Category Archives: Bitterroot Valley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Homegrown + Handmade: Farmers Markets in Western Montana

Homegrown, handmade and locally harvested—that’s what you’ll find in abundance across Western Montana’s Glacier Country. The farmers market scene here is brag-worthy. Locally grown produce is a given, but there’s so much more to discover, from fresh flowers and baked goods to cheeses, meats, honey, jams and jellies, coveted Montana huckleberries and Dixon Melons, plus the elusive morel mushrooms.

Experience a bright morning or early evening stroll through historic downtown streets or a community park for live music, coffee carts, food trucks, handmade arts and crafts, friendly locals and of course, a spirit you’ll only find in a charming small town in Western Montana.

Grab a bundle of fresh vegetables at one of Glacier Country’s amazing farmer’s markets. Photo: Montana Office of Tourism and Business Development

With 75+ communities brimming with local pride, it’s no surprise Glacier Country plays host to so many outdoor markets—more than 20, in fact—including the Missoula Farmers Market, voted Best in the West by Sunset magazine. Below you’ll find all of the markets in our area listed out. While you’re at it, check out the Montana Office of Agriculture’s Famers Market Directory for a complete list of markets around Glacier County and the rest of the state!

Go and enjoy all that our wonderful farmers markets have to offer. Note: markets are seasonal, and usually open May through September/October, but check specific dates before visiting.

ARLEE FARMERS MARKET
Wednesdays 4 p.m. – 7 p.m.
Hangin Art Gallery Lot
92555 U.S. Highway 93
More info

ALBERTON COMMUNITY FARMERS MARKET
Thursdays 5 p.m. – 8 p.m.
701 Railroad Ave.
(Community Center Lot)
More info

BIGFORK FARMERS MARKET COOPERATIVE
Tuesdays 3 p.m. – 6 p.m. + Fridays 10 a.m. – 1 p.m.
Masonic Temple
8098 State Highway 35
More info

BIGFORK VILLAGE MARKET
Mondays 3 p.m. – 7 p.m.
Brookside Yard
191 Mill St.
More info

COLUMBIA FALLS FARMERS MARKET
Mondays 5 p.m. – 8 p.m.
Marantette Park
133 13th St. E.
More info

COLUMBIA FALLS COMMUNITY MARKET
Thursdays 5 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.
The Coop in Columbia Falls
830 First Ave. W.
More info

CUT BANK FARMERS MARKET
Wednesdays 3 p.m. – 6 p.m.
Main Street City Park
North Side of Park (Railroad Street)
More info

DARBY FARMERS MARKET
Tuesdays 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.
Main Street Park
106 S. Main St.
More info

EUREKA FARMERS MARKET
Wednesdays 3:30 p.m. – 6:30 p.m.
Memorial Park
2 Dewey Ave.
More info

FLORENCE HAAS COUNTRY MARKET
Saturdays 9 a.m. – 1 p.m.
5189 State Highway 93 S.
More info

Fill your basket with a bouquet of flowers or fresh herbs. Photo: Donnie Sexton

HAMILTON FARMERS MARKET
Saturdays 9 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.
Bedford and Third streets (downtown)
More info

LIBBY FARMERS MARKET
Thursdays 4 p.m. – 7 p.m.
Libby Chamber Parking Lot
905 W. Ninth St.
More info

KALISPELL FARMERS MARKET
Saturdays 9 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.
Flathead Valley Community College
777 Grandview Drive
More info 

MISSOULA FARMERS MARKET
Tuesdays 5:30 p.m. – 7 p.m. + Saturdays 8 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.
Circle Square, north end of Higgins Ave.
More info

MISSOULA PEOPLES MARKET
Saturdays 9 a.m. – 1 p.m.
East Pine Street (downtown)
More info

MISSOULA CLARK FORK MARKET
Saturdays 8 a.m. – 1 p.m.
Riverside Parking Lot, under the Higgins Bridge
More info

Local bakery treats and food trucks complete the Western Montana Farmers Market experience.

MISSOULA TARGET RANGE FARMERS MARKET
Sunday’s 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.
4095 South Avenue West
More info

PLAINS-PARADISE FARMERS MARKET
Fridays 9 a.m. – 2 p.m.
Sanders County Fairgrounds
More info

POLSON FARMERS MARKET
Fridays 9 a.m. – 1 p.m.
Third Ave. W.
More info

SEELEY LAKE FARMERS MARKET
Sundays 10 a.m. – 1 p.m.
Littlebird’s Market Lawn, Larch Lane
More info

STEVENSVILLE HARVEST VALLEY FARMERS MARKET
Saturdays 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.
Main and Third W. streets, next to Valley Drug
More info

SUPERIOR FARMERS MARKET
Saturdays 9 a.m. – 12 p.m.
100 River St.

TROY FARMERS MARKET
Fridays 3:30 p.m. – 6:30 p.m.
Troy Museum Grounds
700 E. Missoula Ave.
More info

WEST GLACIER FARMERS MARKET
Fridays 3 p.m. – 6 p.m.
West Glacier Entrance
765 Belton Stage Road
More info

WHITEFISH DOWNTOWN FARMERS MARKET
Tuesdays 5 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.
At the North end of Central Ave.
More info

Farmers Markets are abundant in Western Montana, see (and taste!) for yourself. Photo: Lisa Jones/Explore Whitefish

Your Ticket To Western Montana’s Concert Hot Spots

From downtown theaters, bars, breweries and main streets to hot springs and a river’s edge amphitheater, there’s no shortage of places to see good music in Western Montana. Our noteworthy music scene boasts venues big and small, hosting national acts, local singers and songwriters, symphonies and other mountain sounds made all the more magical by the stunning Montana landscape.

