Category Archives: Essex

Romantic Getaways in Western Montana’s Glacier Country

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to Spend 6 Days in Western Montana

Start your Western Montana adventure with Glacier Country.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cozy Up in Western Montana’s Winter Wonderland

Winter in Western Montana is pure magic, and that’s because we don’t just know how to play in the snow, we know how to stay in the snow. Our secret? Cozy. Get snug fireside in one of our luxury lodges, cabins or chalets. Staying in Glacier Country is part of the beauty of playing in Glacier Country, and warm western hospitality is our specialty. You’d be hard pressed to find a more authentic Montana winter getaway experience than what you’ll discover here. We’ve pulled together a list of some of our favorite spots to get your cozy on.

Double Arrow Lodge

Warm welcomes are served up all year at the Double Arrow Lodge, and winter is extra cozy at this historic Seeley Lake getaway. The Seeley Swan Valley is known for epic snowmobiling and cross-country trails, plus snowshoeing, ice fishing and horse-drawn sleigh rides. Choose from deluxe lodging and log cabins, and enjoy fine dining and drinks at the on-site Seasons Restaurant and Stirrups Lounge.

The Double Arrow Lodge glows with warmth and we can’t get enough of it.

Izaak Walton Inn

This family-owned and family-friendly retreat in Essex, Montana offers the perfect combination of scenic beauty, comfortable accommodations and ease of access to outdoor activities in and outside of the park. The Izaak Walton Inn features a historic lodge, plus fully-equipped luxury railcars, classic cabooses, ski-in/ski-out cabins and rental homes all nestled right up against Glacier National Park. The Dining Car is a popular stop for inn guests as well as local residents.

The Izaak Walton Inn is the perfect place to lay your head down after a day of winter adventure. Photo: Noah Couser

Snow Bear Chalets

If you’re looking to hit the slopes in under a minute, Snow Bear Chalets is the place for you. Located on Whitefish Mountain Ski Resort’s Hope Slope—yes, literally right on the ski slope—these “treehouse” chalet rentals offer a luxuriously convenient ski-in/ski-out experience with jaw-dropping views, hot tubs and beautiful stone fireplaces. Stay in a Snow Bear Chalet for a very unique and unforgettable Western Montana winter experience.

We love these “treehouse” chalets. Photo: Snow Bear Chalets

The Lodge at Whitefish Lake

Treat yourself to the ultimate in winter comforts at the only four-diamond resort in Montana. The Lodge at Whitefish Lake offers deluxe hotel rooms, suites, lakefront condominiums and luxury cabins. To boot, every room has a fire place and there’s an on-site spa. The lodge is minutes from downtown Whitefish and the ski slopes of Whitefish Mountain Resort, and only 30 minutes from Glacier National Park, which is heavenly this time of year.

Finding a cozy fireplace after a day of snow play at The Lodge at Whitefish Lake, is always a good choice.

Gibson Mansion

Missoula is a magical mountain town with plenty of winter fun to be had, and one of the best places for a snowy stay and play getaway is Missoula’s premiere bed-and-breakfast, the Gibson Mansion. Built in 1903, Gibson Mansion combines the Victorian elegance of the past with the modern conveniences of today. Bonus: they have the most delicious huckleberry scones around, which, paired with a hot cup of coffee, make for a pretty perfect start to a day in the snow.

Kalispell Grand Hotel

Stay in the heart of Kalispell’s historic district with easy access to winter activities in the Flathead Valley—including skiing at Whitefish Mountain Resort—and Glacier National Park. The Kalispell Grand Hotel boasts an exceptional atmosphere, plus they bake fresh cookies every afternoon and offer the option for 60 and 90-minute massages. Hello, Kalispell Grand.

Quinn’s Hot Springs

One of our favorite ways to unwind after a day of snow play in Western Montana’s winter wonderland is by soaking in a natural hot spring, and that’s’ why we absolutely love Quinn’s Hot Springs Resort. With multiple mineral pools, one of the finest restaurants in the northwest, a tavern and luxury log cabins, Quinn’s, without question, offers an authentic Montana experience.

