both species flit between the ground and low perches.

A sandhill crane flies with its legs and neck fully stretched out. Photo: Alan D. Wilson

One of the largest birds you’ll see in Montana is the sandhill crane at 3.5 feet tall with a 6-foot wingspan. These elegant gray giants fly with neck and legs extended, looking like prehistoric pterodactyls come to life. From April to October, the long-legged cranes can be seen in open habitats like marshes and grasslands. The best place to spot them is during fall migration at the new viewing platform in West Valley near Kalispell.

Trumpeter swans are making a comeback at the Flathead Indian Reservation. Photo: Alan D. Wilson

For a chance to see America’s largest waterfowl, the trumpeter swan, head to the Flathead Indian Reservation’s Pablo National Wildlife Refuge, where these impressive birds have been successfully reintroduced. Biologists for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes have been working for 20 years to establish a viable population, which now numbers roughly 200 swans.

Great blue herons are a common sight in Western Montana waters. Photo: Alan D. Wilson

The majestic great blue heron can be found year-round almost anywhere there’s a river, lake or wetland. Birders can get relatively close to the nesting colonies at Lee Metcalf Wildlife Refuge. In the spring and summer, the conifers near the pond host several nests each, and visitors are treated to an abundance of heron activity.

Snowy owl sightings in Western Montana are a rare treat. Photo: Elaine R. Wilson

Western Montana is home to 15 owl species, and one of the foremost owl researchers in the world, Denver Holt. His Owl Research Institute, based out of Charlo, often leads workshops and field days, which are open to the public. Driving through the Flathead and Mission Valleys in the winter, you’ll want to keep your eyes peeled for snowy owls—they sometimes migrate down from the Arctic to feast on voles.

Common loons arrive in the summer to nest on Glacier Country’s lakes. Photo: Elaine R. Wilson

Glacier Country boasts the only common loon habitat in Montana. If you’re hoping to hear this black and white bird’s legendary call, visit Spencer Lake west of Whitefish from March through September. There are three distinctive vocalizations you might hear during the summer months: 1) a long, and some say eerie, cry, 2) a high-pitched fast call, and 3) the territorial yodel of the males.

For more information on birding in Western Montana, visit glaciermt.com/birding.

Glacier Country: Road and Trail Races That Can’t Be Beat

The gorgeous Montana landscape inspires runners to get out in the fresh mountain air, and springtime is a major motivator for lacing up and hitting the roads and trails. Many of our charming small towns play host to races that not only bring the community together, but also provide an authentic Montana experience to out-of-town runners.

Like these Missoula Marathoners, you’ll be happy you signed up for one of our road races. Photo: FinisherPix

BUTTERCUP RUN: APRIL 13, 2019

The town of Arlee on the Flathead Indian Reservation puts on one of the first of Western Montana’s springtime races—the Buttercup Run. This is a chance to see the incredible small-town spirit of Glacier Country—the whole community comes out for the wide range of events: a 1 mile, 5K, 10K and half marathon. No matter which run you choose, views of the beautiful Jocko Valley and the Mission Mountains stretch the distance. Serious swag: A long-sleeved T-shirt with wildlife art by a local artist.

BITTERROOT RUNOFF TRAIL RUNS: APRIL 14, 2019

Kick off trail running season in Montana by entering the first race in the 2019 Runner’s Edge Trail Race Series. Both the 5.2 and 9.7 mile runs follow challenging single track trails on Lolo’s forested hillsides in the beautiful Bitterroot Valley. Finishers can replenish their energy with a generous post-race brunch—and beer from Big Sky Brewing Co. Serious swag: A Bitterroot Runoff logo buff and a custom finisher award.

SWEATHOUSE HALF MARATHON: MAY 11, 2019

Run Wild Missoula, the running club that heads up the famed Missoula Marathon, heads south to Victor to put on the Sweathouse Half Marathon. This race has been a late September staple, but moved to May this year; be one of the first to run this course in the springtime! Named for nearby Sweathouse Falls, this race presents a wonderful opportunity to take in 13.1 miles of scenic backroads in the gorgeous Bitterroot Valley. Serious swag: A short-sleeved technical T-shirt and a finisher medal.