From blues to bluegrass, there is so much to hear and see in Glacier Country. Photo: Crown of the Continent Guitar Festival.

Tune in below to read about Glacier Country’s top spots for concerts, music festivals and intimate local shows.

MISSOULA MELODIES
As the musical hub in Western Montana’s Glacier Country, Missoula is offering up some amazing spaces to enjoy live music. Offering a world-class entertainment experience with a community-centric vibe, Missoula’s venues are serving up a serious dose of Montana melodies. One of Glacier Country’s newest venues, the KettleHouse Amphitheater capitalizes on its natural setting for an authentic Western Montana outdoor concert experience, i.e., a downright good time. Nestled on the banks of the famed Blackfoot River and adjacent to the KettleHouse Brewery, the new amphitheater brings your favorite artists to a truly unique and inspiring spot. Next you can check out a Missoula icon: The Wilma. This beautiful venue, located in downtown Missoula on the edge of the Clark Fork River, offers concertgoers the character and charm of a historic theater with state-of-the-art amenities like one of the country’s best sound systems. Check out what’s happening at The Wilma here. Get up close with your favorite national and local musicians in the intimate club experience that The Top Hat provides, and eat like a rock star, too. The Top Hat serves up good tunes and great food. See what’s up next on the music menu here. Last but not least, Big Sky Brewing Company Amphitheater offers an incredible summer concert series every year and you’ll love the brews and tunes at this location.

The Kettlehouse Amphitheatre offers a world-class concert experience. Photo: Logjam Presents

BREWS + BEATS
When it comes to mixing local beer with live music, we don’t miss a beat. To know Western Montana is to know that we lovingly craft (and savor) award-winning microbrews in more than 20 breweries across the region, and we like to pair our tall ones with live tunes. Just outside Glacier National Park, Kalispell Brewing hosts weekly music events and their rooftop patio provides a breathtaking view of the Swan Mountains. Dubbed Libby’s Living Room, dig the neighborhood vibe at Cabinet Mountain Brewing Co. This Kootenai River Valley community gathering place hosts live music every week. Check out our full list of breweries and see what’s on tap.

SOAK UP THE SOUNDS
How about a little rhythm and relaxation? One of the things that makes Montana so heavenly is our hot springs. Visit one of our resorts for a soak in the soothing mineral waters and plan your trip around a live-music event. Bask in Bitterroot beauty at Lolo Hot Springs (Lolo), offering live music in the bar every summer Saturday night (Memorial Day – Labor Day). In the aptly named town of Paradise, relax and restore at Quinn’s Hot Springs Resort and enjoy concerts and music events from classical to cowboy at Quinn’s Paradise Hall. The Historic Symes Hot Springs Hotel and Mineral Baths hosts an annual Blues Festival plus live music every Friday and Saturday night. Soak up the sounds of mountain music right here in Glacier Country.

FESTIVAL FUN
There’s no denying we love our festivals in Western Montana, and a good ol’ fashioned music fest is just our scene. Plan your trip around one of these much-anticipated annual events.

Festival Amadeus at the Glacier Symphony is a unique concert-going experience for Western Montana. Photo: Glacier Symphony & Chorale

Missoula Symphony Orchestra and Choral: Symphony in the Park (Missoula)

Hardtimes Bluegrass Festival (Hamilton)

Averill’s Flathead Lake Lodge: Crown of the Continent Guitar Festival (Bigfork)

Riverfront Blues Festival (Libby)

Travelers’ Rest Music Festival (Missoula)

River City Roots Festival (Missoula)

Montana Baroque Music Festival (Paradise)

Bob Marshall Music Festival (Seeley Lake)

Lost Trail Ski Area: Lost Trail Fest (Sula)

+ Glacier Symphony & Chorale: Festival Amadeus (Whitefish)

Happy Listening!

Taste Western Montana: A Bitterroot Valley Brewery Tour

When thinking about Montana, images of wildlife, jaw-dropping landscapes and recreation in pristine mountain wilderness probably come to mind. But in the midst of all of this, Montana is also bustling with a lesser known beautiful thing: breweries. Glacier Country is home to more than 20 brew houses, and we’re here to highlight the handful in Montana’s Bitterroot Valley. This scenic valley is long (96 miles, to be exact) and is flanked by the Bitterroot Mountains on the west and the Sapphire Mountains on the east. It’s also home to the Bitterroot River, charming communities, incredible history, fabulous food and an abundance of year-round outdoor recreation. However, we’re here to tell you about the exceptional craft beer coming straight out of “The Root.”

Biking along a gravel road under the shadows of the Bitterroot Mountains.

Lolo Peak Brewing Company

Enjoying the 5 Spice Pork Tacos and an Alpenglow Wheat Ale.

Just 8 miles south of Missoula, Lolo heads up the northern end of the Bitterroot Valley. This small town is something special, and the “brewery on the hill” makes it all the more so. The ultra-cozy, rustic taproom is a welcoming place to try one of 12 tasty beers on tap. Some of our favorite brews at Lolo Peak include BuffaloTrout Golden Ale and the Double Eagle Scotch Ale (so good). Pair one with some of their tasty tacos or onion rings and you’ll be glad you brought your appetite.