Soaking in the pools at Quinn’s Hot Springs in Paradise, Montana is the ultimate way to end a day.

Whatever your stay style—luxury spa retreat, comfy rustic cabin, timbered-lodge grandeur—you’ll find that we don’t mess around when it’s time to get cozy. See you by the fire. We’ll bring the hot chocolate.

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

Top 5 Spots For Comfort Food In Western Montana

We’re going to come right out and say it: we love food. And you already know how much we love Montana. So it goes without saying that eating in Montana is, well, very high on our list of favorites. We get it: when you think about Glacier Country, food isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. Let us assure you, however, that Big Sky Country’s culinary contributions are unexpectedly phenomenal.

With winter closely upon us, comfort foods are top of mind, and here are our top 5 hotspots for cold-weather cravings.

Tupelo Grille

In the heart of downtown Whitefish, Tupelo Grille is the perfect place to savor delicious Montana food with the best Rocky Mountain West hospitality around. They specialize in Southern cuisine, offering fresh seafood, grilled steaks, signature pastas (hello, baked mac & cheese with prosciutto) and a delectable dessert menu (try the bread pudding with rum butter and Chantilly cream—it’s a must). Pro tip: Their mouthwatering meals pair well with their innovative cocktails, and cocktails always keep you warm.

Tupelo Grille’s homemade bread pudding with rum butter and Chantilly cream is the quintessential comfort food. Photo: Tupelo Grille

The Dining Car at Izaak Walton Inn

Named for English writer and fly-fisherman Izaak Walton, this historic inn is located in Essex just off Highway 2 between East Glacier Park and West Glacier. The inn’s Dining Car Restaurant serves up delicious dishes from locally-sourced Montana ingredients. The food is worth writing home about, and the experience is authentically Montana. Pro tip: Stay at the inn for a cozy getaway and jaw-dropping winter wonderland views.

Our mouths are officially watering. Photo: Izaak Walton Inn

Minnie’s Montana Café

If you’re venturing to the northwest corner of Montana, be sure to stop in Thompson Falls, or, more specifically, Minnie’s Montana Café. Located on Main Street, this mom-and-pop stop has one of the best atmospheres and dining experiences in the region. The café is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and Minnie’s home-cooked meals really round out a day of snow play in the surrounding national forestland. Pro tip: Minnie’s homemade cinnamon rolls are, hands down, the gooiest, most delicious treats you will ever eat, period.

The cinnamon rolls at Minnie’s are gigantic and we’re not mad about it.

Top Hat Lounge

While visiting Western Montana, make Missoula a top priority. The food scene in the heart of Glacier Country is one you won’t want to miss. One of our favorite food finds is downtown’s Top Hat Lounge. Their menu serves up some decadent classics—chicken & waffles and pulled pork & fried cornbread—as well as some delicious health-conscious dishes. Utilizing locally-sourced ingredients, the chefs at the Top Hat always make sure you “eat like a rock star” Pro tip: Top Hat Lounge is also a popular Missoula music venue, so if you play your cards right, you might get to enjoy some really good music with your bourbon brined pork chop.

The roasted butternut squash with goat cheese will leave a smile on your face. Photo: Top Hat

Seasons Restaurant at Double Arrow Lodge

Seeley Lake is one of our favorite Montana destinations, especially the Double Arrow Lodge. Inside this historic getaway, discover Seasons Restaurant, offering up unique and classic country cuisine in a very cozy setting. Their seasonal menus are tailored to utilize local ingredients and feature fresh seafood and hand-cut “in-house” aged steaks. If it isn’t already, this savory stop needs to be on your list of places to eat in Montana. Pro tip: Try the grilled rattlesnake and rabbit sausage or quail knots sautéed with smoked whiskey and caramelized onions.

