Category Archives: Kalispell

Savor Apple Season + Cideries in Western Montana

Autumn is just around the corner and the fresh mountain air isn’t the only thing that’s getting crisp. Montana’s apple game is strong, and apple season is in full swing. That means it’s time for a few of our core favorites—apple picking, apple festivals, apple cider and hard cider.

Order a flight and taste a range of Montana-made hard cider. Photo: Destination Missoula

FRESH APPLES + LOCAL ORCHARDS

Apple growing has deep roots in Montana’s Bitterroot Valley. This apple hot spot is known for family owned and operated orchards boasting several apple varieties as well as natural growing methods, which produce some of the most pristine and delicious apples you’ll ever sink your teeth into.

Fall is the time to get your hands on the freshest apples around. Farm stands, orchards and u-pick operations can be found throughout Western Montana. The best time for apple picking in Glacier Country is usually September through October and even into November, if the weather cooperates. If you’re not up for an apple-picking adventure, look for fresh, locally grown apples at area grocers and farmers markets, where you’re bound to find freshly baked apple pies, too.

Western Cider grows over 50 varieties of apples in its Bitterroot orchard. Photo: Rio Chantel

APPLE EVENTS AND FESTIVITIES

We don’t just savor apples, we celebrate them. Local harvest festivals and autumn events throughout the region highlight this coveted fruit.

McIntosh Apple Day in Hamilton—known as the “Biggest Bake Sale Under the Big Sky”—has been called one of Montana’s Best Fall Festivals by National Geographic Traveler Online and one of the Top Festivals in the United States by Flight Network. On October 5, treat yourself to apple butter, caramel apples and, of course, scratch-made apple pie. This year marks the 40th anniversary of this much-anticipated day, which is followed by the fun-filled Liquid Apple Night—a hard cider festival in Hamilton’s Legion Park featuring cideries from the Rocky Mountain West, plus seasonally inspired food and live music.

Celebrate September 28 through October 5. Cider spirit is high as restaurants, bars, breweries, and cideries step up their cider game on menus and taps throughout the state. Raise a glass!

The gleaming tanks at FireRoot Spirits yield AppleJack, a spirit with early American roots. Photo: FireRoot Spirits

HARD-CORE FLAVOR AT LOCAL CIDERIES

Something else that’s blossoming all over Montana—cideries serving up hard-core Montana craft ciders and spirits made with fresh, local apples. Crisp flavors abound, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a hard cider here that you didn’t like.

It comes as no surprise that award-wining hard cider is coming out of the Bitterroot at Montana CiderWorks. Situated in the iconic Old West town of Darby it was the first commercial cidery in Montana. Backroad Cider in Hamilton is serving up some classic flavors as well as cider with a kick, brewed with jalapeño, habanero and poblano peppers. Wet your whistle at FireRoot Spirits in Florence, serving up farm-distilled spirits like AppleJack apple brandy, and Apple Jill—a smooth whiskey/cider blend that’s perfect on the rocks.

Sample 12 ciders at Western Cider’s tasting room and garden. Photo: Destination Missoula

Missoula is on the cider scene too with Western Cider Co. Try two of their house favorites: Sour Cherry and Whiskey Peach. Head North and you’ll find Big Mountain Ciderworks in Kalispell blending up a unique and mouthwatering apple, cherry, pear fusion. Also in Kalispell, Rough Cut Hard Cider is crafting up some creative concoctions like Bear Food, Rock Powder Rhubarb, Whiskey Rose and the Rough Cut Original. The best time to sample some ciders? Apple season, of course.

 

Late Summer Outdoor Concerts in Western Montana

Summertime and outdoor music go hand in hand in Western Montana. With multiple outdoor venues and one of the most vibrant live music scenes in the West—in Glacier Country’s arts and culture hub of Missoula—it’s no surprise that we get our groove on under the big blue sky late into the season. Here’s where you can catch late-summer 2019 live tunes and local vibes in our corner of Montana.

Big Sky Brewing Amphitheater brings big name performers to Missoula. Photo: Loren Moulton

MUSIC FESTIVALS

In the charming community of Libby, sit along the Kootenai River for “blue, brews and BBQs” at the Riverfront Blues Festival August 9 – 10. For scenery and sounds on the largest freshwater lake west of the Mississippi, don’t miss the Flathead Lake Blues & Music Festival in Polson August 16 – 17. Farther south, the beloved River City Roots Festival is a Western Montana favorite and Missoula’s signature event. Locals and visitors take to the streets for art, live music and family fun in the heart of this vibrant community. The event is free and takes place August 23 – 24.

