Category Archives: Florence

Holiday Charm in Western Montana

Winter in Western Montana’s Glacier Country is pure magic; we really know how to deck the halls and celebrate the season of giving with all things merry and bright. It’s also true that winter’s the time of year when it’s pretty easy to get a little stir crazy, which is why we fill the season with holiday events and celebrations galore.

Deck the halls! Bigfork, Montana shows off its western holiday spirit. Photo: Bigfork Chamber of Commerce

HOLIDAY STROLLS AND PARADES OF LIGHT

You would be hard-pressed to find a more authentic Western Montana evening than a Christmas stroll. Wander the streets and enjoy the perfect combination of wagon rides, chestnut roasting and vendors selling Montana-made goods and artisan crafts. The holiday celebration doesn’t end there. Experience the splendor of a Parade of Light and prepare to be swept up in the magic of the holidays. Sightings include Santa, reindeer and floats adorned in lights galore.

Glacier Country gives family time a whole new meaning. Photo: Chelsea Culp

HOLIDAY CHEER AT THE THEATER

If you are ready to cozy up inside for a unique and unforgettable winter experience you will be pleasantly surprised to find out that the state’s rugged exterior belies a highly developed artistic sensibility. Musicals, symphony concerts, ballets and more dot the region during the holiday season and are a Western Montana specialty. Attend the timeless performance of “The Nutcracker Ballet” (University of Montana’s Adams Center), enjoy a buttered popcorn and a soda or adult beverage while watching classics like “It’s a Wonderful Life” (Roxy Theater), or listen to This Sacred Season and “Messiah” with the Glacier Symphony (Whitefish Performing Arts Center). Here are many ways you can add a splash of culture to the holiday season.

The grace and tradition of Missoula’s Nutcracker performance will be the highlight of your holiday season. Photo: Garden City Ballet – Neil Chaput de Saintonge

HOLIDAY BAZAAR

One of the things Western Montana does best is put on a good holiday bazaar. Embrace the spirit of giving this season with gifts from locally sourced and canned foods, hand-crafted jewelry, pottery, woodworking, handmade soaps and other Montana artisan goods and wares. While you’re browsing, be sure to enjoy a cup of cocoa and mingle with the locals—we’re known for being some of the friendliest folks around.

So many different and amazing choices for children and adults alike. Photo: HandMADE Montana -Carol Lynn Lapotka

NEW YEAR’S EVE

Glacier Country Montana is always ready to make your trip memorable, but there is a special atmosphere around New Year’s Eve. Whether you are looking for a night out dancing, a fireworks send-off under the vast night sky, or a low-key night downtown without the big-city crowds—we’ve got the best place to close out the holidays and make your 2019 resolutions.

Send off 2018 with a bang. Photo: Flathead Beacon – Lido Vizzutti

MUST-STOP TOWNS BURSTING WITH HOLIDAY CHARM

Bigfork: Located on the bay of Flathead Lake, the storybook town of Bigfork gets a little magical around the holidays. The community “elves” come together every year to adorn the town with wreaths, ribbon, garland and lights, creating authentic Western Montana holiday charm.

Whitefish: The quintessential mountain resort town of Whitefish goes all out creating an enchanting winter wonderland. A stroll through downtown will yield bells, wreaths, boughs and lights ornamenting each business and weaving through the streets.

Ovando: Another stop-worthy town is Ovando. This quaint (and beyond adorable) town lays on the charm for the holiday season. Downtown, the 100-year-old buildings create the atmosphere of an authentic Old West holiday.

Not many places celebrate the holidays like Whitefish, Montana. Photo: Brian Schott

You can also check out a full listing of holiday events at glaciermt.com/events.

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

Homegrown + Handmade: Farmers Markets in Western Montana

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RONAN FARMERS MARKET
Thursdays 4 p.m. – 6 p.m.
Ronan Visitors Center
More info

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Winter Family Fun in Western Montana: Getaway to Glacier Together

Winter’s the time of year when it’s pretty easy to get a little stir crazy. But in Western Montana’s Glacier Country, it’s the season of snowy splendor, and we’ve got the best cure for cabin fever: literally get your family to a cabin—preferably a slopeside one—and embrace all that winter in Western Montana has to offer. If a cabin is not for you, we have plenty of lodges, resorts, ski chalets and vacation homes too for the whole family. Our lodging is exceptionally cozy, and our hospitality is always warm.

