Author Archives: glaciermt

Andy Austin Spring Tour: I-90 Corridor

Every summer, thousands of travelers drive I-90 as they cruise across Montana. Many of these folks will take a detour south near Bozeman to head to Yellowstone, and others may take the detour north of Missoula to Glacier National Park. But Montana has so many hidden gems tucked just off the interstate, from endless mountain views to quaint small towns with big personalities. My name is Andy Austin. I am a Montana-based photographer and lover of the lesser-visited places in my beautiful state. When Glacier Country Tourism reached out to do a shoot in the I-90 corridor west of Missoula, I was quick to say yes to exploring one of the few areas I have only driven through. 

I-90 and the Clark Fork River in a perfect scene under a double rainbow. Photo: Andy Austin

Day 1:
I met up with some friends in Missoula in the morning and we headed west to Tarkio to put a few boats in the river and try our luck at fly-fishing. Any day on the river is a good day in my book, but the beautiful weather and stunning scenery along the Clark Fork made for a picture-perfect day (literally). After catching a few trout, we took the boats out at Forest Grove and headed for the quiet town of Superior.

Our fly-fishing guide, Sarah, with a beautiful rainbow trout caught on the Clark Fork River. Photo: Andy Austin

We set up camp just minutes from town in the secluded Trout Creek Campground before setting our sights on the countless forest service roads sprawling throughout the Bitterroot Mountains. Driving up Thompson Peak was one of the more incredible drives I’ve taken this year, as wildflowers and grandiose views kept me wanting to stop every few feet. Watching the sunset up here made me realize how large and vast this range is, and I realized how little of it I actually have seen from the interstate.

Enjoying the peace and quiet of the Lolo National Forest with friends and campfire stories. Photo: Andy Austin

Day 2:
A rainy morning made for the perfect opportunity to spend the day exploring the small towns just minutes from the interstate. We started in Alberton at the historic Montana Valley Bookstore, and, honestly, I would have been happy if you left me there all day. With more than 10,000 used books, this small bookstore immediately leaves you in awe. From here we headed down the road to St. Regis and one of the most visited attractions of the area, the Travel Center. Of course, I had to get a huckleberry milkshake (okay, I had two) while I wandered the store and found some Montana-made gifts to send to out-of-state friends.

It’s called the “Best Shake Ever” and I cannot disagree with that. Photo: Andy Austin

We rounded out the afternoon with a trip to Haugan and a visit to the 50,000 Silver Dollar Bar (although the number of silver dollars has now passed 75,000) as well as a visit to Superior for a beautiful hike up the Vista Trail Scenic Overlook. We headed back west for a good night’s rest in a cabin along the Clark Fork River just north of St. Regis.

Alberton offers this hidden gem of a bookstore on its historic Railroad Avenue. Photo: Michael Graef

Day 3:
An early morning trip to the Montana/Idaho state line was in order so we could spend the majority of our day on the Route of the Hiawatha Trail. A rails to trails mountain biking route took us down 15 miles of the most scenic riding I’ve ever been on. This route followed the original route of the Milwaukee Railroad as we crossed seven steel trestle bridges and through 10 tunnels that have all been here for more than 100 years. Along the way, numerous informative signs told us the rich history of the area and the trail we were on. After completing 15 downhill miles, a shuttle bus was waiting at the bottom to take us back to the top.

Riding the Route of the Hiawatha was a perfect way to cap off an incredible trip. Photo: Andy Austin

Overall the trip will always hold a special place in my heart and now I’m going to have to budget a lot more time when I take I-90, as I have many new favorite places to make stops for.

Happy Adventuring,
Andy Austin

Have Fun Boating Montana’s Waters, But Be Responsible, Too

From Flathead Lake—the largest freshwater lake west of the Mississippi—to countless alpine lakes, legendary rivers and famous blue-ribbon trout streams, there’s no shortage of places to play on the pristine waters of Western Montana’s Glacier Country. Boaters, rafters, paddlers, sailors and anglers alike flock to the region to take advantage of world-class water recreation opportunities among some of the planet’s most scenic and unspoiled landscapes.

After a day of adventure on the water, practice CLEAN. DRAIN. DRY. to guard against aquatic invasive species.

One of the most vital ways we keep Montana’s waters clean is by doing our part and complying with Montana’s Aquatic Invasive Species laws and rules. As a recreator in the region, we rely on you to help keep Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS) out of our waters. If you’re planning a boating or fishing trip in Montana, it’s important to know about AIS—plants, animals and pathogens that are not native to Montana and can have far-reaching impacts on the state, wreaking havoc on our environment.