Blacksmith Brewing Company

Blacksmith Brewing Company in Stevensville is a great place to enjoy some locally crafted beer.

Welcome to historic Stevensville. Home to the cutest downtown, where Old West charm lives alongside amazing eateries and one phenomenal brewery. Serving up some delicious flagship and seasonal beers, Blacksmith is the perfect place to stop and stay awhile. We suggest the Brickhouse Blonde or, if you like IPA, try the Cutthroat…you’ll be glad you did!

Wildwood Brewing

If you’re looking for a place to sit by the fire and “listen to a story told by a fine craft beer from Montana,” Wildwood is the place. Try their award-winning Organic Spirituous Smoke (seasonal). This four-vessel brew house in Stevensville offers distinguished beer and iconic Montana characters.

Bitter Root Brewing

Ordering a the beer flight is the best way to try out all the different brews.

When you’re out and about exploring the Bitterroot Valley, this Bitterroot mainstay is a must. The brewery produces more than 40 different styles of beer a year, with 11 on draft at all times. Pair their remarkable beer with their delectable food and you won’t be disappointed. (Try the Sriracha cheese curds—you’ll thank us.) Brewery Bonus: Musicians play here every Thursday and Saturday evening from 6 – 8 p.m. Grab a Bitter Root IPA and settle in.

Higherground Brewing Company

Delicious beers + phenomenal environment = the perfect Montana brewery experience.

Hamilton is one of the most charming towns in Western Montana, and some pretty incredible beer is made here. You’ll also find Higherground serves up some of the tastiest pizza in the region. Higherground sources local ingredients as often as possible, and it pays off—the food and beer are amazing. Some of their delicious house brews include Dry Fly IPA, Clear Water Crystal Ale, Flash Flood Milk Stout (one of our favorites) and Base Camp Irish Red.

Bandit Brewing Company

One of the smallest breweries in Montana, Bandit Brewery is the perfect place to gather for some tasty brews.

Located in the heart of downtown Darby nestled at the base of the Bitterroot Valley, this quaint nano brewery makes 40-gallon batches at a time. Bandit is one of the smallest breweries in Montana, but their flavors are immense. Bandit houses the perfect blend of community pride and tasty craft beer.

Bike the Big Sky This Spring: 9 Trails In Western Montana to Explore

You may have already figured out that we’re pretty good at divulging our own secrets. That’s because we have so much good Glacier getaway intel to share. For instance, spring is one of the best times to explore Big Sky Country by bike. As the temperatures begin to warm in Western Montana, snow enthusiasts head home, making spring one of our quietest—and most serene—seasons. Experience wildflowers, emerging wildlife, rushing rivers and the always welcome shoulder-season pricing (which pairs well with our warm western hospitality).

Hop on two wheels for a refreshing look at Glacier Country. Photo: Montana Office of Tourism and Business Development

Pedal the pure mountain air and discover a Montana springtime on two wheels. Here are a handful of our favorite trails.

The Going-to-the-Sun Road is one of our favorite routes. Photo: Whitefish Bike Retreat

1. Going-to-the-Sun Road
Level: Intermediate – Advanced Road Biking  
Length: Varied
Biking this beauty is a pretty epic way to see spring flourish in Glacier National Park, and this season of serenity is the only time you can pedal one of the most scenic roads in America before it opens to vehicular traffic. Additionally, biking is also permitted on all roads in the park, plus three park trails. Side trip, anyone? Weekend spring shuttle service begins May 13. For more information, visit the National Park Service. Also, contact our friends at Glacier Guides for bike rentals, guided bike tours and unforgettable custom Glacier National Park adventures. This is one Glacier Getaway for the books.

2. Whitefish Bike Trail
Level: Beginner Road Biking
Length: Varied
The quintessential mountain town of Whitefish is a mecca of meandering trails. One particular stretch—the paved Whitefish Bike and Pedestrian Trail—follows the Whitefish River through town near Riverside Park. Whitefish is a year-round resort community, and the spring warm-up offers a chance to explore this charmer without the crowds. Make it an overnight adventure with Whitefish Bike Retreat, offering trail-side lodging—and a very authentic Montana experience—just west of town.

3. Lake Koocanusa Loop
Level: Intermediate – Advanced Road Biking
Length: 80 miles
Who doesn’t love a good loop? Add a lake and you’ve got one of the best road rides in Montana. Discover beauty around every bend as you circle Lake Koocanusa between Eureka and Libby. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a flat stretch on this gem, so gear up for the hills. Go the distance on this lake loop and you won’t be disappointed. Oh, and there are breweries in both Eureka and Libby, so no matter which town you end up in, you can treat yourself to a handcrafted big-sky brew after a long ride.      

Missoula via bike is the best way to see this beautiful city.

4. Ron MacDonald Riverfront Trail System
Level: Beginner Road Biking
Length: 7 miles
Explore springtime by bike in one of Western Montana’s cultural hot spots—MissoulaFollow the Clark Fork River and wind through downtown before connecting to the Kim Williams Nature Trail. This university town is very pedal friendly, so, when the trail ends, take to the streets and discover everything this Glacier Country getaway community has to offer, including one of the West’s top 10 farmers market, which begins annually in May.  