KettleHouse Amphitheater hosts top-notch acts on the banks of the Blackfoot River. Photo: Logjam Presents

OUTDOOR VENUES

Western Montana boasts some of the most unique and exciting outdoor music venues in the region, offering shows through the end of September. At the KettleHouse Amphitheater in Bonner, sit along the banks of the beautiful Blackfoot River, catching a national act—like the B-52s on August 8—as boaters float by behind the stage. Another venue that pairs music with local beer, Missoula’s Big Sky Brewing Co. Amphitheater offers an impressive summer concert series lineup—The Steve Miller Band and Marty Stuart play August 17—in a big backyard-like setting. Also in Missoula, when the Osprey baseball team’s not on the field, you can catch big league concerts at the state-of-the-art Ogren Park stage. Mumford & Sons with Portugal. The Man play a sold-out show August 11—at this concert venue in the heart of Missoula on the banks of the Clark Fork River.

Arrive early! Missoula’s Symphony in the Park always draws a huge crowd. Photo: Destination Missoula

OUTDOOR SYMPHONY

Summer strings set quite the tone along the Clark Fork River at the Missoula Symphony in the Park. This free family-friendly event—in Caras Park near Dragon Hollow and A Carousel for Missoula—takes places August 18. There’s no better way to spend a Sunday evening in Missoula. Pack a picnic dinner and a blanket, and take in the classical sounds.

MUSIC AT THE FAIR

If there’s one thing you should know about Western Montana, it’s that we know how to have big, boot-stompin’ fun at a small-town fair. The Western Montana Fair in Missoula August 7 – 11 hosts multiple musicians—among a sea of cowboy hats—and all shows are free. Also don’t miss country favorite Gretchen Wilson at the Northwest Montana Fair in Kalispell August 14.

Big Sky Mudflaps play Hamilton’s Tuesday at Twelve, now in its 30th season. Photo: Russ Lawrence

RECURRING OUTDOOR CONCERTS

Weekly concerts really round out a Western Montana summer. Through August 20, catch Picnic in the Park Tuesday evenings in Kalispell with live music and food from local vendors, or spend your Tuesday lunch hour on the lawn at the Ravalli Country Museum in Hamilton for Tuesday at Twelve. Admission to both events is free. The storybook village of Bigfork hosts Riverbend Concerts on Sundays (through the end of August) at the scenic Riverbend Stage in Sliters Park. Admission is $5, and free for children 12 and under. Mountain sounds are flowing regularly out of Missoula’s Caras Park on Wednesdays at Out to Lunch, where you’ll also find plenty of local Montana flavors, and Thursdays at Downtown ToNight featuring live music, family activities, food vendors, and a beer and wine garden. Both of these events run through August. The Missoula City Band plays Wednesday evenings through August 14 in Bonner Park’s idyllic university neighborhood setting. All three Missoula events offer free admisison.

A musician shares his talent during Kalispell’s signature Picnic in the Park concert series. Photo: Discover Kalispell

Small Town Rodeos in Western Montana

The mention of Western Montana often conjures up visions of the Old West, like cowboys and horses, and with good reason—they’re a part of both our past and our present. One way we recognize that is through rodeos, which are an authentic western tradition, paying homage to our heritage with events based on the duties of actual working cowboys. Next time you’re in Glacier Country, pull on your boots, grab your cowboy hat and head to a local rodeo.

You’d be hard pressed to find a more authentic Western Montana experience. Photo: Missoula Fairgrounds

Steeped in tradition and history, many of our communities host rodeos beginning in spring and continuing through fall. Communities come together for competition, entertainment and some boot-stomping, good old-fashioned fun. Enjoy the cowboy culture and marvel at the athleticism as participants compete in challenges like calf roping, barrel racing, and bronc riding.

CALF ROPING

Calf roping, also know as tie-down roping, is an event featuring one rider mounted on a horse, and a free-roaming calf. The goal of this event is to have the shortest time lassoing the calf, dismounting the horse and tying three legs of the calf together. A similar event to this is breakaway roping, another timed competition where the rider who ropes a calf in the quickest time wins. Old-time cowboys often had to rope calves to administer medicine or to brand them, and cowboys would boast to one another about their roping skills. This soon turned into a good spirited competition in which the winner won bragging rights.

Announcers keep you entertained and updated on each competitor’s performance. Photo: Michael Rosling

BARREL RACING

The goal of this rodeo event is for a horseback rider to make a cloverleaf pattern around three barrels in the fastest time. This event combines the horsemanship skills of a rider with the natural and trained athleticism of the horse. Precision is the key to winning because if a rider or horse touches or knocks down a barrel their time is penalized. This event was originally developed for women to assist them in breaking into the rodeo scene, and is now one of the most popular events.