AIS can displace native species and threaten recreational fishing opportunities—those trophy rainbow trout we all love to fish. Wildlife—like bears, elk, moose, birds and waterfowl can be greatly impacted by AIS contamination, when their food and habitat are compromised. AIS can also clog waterways, impact irrigation and power systems, degrade ecosystems and cause public health problems.

Aquatic invasive species include half-inch-long zebra mussels, which can quickly infest lakes and rivers.

It’s easy for these non-native invasive water species to hop a ride on watercraft, paddles, fishing nets or a pair of waders, and find a new home in Montana. When these invasive creatures set in, they spread quickly and are nearly impossible—and very costly—to contain.

You can take a few simple steps to ensure that your unforgettable Montana adventure doesn’t have a negative impact on the environment:

CLEAN. DRAIN. DRY.

CLEAN Completely remove all mud, water and vegetation from your watercraft and gear before leaving the access area of a place you’ve recreated.

DRAIN All water from your watercraft and gear.

DRY Your watercraft and gear completely.

Stop for a quick mandatory inspection. Montanas’s waterways are worth it! Photo: Washington DFW

Prior to launching on a Montana waterway, you’ll need to have your watercraft inspected. This is a state requirement. Watercraft isn’t limited to boats and rafts; it includes kayaks, canoes, paddleboards and river-surfing boards. You can find more information about inspections and inspection stations here.

As you take in the natural beauty of Montana’s waterways, please remember to always CLEAN. DRAIN. DRY., and comply with our rules and regulations. Visit the Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks website for boating laws, fishing licenses and regulations and information about places to boat, float and kayak in the area. Together, we can keep the Treasure State a treasured place for all to enjoy.

 

Fly Direct to Fresh Mountain Air: Hello, Montana

Need a breather and some room to roam? Wide-open spaces and fresh mountain air are only a few hours away, now that American Airlines offers nonstop flights from Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW), Los Angeles (LAX), and Chicago (ORD) to Glacier Park International Airport (FCA) in Kalispell, Montana. With the addition of these three new flights, you can now travel to Kalispell on American Airlines from a total of twelve cities throughout the U.S.

One of Glacier National Park’s iconic red buses winds its way along the breathtaking Going-to-the-Sun Road.

Your friendly neighbors in Western Montana’s Glacier Country offer fine hospitality and warm welcomes, not to mention stunning mountain landscapes; world-class outdoor recreation; 75+ charming communities and storybook small towns; Glacier National Park’s majestic peaks, sweeping valleys and sparkling waterways; and the largest freshwater lake west of the Mississippi—Flathead Lake. Fly into Kalispell and explore epic Western Montana adventures, from hiking, biking, golfing, fishing and wildlife watching, to hot springs, live concerts, festivals and farmers markets.

In no time, you could be right here experiencing it all. Some folks tend to think of Montana as a faraway place, but it’s actually simple—and quick—to get here. Wake up, have breakfast, and be in the mountains by lunchtime. It might be just the altitude adjustment you crave.

Fun shops and eateries line downtown Kalispell’s Main Street. Photo: Donnie Sexton

Land in Kalispell, and fall in love with Montana. This vibrant city makes for one spectacular vacation destination, and its proximity to endless adventure is unmatched. Kalispell’s bustling historic downtown district pairs Old West charm with a lively arts and culture scene, and is centrally located between Flathead Lake, Whitefish Mountain Resort and Glacier National Park. Make Kalispell your adventure base camp and set out for exploration. Day trips and side excursions beckon from around every bend and let you take in all Western Montana’s Glacier Country has to offer. Drive Glacier National Park’s famously gorgeous Going-to-the-Sun Road and discover the history and allure of one of the country’s most breathtaking places. Spend a day discovering Flathead Lake, taking in the scenery and Montana’s beloved Flathead cherries. Explore wilderness areas, national forests, countless rivers, lakes and blue-ribbon trout streams, two Indian reservations, wildlife-viewing areas, museums and galleries, good food and plenty to drink—Western Montana boasts multiple breweries, distilleries, wineries and cideries.

Accommodations come in every shape and size here—from authentic guest ranches and luxury resorts to timbered mountain lodges, camping, glamping, B&Bsvacation homescabins and hotels—but there’s one thing you can count on across the board—in Western Montana, everything’s cozy and everyone’s friendly.