The entire menu at Seasons is delicious, but you have to save room for dessert. We promise you won’t be disappointed.

Now, after all this food talk, we’re hungry.

Happy dining, friends!

Meat Montana: Top 10 Places to Savor a Steak in Glacier Country

We’re going to come right out and say it: we’re carnivores at heart. When we think of all the things we love about Western Montana (the list is long), savoring a juicy, perfectly cooked, locally raised steak is way up near the top of the list. It’s not just a mouthwateringly delicious meal, it’s a full Montana experience. Raising cattle is a way of life here. It’s a livelihood infused with a rich history of agricultural pride, cowboy culture and—most importantly—a high regard for the land and the livestock. We love everything about a Montana steakhouse, and we’re pretty confident you will, too.

Western Montana’s steakhouses are community fixtures that attract locals and visitors from far and wide, and our steaks are some of the best you’ll ever sink your teeth into. From fine-dining western lodges to log-cabin atmospheres, Glacier Country’s got a steak cooked to your idea of perfection. So, no matter your cut of choice, mosey on up to one of these fine establishments, grab a steak knife and see what all the fuss is about. (Cowboy hat and boots optional.)

Lolo Creek Steak House

Just south of Missoula as you head down the Bitterroot Valley, stop in at Lolo Creek Steak House in Lolo. They take pride in having served “ranchers, hikers, bikers, vacationers, hunters, snowmobilers, fly fisherman, floaters, artists, writers, students and their families for over 27 years,” so, you’ll be in good company. The large log cabin setting with western décor provides a genuine Montana experience and a prime selection of irresistible steak.

Summit Mountain Lodge and Steakhouse

A perfectly seasoned Montana steak at the Summit Mountain Lodge and Steakhouse.

Located in Essex on the southeast corner of Glacier National Park, the historic Summit Mountain Lodge offers exactly what you want in a steak dinner—juicy, perfectly seasoned and seared meat with grilled vegetables. Housed in the iconic Great Northern Train Station built in 1906, Summit Mountain offers stunning park views from its deck, locally crafted beer, specialty cocktails and wine.

Bonus: overnight in one of the 32-acre property’s eight cabins.

Victor Steakhouse

Further on down the valley, you get a lot of beef for your buck at Victor Steakhouse, and it’s delicious too. For dessert, try a deep-fried piece of cheesecake or their famous peanut butter pie, that is, if you’ve got any room left.

Skalkaho Steak House

If you’re lucky, you might spot a bighorn sheep or moose while you’re dining at Skalkaho Steak House. Wildlife makes itself known here inside and out. 15 miles south of Hamilton, the views in this part of the Bitterroot Valley are spectacular. This little gem has won awards for best steak, best atmosphere and best views in the Bitterroot, and one of the things that makes it such a unique spot is the hundreds of hummingbirds that visit the outside patio during the summer months.

The Depot

For more than 40 years, The Depot has been one of Montana’s premiere classic western steakhouses. Located in Missoula, The Depot offers a full bar, 18 beers on tap (including some local favorites) and a Wine Spectator award-winning wine list. Seafood is flown in daily, so try the Depot Steak, an 8-ounce tenderloin topped with Alaskan king crab and béarnaise sauce. Afterwards, explore Missoula’s lively downtown.

The Montana Club

A perfectly seasoned juicy steak from Montana Club.

Homestyle meets Montana style at The Montana Club, with two locations in Missoula and one in Kalispell. “Montana’s hometown restaurant” serves up scratch-made entrées and mouthwatering steak. Their 10-ounce Montana Club Cattle Company Angus Steak is exclusively selected and specially cut for The Montana Club Restaurants and aged for a minimum of 45 days. There’s something for everyone at the Montana Club, plus both Missoula and Kalispell serve up hearty doses of arts, culture, nightlife and recreation.

