Category Archives: Charlo

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.

Celebrate the Season of Giving With Montana-Made Gifts

Here in Western Montana’s Glacier Country, we love the holidays and all the magical experiences they bring, like corn mazes, craft fairs and sleigh rides, to name a few. Although we would like to spend all our time outdoors frolicking in the snow or bundled up by the fireplace with hot cocoa, we also know that with the holidays—no matter what holiday you celebrate—comes gift giving. In Western Montana we really know how to deck the halls and celebrate the season of giving with all things merry and bright.

Deck the halls! Whitefish, Montana showing off its western holiday spirit. Photo: Brian Schott

MONTHLY SUBSCRIPTIONS

We love huckleberries, and that’s the truth. It’s also true that you can find huckleberries in just about any form here; for an extra decadent taste of this coveted wild fruit, we recommend huckleberry fudge. The Sweets Barn in Lolo offers an ongoing taste of Montana with their Fudge Hog Club. This gift will keep on giving month after month with a new flavor of scratch-made buttercream fudge. The Last Best Box is another subscription chock-full of Montana goodies from artists, artisans and local businesses. Their October box featured Evening Chai tea from Lake Missoula Tea Company (a local favorite).

The Last Best Box is an amazing gift to give. Photo: Last Best Box

CABIN ESSENTIALS

You would be hard pressed to find a more authentic Montana gift than these hand-drawn, hand-lettered maps by Xplorer Maps. Choose from a map of Montana, Flathead Lake or Glacier National Park. Their masterful Old-World style maps offer vibrant images of the landscape, flora and wildlife—making them a unique and unforgettable gift. Get snug fireside with a Camp Blanket from Dig + Co. This blanket is made of high-quality flannel sourced from Missoula—the ultimate get-your-cozy-on gift.

These maps will add a vibrant splash of Montana to any décor. Photo: Xplorer Maps

BATH AND BODY

Bath and body gifts are always on trend, but DAYSPA Body Basics keeps it fresh with their own line of handcrafted natural products. Online and gift options include those for men, pregnancy, babies, cold season and more. The organic sugar body scrub comes in scents like Cowboy Coffee, Coconut Cake and Lavender Mint. Pamper your man with the Activated Charcoal Shave Cream paired with the Organic Aloe After Shave Balm.

So many different and amazing choices, we can’t make up our minds! Photo: DAYSPA Body Basics

JEWELRY

Montana-made jewelry is a timeless gift, and a favorite for any occasion. Always There Designs offers fun and casual hand-stamped metalwork necklaces, earrings and bracelets. They feature designs in the shape of Montana and mantras like “be brave” or “fearless.” For a bolder look, Wild Mountain Ink makes porcelain jewelry adorned with hand-drawn designs. All of their products are one of a kind and depict Montana’s vast and beautiful landscape.

So many beautiful pieces to choose from, but this is one of our favorites. Photo: Wild Mountain Ink

HOLIDAY ODDS AND ENDS

Western Montana is known for bison, and we are lucky enough to have bison ranches galore. One ranch, located on the Flathead Indian Reservation, makes one of our favorite treats, Roam Free bison bites. You can’t beat the taste of this grass-fed and sustainably raised bison. Another item high on our list of things we love is coffee. Online at Montana Coffee Traders find savory flavors like Montana Blend and Trailblazer. From dark to light roasts, plus organic and espresso options, they have it all—the perfect gift for any coffee lover.

Roam Free wood-fired pizza bison bites are drool-worthy. Photo: Roam Free

GLACIER COUNTRY STORES AND SHOPS

Capture the magic of the season by shopping at one of many picturesque small-town shops in Western Montana. We don’t like to pick favorites, but here are a few unique shops that feature Montana-made products: Sage & Cedar in Whitefish and Kalispell, Great Gray Gifts in Charlo, The Green Light in Missoula, St. Regis Travel Center in St. Regis and Grizzly Claw Trading Company in Seeley.