Competitors spend hours each week practicing for these two minutes in the arena. Photo: Josh Homer

BRONC RIDING

Originally based on the necessity of training wild horses, bronc riding is one of the wildest rodeo events and bound to get your adrenaline pumping. Bronc riding can either be bareback bronc riding or saddle bronc riding. The goal of this event is for a rider to stay on the back of an untamed horse (often bred for strength, agility and bucking ability) for eight seconds, using only one hand to hold on while the horse tries to buck him off. Half of a rider’s score is based on his or her performance, the other half on the horse’s bucking, diving and twisting.

Competitors test their grit and try to stay horseback for eight seconds. Photo: Burning Ember Photography

LIVESTOCK SHOWING

A livestock show is not a rodeo event, but often the two events are paired together. At a livestock show, pigs, cattle, sheep and other animals are judged in an arena on certain breed traits such as muscle, frame size and balance. The animals are judged, then awarded ribbons or trophies for Best of Breed, then owners have the option to sell their rated livestock. Teenagers often show livestock through clubs like FFA (Future Farmers of America) and 4-H, and children participating in these clubs can raise and show rabbits, or chickens—which are also judged.

The ideal lamb weighs between 110 and 120 lbs. Photo: Glacier Gazette

WESTERN MONTANA FAIR

Often, a rodeo will take place with a local fair. Many of our charming communities have a local fair, where you can expect games, rides and delicious fair food. Sampling the fare at the fair is not to be missed, as fair food consists of local favorites like fried cheese curds, kettle corn, elephant ears and famous vikings (a meatball on a stick, seasoned in batter and deep fried). The largest fair in Glacier Country is the Western Montana Fair in Missoula, which boasts a petting zoo, rodeo, livestock showing, art and baking competitions, monster truck show, and many rides and games.

A summer evening at the fair is a must. Photo: Missoula Fairgrounds

UPCOMING RODEOS

For more upcoming events, visit glaciermt.com/events.

Western Montana Fruitful Summers + Farmers Markets

One of many things that makes Montana special is that we have four seasons, and each season is beautiful and unique in its own right. Springtime brings blooming wildflowers and sets the stage for the harvest of summer’s distinctly Montana fruits—Flathead cherries, Dixon melons, and wild huckleberries are our favorite flavors of a Glacier Country summer. Whether you attend a festival, pick your own fruit, or stop by a local farmers market, you’d be hard pressed to find a more authentic, and tasty, Western Montana experience.

Cherry trees line the shore of Flathead Lake. Photo: Donnie Sexton

FLATHEAD CHERRIES

Some of the world’s best cherries grow right here in Montana’s Flathead Valley. The Flathead Valley offers ideal growing conditions for cherries, with warm days and cool evenings that extend the growing season, deepening the cherries in color for a sweeter taste. When driving along Flathead Lake—the largest freshwater lake west of the Mississippi—you’ll pass many cherry orchards. Pop-up fruit stands line the main roads, and it’s easy to pull over and purchase a bag of cherries. The harvest begins in late July, so plan a trip to a u-pick orchard—a fun activity for the whole family that lets you pick out the ripest and best-looking cherries. Hockaday Orchards on the west side of the lake is open 8 a.m. – 6 p.m. daily beginning late July, Getmans’ Orchard & Vineyard on the east side requires you to call ahead before stopping by. You’re likely to see other u-pick orchards with signs out welcoming you, so don’t hesitate to stop—you’ll be greeted by warm western hospitality.

You can never get enough of Flathead cherries!

Festival: The annual Polson Main Street Flathead Cherry Festival puts on a family-friendly, mouthwatering good time that’s not to be missed. See, eat and splurge on Flathead cherries, cherry-infused treats, local artwork and handcrafted goods. Test your grit in a cherry pit-spitting contest or cherry pie eating contest. On Main Street in Polson, July 20 – 21, 2019.

Delicious Flathead cherries are a staple fruit in Western Montana.

HUCKLEBERRIES

Huckleberries are a small, dark purple, sweet berry that grow in Western Montana. This beloved berry is a real Montana prize. While visiting, you’re sure to see it infused into everything from honey and vodka to huckleberry pie topped with huckleberry ice cream. Treat yourself to this Montana taste and you’ll understand why this berry is unrivaled. While sampling the fare is sure to delight, you can also pick wild huckleberries, which grow well on slopes between 3,500 and 7,200 feet, with minimal tree coverage. However, a good huckleberry picking spot is like a good fishing hole; some secrets are best discovered on your own. Bears love huckleberries as much as we do, so it’s always a good idea to pick huckleberries in groups and carry bear spray.