See mountains and quaint towns on the Bitterroot Trail. Photo: Saara Snow

5. Bitterroot Trail
Level: Beginner Road Biking
Length: 50 miles
Cycle the sights along the winding Bitterroot River between the jagged peaks of the Bitterroot Mountains and the rolling Sapphire Range. Biking the Bitterroot from Missoula to Hamilton via the paved Bitterroot Trail is a unique and fun way to explore this very scenic valley. You’ll pass through multiple charming communities in “The Root,” with stops ranging from side trails and fishing spots to eclectic shops, coffee houses, breweries and bakeries.

6. Buttercup Loop
Level: Intermediate – Advanced Mountain Biking
Length: 21.1 miles
A little farther down the Bitterroot in Darby, get in gear for the Buttercup Loop. The first 7 miles of this trail are paved, but the Sleeping Child Canyon setting makes it well worth the ride. Then it’s time to climb Black Tail Road, enjoying the Bitterroot Valley views along the way. Bonus: En route to the trailhead, there’s a bike shop housed in an old red barn featuring a collection of classic bikes.

7. Route of the Hiawatha Trail
Level: Beginner – Intermediate Mountain Biking
Length: 15 miles
This Rails to Trails “Crown Jewel” is a Western Montana family favorite. It’s one of the most scenic stretches of railroad in the country, and is all downhill to boot. Traverse multiple towering trestles in the Lolo National Forest and burrow under the Bitterroot Mountains in the Taft Tunnel. For tickets, reservation dates and bike rental information, visit the official website.  

Route of the Hiawatha opens May 26. Gear up…this trail is one of Western Montana’s best.

8. Clark Fork River Trail #233
Level: Intermediate – Advanced Mountain Biking
Length: 9 miles
Pedal Paradise (literally) to St. Regis on this Sanders Country single-track, navigating lush old-growth forestland and sweeping meadows popping with color—springtime is wildflower season, after all. Soak up the solitude in this hidden heaven, and then literally go for a soak at Quinn’s Hot Springs Resort, just a couple miles north of the trailhead—a perfect way to relax after a perfect ride.  

9. Herron Overlook Loops
Level: Beginner – Advanced Mountain Biking
Length: 10.3 miles
Clip in near Kalispell for Foy Lake fun, and wind through Western Montana wildflower country. These Herron Park trail routes to Chase and Notch overlooks offer excellent Flathead Valley views. Both of these single-track climbs are moderate, but be prepared for fast and technical descents. Then, be prepared to enjoy the exceptional food and friendly local vibe in downtown Kalispell.

 

Hidden History Gems: Meet Montana’s Off-The-Beaten-Path Museums

History buffs + eager explorers—this one’s for you. Western Montana is home to several museums, some of which are a little off the beaten path, making them all the more explore-worthy. These hidden gems display everything from American Indian beadwork to homesteader history to storied lake monsters, and each one offers a celebration and preservation of Montana’s rich heritage, coupled with a unique adventure in small-town discovery.

The eclectic Ninepipes Museum of Early Montana. Photo: Montana Office of Tourism and Business Development

TROY MUSEUM & VISITOR CENTER
Troy, Montana
Open: Memorial Day – Labor Day
Step back in time and experience the cultural and natural heritage of Troy Learn about Troy’s homesteading days, mining and logging life, and the 1910 fire, and play a round of folf (frisbee golf) at the museum’s on-site course. If you time it right, you can attend the Arts on the Grass event on the museum lawn, where local artists and craftspeople sell their handmade work, perfect for taking something home to remember us by.

OLD JAIL MUSEUM
Thompson Falls, Montana
Open: Memorial Day – Labor Day
Visit one of Sanders County’s oldest buildings, now honoring the pioneers who settled our corner of Big Sky Country. The Old Jail Museum was formerly the county jail, and sheriff’s office and residence. View historical artifacts, maps and photographs taken from original glass negatives giving a glimpse into the early days of mining, logging, farming and ranching in Sanders County. Also, the town of Thompson Falls is a hidden gem in and of itself, offering Clark Fork River access and pristine national forestland recreation.

NINEPIPES MUSEUM OF EARLY MONTANA
Charlo, Montana
Open: Memorial Day – Labor Day
Nestled in the breathtaking Mission Mountains, this Mission Valley treasure protects and preserves the history and culture of the Flathead Indian Reservation, home to the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes. You’ll find American Indian artifacts (including a large collection of beadwork); a life-size diorama of wildlife in an early camp scene complete with elk-hide tipis; vintage photographs; a collection of weaponry; and a gallery of Old West art. Ninepipes offers tours and a nature trail, plus it’s close to the National Bison Range and bordered by Ninepipe National Wildlife Refuge, so be prepared to spend some time in the area.

Ninepipes Museum of Early Montana display’s the history and culture of the Flathead Indian People.

MUSEUM OF THE PLAINS INDIAN
Browning, Montana
Open: Year-Round
This permanent exhibition gallery displays a diverse and bountiful collection of historic art created by tribal people of the Northern Plains, as well as contemporary work by American Indian artists and craftspeople. You’ll find traditional, detailed costumes on life-size figures. Other displays exhibit the social and ceremonial aspects of the region’s tribes. Help support individual artists and craftspeople by taking home a meaningful souvenir. The museum galleries offer oil paintings, watercolors, sculptures, beadwork and traditional crafts for sale.

