Category Archives: Fall

Reel Talk: Fall Fishing in Montana is Phenomenal

Autumn anglers, this one’s for you. Fall fishing is upon us in Western Montana’s Glacier Country, and we’re chomping at the bit. While fishing the pristine waters of Montana’s rivers, lakes and streams is phenomenal year-round, autumn offers an incredibly authentic angling experience: fewer folks on the water, quieter rivers, and—spoiler alert—October and November offer some of the year’s best trout fishing, and hardcore anglers know it. We may as well call it “trophy trout season.”

Casting for cutthroat trout on the Middle Fork of the Flathead River. Photo: Montana Office of Tourism and Business Development

RIVERS + FISHING ACCESS SITES
If casting a line in a river or stream meandering peacefully through fall’s golden landscape, breathing in the cool mountain air, and hearing the bugle of a bull elk sounds like paradise to you, then grab your waders and come on over to experience the solitude of the season. Good hatches are on tap and monster brown trout are spawning—we wait all year for fall lake runs.

Fish the magical blue-ribbon trout waters of the Blackfoot River, made famous by Norman Maclean’s “A River Runs Through It” and offering some of Montana’s best fishing. Get out your mahoganies, midges and blue-winged olives for fall fly-fishing here, as well as on the Clark Fork River where rainbows are on the rise and fall colors are in full effect. Or, find multiple fishing access site along the winding and scenic Bitterroot River, flowing through the beautiful Bitterroot Valley and ready for your mayflies, hoppers and worms.

For experienced anglers who know how to navigate big rivers and plan to fish with streamers up to five inches long, the Kootenai River below Libby Dam offers huge rainbow trout, a boat ramp and easily accessible shorelines.

Up north near Glacier National Park, the Middle Fork of the Flathead River provides a scenic 9-mile fall float from Moccasin Creek to West Glacier—which takes about four hours this time of year—in stunning emerald-colored waters full of cutthroat trout.

Multiple fishing access sites are available throughout the the state. Consult Montana’s Fishing Access Sites Field Guide for maps, species and land information.

Keeping it reel on the Bitterroot River. Photo: Shea Shaughnessy

LAKE FISHING IN MONTANA
Fishing in Montana usually conjures up images of casting a fly rod in an idyllic river setting, but Western Montana boasts some pretty phenomenal lake fishing. The deep, cold waters of Flathead Lake—the largest freshwater lake west of the Mississippi—offers cutthroat and lake trout as well as whitefish and yellow pike. The Mission Mountain scenery is incredible and western hospitality abounds in the surrounding communities. Seeley Lake is a year-round recreation destination, offering stunning views of the Swan and Mission ranges and excellent bass fishing.

Straddling the U.S.-Canada border in the northwest corner of the state, the 90-mile-long Lake Koocanusa reservoir has been known to produce 10-pound rainbow trout in the fall—one of our best-kept secrets. Lake Como, a few miles north of the quintessential Old West town of Darby, is quite a popular fishing spot in the warmer season. Fall provides an opportunity to fish this local’s favorite with a little more solitude—and bask in the beauty of autumn in the Bitterroot Valley while you’re at it.

Jigging is our preferred method for deep lake fishing, and heavily-weighted jigging spoons your best bet. If you’re stillwater savvy, you might consider lake fly-fishing. Some of the largest fish you’ll find by fly may actually come out of a lake. Make sure to use a special stillwater indicator.

Going on a fishing trip with a knowledgeable outfitter like Glacier Raft Co. can help ensure a great catch. Photo: Glacier Raft Co.

GLACIER COUNTRY FISHING GUIDES
World-class fly-fishing tends to attract world-class fishing guides, and Glacier Country is chock-full of experienced and friendly outfitters and guides with the local knowledge and inside scoop on fishing in Western Montana. They’re always ready and eager to take you out to their favorite fishing spot and help you land the big one. From finding the right fall fly, to steering you toward the best stream, to guiding you down the river on a daylong or overnight float trip, this is their life’s work, and they love every second of it—you will, too.

While wade-fishing is the most common way to fish Western Montana’s rivers and streams, float fishing is becoming increasingly popular, especially on larger rivers, and hiring a guide is your best bet for a successful float-fishing adventure.