Dramatic peaks provide the backdrop for the Whitefish Marathon. Photo: Mountain Life Photography

WHITEFISH MARATHON: MAY 11, 2019

The 2019 edition of the Whitefish Marathon features an all-new blacktop course that skirts the edges of Glacier National Park. Incredible landscapes unfold as you race toward the finish line of the marathon, half marathon or 5K. Piggyback Barbecue serves runners a well-deserved post-race lunch. Serious swag: A finisher shirt, finisher medal and a day pass for The Wave Aqua + Fitness Center.

Run along historic railroad grades during the Trail Rail Run. Photo: Trail Rail Run

TRAIL RAIL RUN: JUNE 8, 2019

All of the Trail Rail Run courses follow old Northern Pacific and Milwaukee Railroad grades through spectacular Lolo National Forest. These wide, forgiving dirt and gravel surfaces never rise above a two percent grade, so this could be your chance to get a PR! In the longest event of the Trail Rail Run, ultra-runners can race 50.5 miles from Mullan, Idaho to St. Regis, Montana. If that’s more than your quads and calves can handle, there are plenty of other distances to choose from: a 50-mile relay, 30K, 12K and 5K. All racers are bussed from St. Regis to their assorted starting points. Serious swag: Patagonia Houdini windbreaker jackets for 50-milers; T-shirts and a used railroad spike with an engraved plate for everyone else.

SKUNK ALLEY RUN: JUNE 8, 2019

Hot Springs Homesteader’s Days celebration includes the Skunk Alley Run, a 10K and a 3K along old logging roads above town. It’s perhaps the only race that starts with a whip crack, and one of the few where runners get to see cowboys and cowgirls working to keep a herd of cattle off the trail. Afterwards, take in an authentic small-town festival and soak your weary legs at Symes Hot Springs. Serious swag: T-shirt.

Challenging hill climbs are part of the fun at the Herron Half. Photo: Burket Kniveton

HERRON HALF: JUNE 9, 2019

The expansive Foy’s to Blacktail Trail system in Kalispell’s Herron Park is the perfect setting for a half marathon, 10K, 5K and kids 1K. After some challenging climbs, the race’s 10K and half-marathon runners will be rewarded with awesome views of the Flathead Valley, while the 5K and 1K kids run provides a fun introduction to the fast-growing sport of trail running. Serious swag: The first 250 race participants receive a hat.

MOUNTAIN TO MEADOW: JUNE 15, 2019

Boasting one of Glacier Country’s highest altitude starting lines—5,223-foot Lolo Pass—Mountain to Meadow offers trail runners an irresistible challenge. Not only is the half marathon an extra half mile (13.6 miles), runners will also get in over 1,200 feet of climbing. Half marathoners and 5K racers have it much easier, with climbs of 300 and 100 feet respectively. What all three have in common is the flat stretch by historic Packer Meadow (Lewis and Clark camped here) where camas wildflowers should be in full bloom, coloring the whole meadow a stunning purple. Serious swag: Mountain to Meadow trucker hat.

The Glacier Half Marathon + a stay in Glacier National Park = the perfect “runcation.” Photo: Lucid Images

GLACIER HALF MARATHON: JUNE 22, 2019

The payoff of this challenging run is the stunning Glacier National Park landscape, at sunrise no less. This course—on the Blackfeet Reservation in East Glacier Park—is unbelievably gorgeous. Climb Looking Glass Hill and take in views of Two Medicine Lake, ending at the iconic Glacier Park Lodge. Then, explore the park! Serious swag: Finisher medals and shirts for all participants.

SEELEY 50, 25 + 10K: JUNE 22, 2019

Test your mettle in a trail race amidst one of Glacier Country’s most beautiful places—Seeley Lake. The courses lead runners through the Rice Ridge burn area, which at this time of year is an eye-catching neon green and black. The Filling Station Bar and Grill hosts the after-party and primitive camping is free for runners. Serious swag: Finisher medals for 50 + 25K runners, and a shirt for all participants.