It’s about time you mosey on over to our neck of the woods and see what you’re missing. You’re bound to love it up here in the fresh mountain air, and we’re just a stone’s throw away, thanks to American Airlines.

Touchdown in Glacier Country…we’re only a nonstop flight away from twelve major cities.

In addition to Glacier Park International Airport (FCA), you can also fly into Western Montana via Missoula International Airport (MSO). Western Montana’s two airports are serviced by Allegiant Air, Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Airlines, Frontier Airlines and United Airlines, with direct flights regularly arriving from Dallas/Fort Worth, Denver, Las Vegas, Minneapolis-Saint Paul, Phoenix-Mesa, Portland, Salt Lake City and Seattle-Tacoma. Seasonal flights arrive from Atlanta, Chicago O’Hare, Los Angeles, Oakland and San Francisco.

Get a Grip: Rock Climb Western Montana

Western Montana’s rock faces are so beguiling they draw visitors from all over the world; even photos of them can take your breath away. Rock climbing is a fantastic way to experience Glacier Country. The thrill of reaching the top of a climb, witnessing miles of gorgeous views spread out before you, smiling down at your companions below, and taking a few congratulatory selfies is an opportunity not to be missed. Plus, it’s an excellent group bonding experience for family and friends. Participants can learn new skills, test their mettle, enjoy spending time outside in a beautiful setting, and perhaps even discover a new lifelong pursuit.

Inject some adrenaline into your Western Montana adventure by going rock climbing.

If you’re new to rock climbing, you’ll need the assistance of a professional. Rock Climb Montana has been introducing rock climbing to visitors ages 3 – 81 for more than a decade at three gorgeous and easily accessible locations in northwestern Montana: Kila Crags, Stryker and Stone Hill. During a half-day or full-day trip, your certified instructor will teach you the basics (knot tying, safety checks, climbing commands) and set you up on routes that match your abilities. Gear (harness, helmet, and grippy pointed shoes) is included in the guiding fee.

Before a climber attempts the wall, she receives knot tying and safety lessons.

Concerned fear might get the better of you? Climbing’s not nearly as unnerving as you might think. A climber is anchored to the top of the climbing route by a rope that’s secured to both themselves and another person on the ground, called a belayer. If the climber slips off the rock, the belayer will hold the climber in place, so there’s little to no “fall.” The climber can easily get back on the route and continue ascending where she left off, or ask to be slowly lowered down. To further allay your fears, Rock Climb Montana boasts a perfect safety record.

The amazing view from Kila Crags, only a few minutes from Kalispell.

Kila Crags, only 8 miles west of Kalispell off U.S. Highway 2, has nearly 50 routes that vary in difficulty from 5.5 to 5.12 (which means there are climbs for all skill levels). Despite the area’s proximity to the road, climbers are rewarded with beautiful meadow, mountain and forest views even while hanging out at the base of the three main walls: Guardian Wall, Psychology Wall and Upper Wall. These south-facing, roughly 60-foot-high shale cliffs are a great place to climb on cool spring and fall days since the sun quickly warms the rock.

Searching for toe and handholds, a beginning climber ascends the wall.

For a more shaded climb, plan a trip to Stryker, a half hour north of Whitefish, where the Stillwater River cuts through the green argillite walls of Stillwater Canyon. The cool air coming off the water combined with the shade provided by the surrounding Koocanusa National Forest means that climbers don’t need to worry about overheating while trying to “top out”—climber slang for standing on top of the crag you’ve just climbed or “sent.”

Link Neimark, owner of Rock Climb Montana, has more than 25 years of climbing experience.

For an even more epic climbing adventure, Rock Climb Montana and Glacier Adventure Guides both offer day trips to Stone Hill, northwest Montana’s largest climbing area. Less than 20 miles from Eureka and sporting 500 climbing routes, Stone Hill is a climber’s wonderland. Dig your toes and fingers into the quartzite rock and scale crags that will reward you with outstanding views of nearby Lake Koocanusa, a 90-mile-long reservoir that stretches into Canada, and lush ponderosa pine forestland.

Kila Crags offers challenging routes for skilled climbers as well as easier ones for beginners.

Although guided climbs are limited to these three areas, experienced climbers capable of heading out on their own will want to check out Point of Rocks near Whitefish (you’ll need to buy a State Lands Permit); Berne Park Boulders in Bad Rock Canyon near Hungry Horse; Blodgett Canyon and Lost Horse, both near Hamilton; and the Lolo Pass area between Lolo and the Idaho State Line.