Another reason to go with a guide? Western Montana boasts endless off-the-beaten path “secret spot” streams, trickling mountain creeks and hidden alpine lakes. The best way to find these local treasures is to go with a guide who’ll happily share their spot.

For more information on outfitters and guides, visit the Montana Outfitters and Guides Association at montanaoutfitters.org.

Western Montana is a fly-fishing mecca.

FALL FISHING TIPS + TRICKS IN WESTERN MONTANA
Fish the fall run. Stripping big streamers will bring in the biggest brown trout during their fall run mid-October through November or early December. Find a stretch of river downstream of the spawning run of a lake or larger river.

Head for the hatch. November’s baetis (blue-winged olive) hatch offers excellent fall dry-fly-fishing at a time when most of our rivers are experiencing low to no fishing pressure.

Be prepared for any kind of weather and dress accordingly. We can’t say it enough: Montana’s fall weather can have a flair for the dramatic. You could wake up to fresh snow and be fishing in a T-shirt by noon. Or vice versa. Check weather reports before you head out, and always be prepared. Base layers are essential this time of year, especially when wade fishing in a cold stream.

Permits, rules and regulations. A valid fishing license is required for all types of fishing on state waters. To fish in Montana, most anglers need two licenses: a conservation license and a fishing license. Visit Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks for state fishing regulations—including catch and release guidelines and daily possession limits.

Fishing on tribal lands. Western Montana is home to two Indian reservations—the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of the Flathead Reservation and the Blackfeet Tribe of the Blackfeet Reservation. Special rules and regulations apply when recreating on tribal lands. If you’re planning to fish Blackfeet Nation Indian Reservation land, visit Blackfeet Fish and Wildlife Department. For Flathead Reservation fishing regulations, visit the Natural Resources Department of the Confederated Salish & Kootenai Tribes.

For more information on autumn angling adventures in Western Montana, click here or contact Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks.

7 Reasons to Turn a Griz Game Into a Weekend Getaway in Missoula

It’s no secret that we’re serious Griz fans here in Western Montana. The college-football community of Missoula boasts mountains of pride for the Division 1 Montana Grizzlies. Every football season Griz fans flock to the University of Montana’s Washington-Grizzly Stadium to cheer on our beloved team.

Missoula’s population jumps by more than 30 percent on these days! It’s not just the game we love, but the energy and excitement of 24,000 feet stomping to “We Will Rock You” by Queen, the boom of a cannon fired at every touchdown, and the halftime shows by the Grizzly Marching Band, featuring songs from artists like The Beatles and Pentatonix.

A Griz-eye view of Washington-Grizzly Stadium. Photo: Destination Missoula

The game-time spirit is palpable and unwavering. Eager tailgaters set up as soon as possible and the grounds around the stadium are transformed into a celebration of food trucks, vendors and die-hard fans.

With three home games left this season, come immerse yourself in one of Western Montana’s most prized events and explore the idyllic mountain town of Missoula—a Glacier Country arts, culture and recreation hot spot full of charm.

1. AUTHENTIC MONTANA LODGING + HOSPITALITY

Missoula boasts almost 70 hotels, motels and inns, from national chains to locally-owned establishments, and the warmest western hospitality around. Take note and plan ahead: Missoula hotels fill up fast for home games. If you don’t score one in time don’t fret—Missoula has plenty of VRBO and Airbnb rentals.

2. FOOD + DRINK FUN

We love to eat and drink, and we always want the best of both. From fine dining to cafés, and everything in between—including epic tailgate fare—there’s literally something for everyone in this community of creative, sustainable and delicious local cuisine. With 10 breweries, three distilleries, two wineries and a new cidery in a town of 75,000 people, it’s pretty obvious we’re serious about crafting beverages. We’re not lacking for good coffee shops here, either. Seasonal flavors abound this time of year, so it’s an excellent opportunity to savor a taste of Montana.

Enjoy a pumpkin beer or other seasonal brew at one of Missoula’s craft breweries.

3. ENDLESS THINGS TO DO IN MISSOULA

This is one Montana town that bustles year-round. Pack adventure onto either side of the Griz Game festivities. Missoula has a fast-growing renowned live music scene, museums, art galleries and unique shopping options, plus three rivers and an endless system of wilderness trails, so there’s plenty of outdoor recreation to be found here as well.