These small berries pack a flavorful punch. Photo: Donnie Sexton

Festival: The Trout Creek Huckleberry Festival, located in Trout Creek, is celebrating its 40th year in 2019. More than 100 arts and crafts vendors will be selling their wares, and events include a parade, huckleberry pancake breakfast, 5k fun run, auction, horseshoe tournament, huckleberry dessert contest and much more. Food vendors offer a range of huckleberries in a variety of desserts to cap off your day. At the Trout Creek Park, August 9 – 11, 2019.

When it comes to huckleberries, the flavor combinations are endless and sure to delight. Photo: Donnie Sexton

FARMERS MARKETS

Our very popular outdoor community markets are a big part of Western Montana’s charm, and they provide the perfect opportunity to explore our lively small towns. Imagine strolling through a farmers market on a warm summer morning, coffee carts and baked goods in abundance, fresh produce, locally sourced food, and locally-made arts and crafts like pottery, paintings, jewelry, woodcarvings and more for sale. You’re likely to find our beloved huckleberries and Flathead cherries for sale here, too. Glacier Country’s market scene boast gatherings big and small, each one truly unique. Head to a farmers market for a quintessentially Western Montana experience, and take the time to talk with locals—these vendors are some of the friendliest folks around.

Farmers markets are a treasure trove full of vegetables, baked and canned goods, flowers and more.

Pro-Tip: Look for the Dixon Melon truck. The best melons in Montana are a market favorite from this vendor, serving up honeydews, crenshaws and cantaloupes right from the truck.

Savor the flavor of a delicious Dixon melon. Photo: Destination Missoula

GLACIER COUNTRY 2019 FARMERS MARKETS:

Tuesdays: Darby, Missoula, Whitefish

Wednesdays: Bigfork, Arlee, Cut Bank, Trout Creek

Thursdays: Alberton, Columbia Falls, Libby, Eureka (second Thursday of the month)

Fridays: Plains, Polson, West Glacier

Saturdays: Troy, Florence, Hamilton, Kalispell, Missoula, Noxon, Stevensville, Superior

Sundays: Florence, Seeley Lake

Fly Direct to Fresh Mountain Air: Hello, Montana

Need a breather and some room to roam? Wide-open spaces and fresh mountain air are only a few hours away, now that American Airlines offers nonstop flights from Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW), Los Angeles (LAX), and Chicago (ORD) to Glacier Park International Airport (FCA) in Kalispell, Montana. With the addition of these three new flights, you can now travel to Kalispell on American Airlines from a total of twelve cities throughout the U.S.

One of Glacier National Park’s iconic red buses winds its way along the breathtaking Going-to-the-Sun Road.

Your friendly neighbors in Western Montana’s Glacier Country offer fine hospitality and warm welcomes, not to mention stunning mountain landscapes; world-class outdoor recreation; 75+ charming communities and storybook small towns; Glacier National Park’s majestic peaks, sweeping valleys and sparkling waterways; and the largest freshwater lake west of the Mississippi—Flathead Lake. Fly into Kalispell and explore epic Western Montana adventures, from hiking, biking, golfing, fishing and wildlife watching, to hot springs, live concerts, festivals and farmers markets.

In no time, you could be right here experiencing it all. Some folks tend to think of Montana as a faraway place, but it’s actually simple—and quick—to get here. Wake up, have breakfast, and be in the mountains by lunchtime. It might be just the altitude adjustment you crave.

Fun shops and eateries line downtown Kalispell’s Main Street. Photo: Donnie Sexton

Land in Kalispell, and fall in love with Montana. This vibrant city makes for one spectacular vacation destination, and its proximity to endless adventure is unmatched. Kalispell’s bustling historic downtown district pairs Old West charm with a lively arts and culture scene, and is centrally located between Flathead Lake, Whitefish Mountain Resort and Glacier National Park. Make Kalispell your adventure base camp and set out for exploration. Day trips and side excursions beckon from around every bend and let you take in all Western Montana’s Glacier Country has to offer. Drive Glacier National Park’s famously gorgeous Going-to-the-Sun Road and discover the history and allure of one of the country’s most breathtaking places. Spend a day discovering Flathead Lake, taking in the scenery and Montana’s beloved Flathead cherries. Explore wilderness areas, national forests, countless rivers, lakes and blue-ribbon trout streams, two Indian reservations, wildlife-viewing areas, museums and galleries, good food and plenty to drink—Western Montana boasts multiple breweries, distilleries, wineries and cideries.

Accommodations come in every shape and size here—from authentic guest ranches and luxury resorts to timbered mountain lodges, camping, glamping, B&Bsvacation homescabins and hotels—but there’s one thing you can count on across the board—in Western Montana, everything’s cozy and everyone’s friendly.