On the Trail of Art and Culture in Western Montana’s Glacier Country

Montana’s main draw is its natural beauty and world-class outdoor recreation, so it can be a quite a pleasant surprise to find out the state’s rugged exterior belies a highly developed artistic sensibility. Many of Western Montana’s communities boast big-city-worthy galleries and artists with talent galore. Local art makes a lovely souvenir, so take some time to browse and shop.

The cultural experience doesn’t end there. Western Montana has a fascinating backstory, filled with tales of American Indians, adventurers, “black robes,” ranchers, homesteaders and soldiers. Uncover intriguing details about Montana’s history by exploring the state’s many museums.

Here’s a sampling of communities that can add a splash of culture to your Montana travels.

A tour of the Daly Mansion includes the family’s showy music room.

HAMILTON

Although you don’t really need an excuse to visit the charming small towns nestled at the base of the Bitterroot Mountains, the Daly Mansion—the 24,000 square foot home of copper baron Marcus Daly—may motivate you to visit Hamilton. A fascinating tour details Daly’s rise from penniless immigrant to captain of industry and shows off his extravagant digs.

Now that your interest in history is piqued, stop at the Ravalli County Museum and Historical Society to further delve into the Bitterroot Valley’s past.

STEVENSVILLE

Stevensville is honored to be Montana’s oldest existing settlement. The humble but pivotal St. Mary’s Mission figures prominently in its history. Tour the mission complex and its grounds to learn about the history of the Salish Indians and the Christian missionaries known to the Salish as the “Black Robes.”

Combine that with a visit to the Stevensville Historical Museum to complete the picture of life in mid-1800s “Stevi,” as the town is commonly referred to these days.

LOLO

Just up the road in Lolo lies one of Montana’s most renowned historical sites, Travelers’ Rest. This Corps of Discovery landmark can brag that it’s the only known campsite where archaeological evidence of early explorers has been found. Now a state park, visitors can walk along Lolo Creek in the footsteps of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark. A visitor’s center and museum will fill you in on the historical details of their adventure.

The nearby Holt Heritage Museum focuses on those perennial favorites of the Old West: cowboys and Indians. The museum is open by appointment only, so give the Holts—a longtime Montana rodeo family—a call, and feast your eyes on their western treasures.

MISSOULA

One of the first things you’ll notice upon entering Missoula is the abundance of public art. Over 50 traffic signal boxes have been painted by local artists, so you can see a work of art at almost every intersection. Pick up a free Missoula Public Art Guide at the Missoula Art Museum to discover more of the Garden City’s creative side, from murals to large-scale sculptures.

There’s almost always something new on exhibit at the Missoula Art Museum. Photo: Taylar Robbins

Of course, there’s plenty of opportunity to see art on display in a curated environment as well, starting with the aforementioned Missoula Art Museum, which offers free admission. The always thought-provoking exhibits at this contemporary art museum are just as likely to feature internationally renowned masters as they are regional artists. After you’re done browsing, be sure to check out the rotating exhibit of sculptures in the adjacent Art Park.

A stroll through downtown Missoula will yield galleries galore, including Radius Gallery, which frequently offers exhibits, artist talks and other events. The best time to gallery-hop is on the first Friday of every month from 5 – 8 p.m., when practically every downtown business hosts an art exhibit and lays out a spread of hors d’oeuvres and drinks.

Radius Gallery offers a feast for the eyes. Photo: Radius Gallery

Missoula’s history comes to life at the Historical Museum at Fort Missoula. Learn about Fort Missoula’s role in the Indian Wars, the African-American 25th Infantry Bicycle Corps, and the World War II internment camp that held Italian and Japanese nationals. Wander the grounds to view over 20 historic buildings and structures, including a train engine, tipi burner and fire tower (you can get a pretty nice view of Missoula from up there, too).

THOMPSON FALLS

Continue your journey into Montana history at Thompson Falls’ intriguing Old Jail Museum. Inside this 100-year-old former jail, learn about the exploits of the town’s namesake—Canadian explorer and fur trapper David Thompson—the horror of the devastating forest fires of 1910, and the work of the Civilian Conservation Corps.