Blackfeet exhibit at Museum of the Plains Indian. Photo: Montana Office of Tourism and Business Development

TOBACCO VALLEY HISTORICAL VILLAGE
Eureka, Montana
Open: Memorial Day – Labor Day
Sitting along the Tobacco River, this unique, volunteer-run village houses a collection of historic buildings from the 1880s and early 1900s. Explore a schoolhouse, church, library, general store, fire tower, railroad depot, caboose and several log cabins, all outfitted with era-appropriate artifacts. Interpretive programs are also offered on site. Bring a picnic lunch, and explore the adjoining Eureka Riverwalk Trail or the Eureka Kootenai Rails to Trails/Tobacco River Memorial Trail.

LARUE-HOT SPRINGS MUSEUM
Hot Springs, Montana
Open: Memorial Day – Labor Day
Paying homage to the Hot Springs homesteader days, this little gem showcases a gathering of artifacts from local tribes and homesteader families, plus a large doll collection and the trophies and ribbons won by local resident Fay Hayne, a local trick rider and barrel racer. Also on display, 120 years of VFW uniforms and memorabilia, antique farming equipment and trucks, plus artifacts from local merchants, craftsmen and ranchers. Explore a historic cabin and the original Hot Springs concrete jail.

GLACIER COUNTY HISTORICAL MUSEUM & ARCHIVE
Cut Bank, Montana
Open: Year-Round
This museum includes a captivating collection of historical artifacts, buildings and memorabilia on display, as well as a comprehensive early history of the people of the region, including a vast Blackfeet Indian collection. The 14-acre site is home to two museum exhibit buildings, an oil worker’s house, oil derrick, 1917 schoolhouse, 1980’s caboose and a living-history interpretive replica homestead house and farm. History buffs can also find educational and interactive exhibits on Lewis and Clark, local artists, community businesses, oil and Cut Bank’s early days.

The Glacier County Historical Museum has numerous displays and exhibits of the county’s diverse past.

POLSON FLATHEAD HISTORICAL MUSEUM
Polson, Montana
Open: Memorial Day – Labor Day
Home of the Flathead Lake Monster—a 7.5-foot, 181-pound sturgeon caught in Flathead Lake in 1955—the Polson-Flathead Historical Museum offers firsthand examples of the trials of surviving the harsh conditions of the region’s homesteading days. Exhibits include a trading post, stagecoaches, a chuck wagon and buggies, a pioneer kitchen, Calamity Jane’s saddle from her “Last Ride,” firefighting equipment and antique trucks that still work!

SEELEY LAKE HISTORICAL MUSEUM
Seeley Lake, Montana
Open: Year-Round
The old Double Arrow Ranch barn is now the site of the Seeley Lake Historical Museum and Visitor Center, recalling the past of the Seeley Lake region. Outside displays include a horse-drawn log-haul wagon, a gravel haul and spread wagon, a Lewis and Clark Botanical Garden, Blackfoot Indian Lodge, a dugout canoe and a forthcoming 100-year-old canoe. The grounds also include seven double (two-horse) stalls featuring locally-themed displays named after the horses who occupied them, such as Nip & Tuck: Old Time Logging; Ace & Joker: Norman Maclean Fire and Fish Display; and Popcorn & Peanuts: Cabin Fever Cures.

BRAND BAR MUSEUM
Ovando, Montana
Open: Year-Round
Formerly a saloon once referred to as the “Bucket of Blood,” the Brand Bar Museum today houses Ovando memorabilia and stories of days gone by. This collection of local history and unique antiques also has a hoosegow—a jail for visitors—where you can overnight in a bunk (or you can camp out on the lawn). The Brand Bar Museum is always open. Just ask one of the nearby local businesses for the key. You’ll find it.

A Blackfoot Valley gem: The Brand Bar Museum. Photo: Montana Office of Tourism and Business Development

RAVALLI COUNTY MUSEUM & HISTORICAL SOCIETY
Hamilton, Montana
Open: Year-Round
Blending art with local and natural history, this cultural venue provides rare historical collections honoring our American Indian heritage, life in the West and the travels of Lewis and Clark. Educational programming includes lectures, tours and workshops for children. The museum serves as a hub for community events, including McIntosh Apple Days, A Cowboy Christmas and Bitter Root Day, and is situated at the confluence of the Ice Age Floods National Geologic Trail, the Nee-Me-Poo National Historic Trail and the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail.

Small-town Discovery in Glacier Country: Meet Stevensville

There are some places that feel so welcoming. Those towns that once you hit their main street are filled with charm, happy people and something. Places that make you want to stop and stay a while.

One such place is the historic town of Stevensville, Montana. Nestled between the Bitterroot and Sapphire mountains, in Western Montana’s Bitterroot Valley, Stevensville offers some beautiful views, great outdoor recreation and it over flows with small town charm. During the winter months this town doesn’t rest at all, and we had the chance to go and check out all the sites.

Stevensville, Montana is Montana’s first permanent settlement.

First stop had to be the Morning Star, this place has some of the most delicious coffee and sweets around.

So delicious!

Truth time: we love walking down these streets.

Just two blocks from Main Street, is the historic St. Mary’s Mission, founded in 1841.

No trip to Stevensville is complete without visiting their general store, Valley Drug & Variety. Inside you’ll find an old fashioned soda fountain…

…with the most delicious milkshakes around!

Just a few miles outside of Stevensville, is the Lee Metcalf Wildlife Refuge. This 2,800 acre wildlife refuge is open year-round and offers some beautiful sites no matter the season.

