Category Archives: Hungry Horse

Off-Road Adventures: 5 ATV Trails to Explore in Western Montana

We have plenty of hidden treasures here in Western Montana, and sometimes the best—and only—way to discover them is to go off-road into our beautiful backcountry and heavenly high country. You can cover quite a bit of ground when you get off the main roads and explore our pristine alpine lakes, lush forests and mesmerizing mountain meadows. From technical to family-friendly rides, alpine all-terrain vehicle (ATV) adventures abound in Glacier Country.

It’s time to revel in the rugged—here’s a handful of our favorite rides.

New to ATVing? Go with a guide! Photo: Montana Office of Tourism and Business Development

ASHLEY LAKE ATV TRAIL #812
Open: June – October
This local’s favorite west of Kalispell is popular in the summertime, but if you’re looking for a quieter ride, venture over in the late spring or early fall before big-game hunting season begins. The trailjust north of Ashley Lake—offers 7 miles of scenic ATV terrain, and the lake itself provides off-trail recreation like swimming, fishing and camping. Pitch a tent on one of three campgrounds and reel in one of the huge rainbow-cutthroat trout hybrids the lake is known for. GETTING THERE: From Kalispell, take U.S. Highway 2 west for 4 miles, turn onto Ashley Lake Road (Forest Service Road #912) for 15 miles, then turn onto Forest Service Road #10236 for about 4 miles. The trailhead is marked with signs.

BLUE MOUNTAIN ROAD
Open: May – November
For picture-perfect views of the Missoula Valley as well as the Sapphire and Rattlesnake Mountains, Blue Mountain Recreation Area boasts about 15 miles of motorized vehicle trails, four of which are open to ATVs. There’s a fire lookout tower in service from July – August, and you can climb to the top for stunning views of Lolo Peak, the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness and the Mission Mountains. Be sure to pick up an off-road sticker (available at the Missoula County Courthouse) before hitting Blue Mountain on your off-highway vehicle (OHV). GETTING THERE: From Missoula, head south on U.S. Highway 93 for about 2 miles, making a right (north) onto Blue Mountain Road for 1.4 miles. Turn left onto Forest Service Road 365 for 1.2 miles, and the staging area will be on your left. 

Every season in Western Montana lends itself to an ATV adventure. Photo: Kurt’s OffRoad

HUNGRY HORSE MOTOCROSS TRACK
Open: Year-round (weather dependent)
Just east of Columbia Falls in Hungry Horse, Montana, this natural terrain track is open to ATVs and packs a punch with steep and challenging elevation gains. You’ll also find camping and other adventures at nearby Hungry Horse Dam. Time your trail trip right and you’ll get to see a race event held by the High Country Motocross Association. GETTING THERE: From Columbia Falls, take U.S. Highway 2 east for about 6 miles. When you see the Forest Service station on your right, turn south onto Colorado Boulevard for about 1.25 miles. Look for a gravel road on the left and turn there. The track is about a half mile down on the right. 

KOOCANUSA SAND DUNES AND TRAIL SYSTEM
Open: Year-round (weather dependent) 
Sand dunes in Montana? Don’t mind if we do. Mix things up off trail in the dunes and play pits of this large open area at the northeast corner of the Koocanusa Reservoir, best accessed late March through late June when the water levels are low. You’ll also find 20 miles of trails that lead into the woods surrounding the reservoir. Fun Fact: This is the original site of the city of Rexford. You’ll discover American Indian burial grounds in the area, which are well marked and closed to riding. GETTING THERE: From Eureka, take U.S. Highway 93 north for 5 miles to State Route 37. Take a left on MT-37 for 2.2 miles, then veer right onto Douglas Hill Road for half a mile, turn right onto Sophie Lake Road for 1 mile, veer left onto Iowa Flats Road for .1 miles, and then turn right onto Sophie Lake Road for 3.5 miles toward the lake.

ATV trails are often shared with hikers and bikers. Photo: Kurt’s OffRoad

OVERWHICH FALLS TRAILS 182 + 248
Open: December 2 – October 14
South of Darby past Painted Rocks Lake, this “destination ride” offers a scenic 8-mile excursion to Overwhich Falls. This easy ride does have a few steep, rocky sections to be aware of, and encounters with horses, hikers and mountain bikers are possible, but the views—and the falls—are worth it. GETTING THERE: From Darby, head south for 4.3 miles. Turn right onto West Fork Road, heading south past Painted Rocks Lake to Forest Service Road #5703, where you’ll head east for about 2 miles to Forest Road #5706. Turn north and follow this road to the trailhead. There is a good turnaround and parking for vehicles and trailers about 7 miles from the trailhead in NW Section 17, west of Gentile Creek. 