CHARLO

Views of the Mission Mountains will leave you awestruck as you drive north along Interstate Highway 93. Pull over and gape from the Ninepipes Museum in Charlo, where the history of the Flathead Reservation is on display. The indoor exhibits and museum grounds are complemented by a handicapped-accessible nature trail.

POLSON

Just before you reach the shores of Flathead Lake, swing by the Miracle of America Museum in Polson. Anyone into Americana will get a charge out of the immense quantity of nostalgia-inducing items on display there. Another must-stop, the Polson Flathead Historical Museum offers educational exhibits of the pioneer days, homesteaders and the Native Americans who inhabited the region, plus, it’s the home of the famous Flathead Lake Monster!

BIGFORK

Driving up the east side of the lake will bring you to Bigfork, a storybook town excelling in charm. The gallery-rich environment will have art enthusiasts in a daze. ARTFusion, Bjorge Gallery, Brett Thuma Gallery, Electric Buffalo Gallery, Eric Thorsen Sculpture Gallery and Riecke’s Bayside Gallery are all Electric Avenue must-sees.

A century-old schoolhouse continues to educate those who walk through its doors. Photo: Kelly Nelson

KALISPELL

Get a lesson in history at Kalispell’s Museum at Central School. This restored 1894 schoolhouse is packed with the compelling artifacts and records of Northwest Montana and the Flathead Valley. For another close look at the city’s past, tour the Conrad Mansion Museum, once home to the founder of Kalispell, Charles E. Conrad.

Headed to or coming from Glacier National Park? Visit the Hockaday Museum of Art to see the popular permanent exhibition “Crown of the Continent,” which features works celebrating the grandeur of the park.

WHITEFISH

Whitefish is definitely in the running for having the most galleries per capita of any Montana town. A whopping 13 galleries participate in the seasonal First Thursday Gallery Nights. One mainstay of the art scene, The Purple Pomegranate, tempts shoppers with functional and decorative art from over 150 artists and craftspeople.

Stunning American Indian headdresses and clothing impress visitors at the Museum of the Plains Indian

BROWNING

Travelers are drawn to Montana’s rich American Indian culture, and one of the best places to experience it is at the Museum of the Plains Indian on the Blackfeet Reservation in Browning. Clothing, weapons and many other artifacts from regional tribes wow visitors with their beauty and functionality. Special exhibits often feature contemporary American Indian artists.

Continue your exploration of American Indian art at Lodgepole Gallery & Tipi Village, which showcases the work of several Blackfeet artists, including the gallery’s talented owner, Darrell Norman.

CUT BANK

Just east of the reservation, pull into Cut Bank, where an oil derrick, a 1917 schoolhouse and a Burlington Northern caboose are just a few of the curiosities that adorn the 14-acre grounds of the Glacier County Historical Museum and Archive. On summer weekends, costumed interpreters act out the lives of early homesteaders at a replica homestead cabin and farm.

Hours and prices vary, and some museums are open seasonally. Check the links above for more information about visiting museums and galleries in Western Montana’s Glacier Country.

An oil derrick stands sentinel at the Glacier County Historical Museum. Photo: Racene Friede

Picture Perfect Spring Road Trip: Charlo + Ninepipe National Wildlife Refuge

There are few things better than hitting the open road with friends and discovering the beauty of a place from behind the wheel of your vehicle. One of the best places to explore by car: Western Montana’s Glacier Country. Our wide-open spaces, charming small towns, jaw-dropping landscapes and well-maintained highway system make for the perfect place to hit the open road.

The weather has been warming up, so, naturally, we found it necessary to take a road trip to the Ninepipe National Wildlife Refuge. We kicked off our travels in Missoula and took the scenic route through Moiese. That was the right choice—it offered up some beautiful scenery! Here are some of our favorite shots from one perfect afternoon.

A big blue sky and puffy white clouds offered a picture-perfect day.

Driving to the Ninepipe National Wildlife Refuge, we took a must-stop in Moiese at the National Bison Range.

We stopped in Charlo for lunch at this little gem. The food was delicious!

We made it!