Almost there! Runners make the final push toward Missoula Marathon’s finish line. Photo: Gameface Media

MISSOULA MARATHON: JUNE 30, 2019

Let’s see. The Missoula Marathon was a named “Top 10 Bucket List Marathon” by Runner’s World in 2018, “#1 Marathon in the U.S.” by BibRave in 2017, the “Top Marathon for Back-of-the-Packers” by Runner’s World in 2017 and “Best Marathon in the U.S.” by Runner’s World in 2010. Need any more incentives to sign up? You’ve got it: There’s also a half marathon, a 5K, a kids marathon, an expo, a free beer run and a finish line flanked by cheering spectators in beautiful downtown Missoula on the banks of the Clark Fork River. Serious swag: Short-sleeved technical T-shirt, medal, on-course, finish line and post-race victory stand photos for all racers; half marathon and marathon finishers also receive a post-race beer from Big Sky Brewing and a post-race meal from the Good Food Store.

 

 

 

Show Stopping Performing Arts in Western Montana

Nature isn’t the only thing putting on a spectacular show in Western Montana’s Glacier Country. Talented performing artists flock to the region, inspired by the sheer beauty and wide-open landscape for artistic expression. Long-running theater companies and symphony orchestras have staged captivating performances here for decades. From community plays to Broadway-caliber theater to live concerts, Western Montana boasts a critically acclaimed performing arts scene.

Soaking up soul-inspiring music and skies at Glacier Symphony’s Summer Pops Concert. Photo: Michael Roessman

The Flathead Valley touts a pretty impressive commitment to the arts. One of the region’s most renowned theater companies, the Bigfork Summer Playhouse, performs “Broadway in the Rockies” every summer. This storybook village on Flathead Lake has been wowing audiences for 60 years with many talented performers—like J.K. Simmons of Whiplash and Spider-Man fame—gracing the stage at the local playhouse. From a beautiful 1938 log theater on the south end of the lake, Port Polson Players has long been committed to community, children’s and summer theater with a captivating lineup of shows. In nearby Whitefish, the Alpine Theatre Project, founded by three Broadway veterans, brings Broadway to this charming mountain town, no doubt helping this community claim its spot as “One of the Top 10 Coolest Small Towns in America.” Kalispell’s Glacier Symphony Orchestra and Chorale offers live symphonic music concerts year-round including summer chamber series, outdoor pops and the Festival Amadeus.

Alpine Theatre Project’s productions draw top talent like Broadway star N’Kenge. Photo: Brenda Ahearn

Another breathtakingly beautiful Western Montana valley—the Bitterroot—holds its own with the Hamilton Players, spotlighting the importance of education and community through theater, and the Stevensville Playhouse, offering a springtime lineup in a theater with quite the storied past, including being destroyed twice by fire.

Bigfork Summer Playhouse presents musicals from July – September. Photo: Brach Thomson, “Into the Woods”

As the arts and culture hub of Glacier Country, Missoula packs a big punch in the performing arts realm. The year-round Missoula Community Theater presents five main-stage productions each season and the Missoula Children’s Theater—the nation’s largest touring children’s theater—tours 1,200 communities in all 50 states and Canada, plus schools and U.S. military bases in more than 15 countries.

Hamilton Players prove that small-town theaters can put on big-time shows like “Chicago.” Photo: Tom Brader

The artistically ambitious independent BetweenTheLines Theatre stages raw, contemporary performances at Missoula’s historic Roxy Theater. With a focus on celebrating the human spirit, the Montana Repertory Theatre at the University of Montana is one of the most respected touring companies in the country. You can catch an MRT performance at the Masquer Theatre on the UM campus during their short Missoula summer season, and they also host a Plays on Tap series where you can watch a “site-based theater for small audiences” performance one to two times a year at locations in Missoula, such as a local brewery or taproom. The UM’s School of Theatre & Dance also performs throughout the year. Enjoy an evening of dance at their popular annual Dance in Concert celebrating the captivating and finely crafted choreographic work of students, faculty and guest artists. Check the UM box office for performing arts schedules and tickets.