Whitefish Lake Restaurant

The New York Times called Whitefish Lake Restaurant one of the best restaurants in the Whitefish area. Tee up for 18 holes at this historic golf-course setting and end your day on the green by heading inside for a prime cut of Montana beef cooked exactly how you like it. Add a side of white truffle macaroni and cheese baked au gratin. Insider Tip: start with the Baked Brie in Puff Pastry or the New Zealand Mussels…or both.

Venture Inn and Restaurant

How does eating a 7-ounce premium choice Angus bacon-wrapped top sirloin filet with roasted jumbo shrimp sound after a beautiful hike in the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness? Don’t mind if we do. Venture on over to Libby in Montana’s beautiful Kootenai River Valley and savor a meal at the Venture Inn and Restaurant.

 

Lindey’s Prime Steakhouse

A perfectly rare prime rib steak from Lindey’s Prime Steakhouse in Seeley Lake.

We love a good lake with our steak. That’s why we love Lindey’s Prime Steakhouse in Seeley Lake. Premium Montana steak and stunning views? Yes please. All steaks come with garlic bread, potatoes, salad and sweet pickled watermelon rind. Enjoy the sunset from this beautiful, rustic, cedar-sided steakhouse situated right on the edge of the lake.

Babb Bar Cattle Baron Supper Club

Babb Bar Cattle Baron Supper Club had us at “special sauce.” Known as one of Montana’s best steakhouses, most outfitters end their Blackfeet Reservation trips with a stop at the Cattle Baron for their famous family recipes, flawlessly cooked steak and a cultural experience provided by the attentive and energetic owners.

What’s one more?

Narrowing the list down to 10 of our favorite steak stops was impossible. We just couldn’t pass this next one up. Plus, it’s in Glacier National Park, and, well, you know how we feel about the park…

BONUS: The Belton Chalet Grill Dining Room and Tap Room

Gourmet steak dinner at the Belton Chalet. Photo: Donnie Sexton

Top off a day in Glacier National Park with a Montana-ranched steak at the 1910 historic Belton Chalet where “the way it was…still is.” Talented chefs prepare world-class meals in a unique outdoor kitchen, and guests watch the sunset from the expansive deck. Do yourself a favor and try one of their cocktails with vodka that’s infused with Montana’s famous Flathead cherries.

DIY: While we love a good night out, we know some of you might enjoy the experience of cooking up a Montana steak yourself. Local butchers and community farmers markets are a great place to buy premium Montana-raised beef.

P.S. If you’re looking for a complete western adventure (we highly recommend it), cowboy up at a Western Montana guest ranch for way more than a prime porterhouse.

Big Water Boasts Big Adventure

One of Glacier Country’s greatest assets is our rivers. Just the mere mention of Western Montana conjures visions of sparkling waterways winding through some of the country’s most scenic landscapes. Our rivers are wild and free, and they all offer diverse adventures, from fly-fishing to scenic multiday float trips to adrenaline-pumping whitewater excursions. A Western Montana vacation isn’t complete without a day (or more) on the water. 

Whitewater rafting is one of the best ways to cool off on a hot summer day in Western Montana. Photo: Donnie Sexton

As winter turns into spring, snowmelt means our rivers begin rolling at peak volume and vacationers and locals alike flock to Glacier Country for whitewater rafting adventures or lazy, scenic floats (later in the summer).

BITTERROOT RIVER

The Bitterroot River—one of Montana’s more scenic waterways—offers a peaceful float down the panoramic Bitterroot Valley, with views of the Bitterroot and Sapphire mountains. Flow is slow to moderate, which makes for a gentle, pleasant trip, ample wildlife viewing and plenty of fishing. Don’t forget your camera on this picturesque float!

CLARK FORK RIVER’S ALBERTON GORGE 

The Clark Fork River’s Alberton Gorge is a popular rafting destination and serves as a whitewater headquarters in this part of the region. The 16-mile Class III rose-colored canyon stretch is perfect for beginners and families looking to get their feet wet (literally) on a hot summer day. The Gorge is close to Alberton, Superior and Missoula, offering paddlers and rafters adventure on and off the water.