We were greeted with spectacular views of the refuge and the Mission Mountains.

Excuse us while we swoon over this view.

This 4,027-acre refuge, open year-round, offers amazing opportunities for hiking, birding and wildlife viewing.

On our way home, we stopped at Great Gray Gifts. This place has some of the best Made-in-Montana gifts around.

And…the tastiest huckleberry milkshakes!

For more daily doses of Western Montana, be sure to follow us on instagram (GlacierMT) and twitter (GlacierMT).

Happy Adventuring!

 

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.

Spread the Magic of the Season with Montana-Made Gifts

Here in Western Montana’s Glacier Country, we treasure each season for its unique offerings, and we don’t like to rush things—a Montana trait, for sure. So although we’re still savoring the smell of pumpkin spice and hot apple cider, we know the holidays are right around the corner. And with the season—no matter what holidays you celebrate—comes gift giving, which is one of our favorite things. The many gift options Glacier Country has to offer has us especially enthusiastic this year.

The Christmas spirit is bright and merry in Montana. Photo: TheBobFactor

Monthly Subscription Box

Here’s an option for those of us who want to give an ongoing taste of Montana to our loved ones. The Last Best Box offers a monthly subscription box chock-full of Montana goodies, many of them from Glacier Country. November’s “Fall in Montana” box featured Moxie Nosh’s Pumpkin Spice Cashew Butter (YUM!) and The Montana Homestead Emporium’s spiced pumpkin soy candles.

The “Montana Camping Box” is an amazing gift to give. Photo: Last Best Box

Bath and Body

Any holiday gift list isn’t complete without treats from Sage & Cedar, a bath and body shop with its own line of pure, natural and organic products. Just walking through the doors at either of Sage & Cedar’s two locations is relaxing. Online and gift options include products for men, mamas and babies, custom scents, and more. The anti-stress Coconut Milk & Honey Bath Salts come in scents like Glacier Spring, High Mountain Sagebrush and Montana Morning. For the fella who appreciates a Montana-made pampering, try the Shea Butter & Aloe Vera Brushless Shave Cream paired with the Vitamin E & Shea Nourishing Aftershave Lotion with cedarwood essential oil.

So many different and amazing choices, we can’t choose!

Leather

Wallets, clutches, saddle bags, totes, you name it…Western Montana is known for its leather, and we’re lucky enough to have some fantastic artists, craftsmen, craftswomen and leather smiths in the area. Functional, beautiful and oh-so-hip, we’ve found T Bird leather products to be the one accessary people consistently ask about. Goertzen Adventure Equipment makes fantastic gender-neutral messenger bags, fly-fishing accessory bags and versatile, must-have totes. And Pinch Flat Manufacturing makes fabulous and quintessentially western wallets, bi-folds, glasses cases and purses. You’ll have a difficult time picking just one.

These purses from Pinch Flat Manufacturing are swoon-worthy. Photo: Great Gray Gifts

Jewelry

Montana-made jewelry is a gift favorite for any occasion, but particularly for the holidays. Made of Mountains jewelry offers fun and casual Montana-shaped necklaces, earrings and bracelets, or for a daintier version, The Montana Way makes a sterling silver Montana with a heart over Glacier Country. Another favorite is Rag and Stone, featuring big, bold pieces incorporating stones found in the area, and because of the nature of the medium, all of the products are one-of-a-kind.

Our favorite pair of earrings from Rag and Stone. Photo: Great Gray Gifts

Candles

Capturing the essence of Montana, Wandering Bison’s hand-poured soy candles have clever scent names like “Peak Bagger,” “Alpen Glow” and “Trail Head.” Campfire and Whiskey? Pine and Lavender? Aged Leather? They’ve really got Montana figured out. We’re also big fans of Montana Homestead’s soy candles, with scents like Flathead Lake Cherry Blossom, Mountain Meadow and Lake House. They’re all made on-site, one at a time right here in Glacier Country.