Missoula’s streets doubled as the set for Montana Repertory Theatre’s “Buckle Up.” Photo: Justin Philalack

Experience the Missoula Symphony Orchestra at Caras Park in downtown Missoula each summer during their local’s favorite Symphony in the Park, or one of their six concerts throughout the year, including a show created specifically for kids. It’s a great way to experience the tight-knit community vibes Missoula is known for and the big talent coming out of small-town Montana.

Delight in a sophisticated performance by the Missoula Symphony. Photo: Jonathan Qualben Photography

Romantic Getaways in Western Montana’s Glacier Country

Western Montana is a heaven for honeymooners, but it’s not just a perfect spot to celebrate wedded bliss. Lovebirds flock to Glacier Country for anniversary adventures, romantic weekend getaways, spa retreats and bed-and-breakfast charm. Unique lodging and fine dining, plus outdoor adventures and indoor comforts all allow for romance, reconnection and relaxation. Total bonus: The scenery here is so gorgeous you’ll fall in love with Montana, too.

With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, we’ve put together some of our favorite romantic getaways in Western Montana that’ll make your heart skip a beat.

Treat your sweetie to breakfast in bed at The Firebrand Hotel. Photo: Unveiled Radiance Photography

Resorts, luxury lodges and spas are a pretty popular destination for couples looking to be pampered. Nestle up for some fireside splendor at Mountain Lake Lodge in the storybook village of Bigfork, offering fireplace suites with Jacuzzis, on-site massage, two restaurants, an outdoor hot tub and beautiful views of Flathead Lake. The lodge offers winter specials, including a Romance Package.

Take your sweetheart on a sleigh ride through Western Montana’s winter landscape. The historic Double Arrow Lodge tucked in the Seeley Lake Valley can oblige. Embark on a romantic ride for two in an antique cutter sleigh, complete with champagne, hot rocks to warm your feet, a buffalo robe to keep you cozy, and the breathtaking Swan Mountains.

After a day of cross country skiing, cozy up in a caboose at Izaak Walton Inn. Photo: Noah Couser

Called the perfect location to whisper “I love you” by Bridal Guide and Destination Weddings & Honeymoons, The Resort at Paws Up in Greenough is picture perfect. This luxury western destination offers a Montana for Two Valentine’s day getaway complete with fireside dining prepared by the resort’s executive chef, plus live music, a winter spa and luxury cabins with hot tubs.

Western Romance meets rustic elegance at the award-winning adults-only Triple Creek Ranch in Darby. Restore and renew in the cowboy culture, beautiful scenery and luxury accommodations of this Montana hideaway. Delight in their Valentine’s Day candlelit dinner featuring hand-picked wine and chocolates prepared by the ranch’s pastry chef.

Also located in Darby, the Bitterroot River Ranch Bed & Breakfast offers a peaceful log home ranch setting with rustic elegance. They’re just 30 minutes from Lost Trail Powder Mountain ski area and their Sweetheart Package includes a dozen red roses, chocolate-covered strawberries and your choice of a bottle of wine or sparkling cider.

Relax and rekindle in the rejuvenating waters at Quinn’s Hot Springs Resort. Photo: Quinn’s Hot Springs Resort

For rejuvenation seekers, come soak in the healing mineral waters of a hot spring. In the aptly named town of Paradise, Quinn’s Hot Springs Resort offers a Valentine special with live music, dinner, dancing and lodging, or cuddle up with champagne and chocolates at Lolo Hot Springs in the beautiful Bitterroot Valley.

Some couples like a little outdoor recreation to complement their downtime. Snow Bear Chalets offers ski-in/ski-out lodging in a luxury treehouse literally right on the slopes of Whitefish Mountain Resort, or book a romance package just outside of Glacier National Park at the Izaak Walton Inn in Essex where you’ll find lodging in a luxury railcar and dinner for two, as well as cross-country skiing among stunning scenery.