It’s about time you mosey on over to our neck of the woods and see what you’re missing. You’re bound to love it up here in the fresh mountain air, and we’re just a stone’s throw away, thanks to American Airlines.

Touchdown in Glacier Country…we’re only a nonstop flight away from twelve major cities.

In addition to Glacier Park International Airport (FCA), you can also fly into Western Montana via Missoula International Airport (MSO). Western Montana’s two airports are serviced by Allegiant Air, Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Airlines, Frontier Airlines and United Airlines, with direct flights regularly arriving from Dallas/Fort Worth, Denver, Las Vegas, Minneapolis-Saint Paul, Phoenix-Mesa, Portland, Salt Lake City and Seattle-Tacoma. Seasonal flights arrive from Atlanta, Chicago O’Hare, Los Angeles, Oakland and San Francisco.

Get a Grip: Rock Climb Western Montana

Western Montana’s rock faces are so beguiling they draw visitors from all over the world; even photos of them can take your breath away. Rock climbing is a fantastic way to experience Glacier Country. The thrill of reaching the top of a climb, witnessing miles of gorgeous views spread out before you, smiling down at your companions below, and taking a few congratulatory selfies is an opportunity not to be missed. Plus, it’s an excellent group bonding experience for family and friends. Participants can learn new skills, test their mettle, enjoy spending time outside in a beautiful setting, and perhaps even discover a new lifelong pursuit.

Inject some adrenaline into your Western Montana adventure by going rock climbing.

If you’re new to rock climbing, you’ll need the assistance of a professional. Rock Climb Montana has been introducing rock climbing to visitors ages 3 – 81 for more than a decade at three gorgeous and easily accessible locations in northwestern Montana: Kila Crags, Stryker and Stone Hill. During a half-day or full-day trip, your certified instructor will teach you the basics (knot tying, safety checks, climbing commands) and set you up on routes that match your abilities. Gear (harness, helmet, and grippy pointed shoes) is included in the guiding fee.

Before a climber attempts the wall, she receives knot tying and safety lessons.

Concerned fear might get the better of you? Climbing’s not nearly as unnerving as you might think. A climber is anchored to the top of the climbing route by a rope that’s secured to both themselves and another person on the ground, called a belayer. If the climber slips off the rock, the belayer will hold the climber in place, so there’s little to no “fall.” The climber can easily get back on the route and continue ascending where she left off, or ask to be slowly lowered down. To further allay your fears, Rock Climb Montana boasts a perfect safety record.

The amazing view from Kila Crags, only a few minutes from Kalispell.

Kila Crags, only 8 miles west of Kalispell off U.S. Highway 2, has nearly 50 routes that vary in difficulty from 5.5 to 5.12 (which means there are climbs for all skill levels). Despite the area’s proximity to the road, climbers are rewarded with beautiful meadow, mountain and forest views even while hanging out at the base of the three main walls: Guardian Wall, Psychology Wall and Upper Wall. These south-facing, roughly 60-foot-high shale cliffs are a great place to climb on cool spring and fall days since the sun quickly warms the rock.

Searching for toe and handholds, a beginning climber ascends the wall.

For a more shaded climb, plan a trip to Stryker, a half hour north of Whitefish, where the Stillwater River cuts through the green argillite walls of Stillwater Canyon. The cool air coming off the water combined with the shade provided by the surrounding Koocanusa National Forest means that climbers don’t need to worry about overheating while trying to “top out”—climber slang for standing on top of the crag you’ve just climbed or “sent.”

Link Neimark, owner of Rock Climb Montana, has more than 25 years of climbing experience.

For an even more epic climbing adventure, Rock Climb Montana and Glacier Adventure Guides both offer day trips to Stone Hill, northwest Montana’s largest climbing area. Less than 20 miles from Eureka and sporting 500 climbing routes, Stone Hill is a climber’s wonderland. Dig your toes and fingers into the quartzite rock and scale crags that will reward you with outstanding views of nearby Lake Koocanusa, a 90-mile-long reservoir that stretches into Canada, and lush ponderosa pine forestland.

Kila Crags offers challenging routes for skilled climbers as well as easier ones for beginners.

Although guided climbs are limited to these three areas, experienced climbers capable of heading out on their own will want to check out Point of Rocks near Whitefish (you’ll need to buy a State Lands Permit); Berne Park Boulders in Bad Rock Canyon near Hungry Horse; Blodgett Canyon and Lost Horse, both near Hamilton; and the Lolo Pass area between Lolo and the Idaho State Line.