Even with it being a little cold out, this place was super peaceful and beautiful.

We ended our perfect day with some local Montana brews at Blacksmith Brewery.

Stevensville is a real charmer and we can’t wait to go back.

Winter Road Trips and Scenic Drives in Western Montana

Road trips are often equated with summertime, or at least with the warmer months (and by warmer we mean no threat of snowy road conditions). But here’s the thing: we recreate outdoors all year here in Western Montana, so we’re always on the road driving from one ski hill, Nordic paradise or snowmobile trail to another, and we’re here to tell you this—the winter panoramas from the pavement here are pretty magical, and the stops along the way are, too. 

Winter views in Western Montana, like East Glacier’s Dancing Lady Mountain, will not disappoint. Photo: Tracey Vivar

A winter road trip in Glacier Country is always good for a snow-season refresh, whether you get out for a few hours or a whole day, or you turn your travels into an overnight adventure. Never-ending bluebird skies against pure white snow sparkling in the sunshine? Yes please.

Here are a few of our favorite winter drives in Western Montana:

RAVALLI TO ST. REGIS – TOUR 200 + ST. REGIS/PARADISE SCENIC BYWAY
53 Miles
Just outside of Ravalli, head west on Highway 200 traveling along with the Flathead River as it snakes through scenic valley vistas. You’ll pass through the small towns of Dixon—famous for their mouthwatering Dixon Melons—and Perma. As this two-lane highway winds down the valley, the mountains continue to get more and more grand. Head south on Highway 135, following the Clark Fork River down the St. Regis/Paradise Scenic Byway. Stop for a soak at Quinn’s Hot Springs Resort or a meal at their historic Harwood House Restaurant. Continue south down this picturesque mountain highway until you reach St. Regis. Stop at the St. Regis Travel Center for gas and a huckleberry shake, and don’t miss the free live trout aquarium!

Highway 135 follows alongside the Clark Fork River, making for a gorgeous and fun drive. Photo: Jerrie Bullock

MISSOULA TO SULA HIGHWAY 93
82 Miles
This four-lane highway takes you straight through the always-gorgeous Bitterroot Valley. From Missoula, drive south towards Lolo, admiring the many towering peaks of this picturesque range, like Lolo and St. Mary. Make an appointment with the Holt Heritage Museum for a history lesson on cowboy culture, American Indians and the Lewis and Clark Expedition. From Lolo, head to Florence and on through Stevensville, Victor and finally to Hamilton. Continue south on 93 until you see the right-hand turn for Lake Como Road. Follow that until you reach the Lake Como Group Picnic Site. Check the Bitterroot National Forest website for trail information, or just enjoy the views of Lake Como underneath Western Montana’s El Capitan and West Como Peak.

Jump back on Highway 93 towards the quaint, Old West town of Darby, where you can fuel up on food and gas, or extend your trip with a stay at Alta Ranch—a great place for cross-country skiing. Highway 93 takes you past Lost Trail Powder Mountain and Chief Joseph Pass for more cross-country-country skiing, snowshoeing or winter hiking.

HIGHWAY 12 SCENIC DRIVE
70 Miles
Highway 12 into Idaho is one spectacular drive, especially in the winter. This two-lane highway weaves through the lush Lolo National Forest. Check out Travelers’ Rest State Park for a little Lewis and Clark history. Highway 12 follows West Fork Lolo Creek, and with the density of the trees and slope of the surrounding mountains, this beautiful drive makes you feel far away from it all. Take a much-deserved stop Lolo Hot Springs for a mineral soak, a warm meal or place to rest your head. Lolo Hot Springs is close to easy snowshoe and cross-country trails (Lolo Pass). Head back towards Lolo to enjoy a different view, but take it easy on this winding mountain road. When you’re back in Lolo, treat yourself to a steak dinner.

WHITEFISH TO WEST GLACIER
26 Miles
Thousands travel this route throughout the summer months, but as a winter drive, it’s just as stunning. Begin in Whitefish with views of a winter Whitefish Lake, or take a fat-bike ride around Beaver Lake with Whitefish Bike Retreat. Outside of Whitefish, head south on Highway 93 to Highway 40 toward Columbia Falls. Highway 40 becomes Highway 2 as you drive into the mouth of this breathtaking canyon. Covered in ice and snow, the Flathead River is truly stunning. Stop in Hungry Horse at the Huckleberry Patch for a slice of homemade Montana pie or fudge. Continue on Highway 2, making a stop at Glacier Distilling Company in Coram (be sure to designate your driver). Highway 2 passes through West Glacier, with access to Glacier National Park. For winter access to Lake McDonald, head north to Apgar Village. The Apgar Visitor Center has weekend hours throughout the winter months. Make sure to check their hours online.

Fat bikes are one cool way to sightsee around Glacier Country. Photo: Adam Caira

The National Park Service also offers weekend ranger-guided snowshoe park tours January through March. Make sure to check the Going-to-the-Sun Road status to see how far into the park the road is open.

Lake McDonald’s keeps its stunning allure all year long.