Hike the “M” for a gorgeous view of Missoula’s fall colors.

4. LOCAL EVENTS LIVEN UP TOWN YEAR-ROUND

Here’s what Missoula’s got on tap during the next three Grizzly home games.

OCTOBER 6 – GRIZ vs. PORTLAND STATE VIKINGS
It’s Grizzly Homecoming Weekend!

Land on Friday and catch a Montana Film Festival show at the Roxy, then stop by Montgomery Distilling for a tour and tasting before taking part in First Friday Gallery Night (don’t miss the Radius Gallery). While downtown, grab dinner at any one of downtown Missoula’s eateries—you can’t go wrong.

Saturday, wake up and head downtown for the Homecoming Parade, featuring music performances, dancers, the Shriners, and more. Then it’s game time. After the game, follow the crowd to a local pub for post-game festivities.

Sunday, grab brunch at Draught Works Brewery and then head to Turner Farms Annual Pumpkin Fest for harvest fun. End the weekend at The Top Hat for a unique five-course Cider Dinner in partnership with Western Cider.

OCTOBER 27 – GRIZ vs. UC DAVIS AGGIES
Join in on the pre-Halloween fun that’s sure to take over Missoula this weekend.

Friday night enjoy the casual atmosphere and contemporary Asian cuisine at the Mustard Seed Asian Café or try Missoula’s new dine-in movie theater.

Saturday morning grab coffee and freshly-baked pastries at the Missoula Farmers Market (voted best of the West),  and the Clark Fork Market. Hike to the M and then head to the game early for some tailgating—hit the GAS Tailgate Party to purchase food and drinks, watch the pregame show, and listen to live music (or a DJ). After the game, make your way to the county fairgrounds for Missoula’s Haunted House.

On Sunday, grab Biers + Brunch at Bayern Brewing and then head to the University of Montana for costumed revelry at the Skeleton Skedaddle 5k & 1k races.

The energy in the stands is electric, particularly on a beautiful fall day. Photo: Destination Missoula 

NOVEMBER 17 – GRIZ vs. MONTANA STATE BOBCATS  

You’ve got two concert options for Friday night in Missoula: The Devil Makes Three takes the stage at 8 p.m. at the historic Wilma theater, and Jeffrey Foucault plays the Top Hat at 9 p.m.

See a show AND the game. The Top Hat and the Wilma are two of the hottest venues in the Northwest. Photo: Neaubauer Media/Logjam Presents

Saturday before the game, stroll the Missoula Valley Winter Market—a local farmers market—for coffee, fresh baked goods, home-grown produce, and local arts and crafts (perfect for Montana souvenirs). Then, walk along the river trail to the game.

Sunday, grab breakfast at The Catalyst Café & Espresso Bar and then hit the streets for some early holiday shopping in Missoula’s downtown galleries and shops. Start at the north end of Higgins Avenue and make your way across the bridge (over Caras Park and the scenic Clark Fork River) to Missoula’s Hip Strip. Grab a sweet treat from Bernice’s Bakery or Le Petit Outre.

5. MISSOULA IS SURROUNDED BY DAY-TRIP-WORTHY ATTRACTIONS

From Missoula you could venture out in any direction and find an authentic Montana adventure. Epic day trips are a dime a dozen here.

Take a scenic drive down the Bitterroot Valley exploring several charming towns along the way. A short way from Stevensville is the Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge, home to various types of wildlife. If you visit in October, you are likely to see large flocks of Canadian Geese resting from migration on the ponds.

Root for maroon and silver but also check out our yellows and oranges. Photo: Donnie Sexton

Or, start early and drive north through the stunning Mission Valley and stop near Moiese at the National Bison Range where you can witness 350 – 500 head of bison; if you’re visiting during the fall rut you may even hear the bugle of a bull elk.

6. INSIDER TIPS + TRICKS TO MAKE THE ADVENTURE EVEN BETTER

Pre-Game Like a Griz Fan: When it comes to tailgating, a Griz fan’s game is strong. Get in on the action and mingle with the locals before the game.