What’s more romantic than dining in a castle? Photo: The Keep Restaurant

In addition to our world-class lodging options, Western Montana is the perfect place for a culinary adventure with the one you love. Get starry-eyed at The Keep Restaurant, tucked up in the south hills of Missoula. Enjoy a gourmet meal paired with fine wine and panoramic views of the valley below. In the quintessential winter village of Whitefish, The Firebrand Hotel excels at shareable small plates and contemporary cuisine, plus handcrafted cocktails and delectable desserts. Make reservations now for their special Valentine’s Day Dinner. At The Catered Table Restaurant in Stevensville, top off a mouthwatering steak dinner with a sweet treat like chocolate decadence or white chocolate cranberry creme brulee.

A Nordic Adventure Along the Blackfoot River Scenic Corridor

It’s impossible to hit the road in Western Montana and not find adventure. Every one of our highways, scenic routes and backroads leads to discovery, and the stretch of State Highway 200 from Bonner to Ovando is no exception. Traveling along the Blackfoot River offers quintessential picturesque Montana moments. In the summer the river is full of boaters, floaters and anglers, but during the winter the Blackfoot Corridor offers incredible off-river recreation opportunities.

Snow-dappled evergreens make a marvelous backdrop for a day of cross-country skiing in Lubrecht Forest.

One of the charming communities along the Blackfoot Corridor, Greenough makes for an exceptionally fun day trip from Missoula. Head out to the Lubrecht Experimental Forest for some cross-country skiing. The forest serves as an “outdoor classroom” for research students from the University of Montana and a recreation retreat for the public. It offers a serene Nordic skiing adventure when the snow flies, with twelve miles of maintained cross-country classic and skate ski trails.

Lubrecht has a variety of trails for all cross-country skier skill levels.

Easy-to-read trail maps are available at the trailhead, and, whether you’re a beginner or seasoned skier, it’s an amazing place to get out, breathe the fresh mountain air and experience the natural beauty of the region. Trail C offers “classic style” cross-country skiing and a serene forest landscape. Along the trail, you’ll be passed by fellow skiers offering a friendly hello, which is exactly what you can expect here in Glacier Country—warm welcomes. For a rustic overnight adventure, Lubrecht has a small lodge, cabins and boxcars available.

A day well spent in Glacier Country with friends, snow and amazing trails.

Just south of Greenough you’ll find Garnet Ghost Town. If you’re on a snowmobile or packing a set of skis or snowshoes, you’re in luck, as those are the only ways you can access Garnet when it’s covered in snow, which is one of the most magical times to experience this once-thriving abandoned mining town.

We think winter looks pretty good on you, Greenough.

After all the winter wonderland fun, it’s time to celebrate a day well spent. Stop in at the Kettlehouse Brewery in Bonner to cap off your Blackfoot Corridor adventure with an award-winning Cold Smoke® Scotch Ale.

 

Big Fun at Small-Town Ski Hills in Western Montana

We continue to live up to our nickname here in the Treasure State. Montana is chock-full of hidden gems, and when it comes to adventure, Glacier Country is a treasure trove of discovery. One of our best-kept secrets is our handful of small-town ski hills, where fresh powder delivers and local vibes prevail. What you won’t find on these hills? Crowds, high-priced lift tickets and long lift lines.

Skiers delight in the impeccably groomed trails at Lookout Pass. Photo: Lookout Pass Ski & Recreation Area

Here’s the inside scoop on where to find some of the country’s best undiscovered skiing and snowboarding.

Discovery Ski Area is a true local’s hangout, offering beautiful views and the perfect combination of uncrowded slopes, tree skiing, expert bowl skiing, groomed trails and mogul runs. You’ll find some of the steepest lift-served terrain in the region here, while the variety of beginner and intermediate runs call to all abilities. Discovery—known locally as “Disco”—is a must-experience for anyone, and the lodge’s famous shortbread chocolate chip cookies alone are worth the visit. National Geographic magazine featured Philipsburg in a 2013 write-up of the Best Secret Ski Towns of North America that “deliver some of the most unspoiled skiing North America has to offer.” Downhill Detail: 2,200 acres + 67 runs + 2,388 ft. vertical drop.