POLSON TO POLSON: FLATHEAD LAKE LOOP
87.5 Miles
See Flathead Lake from all sides. From Polson, head northwest on Highway 93. Stop by the Kwataqnuk Resort & Casino for a little extra fun. Stay on 93 towards Big Arm and Flathead State Park. Wraps around the “big arm” of the lake through Elmo, Dayton, and Rollins. Lakeside Motel & Resort offers relaxing and scenic lakeside lodging, plus delicious food. From Lakeside, continue north to Somers and then take a left on Highway 82, which will take you past Kalispell Bay and over the Flathead River, then turn onto Highway 35 heading south.

Bigfork is a real charmer. Determine your designated driver and stop by Flathead Lake Brewing Company, or check out The Barn Antiques, Consignment & Gifts. Afterwards, travel on to the stellar winter lake views at Wayfarers/Flathead Lake State Park. We recommend taking it easy on this two-lane highway, for safety reasons and because the winter views of Flathead Lake are incredible. Continue on past Woods Bay towards Finley Point, where we recommend sitting down for dinner at Finley Point Grill.

ESSEX TO ST. MARY
72 Miles
Taking the route from Essex to St. Mary is a unique way to see a very wintry Glacier Country. In Essex, start by cross-country skiing or snowshoeing from the Izaak Walton Inn. If you’re looking for a place to spend the night, rent one of their cabins or iconic renovated cabooses. From Essex, head east on Highway 2. This two-lane highway winds through the mountains, including Mt. Furlong, Snowslip Mountain and Calf Robe Mountain. Wintertime in East Glacier is quiet, but you’ll enjoy the view of Glacier National Park’s peaks where they meet the plains of Eastern Montana. Take the more frequently traveled Highway 2 east towards Browning or the less-traveled Highway 49 north towards Lower Two Medicine Lake, which eventually meets Highway 89. In Browning, check out Faught’s Blackfeet Trading Post or the Museum of the Plains Indian for fascinating American Indian history. Beyond Browning, jump on Highway 89 heading west, passing through the small towns of Star and Kiowa. Continue north until you reach the junction back into the park to see Saint Mary Lake or Lower St. Mary Lake. Travel into Glacier National Park on the east side is a bit more limited than the west, but always know what’s open by checking road conditions online.

Look to the north on Highway 2 for a view of Calf Robe Mountain. Photo: Tracey Vivar

WINTER DRIVING SAFETY TIPS

  • Check out Montana Department of Transportation’s Travel Map for up-to-date road conditions.
  • Travel with sleeping bags, blankets, extra water and food, extra warm clothes, and look ahead for where cell service may be spotty or nonexistent.  
  • Make sure your vehicle is well-maintained: working headlights and tail lights, coolant, windshield wipers, tire pressure, etc.
  • Take it slow! Road conditions may change quickly.
  • Keep an eye out for wildlife.
  • Assign a designated driver if consuming alcohol.
  • Refuel when you can—in some areas, gas stations can be few and far between.
  • Always check business hours before stopping, in case there are weather-related closings or changes.    

We love our wildlife, so please watch carefully for bighorn sheep or other animals while driving. Photo: Jerrie Bullock

Biking Montana’s Bitterroot Trail: Missoula to Hamilton

Biking on the Bitterroot Trail. PHOTO: Saara Snow

Three decades of hard work and dedication went into the completion of the 50-mile paved trail that connects Western Montana’s cultural hub—Missoula—with the gorgeous Bitterroot Valley, known fondly around here as “the Root.” The trail, stretching all the way to Hamilton, is lined with small towns, scenic bends, recreation hot spots, and a whole lot of beauty and charm.

Paralleling the rugged Bitterroot Mountains to the west and the rolling Sapphire Mountains to the east, the trail allows bicyclists to weave their way through one of the most picturesque parts of our region, which is especially vibrant in the fall. The Bitterroot is also an angler’s paradise, and autumn in Montana  offers quieter waters with heavenly golden views.

Fall foliage colors the Bitterroot landscape. PHOTO: Donnie Sexton

START PEDALING: Missoula

Fuel up in this hip little mountain town with coffee shops galore. Pack some snacks and hit the trail from the central part of town. Missoula also makes a great base camp for Glacier Country exploration.

If you prefer to hit the path and go the distance without many stops, go for it; road bikes cruise the route frequently. It will not disappoint. If you’re up for it, venture off the path onto scenic backroads from Victor to Hamilton, or climb Skalkaho Pass and Sleeping Child Road.

If you’re like us and you’re looking for a slower-paced pedal with side adventures aplenty, there’s much to see and do in the valley. Recreation opportunities abound in the Bitterroot National Forest, the Bitterroot River beckons, and the quaint towns along the trail offer a place to rest, recharge and experience the western hospitality we’re known for.

Stops along the way…

Recreation areas, parks, mountain biking and hiking trails, and fishing spots dot the route, and various campgrounds provide drinking water, bathroom facilities and overnight sites, if you’re interested in making a stay of it.

The small towns that make up the Bitterroot Valley offer adventure in abundance, plus unique local eateries, breweries and watering holes to fill your belly and quench your thirst.

Fueling up at Morningstar Caffeine and Cuisine in Stevensville. PHOTO: Saara Snow

Lolo: Visit Travelers’ Rest State Park and Holt Heritage Museum (open by appointment only). Need a chocolate boost for the ride? Stop in at The Sweets Barn for just that.

Florence: Veer off the trail southeast of Florence for mountain biking at Threemile Wildlife Management Area, or head to Chief Looking Glass Campground for blue-ribbon trout-stream fishing access on the Bitterroot River.