Ask a Local: We’re known for being some of the friendliest folks around, so if you’re looking for the inside scoop on where to eat, drink, or play, just ask us.

7. GETTING TO AND AROUND MISSOULA IS EASY

Flying into the Missoula International Airport (MSO) is pretty convenient, serviced by multiple major airlines with direct flights regularly arriving from 11 cities across the U.S. Once you land, car rentals are easy. Or, leave the driving to someone else and call Uber or Lyft, both of which are available in Missoula.

Pro-Tip: Park your car downtown and walk the Kim Williams Trail along the Clark Fork River directly to the University of Montana.

Discover Fall in Glacier Country

We’re sweet on every season here, but we’re especially smitten with autumn. The tapestry of golden hues and hillsides dusted with the first snow complemented by the impossibly blue sky gets us every time, and fall brings a few of our favorite things: flannels, festivals, scenic road trips, seasonal microbrews and farmers markets brimming with pumpkins, heritage apples, ciders and more of our favorite harvest flavors.

Not to brag, but our fall look is pretty spectacular.

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The crisp mountain air beckons, so we get out and about for fall frolic, and then we cozy up fireside. Autumn is our golden season—it’s vibrant, it’s quiet, it’s not to be missed. Traffic is lighter and shoulder season prices kick in. It’s a wonderful time to hop in the car and take a road trip around Glacier Country.

Here’s where and how we like to spend beloved fall days in our corner of Montana.

INTERSTATE 90 CORRIDOR – MISSOULA

The thing about Missoula is that you can explore one of Glacier Country’s hippest cultural hot spots, which bustles all year long, and then pretty much take off in any direction to add a scenic fall drive into the mix. While in town, explore the “Best of the West” outdoor market scene, visit one of 10 breweries, three distilleries and two wineries, pick out a pumpkin and conquer the corn maze, or hike any one of several trails; we love the Rattlesnake Wilderness in the fall.

Fall Bonus: Montana Cider Week (September 29 – October 7) hosts events throughout Montana, with multiple festivities taking place in Glacier Country communities. See what’s happening where and when, and prioritize a stop at Missoula’s new (and first ever) cidery—Western Cider—for a tour and a taste.

We love dining out during all our seasons, but fall cuisine has some extra special flavor. Photo: Top Hat Lounge

Trip Tip: A Missoula favorite, the Top Hat serves up mouthwatering cuisine—like chicken spaghetti squash—amid live music and friendly community vibes. Plan your visit around one of their Tunes & Taste music-infused dinner theme nights.

BITTERROOT VALLEY

This lush forested valley nestled between the Bitterroot and Sapphire mountain ranges is prime for leaf peeping, and the fall rut makes it a spectacular time for watching wildlife at the Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge. Begin in Missoula, and take U.S. Highway 93 south toward Hamilton, stopping along the way in some of Glacier Country’s most charming towns.

Hamilton’s Daly Mansion boasts 50 kinds of trees—all gorgeous this time of year—and offers haunted hayrides at the end of October. Top off your tour at Backroad Cider or betterRoot Cidery for some fresh-pressed deliciousness—the core of fall flavor.

It doesn’t get much more festive than Stevensville’s Scarecrow Festival. Photo: Donnie Sexton

Fall Bonus: Plan your trip around a Ravalli County Museum Ghost Tour, Victor’s Field of Screams, Stevensville’s famous Scarecrow Festival or Hamilton’s McIntosh Apple Day—hailed as one of Montana’s Best Fall Festivals.

Trip Tip: Bike “The Root” instead! The Bitterroot Trail is a 50-mile-long paved bike path following the same route mentioned above, perfect for a vibrant autumn cycling adventure.

TOUR 200

Montana Tour 200 in Sanders County from Dixon to Heron travels along scenic riverbanks (bursting with fall color), active wildlife and ample outdoor recreation opportunities. Stop for a soak in the mineral waters at Quinn’s Hot Springs Resort, nestled in Paradise along the Clark Fork River. Afterwards, stop in Thompson Falls for a home-cooked meal at Minnie’s Montana Café, or enjoy a drink and exceptional fall views from the deck Big Eddy’s.