Bonus: Uncrowded climbing areas are the norm here, and if you do encounter a fellow climber you’ll be greeted with warm western hospitality.

Top 7 Easy Spring Hikes in Glacier Country

Spring has sprung and we couldn’t be more excited. The snow is melting, wildflowers are blooming and wildlife is emerging. While the snow in the mountains will take longer to melt, at lower elevations the snow has quickly disappeared. Which means our closer-to-town trails are cleared off and ready to hike. One of the easiest ways to explore Western Montana’s charming small towns is by foot. Stretch your legs and enjoy these leisurely hikes.

Spring colors are surreal. Photo: Missoula Parks and Recreation

FORTLOOP TRAIL

Directions: In Missoula—the cultural hub of Glacier Country—head to the newest city park: Fort Missoula Regional Park. Home to nine multisport fields, tennis courts, a dog park and more, Fortloop Trail loops the entire park—an approximately 2.5-mile hike. In total, there are 7 miles of trails to explore, some of which connect directly to the Historical Museum at Fort Missoula, which houses 20 historical structures and buildings on the grounds.

Round Trip Distance: Fortloop Trail, 2.5 miles.

Walk along the Clark Fork River from bustling downtown Missoula into the serene Kim WIlliams Nature Area. Photo: Missoula Current

MILWAUKEE TRAIL / KIM WILLIAMS TRAIL

Directions: Located in the heart of downtown Missoula, the Milwaukee Trail follows the Clark Fork River through downtown to the University of Montana. The trail then merges into the Kim Williams Nature Trail, and eventually between the Clark Fork River and the base of Mount Sentinel. On top of the old Milwaukee Railroad tracks, this trail is wide and flat. If you stay quiet along the river you’re likely to see wildlife, like blue herons and sandhill cranes or an osprey in one of the multiple nests along the way. To walk the entire length of the trail, park at McCormick Park.

Round Trip Distance: From McCormick, 13 miles. For a shorter hike, turn around at the university, 4.4 miles.

At a distance of only 2 miles to the summit, the views are worth the hike. Photo: Explore Libby

FLAGSTAFF TRAIL

Directions: After exploring Libby, travel north on Highway 37, turn left at River Road and travel 4 miles. Turn right at Quartz Creek Road 600 and follow it for 5 miles, then turn left on West Fork Road. Continue until the road ends at a “T” junction. Turn left to follow Road 4690 7.3 miles to the trailhead. The Flagstaff Trail winds through grassy meadows, filled with wildflowers this time of year, and leads to the summit of Flagstaff Mountain. It’s 2 miles to the summit with an elevation gain of 1,642 ft. Once there, the trail continues another 3.45 miles, or you can turn around.

Round Trip Distance: Flagstaff Mountain Summit, 4 miles.

This scenic path is great for all ages. Photo: Brian Schott / Explore Whitefish

WHITEFISH RIVER PATH

Directions: Whitefish has a network of in-town trails which are maintained year-round. The Whitefish River Trail, one of the most accessible walks, begins at Riverside Park. The paved path travels through town along the Whitefish River and along part of Whitefish Lake. The path eventually connects to Reservoir Road, just 0.5 miles from the Reservoir Trailhead of The Whitefish Trail—one of 12 trailheads that encompasses 42 miles of single track trails.

Round Trip Distance: The Whitefish River path has approximately 15 miles of paved path, which then connects to The Whitefish Trail. Hike for however long you want, then turn around.

Explore as much or as little of this 22-mile trail. Photo: Rails to Trails of Northwest Montana

GREAT NORTHERN RAILS TO TRAILS

Directions: The Great Northern Historical Trail extends 22 miles between Somers—at the north end of Flathead Lake—and Kalispell, then South, ending at the tiny community of Kila (no amenities, but parking is available). Start in Somers, Kila or Kalispell. The trail follows the old Great Northern Railway route, serving up unrivaled views of the Swan, Mission, Salish and Whitefish ranges. To find the trail in Kalispell, head west until you meet the intersection of U.S. 2 and Spring Creek Road. Find parking just east of the intersection.

Round Trip Distance: 44 miles round-trip. Pick your starting point, then turn around whenever you want.

Enjoy views of the Cut Bank Coulee and rolling plains on the 2-mile Cut Bank Coulee Trail.

CUT BANK COULEE TRAIL

Directions: From Cut Bank, find parking for the Cut Bank Coulee Trail at two trailheads. The east trailhead is located at Seventh Avenue South and Dean Drive. The west trailhead is located at Mountain View Boulevard and Lookout Road. This U-shaped trail follows the Cut Bank Creek Coulee for 2 miles.

Round Trip Distance: 4 miles.