Cover ground in Western Montana, through sage, pine and fresh mountain air. Photo: Montana Office of Tourism and Business Development

BONUS: DARBY TRAILS – BITTERROOT NATIONAL FOREST
Just last summer, the Bitterroot National Forest opened 50 miles of trails to ATVs, including two loops—#1, a 28-mile loop and #2, a 15-mile loop—on the old Darby Lumber Lands, also south of Darby. This new trail system is popular with beginner and intermediate riders, and, as always, the views are spectacular. GETTING THERE: From Darby, head south on U.S. Highway 93 for about 4 miles and take a left on Rye Creek Road. For Loop #1, take Rye Creek Road for 4 miles to North Fork Rye Creek Road/North Fork Road, where you’ll take a left and drive for about 6 miles until you reach Road #1127 and the trailhead. For Loop #2, take Rye Creek Road for 6 miles. Before the Rock Creek Road divide, you’ll see a parking area on the left with signage for Loop #2. 

KNOW BEFORE YOU GO, and ride safely. For information on road designations, conditions and closures, as well as registration (resident and nonresident), permits, maps and off-roading laws, visit Montana State Parks.

TRIP TIP: Did you know? It’s legal to drive ATVs on roads and highways, as long as they’re equipped with “street kits.” This means that all public-land roads are open for riding!

 

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

Explore-Worthy Excursions in Western Montana

We all need a little adventure in our lives, and we all have different thoughts about what that means, so here are a handful of travel ideas to explore, depending on your “adventure type.”

The Bookish Explorer: Montana Valley Book Store

Montana Valley Book Store in Alberton, Montana

You know the type—they carry a novel in their bag everywhere they go and insist on stopping in a bookstore in every new town they visit. If this is you, we’ve found your heaven on earth in Alberton, Montana. The Montana Valley Book Store houses more than 100,000 unique and rare books at any given time. Their shelves are constantly rotating, waiting for the perfect book lover to walk in. Open year-round, the owner lives only five minutes away and will come unlock the store for whomever stops by.

Inside Montana Valley Book Store.

Pro tip: For lunch, stop at the Flyin’ R Café for a homemade patty melt on marbled rye. Write your name next to ours on the wall, snap a pic and use #GlacierMT to say hello!

Write your name on the wall at Flyin’ R Cafe’.

Patty Melt at Flyin’ R Cafe’ in Alberton, Montana.

The History Seeker: Garnet Ghost Town

Overlooking Garnet Ghost Town.

The most intact ghost town in Montana—Garnet—takes its name from the ruby-colored stone. The town itself hasn’t been inhabited since the late 1940s, though volunteers help visitors explore the buildings for anyone who hikes in during the summer. If you’re a cold-weather history seeker, click into your cross-country skis and glide into town. Be sure to peek in the windows of the hotel, general store, post office and saloon. Visit our ghost towns page to learn more about the old mining campsites on Garnet Range Road and how to get there.

Pro Tip: The Bureau of Land Management rents out two Garnet Ghost Town cabins in the winter.

The Backcountry Rambler: Holland Lake Waterfall

Stand-up paddleboarder enjoys an early spring day on Holland Lake.

Nestled in the Seeley-Swan Valley and good for an adventure in any season, Holland Falls is a three-mile round-trip trek up trail #42. To get there in winter, strap on your snowshoes, or hike up on a hot summer day to cool off in the mist of the massive falls. The trail ends just before the falls and overlooks Holland Lake. Then, head back down for a little water play in the lake. It’s is a popular spot for campers, canoers and stand-up paddleboarders.

Overlooking Holland Lake from Holland Falls.

The Pioneer: Martin City + Hungry Horse

Hungry Horse Reservoir.

There are three things you need to know about Martin City and Hungry Horse, Montana.

  1. In 2017 they held their 39th annual Cabin Fever Days and Barstool Ski Races.
  2. The towns were created after World War II during the construction of Hungry Horse Dam.
  3. They love your dam puns.

The Romantic: Fire Lookouts

Come on, we know you’ve dreamed about escaping to a cabin in the middle of nowhere, wistfully sipping coffee while you watch the sun rise over the Rocky Mountains. Well, here’s your chance, you romantic, you. The U.S. Forest Service rents fire lookouts and cabins throughout Montana on a first-come first-served basis. This off-the-beaten-path getaway can be yours for a small reservation fee. Western Montana houses eight of these 360-degree-view, picturesque lodging options. Reserve your spot at recreation.gov.

The Foraging Fiend: Huckleberries

Huckleberries.

This finicky native shrub only grows in high elevations, making Montana’s mountains a perfect home for its tasty berries. Huckleberries look like small blueberries and taste like a cross between a blueberry and blackberry. While you can find huckleberry syrup and jam at many Western Montana stores and farmers markets, the true forager will take to the hills looking to find their own “purple gold.” Most Montanans won’t give just anyone their secret berry spot, but we can tell you that the state’s legislature coined Trout Creek the “Huckleberry Capital of Montana.” Plan to visit in August for the Huckleberry Festival, and they just might share their secrets.

Pro Tip: If you decide to forage for huckleberries, be sure to make some noise and carry bear spray. Montana is bear country, and huckleberries are bear food.

Kayaker paddles through Holland Lake on a peaceful fall morning.

What’s your adventure type? Tell us by tweeting or gramming @glaciermt or #glaciermt.

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