Fall greets winter in Thompson Falls. Photo: Kate Baxter

Trip Tip: Lace up your hiking boots near Trout Creek and hike to the beautiful Vermilion Falls or Graves Creek Falls.

SEELEY-SWAN CORRIDOR

Between the stunning Swan and majestic Mission mountain ranges, the Seeley-Swan Valley boasts hundreds of pristine alpine lakes and beautiful hiking spots. Kayak around picturesque Holland Lake, canoe the Clearwater Canoe Trail or hike Morrell Falls, all spectacular ways to take in the fall spectacle. This exceptionally scenic valley is known for its large population of tamaracks—unique pine trees that lose their needles in the fall, setting Montana’s hillsides aflame with vivid shades of yellow and orange.

If you take U.S. Highway 83 from Seeley Lake all the way to Bigfork (as you should), this storybook village on the northeast shore of Flathead Lake, does not disappoint. Bigfork’s Whistling Andy Distilling serves up award-winning whiskeys and spirits made with Montana-grown grains and fruits. Savor some Harvest Select Whiskey, perfect for the season. From Bigfork, head south on State Highway 35 to The Raven Bar & Grill in Wood’s Bay for delicious waterfront dining, craft cocktails and some of the best views in the area.

A road trip to an event on Flathead Lake is always filled with incredible views.

Fall Bonus: Visit Seeley Lake mid-October and meet some of Montana’s finest artists, see their work and tour area studios, galleries and museums during the Alpine Artisans – Tour of the Arts, or land in Bigfork on October 13 for Tamarack Time!—an annual local’s-favorite amateur food competition akin to a county fair—and be sure you’re hungry.

Trip Tip: Make your Glacier Country getaway an overnight adventure with an authentic Montana lodging experience at the Double Arrow Resort in Seeley Lake, offering four-season recreation, cozy accommodations and incredibly warm hospitality.

FLATHEAD CORRIDOR

The west side of Flathead Lake is equally as scenic and charming as the east. If you’re coming from the south on U.S. Highway 93 or State Highway 200, stop in Moiese for wildlife watching at the National Bison Range. You may even get to experience bull elk bugling in the fall rut. Further north, in Charlo, visit Ninepipes Museum of Early Montana and Ninepipe National Wildlife Refuge with stunning wide-open panoramas of the Mission Mountains. Then, on to Flathead Lake where jaw-dropping views await.

Fall Bonus: The Tamarack BrewFest take place in Lakeside, October 13. Enjoy live music, line dancing, canoe races, local vendors and evening bonfires, all taking place in this stunning fall Flathead Lake location.

HIGHWAY 2 CORRIDOR LIBBY TO KALISPELL

Running through Western Montana’s northern region, Highway 2 travels along some of the most scenic places in Glacier Country and introduces road-trippers to off-the-beaten-path treasures and well-known attractions. Begin in Libby, one of the region’s most scenic and quietest corners and end in Kalispell, the perfect mix of small-town Montana and old-west charm. Ghost chasers can head to the Conrad Mansion for a ghost tour.

Fall Bonus: Meander 4,000 bales of hay at Kalispell’s Whitefish Stage Organic Farm hay bale maze. This family-fun autumn activity also includes a barrel train ride, hay ride, super trampoline, petting zoo, pumpkins and more.

Get lost in Glacier Country. Photo: Whitefish Stage Organic Farm

Trip Tip: Linger in Kalispell for good food, shopping and museums, plus the whimsical autumn wonderland of Sweet Pickin’s Pumpkin Patch, where you’ll find plenty more than gourds.

GLACIER NATIONAL PARK SURROUNDING AREA

The park is absolutely breathtaking in autumn. Traffic is light, shoulder-season prices are in effect, and communities in and beyond the park are celebrating the season. Explore the outdoors by boat in Whitefish on Whitefish Lake, or take to the trails by bike or by foot on The Whitefish Trail or the Swift Creek Loop, and then stop in for delicious food at Casey’s Whitefish pub and grill, featuring rooftop dining options—especially scenic right about now.