KOOTENAI RIVER

It’s been said that the Kootenai River is as close to the Zambezi as you’re going to get in Montana. This remote northwest corner of Big Sky Country is worth the drive and offers Class I scenic floats on the upper and lower Kootenai River, but adrenaline seekers can navigate the middle Kootenai River for Class IV+ whitewater and a view of the rowdy Kootenai Falls—some of Montana’s biggest water. 

FLATHEAD RIVER

Looking toward Glacier National Park, the Middle Fork of the Flathead is a designated Wild and Scenic River, and all of the West Glacier rafting companies run the whitewater stretch as well as scenic floats on the lower parts of the Middle Fork and the North Fork of the Flathead (also a Wild and Scenic River). The North and Middle forks comprise Glacier’s western borders and offer breathtaking views into Glacier National Park. Whitewater difficulty varies with flow levels, the scenery is unimaginable and the water is an unforgettable crystal-clear aqua. This is definitely one of the most gorgeous parts of the state—and the country for that matter—to be on the water. In fact, Glacier Guides and Montana Raft is offering a half-day whitewater rafting or scenic float trip for two. (Make your way to the end of this blog post for more information.)

The West Fork of the Flathead River runs through West Glacier. Stop on Belton Bridge to catch a glimpse of one of the more peaceful portions of the river. Photo: Emily Hall

GO WITH A GUIDE:

Guided rafting trips are always your best bet and the safest way to exploreWestern Montana’s rivers. If you’re new to rafting, but you’re ready for the adrenaline rush, go with one of Glacier Country’s many experienced rafting companies. Western Montana outfitters and guides customize floats to your comfort level, whether you’re looking for the thrill of our biggest runs, a scenic raft trip or a family float.

Western Montana river guides focus on quality of experience with half and full-day interpretive trips and multiday floats. All of our guides are Montana lovers. They’re enthusiastic, highly trained, professional, friendly and as knowledgeable about the area as they are about how to keep you entertained (not that the scenery alone isn’t capable of that). Some of our guides have happily been at this for over 30 years!

Sometimes one day on the river just isn’t enough. Multiday rafting experiences are offered for those who long to sleep under the star-studded big sky and enjoy steaming, organic coffee riverside in the cool quiet of a Montana morning. If you’re not up for experiencing Montana’s backcountry by foot, overnight rafting is the way to go. Guides do all of the work, from setting up tents to cooking delicious, locally sourced meals, while you sit back and enjoy Montana by boat.  

When you’ve reached the river takeout, end your rafting trip on the best note possible by heading to the nearest watering hole for a local Montana brew and a chat with the locals, who, chances are, also spent the day on the water.

A group of Western Montana adventurer’s make their way through the raging waters of the Flathead River.

RULES OF THE RAFT:

Water is wild and safety is a priority. First and foremost, go with a guide! You’re in good hands with licensed, professional Western Montana river guides, who basically live on the water. It’s important to listen to their instructions…they know what they’re talking about. And, as always, wear a personal flotation device (PFD). Also be sure to wear the right clothing (including a hat) and sunscreen for a hot, sunny day on the water. Bring your camera, and, if you’re getting into whitewater, be prepared to get splashed.

Guide companies rarely ride just one river. To help you sort through your options, here’s a list of some of our region’s finest guides and outfitters, all of whom have made their life’s work out of ensuring your river adventure is second to none.

 


 

Glacier Guides and Montana Raft have been riding Montana’s wild and scenic rivers for 30 years.

RAFTING GIVEAWAY: Glacier Guides and Montana Raft is giving away a Half-Day Whitewater Rafting or Scenic Float Trip for Two, plus, they’ll help outfit you for a day on the river with GGMR Nalgene water bottles, Chums sun/eyeglass retainers, sunscreen, lip balm and GGMR hats!

This contest has closed. Visit glaciermt.com for more giveaway opportunities.