Glacier Country gives family time a whole new meaning.

We play all year here, but winter is one of our best seasons for adventure. Exploration is exponential this time of year, and we promise your family will love spending time under the big sky. There’s no better place to rekindle and beat winter boredom. Snow-season activities abound in Western Montana and most are family friendly—just like our charming mountain towns. So pack up your favorite people and head on over to our little slice of winter heaven.

SKI + BOARD
Trade in all your screens for skis and plug into our powder paradise of family-friendly resorts. Western Montana makes your family ski vacation a memorable alpine adventure with six downhill ski areas. Get the entire family on the slopes with affordable lift tickets, no crowds or lift lines, plus ski school and rentals.

You know it was a good day of skiing at Lost Trail Powder Mountain with a smile like this.

The Kids Center at Whitefish Mountain Resort provides childcare for the littles who aren’t skiing yet and early ski and board programs for those just starting out.

Located on the Montana/Idaho border is Lookout Pass. Their famous free ski school (restrictions apply; see their website for details) plus their affordable lift tickets (free for children 6 and under) make for an unforgettable experience.

Visiting Missoula for the holidays? Snowbowl has a three-day ski school between Christmas and the new year. Plus, their pizza is so good, locals drive up to “The Bowl” just for that. (Parents take note: Snowbowl is also known for its bloody marys.)

SLEIGH RIDES
Experience the magic of our enchanting winter wonderland by dashing through the snow in a horse-drawn sleigh—complete with hot cocoa and jingle bells, of course. Sleigh rides in Glacier Country offer snowy vistas by day and starry skies by night.

It’s pure enchantment when you see Western Montana by horse-drawn-sleigh. Photo: Cripple Creek Ranch

HOCKEY + ICE SKATING
Pass the puck at a pickup game of hockey at Missoula’s indoor ice rink, enjoy open skate at Kalispell’s newly renovated outdoor rink, Woodlandland Ice Center, or try the outdoor rink in Missoula’s Rattlesnake Valley. Headed to the Bitterroot Valley? Florence has a new outdoor rink as well, plus there’s an old-fashioned candy store further on down “The Root” in Darby.

SLEDDING
This quintessential winter pastime is one of the easiest ways to play in the Montana powder and always affords plenty of laughs. Enjoy the crisp mountain air and breathtaking scenery. Sledding is a pretty great way to make magical winter memories. Grab a sled, tube or toboggan and head for the hills. You’ll find popular sledding spots all across the region, and many of our resorts offer sledding and tobogganing activities. If you’re in the Flathead Valley, check out the sledding hills at Polson’s Riverside Park, and then take a scenic wintry drive up Flathead Lake to explore the storied town of Bigfork.

There’s nothing quite as classic than sledding with family on Montana winter’s day.

GOOD EATS FOR EVERYONE
After a long day playing together, food is essential. In Glacier Country, it’s also very yummy. Grab a meal at one of our many kid-friendly restaurants. Check out the kids’ menu at The Montana Club in Kalispell and Missoula, or dine at one of our family-friendly breweries and then cozy up fireside and reminisce of the day’s adventures. Pro-Parent Tip: Missoula’s Northside KettleHouse Brewery has toys and games for the kiddos.

Enjoy KettleHouse’s amazing beer at their family-friendly Missoula brewery.

GO WITH A GUIDE
We realize (all too well) that getting everyone out of the house can be a bit chaotic. Take a travel tip from us and make your trip as relaxing as possible. Western Montana guides and outfitters are here to help you have a memorable, authentic and safe experience, no matter your adventure preference. Snowshoe tour through Glacier National Park, anyone? Glacier Adventure Guides offers tours for the whole family.

Guided trips offer a fun and unique experience for everyone in the family. Photo: Devin Schmit

Psst…if you’re planning a family reunion, think about renting a block of condos next to Whitefish Mountain Resort and gather in a Glacier Country winter. There’s something for everyone here.

 

 

 

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!