MULE PASTURE LOOP

Directions: Mule Pasture Loop is 0.5 miles north of Thompson Falls. Follow the USFS direction signs from either the east or west ramp north of Highway 200. The Mule Pasture Loop travels through a beautiful wooded setting, which feels remote yet is in town.

Round Trip Distance: 2.3 miles.

If trekking up steep hills and mountains isn’t your idea of fun, these hikes are a great option— allowing you to get outdoors but keep things casual. Enjoy these hikes year-round and find more trails at glaciermt.com/hiking.

Western Montana Wings: Birding in Glacier Country

Western Montana’s pristine landscape makes for prime bird habitat. Our skies are graced with soaring raptors, our lakes and rivers are flush with waterfowl and shorebirds, and our grasslands and woodlands are visited by beautiful songbirds. Whether you’re an avid birder checking birds off a life list, or someone who just wants a look at something wild and free, there’s plenty of opportunity to catch some good glimpses of Glacier Country’s feathered residents.

There’s no better way to locate and learn about Western Montana’s birds than to go on a birding trip with a local expert. Glacier Country is home to four chapters of the Audubon Society: Bitterroot Audubon, Five Valleys Audubon, Flathead Audubon, and Mission Mountain Audubon. These groups frequently offer free or low-cost outings, but you may need to sign up in advance. Usually the group leader sets up a spotting scope for everyone to share, but you’ll want to bring your own binoculars. Check out The Montana Natural History Center in Missoula for birding events, like Naturalist Field Weekend: Sage Grouse Experience at the end of April and Naturalist Field Day: Birding by Ear in May.

The Montana Natural History Center offers birding classes and outings. Photo: Montana Natural History Center

If you’d like to do some birding on your own, check out the following hot spots:

In the Bitterroot Valley there’s no better place to bird-watch than Stevensville’s Lee Metcalf Wildlife Refuge. More than 225 species of birds have been recorded there. Hit the riparian habitat along the walking path by the Bitterroot River trail. Don’t miss the ponds on the north end of the park that fill with migrating waterfowl in the spring and fall.

Downtown Missoula is steps away from the Riverfront Trail, where even without binoculars you can often spot osprey, great blue herons, kingfishers, and more. If you’re willing to venture a little further, the Rattlesnake National Recreation Area is teeming with avian life. Word is, birders often don’t even need to leave the parking lot.

The Flathead Valley’s Owen Sowerwine Natural Area abounds with songbirds and waterfowl. Also scope out the West Valley Ponds, where there’s a new viewing area from which to see hundreds of sandhill cranes during fall migration.

Base your birding adventure out of the Mission Valley. There are three outstanding destinations here: the National Bison Range, Ninepipe National Wildlife Refuge and Pablo National Wildlife Refuge.

NOTABLE GLACIER COUNTRY BIRDS

A western meadowlark bursts into song. Photo: Brian Williams

Montana’s state bird, the western meadowlark, can be seen in abundance at the National Bison Range in the spring and summer. This medium-sized songbird with a striking yellow neck and chest nests and forages in tall grasses, so you’ll often hear its beautiful voice before seeing it. Luckily, you won’t have to wait long before it flies up to perch on a fence or a shrub to put on a concert for you.

Who ordered take-out? An osprey delivers a fish. Photo: Alan D. Wilson

The osprey is one of Glacier Country’s most recognizable birds. Not only is the city of Missoula’s semi-pro baseball team named after this charismatic raptor, but the stadium includes a nesting platform where an osprey pair can be reliably seen from April through September. It’s a real treat to watch one fishing—osprey plunge feet first into the water to grab a fish, which they’ll hold facing forward and upright in their talons as they glide off to find a dining spot.

Male harlequin ducks are a sight to be seen. Photo: Alan D. Wilson

Glacier National Park claims the densest population of harlequin ducks in the state and is, therefore, one of the best places to find them. Still, one researcher claims it’s rarer to spot a harlequin than a grizzly. Harlequins are the only North American duck that breed and forage in clear, fast rivers and streams. Keep an eye out for these distinctively colored ducks during May and June at Upper McDonald Creek near the Going-to-the-Sun Road.

A variety of woodpeckers call Western Montana home for part of the year. Named after Corps of Discovery adventurer Meriwether Lewis, Lewis’s woodpeckers can be spotted in Council Grove State Park from roughly May through August. Look for dead trees, where the birds nest in cavities. Their greenish-black back and wings, salmon-colored bellies and red faces make them easy to identify.