Bonus: Uncrowded climbing areas are the norm here, and if you do encounter a fellow climber you’ll be greeted with warm western hospitality.

Hidden Gem Golf Courses in Western Montana

With wide-open vistas and room to roam, it should come as no surprise that Western Montana’s Glacier Country is a golfer’s paradise. Come spring, we gleefully trade our ski poles for golf clubs. Here, we have the perfect blend of breathtaking landscapes, renowned courses and affordability. Pair that combo with small-town charm, and teeing up in Montana is a real treat. Get on the green in Glacier Country, where you’ll find some of the most stunning and enjoyable golf experiences, and get to know our scenic travel corridors while you’re at it.

Sunset bathes hole 12 of the Nick Faldo-designed course at the Wilderness Club. Photo: Wilderness Club

NORTHWEST CORRIDOR

Along Montana’s quiet Northwest Corridor, you’ll find three courses all offering something special. Eureka may be small but it boasts not one, but two golf hot spots. At Indian Springs Ranch play the links-style, 18-hole championship course that’s pure fun. Bask in the beauty of the Tobacco Valley at this unique, master-planned recreational community. Also in Eureka, the stunning Wilderness Club—designed by golf legend Nick Faldo—was ranked the No. 1 golf course in Montana by Golfweek and Golf Magazine and the No. 2 Best New Private Golf Course in the U.S. by Golf Magazine. In Libby, the aptly named Cabinet View Golf Club offers just that—a great game of golf among gorgeous Cabinet Mountain views.

BITTERROOT VALLEY

The beautiful Bitterroot Valley beckons all year long, but any season you can swing a golf club here is extra special. The unique Whitetail Golf Course in Stevensville is located within the Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge, so it’s the perfect place to find an authentic Montana golfing experience…and spot some wildlife on the green. Further down U.S. Highway 93 in Hamilton, the Hamilton Golf Course offers a fabulous round of golf and some of the best views in the valley.

Playing the 14th hole at Meadow Lake Golf Resort. Photo: Meadow Lake Golf Resort, Inc.

GLACIER NATIONAL PARK SURROUNDING AREA + EAST GLACIER CORRIDOR

If your trip to Glacier National Park isn’t complete without a round of golf (we don’t blame you), here are four places in and around the park to swing your clubs. Meadow Lake Golf Resort in Columbia Falls is a must-play, and Golf Magazine agrees. Golf Digest gives this treasured course 4.5 stars and named it one of the top four public courses in Montana. Within the park itself, Glacier View Golf Course in West Glacier blends natural beauty with a polished game of golf. Along the East Glacier Travel Corridor in East Glacier Park, tee up at Glacier Park Lodge Golf Course. This historic course on the Blackfeet Reservation is the oldest grass greens golf course in Montana, and all 9 holes are named for former Blackfeet chiefs. At the Cut Bank Golf and Country Club a mile west of Cut Bank, enjoy small-town golf at its finest with an exceptional game and down-to-earth vibes.

TOUR 200

The laid-back Wild Horse Plains Golf Course in Plains is a family favorite along Montana’s scenic Tour 200 just north of Paradise. From there, drive the length of this scenic byway and end up in the quaint town of Thompson Falls for another round at Rivers Bend Golf Course, where every third hole finds you back at the clubhouse.

The Mission Mountain Golf Club offers gorgeous views of its namesake. Photo: Mission Mountain Golf Club

FLATHEAD CORRIDOR

The Flathead Valley has been named a “Top 50 Golf Course Destination” by Golf Digest. There’s no denying the beauty of the region and the caliber of its courses. At the southern tip of Flathead Lake—the largest freshwater lake west of the Mississippi—the Polson Bay Golf Course in Polson offers beautiful mountain views and fairways adjacent to the lake. South of that, in Pablo, the 9-hole executive Silver Fox Golf Course winds its way through lush trees, serene ponds and a wildlife corridor on the Salish Kootenai College campus. Even farther south, take in exceptional Mission Mountain views and a challenging game of golf at the Mission Mountain Golf Club in Ronan.

I-90 CORRIDOR

Experience good old-fashioned Montana hospitality 10 miles west of Missoula at King Ranch Golf Course in Frenchtown, where you’ll find 18 holes on wide fairways along the scenic Clark Fork River. Another I-90 Corridor favorite along the Clark Fork, and one of Western Montana’s hidden gems, is Trestle Creek Golf Course in St. Regis—known for some of the finest greens.