Lookout Pass receives epic amounts of snowfall. Photo: Lookout Pass Ski & Recreation Area

Straddling the Montana/Idaho border west of Missoula, Lookout Pass sees the heaviest snowfall in Western Montana at 400 inches per year. The season starts early at this family-friendly resort offering bargain prices for big snow and an adventurous mix of easy, intermediate and expert runs as well as a full-service lodge with food, drinks, rentals and lessons. Lookout Pass also offers two terrain parks with huge banks, mounds, launches, rails and an 1,111-foot quarter pipe. Downhill Detail: 540 acres + 35 runs + 1,150 ft. vertical drop (with a planned expansion to 1,023 acres and 1,650 ft. vertical drop).

Feeling on top of the world on a bluebird day at Lost Trail Powder Mountain.

Also straddling the Montana/Idaho border on top of the Continental Divide, Lost Trail Powder Mountain is well-known for its reliable snowfall and consistently good snow conditions. From the slopes, take in breathtaking views of the Bitterroot Range of the Northern Rockies. Lost Trail is family-owned and operated and offers plenty of room for all types of skiers and boarders, whether you’re a beginner or expert. Downhill Detail: 1,800 acres + 69 runs + 1,800 ft. vertical drop.

One of Montana’s newer ski hills, Blacktail Mountain caters mostly to beginner and intermediate skiers, making it the ideal downhill destination for a memorable family ski vacation. At this unique ski area you actually start out at the top of the mountain and take the chairlift back up. The well-groomed intermediate runs here are perfect for long, carved turns with a few steep sections to mix things up. Just 17 miles from the charming town of Lakeside on Flathead Lake, take in jaw-dropping views of the lake, Glacier National Park and the Mission Mountains. Downhill Detail: 1,000 acres + 24 runs + 1,440 ft. vertical drop.

Call yourself King of the Hill on the wide-open slopes at Turner Mountain. Excellent snow conditions and beautiful scenery make for a successful day on the slopes at one of Montana’s most under-the-radar ski areas, once described as having some of the “best lift-assisted powder skiing in the U.S.” by SKI magazine. Just north of Libby, Turner boasts an impressive vertical drop—2,100 feet—and 60 percent of its terrain is rated black diamond, though there’s plenty of beginner and intermediate terrain to be explored. Fun fact: The entire ski area is available for private rental. Downhill Detail: 400 acres + 22 runs + 2,110 ft. vertical drop.

Riding high at Montana Snowbowl, only minutes from downtown Missoula. Photo: Larry Turner Photography

You’ll also find epic downhill and ski-town charm at Montana Snowbowl, 12 miles from Missoula. This extremist’s dream known for deep powder bowls and expert runs is also a local’s favorite, with plenty of terrain for beginner and intermediate skiers. The lodge’s wood-fired pizza and famous bloody marys are irresistible, too. Downhill Detail: 950 acres + 37 runs + 2,600 ft. vertical drop.

For downhill adventures at our most well-known ski area, make your way to Whitefish Mountain Resort in the quintessential winter mountain village of Whitefish.

What’s New in Brew, Food and Fun in Western Montana

In a place with so much room to roam, there’s always space for more awesome. Western Montana’s Glacier Country is continually expanding its offerings, because there can never be too many breweries and food hot spots here, and we can always accommodate more adventure.

Here’s what’s new in our neck of the woods.

BRAND NEW BREWS UNDER BIG BLUE SKIES
Missoula continues to be a haven for beer enthusiasts, now with two more spots to savor the sip: Gild Brewing—a brew pub on Missoula’s coolest block, the Hip Strip—boasts craft brew, epic Sunday brunch and a basement arcade. Conflux Brewing offers a convergence of delicious beer, a unique menu with a Southern twist and sustainable brewing practices all in the heart of downtown. Not far from Missoula, KettleHouse Brewing Company has opened its latest tap room adjacent to the the KettleHouse Amphitheater on the banks of the famous Blackfoot River in Bonner.