Raise a glass to our amazing local brews at the Great Northwest Oktoberfest. Photo: Montana Office of Tourism and Business Development

A bit closer to the park, Columbia Falls offers the perfect place to swap adventure stories over burgers and craft beer at Backslope Brewing. Try one of their rotators on tap this fall: Chocolate Hazelnut Stout. When it’s time to turn in, Cedar Creek Lodge offers a truly exceptional Montana lodging experience, and their pool and hot tub are open year-round.

Fall Bonus: The Great Northwest Oktoberfest takes place in Whitefish, and, because one weekend is not enough, join us for two weekends of authentic German beer, food, music and fun with a Montana flair, September 27 – 29 and October 4 – 6.

Trip Tip: There’s still time to get on the green at Meadow Lakes Golf Course, open until mid to late October.

We packed quite a bit of autumn adventure in for you, and now it’s time for you to pack your bags and head to Western Montana’s Glacier Country for the perfect fall road-trip experience.

Scenic Drives + Small-Town Discovery: Meet Thompson Falls + Tour 200

Thompson Falls is stunning in every season. Photo: Kate Baxter

First things first: Let’s talk 200. Discovery is inevitable on this road less traveled. State Highway 200 offers access to a slice of Montana that may not be on your radar, but should be. This treasure trove of outdoor recreation in the northwest part of the state is also chock-full of small-town surprises for those who like to wander off the beaten path.

The section of Highway 200 from Dixon to Heron is so scenic it’s been designated “Montana Tour 200.” It humbly winds its way through the Cabinet and Coeur d’Alene mountain ranges, with diverse side trips, scenic drives and backroad adventures offered all along the route. Recreation and solitude abound here, and so does authentic western hospitality. Folks are friendly and the lodging is cozy.

Where to stop…

Milepost 50 is where it’s at. Touted as a town “where the weather is always better than the forecast,” Thompson Falls boasts the warmest climate in the state. But that’s not all that makes it a year-round outdoor recreation hotspot. Nestled between the Lolo and Kootenai national forests, public lands are plenty, and “getting away from it all” is easy as pie. (We’ll talk more about pie in a sec.)

Hunting for solitude along a trail near Thompson Falls. Photo: Thompson Falls Main Street

Finding solitude here is pretty simple. Thousands of miles of trails offer adventure in every direction. Fall and winter are especially good for hunting and fishing—Outdoor Life magazine listed Thompson Falls #16 of the 35 best hunting and fishing towns in the country. It’s also a haven for hikers that’s exceptionally beautiful in the golden hues of autumn, and winter offers a snow-globe setting that’s simply magical by snowshoe. Pro tip: Quinn’s Hot Springs is right down the road in Paradise, and a post-adventure soak in Paradise sounds pretty heavenly, if you ask us.

Steam rises from the pools at Quinn’s Hot Springs Resort in Paradise, Montana.

Speaking of winter, one of our favorite winter activities is snowmobiling, and the Thompson Falls area offers a motorized mecca for powder hounds. There are plenty of winter recreation opportunities including snowshoeing and sledding, but make sure to bring your own gear with you when you come.

Snowshoeing with the best kind of companion. Photo: Thompson Falls Main Street

In short, Thompson Falls is pretty awesome and totally unassuming. It’s also so friendly it’ll knock your socks right off and then offer you a nice spot to put your feet up by a warm fireplace. Actually, you’ll find that’s pretty common in Western Montana’s Glacier Country. Come Tour 200 and see for yourself.

THOMPSON TIPS:

Christmas on Main Street
Get festive in the Falls the first full weekend in December. Shop Main Street’s BUY LOCAL! event with fun activities, including the Main Street Scavenger Hunt, topped off with an evening parade for the whole family. The weekend also includes a musical at the local theater, a gingerbread competition at the Old Jail Museum and a Christmas Craft Show.

Island Park
There’s a little island on the Clark Fork River, and that little island has a park on it where you can view the Thompson Falls dam, a fish ladder, the Clark Fork River and valley, powerhouses, two bridges (including the newly renovated Historic High Bridge) and an old substation. Take a stroll down one of many trails and enjoy a picnic lunch with an incredible view.

Built in 1915, the Thompson Falls Dam can be found on the Clark Fork River.

Minnie’s Montana Café
This mom-and-pop must-stop is a local favorite for homestyle cooking and comfort food, and, of course, that pie we mentioned earlier. The pie so good here you’ll be wondering if your grandmother is hiding in Minnie’s kitchen.