The Double Arrow Lodge features a spectacular golf course plus lodging and dining in Seeley Lake.

SEELEY-SWAN CORRIDOR

The recreation opportunities in the Seeley-Swan Corridor are some of Montana’s best, and golf is no exception. In the storybook village of Bigfork on the north shore of Flathead Lake, the semi-private Eagle Bend Golf Club offers a championship 27-hole course. In Seeley Lake, the pristine ponderosa pine setting of the Double Arrow Golf Course offers resort golfing nestled between the Swan and Mission mountain ranges. Watch wildlife as you make your way around water features and bunkers, and don’t miss the No. 15 signature hole, featuring an elevated tee and island green.

The list goes on—Western Montana is dotted with golf courses, from small-town favorites to large championship and semi-private golf clubs and resorts. Go green under our famous blue sky. For more inspiration, visit the Northwest Montana Golf Association, and read more about Glacier Country’s larger golf courses here.

Added Bonus: In addition to stunning scenery and incredible terrain, golfing in Western Montana won’t break the bank; it’s part of the warm western hospitality we’re known for.

Top 5 Reasons to Travel to Western Montana’s Glacier Country

Travel matters. It matters to the traveler, and it matters to the destinations and communities where adventure seekers are spending their hard-earned vacation resources. National Travel and Tourism Week is May 5 – 11, 2019, and in Glacier Country we’re celebrating the fact that we’ve got endless once-in-a-lifetime experiences to offer, and so many travelers helping our small towns thrive. We’re grateful for this amazing place we call home, and we’re extending a hearty helping of warm western gratitude to all of our visitors. How can you celebrate? Come visit again. You’ll be glad you did.

Two Medicine Lake reflects a visitor’s appreciation of the grandeur of Glacier National Park. Photo: Brian Powers

GLACIER NATIONAL PARK
Offering world-class adventures all year long, the Crown of the Continent beckons. One million acres of glacial-carved terrain provides jaw-dropping views from every angle with infinite ways to explore towering snowcapped peaks, cascading waterfalls, aquamarine lakes, alpine forests and the famous Going-to-the-Sun Road—one of the most scenic drives in the country. Added bonus: Western Montana’s sheer beauty and adventure doesn’t end in Glacier National Park. There’s much more to explore beyond the park, too.

The Thompson Falls Dam is a sight to behold. Photo: Andy Austin

CHARMING SMALL-TOWNS + SCENIC TRAVEL CORRIDORS
In Western Montana, every route is scenic. Our 75+ charming communities are connected by wide-open highways lined with mesmerizing beauty. Discover our scenic byways, travel corridors and backroads of discovery, all surrounded by world-class recreation opportunities. Take a scenic drive and explore our charming small towns along the way. From walkable downtowns with breweries, distilleries, farmers markets, live music, and arts and culture, to rich history, quaint Old-West charm and easy access to the great outdoors, come live it up like a local.

A quiet paddle on Western Montana waters will soothe your soul. Photo: Andy Austin

RIVERS + LAKES
Not only is Western Montana home to the largest freshwater lake west of the Mississippi—Flathead Lake—but countless glistening waters grace our landscape. At Flathead Lake enjoy swimming, water skiing, sailing, fishing and so much more. Throughout the region you’ll find places to fly-fish blue-ribbon trout streams, raft, kayak, or stand-up paddleboard one of many rivers, or hike to one of hundreds of hidden alpine lakes. There’s no shortage of ways to play.

ACCESSIBILITY/DIRECT FLIGHTS
Western Montana, to some of you, may seem like a faraway place. It may not even be on your radar as an extraordinary vacation destination. But it’s just that—and getting here has never been so easy. With two major airports—Missoula (MSO) and Glacier Park (FCA)—offering year-round direct flights on six major airlines from multiple metropolitan areas, you’d be surprised how soon you can make the switch to Mountain Time.

YOU WORK HARD FOR YOUR VACATION DAYS
Travel has been shown to increase physical and emotional well-being. It’s educational, eye-opening, soul restoring and downright fun. The change of scenery, the change of pace—they’re necessary. And the thing about traveling in Western Montana’s Glacier Country is that it’s easy to unplug, unwind and embark on the unforgettable among wide-open spaces, fresh mountain air and western hospitality. Do yourself a favor and get away to Glacier Country. You’ve earned it.

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.