New breweries keep pouring into Western Montana.

Kalispell also boasts two new places to wet your whistle with local, finely crafted beer. Bias Brewing taps a few mainstay brews, but really gets creative with seasonals and rotators. Their diverse selection includes Crooked Cookie Stout, Chaotic Good Ginger Beer and Equinox Blood Orange Gose, and their corner kitchen features food from a popular local restaurant, Food for the Soul 2. Kalispell’s Sacred Waters Brewing pays homage to Montana’s wild places crafting good beer and hosting events like yoga and live music.

A little closer to Glacier National Park, pull up a barstool at the Gunsight Saloon in Columbia Falls. This old-school saloon-style establishment channeling the Old West features two bars, a gorgeous patio, casual food, 20 beers on tap, a small wine and cocktail selection, and live music throughout the week.

FRESH FOOD FINDS
Wake up to a smoked brisket omelet or banana caramel French toast at Little Montana in the scenic Mission Valley community of Ronan. For lunch, the quintessential western mountain town of Whitefish is dishing up flavor at The Wich Haus, keeping it simple and savory with sandwiches a la braised short ribs and roasted vegetables.

Innovative Asian-fusion cuisine is on the menu at the new Missoula location of Saketome Sushi, and menu items are well paired with wine or sake from their extensive collection. Also in Missoula, Michi Ramen is serving up Asian-inspired dishes like ramen and authentic Japanese noodles.

Stop by Josephine’s for tasty eats and buzz-worthy (and buzz-inducing) cocktails. Photo: Josephine’s Bar & Kitchen

Coram’s Glacier Distilling Co. is now home to Josephine’s Bar & Kitchen, featuring a dinner menu and specially curated cocktail list using house liquors and options from other local distilleries. Think fried green tomatoes, bison gyro, smoked trout cake po’boy, and buttermilk fried chicken in a fireweed cherry bourbon barbecue sauce. Open seasonally.

Rebel Roots Kitchen is keeping things healthy in Whitefish with vegan, gluten-free and dairy-free options for the health-conscious consumer. Fuel up on nutritious food that tastes delicious, too.

Get your farm-to-table gourmet food fix at Lakeside’s Beargrass Bistro featuring menu items like schnitzel, stroganoff and local steaks. The culinary creations at this Flathead Lake gem are not only mouth-wateringly delicious, they’re crafted with ingredients from the region’s community of farmers, ranchers, gardeners and growers.

ADVENTURE IN ABUNDANCE
For some authentic Montana recreation and a winter adrenaline rush, Whitefish Vertical Adventures is now offering custom ice climbing excursions and gear rentals.

Experience an ice climbing adventure with Whitefish’s newest outfitter. Photo: Tyler Brower, omni-living.com

For camping and lodging adventures, West Glacier RV Park & Cabins is set to open in 2019. Quietly tucked behind West Glacier Village, these fully-equipped RV sites feature 50-amp power, full hookups, fire pits and green space. The cabins sleep up to four and feature a full kitchen, a private bedroom and a standard bathroom. The Resort at Paws Up in Greenough has expanded their luxury camping or “glamping” with the addition of another campsite bringing the total number of luxury camping tents to 30. Additionally, they will be adding a resort within the resort called The Green O, with 12 new one-bedroom homes for couples to reconnect with nature and disconnect from everyday life with unobstructed views of the forest canopy and custom-tailored service.

Trade screen time for green time at The Green O. Photo: Stuart Thurlkill, The Resort at Paws Up

The much-anticipated Missoula Mercantile project opens in 2019, too. The first floor of the Mercantile Hotel will feature bars, restaurants and retail space, and a new art program, where hundreds of pieces of local art will be on display.