You must try Minnies Montana Cafe on Main Street.

Little Bear Ice Cream
Ice Cream in the winter? Yes please. Even after pie? Absolutely. When it’s some of the best ice cream in the state, you’ll be in the mood for Little Bear any time of year.

Save room for dessert at Little Bear.

See you on 200.

Cozy Up: Hot Drinks + Sweet Treats in Western Montana

As we trade in autumn hues for winter white, we gravitate toward all things warm and cozy. Western Montana is full of small-town coffee stops, diners, cafés and bakeries perfect for that warm caffeine boost and tasty treat you’re craving with these cooler temps. The next time you’re in Glacier Country enjoying our winter wonder, hit up one of our favorite sweet spots. The over-50-mile-stretch from Missoula down into the Bitterroot Valley is dotted with deliciousness, and the drive is a scenic one to boot.

Bernice’s Bakery – Missoula, MT

Watch artisan bakers prepare everything from cakes and breads to scones and macaroons, right in front of your eyes. Since 1978, Bernice’s has been providing Missoula with what some might call “the best sugar cookie west of the Mississippi.” Don’t believe us? Stop by for a perfectly iced, Montana-shaped sugar cookie and try to tell us we’re wrong. Plus, cookies always pair well with hot tasty beverages and Bernice’s has some of the best.

Enjoy a delectable macaroon with your latte at Bernice’s Bakery. Photo: Ashley Caitlin Photography.

Red Rooster Artisan Bakery – Hamilton, MT

If you’re a shameless sweet-coffee drinker or a hot cocoa fanatic, this is your place. To complement their artisan baked breads and pastries, Red Rooster often lists specials like “The Ugly Mug”—a caramel mocha with whipped cream and caramel chocolate drizzle. Duck into their shop for a winter warmup.

At Red Rooster Bakery in Hamilton, there are so many pastry options, so why not try them all? (We won’t tell… we promise.) Photo: Red Rooster.

Taste of Paris – Hamilton, MT

More of a brunch person? Don’t worry, we love brunch. This French Bistro is arguably the closest you’ll get to France in Montana. Stop by on Sunday for their AMAZING crepes.

Montana meets France with a Taste of Paris crepe. Photo: Taste of Paris.

Morningstar Caffeine & Cuisine – Stevensville, MT

If the first thing you think when you wake up is “I need caffeine” this is the place for you. Stop by for the main event—coffee—and stay for the quiches, pastries, soups and sandwiches.

Start your morning off right with a huckleberry bear claw from Stevensville’s Morningstar Café.

Florence Coffee Hut – Bitterroot

Sprinkled throughout the Bitterroot Valley and much of Western Montana, this coffee hut is always a comforting complement to a long day of Glacier Country exploration. Look for these adorable teal-colored drive-thrus in Missoula, Lolo, Florence (of course), Hamilton and Stevensville.

You’ll be hard pressed to travel through Glacier Country without seeing one of the famous Florence Coffee huts.

 

Le Petit Outre – Missoula, MT

Hearth-fired European-style breads and decadent pastries are rolled out every morning in one of the most delicious bakery cases you’ve ever laid eyes on. With names like Bacca Florentine, Kouign Amann and Pain au Nuit, it’ll be hard to decide what to pick. Cozy up in the bakery with an espresso and one of these incredible baked goods.

Kick back with a cannelle and coffee at Le Petit on Missoula’s Hip Strip. PHOTO: Rio Chantel Photography.

Biking Montana’s Bitterroot Trail: Missoula to Hamilton

Biking on the Bitterroot Trail. PHOTO: Saara Snow

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

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

Fall foliage colors the Bitterroot landscape. PHOTO: Donnie Sexton

START PEDALING: Missoula

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

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

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

Stops along the way…

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

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

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

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

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

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

Biking near Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge.

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

FINISH UP: Hamilton

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

Hamilton’s Daly Mansion. PHOTO: Destination Missoula

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

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

Pumpkin patch in Missoula. PHOTO: Destination Missoula

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

Family Fall Fest: Missoula

October 21, 2017, 1 – 4 p.m.