So many delicious smells to choose from, but we are in love with “Trailhead”. Photo: Wandering Bison

Glacier Country Stores and Shops

Western Montana is a veritable treasure trove of fun finds for everyone on your holiday list. Here are just a few of our favorite shops: Great Gray Gifts in Charlo, Sage & Cedar in Whitefish and Kalispell, Think Local in Kalispell, Firefly in Missoula, The Montana Scene in Whitefish, Kalispell, Bigfork, Bozeman and Missoula, The Toggery in Whitefish and Kalispell and the Bitterroot Bit & Spur in Hamilton.

Happy Gifting!

6 Museums to Visit in Western Montana

When you think of Montana, you probably think of sweeping mountain landscapes and epic outdoor adventure—and you aren’t wrong. But one thing you might miss if you don’t look closely enough is the cache of cultural heritage created by generations of Montanans celebrating the rich roots of our region. This legacy has been carefully preserved by several Glacier Country museums that round out Western Montana’s communities. Here’s a list of some of our favorite hot spots for history in our little slice of heaven.

Hockaday Museum
PHOTO: Donnie Sexton

Hockaday Museum of Art, Kalispell

Housed in the charming, turn-of-the century Carnegie Library Building, the Hockaday Museum of Art is a tribute to the diverse cultural work inspired by Montana and Glacier National Park. The Hockaday collection features Montana and Blackfeet Nation artists, and includes paintings, writings, photographs and pottery that are historically significant to the region.

Year-round
Tuesday – Saturday: 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.

Historical Museum at Fort Missoula, Missoula

Located in historic Fort Missoula (established by the U.S. government in 1877), the Historical Museum at Fort Missoula uses several galleries to tell the story of Missoula’s complex and captivating history. The museum includes historic photographs, correspondence and artifacts culled from donations of over 40,000 historical objects.

Labor Day Weekend – Memorial Day Weekend
Tuesday – Sunday: 12:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Memorial Day Weekend – Labor Day Weekend
Monday – Saturday: 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Sunday: 12:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.

Ninepipes has a beautiful pond overlooking the Mission Mountains.

Ninepipes Museum of Early Montana, Charlo

For those interested in the history of the Rocky Mountain West, Ninepipes Museum of Early Montana will fascinate with its collection of art, photos and artifacts that depict American Indian and frontier life on and around the Flathead Indian Reservation. From antique weaponry to covered wagons to traditional dress and beadwork, Ninepipes has something for everyone.

April 1 – October 31
Mondays – Saturdays: 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.
November – February
Open by appointment

Glacier County Historical Museum and Archive, Cut Bank

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

Memorial Day Weekend – Labor Day Weekend
Monday – Saturday: 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Labor Day Weekend – Memorial Day Weekend
Monday – Friday: 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.

Museum of the Plains Indian, Browning

The Museum of the Plains Indian exhibits historic artistic pieces and traditional dress from the tribes of the Northern Plains. The museum also promotes and features the art of contemporary American Indian artists and craftspeople. Exhibits particularly celebrate the diversity of cultural expression across the many different tribes of the region.

June 1September 30
Sunday – Monday: 9:00 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.
October 1May 30
Monday – Friday: 10:00 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.

Polson is breathtaking in the fall.

Miracle of America Museum, Polson

The Miracle of America Museum has been nicknamed the “Smithsonian of the West” because of its diversity of artifacts. Among its many objects are vintage vehicles, aircraft, antique winter tools and old toys. The museum also offers special exhibits and activities geared toward kids.

June – August
Sunday – Monday: 8:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.
September – May
Monday – Saturday: 8 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Sunday: 1:30 p.m. – 5 p.m.

Whether you’re interested in the history of Glacier National Park, the expedition of Lewis and Clark, American Indian culture or Western Montana’s role in mining and railroad life, Glacier Country’s museums have you covered with art, artifacts and literature on display, plus interpretive tours and trails. Go right ahead and take advantage of our tradition of preserving our region’s culture and history. You’ll learn something new, and you’ll have fun doing it. Plus, our museums are all housed in charming small towns that are also definitely worth exploring.

Trip Tip: Take a piece of Western Montana with you…don’t miss our museum gift shops!