Stevensville: Find yourself in Montana’s first settlement. Check out St. Mary’s Mission for a history lesson or the Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge—a birder’s paradise. For a bite to eat, downtown Stevensville packs a lot of punch for its size.

Biking near Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge.

Victor: Visit the Victor Heritage Museum, and also find easy access to the Bitterroot National Forest. Visiting in October? Victor’s Field of Screams is exactly the haunted adventure it sounds like it is.

FINISH UP: Hamilton

At the southern end of the trail, Hamilton is the Bitterroot’s largest small town. Tour the historic Daly Mansion or recreate in nearby Blodgett Canyon. After 50+ miles of pedaling, you might need a drink, and you’ve undoubtedly worked up a Montana sized appetite…so go ahead and make your way to Moose Creak Barbecue, or pull up a barstool at one of the town’s beloved breweries—Higherground Brewing Co. or BitterRoot Brewery, both of which serve delicious food, too.

Hamilton’s Daly Mansion. PHOTO: Destination Missoula

Biking the Bitterroot Trail is a pretty unique way to tour this storied and scenic valley and create your own adventure in Western Montana’s Glacier Country. Grab a bike, and we’ll see you in the Root!

Fall Family Fun: Montana’s Harvest Traditions + Halloween Happenings

Pumpkin patch in Missoula. PHOTO: Destination Missoula

Western Montana’s golden fall foliage set against our signature big blue sky is enough to make autumn a lovely time to visit Glacier Country. Add to that our strong heritage of local harvest traditions and Halloween happenings, and the season becomes downright fun. Family activities abound this time of year, and we’re here to give you an insider’s guide to some of our best—and spookiest—festivities. So grab that pumpkin spice latte you’ve been waiting all year for (and perhaps a handful of candy corn) and give in to your craving for all things autumn. Oh, and don’t forget your costume.

Family Fall Fest: Missoula

October 21, 2017, 1 – 4 p.m.

Fall frolic happens at the Fort. Fort Missoula Regional Park, that is. The Fort’s classic Family Fall Fest has everything you’d expect—a costume parade, apple cider pressed on site, hayrides, pumpkin and face painting, games, sack races, and…a giant pile of leaves. Jump into fall in Montana at this fun family festival. Plus, it’s free. (A suggested $1 donation supports the Fort’s scholarship fund.)

Haunted Hayrides: Hamilton

October 27 – 28, 2017, 7 – 10 p.m.

What’s fall without a hayride and Halloween without haunting? Head to the historic Daly Mansion in Hamilton for both of these things—haunted hayrides. Ghouls, ghosts and goblins wander the mansion grounds. Witness a zombie wedding, scary clowns and a hillbilly village. Bonus: The Bitterroot Valley is absolutely stunning this time of year, so add a leaf-peeping scenic drive onto either end of your hayride, whether you stick to Highway 93 or turn off into one of the Bitterroot’s scenic canyons to pull over and take a golden fall hike (costumes optional, hiking shoes recommended).

Hamilton’s Daly Mansion. PHOTO: Destination Missoula

Field of Screams: Victor

Open through October 31 (see website for days/times)

Hailed as “Western Montana’s #1 Haunted Attraction” Victor’s Field of Screams is exactly what it sounds like it is. Daytime fun turns into nighttime terror. Bring your little goblins by during the daylight hours for wagon rides, a hay bale tower and cornfield fun without the spooks. But when the sun goes down the zombies come out, and it’s time for the big kids to play. Field of Screams is not for the faint of heart. Thrills and chills abound.

Sweet Pickin’s Pumpkin Patch: Kalispell

Open through October 31, 2017, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.

Picking out a pumpkin is part of the magic of the season, and building a day of autumn adventure around it makes it all the more special. Head to the breathtaking (especially this time of year) Flathead Valley and make fall farm memories at the family-run Sweet Pickin’s Pumpkin Patch, with activities like a giant jumping pillow and a huge construction site sand box, plus tractor tours, farm animals and train rides. Jump in the corn kernel shed, hang out by the plum trees, and savor the season with caramel apples, kettle corn and hot chocolate. Oh, and don’t forget to pick out a pumpkin!

Sweet Pickin’s Pumpkin Patch. PHOTO: Sweet Pickin’s

Festival of the Dead

November 2, 2017, 6 – 8:30 p.m.

Inspired by the traditions of the Mexican holiday El Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), Missoula’s unique and popular annual Festival of the Dead is a multicultural family-friendly event celebrating life and death through community arts. The festival culminates with a procession, which begins at the north end of downtown Missoula’s Higgins Avenue and processes to Caras Park, with post-procession performances by the University of Montana’s African Dance Class and Unity Dance and Drum.

Harvest Wrap-Up: Glacier Country’s rich autumn traditions are the perfect way to take in fall in Montana. Do note: It’s the season of favorite flannels and cozy sweaters, but be prepared for any kind of weather this time of year.

For more fall fun, visit our Fall in Montana page, where we’ve compiled a list of autumn activity ideas and events in our little corner of Big Sky Country. Be in the know about all the finest fall happenings, and also learn where to hike, bike, float, fish, golf and camp—all the obvious things we love about Montana—among the vibrant fall colors. We’ll also help you find the best local spots to kick back and relax with some of Montana’s favorite fall flavors (think pumpkin ice cream) and tastiest seasonal brews. There’s something for every member of the family to enjoy in a Montana autumn, plus shoulder-season pricing.