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

Haunted Hayrides: Hamilton

October 27 – 28, 2017, 7 – 10 p.m.

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

Hamilton’s Daly Mansion. PHOTO: Destination Missoula

Field of Screams: Victor

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

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

Sweet Pickin’s Pumpkin Patch: Kalispell

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

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

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

Festival of the Dead

November 2, 2017, 6 – 8:30 p.m.

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

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

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

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!

Big Sky Beats: Music Festivals and Concerts in Western Montana

Western Montana’s jaw-dropping natural beauty and wide open spaces are perfect for nurturing the imagination. That means there’s no shortage of creative genius in our roots. Artists are drawn here from all over the world. Our communities are alive with arts and culture, and our festivities are often centered around one of our favorite things—music, which we take pretty seriously around these parts.

Glacier Country offers the perfect combination of diverse venues, small-town charm and breathtaking scenery, so it’s no surprise that there’s always some form of musical entertainment to take in. From seasonal symphonies to outdoor concerts and festivals featuring local and national acts to local bands in favorite bars, music echoes in these mountains any chance it gets…which is pretty often. Well, all the time, actually.

We host some of the best music festivals west of the Continental Divide, in unique indoor and outdoor settings big and small. Plan your late summer or early fall visit around one of the events below, put on your dancing shoes, and come hear what’s playing under the big sky.

One of Western Montana’s newest concert locales is now open and offering a rare treat for music lovers in the 4000-capacity open-air venue right on the edge of the Blackfoot River adjacent to Kettlehouse Brewery.

Travelers’ Rest Festival

August 12 – 13, 2017
For over a decade, Big Sky Brewing Company has hosted concerts on their scenic Missoula grounds, and they’ve recently (earlier this year!) unveiled a brand new state-of-the-art amphitheater, designed with larger productions in mind. The August 2017 Travelers’ Rest Festival (presented by The Decemberists) brings stellar artists and fresh mini donuts. What’s not to love?

Festival Amadeus

August 8 – 13, 2017
Mozart in the mountains? We’re all about that. Seven days of classical music against the backdrop of Glacier National Park sounds like a pretty good time to us. The Glacier Symphony and Chorale is an established cultural treasure and Festival Amadeus offers an engaging lineup of highly acclaimed musicians in Whitefish.

A road trip to an event on Flathead Lake is always filled with incredible views.

Flathead Lake Blues Festival

August 18 – 19, 2017
Enjoy the deep south in the wild West with blues under the big sky. The Flathead Lake Blues Festival in Polson showcases musicians from all over Western Montana, situated right on the shores of stunning Flathead Lake. This year’s festival features Ladies of the Blues and several International Blues Challenge competitors.

Bitterroot Celtic Games and Gathering

August 19 – 20, 2017
Listening to bagpipes in Montana’s beautiful Bitterroot Valley is one way to enjoy a summer visit to Glacier Country. Come to Hamilton’s historic Daly Mansion for pipes, drums and Irish step dancing—and a “Shamrock vs. Thistle” Irish whisky and scotch comparison, of course.

The River City Roots Festival is fun-filled free community concert held in Downtown Missoula.
PHOTO: Athena Photography/Missoula Downtown Association

River City Roots Festival

August 25 – 26, 2017
For a true taste of the heart and soul of Missoula, plan your visit around its signature event, the River City Roots Festival. Recognized as the 2009 Montana Tourism Event of the Year, the Roots Fest is a free two-day festival offering exceptional music, local art and family fun. Dancing in the streets highly encouraged.

The Crown Guitar Workshop & Festival

August 27 – September 2, 2017
Billed as “summer’s best backyard party,” The Crown Guitar Workshop & Festival at Averill’s Flathead Lake Lodge in Bigfork draws guitar lovers from all over the world. Hear music legends perform in a small meadow venue and enjoy family-style meals in the log cabin Main Lodge.

 

Caras Park in Missoula has many outdoor music events throughout the spring, summer and fall.

Symphony in the Park

August 13, 2017
Grab a blanket, pack your picnic basket and head to Caras Park for this free, family-friendly downtown Missoula summertime tradition—an evening of pops favorites and classical music overlooking the Clark Fork River.

Happy Listening,
Glacier Country Tourism

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.