Film Festivals and Historic Theaters in Western Montana

Montana’s cinematic landscapes have provided the settings for legendary films like “A River Runs Through It” and “The Horse Whisperer,” and these scenic locations make the perfect spot for film festivals. Here’s a list of renowned film festivals and well-preserved historic theaters in Western Montana’s charming small towns.

A screening at the Flathead Lake International Cinemafest draws a full house. Photo: Steven Pickel

Flathead Lake International Cinemafest in Polson is coming up Jan. 25 – 27, 2019. FLIC 2019 will feature special guests, including award-winning artist and writer Tim Ryan Rouillier and Montana native Gerald Molen. Molen is a well-known producer with a long list of top Hollywood films like “Rain Man,” “Jurassic Park,” “Minority Report” and “Schindler’s List.” On Sunday, Jan. 27, which is International Holocaust Remembrance Day, Mr. Molen will present “Schindler’s List” and chair an audience Q&A following. Adam Yenser, comedian and writer for the Ellen DeGeneres show will also attend FLIC 2019, delivering some of his comedic genius and cultural insights. Get your FLIC 2019 All Access Pass—they’re on sale now.

Film festivals give movie lovers a chance to listen to filmmakers discuss their craft. Photo: Big Sky Film Institute

Celebrating 19 years in 2019, the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival, Feb. 15 – 24, is one of the West’s premier venues for a wide-range of nonfiction films. In addition to screenings, this five-day industry event includes panels, master classes, workshops, and the popular Big Sky Pitch session. BSDFF is an Academy Award qualifying festival in the Shorts and Mini-Doc categories. This much-anticipated event draws an audience of 20,000 and presents an average of 150 films from around the world in the unique and authentic mountain-town of Missoula—the arts and culture hub of Montana. Events take place in Missoula’s historic theater, The Wilma, as well as the newly restored Roxy Theater, and the MCT Center for the Performing Arts. Get your tickets today.

Missoula’s venerable Wilma Theatre hosts the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival. Photo: Big Sky Film Institute

The storybook village of Bigfork has a story to tell at the annual Bigfork Independent Film Festival April 5 – 7, 2019. The Bigfork Center for the Performing Arts keeps it local by showing a variety of short, feature, documentary and student films that were either made by Montana filmmakers or were made right here in Montana. For each film block, a live introduction will be provided and filmmakers will be included in a Q&A session. Buy your tickets now.

With our abundance of wildlife and wild places, it’s no wonder Western Montana plays host to the annual International Wildlife Film Festival. In its 41st year, the festival is the first and longest running event of its kind. Held in the retro Roxy Theater in Missoula, April 13 – 19, 2019, emerging filmmakers showcase the finest in wildlife and environmental filmmaking. Take in stories that promote awareness, knowledge and an understanding of the world around us. Passes and tickets for the IWFF are on sale now.

One more reason why autumn is one of the best times to visit Western Montana—the Montana Film Festival. This Missoula-based event offers a fresh perspective on film fests, with a diversity of films and filmmakers dedicated to the community of filmmaking. This convergence of creativity takes place at the funky and fun Roxy Theater. 2019 event dates to be announced; check back soon.

Cinephiles will dig The Roxy Theater’s retro marquee and well-curated selection of films. Photo: The Roxy Theater

As mentioned above, the beloved 80-year-old Roxy Theater was recently renovated. Downtown Missoula’s hip-strip theater now boasts a new art-deco marquee and Dolby surround sound. The Roxy hosts screenings and events seven days a week including new releases nightly and a monthly calendar of independent, foreign and classic films, theater and community events.

Showing movies and hosting live concerts by local musicians, theater performances and comedy events, the historic Rex Theatre on Main Street in Thompson Falls is a lively community treasure.

Libby’s Dome Theater offers a classic, small-town movie theater vibe. Enjoy films, concerts and performing arts with a state-of-the-art sound system and updated concessions area, all in one of Kootenai Country’s most cherished towns.

Other not-to-be-missed historic theaters in Glacier Country—Glacier Cinemas in Cut Bank and the Entertainer Theater in Ronan.