Look for pileated woodpeckers in areas with large dead trees. Photo: Alan D. Wilson

Over a foot long, with black bodies, white-striped faces and flaming red crests, pileated woodpeckers are always an exciting find. Their loud calls and drumming will help you locate these year-round residents in their forest habitat, like the cottonwood snags in the Owen Sowerwine Natural Area.

Mountain bluebirds match the color of Western Montana skies.

Glacier Country’s skies get even bluer when mountain bluebirds and western bluebirds arrive in the spring. The males of these two species of songbirds are easy to tell apart; mountain bluebirds are blue all over, while western bluebirds sport an orange chest. Western bluebirds prefer open woodlands like Blue Mountain in Missoula. Mountain bluebirds are prevalent at the National Bison Range. Like western meadowlarks, both species flit between the ground and low perches.

A sandhill crane flies with its legs and neck fully stretched out. Photo: Alan D. Wilson

One of the largest birds you’ll see in Montana is the sandhill crane at 3.5 feet tall with a 6-foot wingspan. These elegant gray giants fly with neck and legs extended, looking like prehistoric pterodactyls come to life. From April to October, the long-legged cranes can be seen in open habitats like marshes and grasslands. The best place to spot them is during fall migration at the new viewing platform in West Valley near Kalispell.

Trumpeter swans are making a comeback at the Flathead Indian Reservation. Photo: Alan D. Wilson

For a chance to see America’s largest waterfowl, the trumpeter swan, head to the Flathead Indian Reservation’s Pablo National Wildlife Refuge, where these impressive birds have been successfully reintroduced. Biologists for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes have been working for 20 years to establish a viable population, which now numbers roughly 200 swans.

Great blue herons are a common sight in Western Montana waters. Photo: Alan D. Wilson

The majestic great blue heron can be found year-round almost anywhere there’s a river, lake or wetland. Birders can get relatively close to the nesting colonies at Lee Metcalf Wildlife Refuge. In the spring and summer, the conifers near the pond host several nests each, and visitors are treated to an abundance of heron activity.

Snowy owl sightings in Western Montana are a rare treat. Photo: Elaine R. Wilson

Western Montana is home to 15 owl species, and one of the foremost owl researchers in the world, Denver Holt. His Owl Research Institute, based out of Charlo, often leads workshops and field days, which are open to the public. Driving through the Flathead and Mission Valleys in the winter, you’ll want to keep your eyes peeled for snowy owls—they sometimes migrate down from the Arctic to feast on voles.

Common loons arrive in the summer to nest on Glacier Country’s lakes. Photo: Elaine R. Wilson

Glacier Country boasts the only common loon habitat in Montana. If you’re hoping to hear this black and white bird’s legendary call, visit Spencer Lake west of Whitefish from March through September. There are three distinctive vocalizations you might hear during the summer months: 1) a long, and some say eerie, cry, 2) a high-pitched fast call, and 3) the territorial yodel of the males.

For more information on birding in Western Montana, visit glaciermt.com/birding.

Spring Festivals and Events in Western Montana

Spring is one of the best—and most underrated—times to visit Western Montana. Shoulder season prices are in effect, wildflowers are blooming and wildlife is emerging; the splendor of spring is not to be missed. As the temperatures warm, our vibrant small towns are ready to celebrate spring and the special events and festivals it brings. Whether you’re interested in sporting competitions or food festivals, we have something for everyone. Plan these events into your schedule. You’ll be glad you did.

Glide across the pond on skis or a snowboard at the Whitefish Pond Skim. Photo: Whitefish Mountain Resort

WHITEFISH POND SKIM:

Whitefish Mountain Resort ends each ski season with a splash at the Whitefish Pond Skim. In early April, watch skiers and snowboarders attempt to skim across a man-made pond, avoiding zebra floaties and other obstacles. It’s outrageously entertaining. Did we mention costumes are required?

Dancers compete at the Kyiyo Pow Wow. Photo: Kyiyo Pow Wow

KYIYO POW WOW:

Glacier Country is home to two Indian reservations—the Flathead and the Blackfeet. The tribal nations here often share their culture and traditions through pow wows and storytelling. This spring marks the 51st Annual Kyiyo Pow Wow Celebration in Missoula, mid-April at the University of Montana. Filled with dance competitions, singing and traditional drumming, this gathering is an unforgettable experience for people of all ages.

Get close to the action at the Bigfork Whitewater Festival. Photo: Mike Roessmann Photography

BIGFORK WHITEWATER FESTIVAL:

The Bigfork Whitewater Festival—annually at the end of May—is a much-anticipated event not just for whitewater enthusiasts. This extreme whitewater kayaking competition draws competitors from around the world and spectators have multiple unique vantage points to view kayakers maneuvering through whitewater. Accompanied by a community celebration, this is a fun—and usually pretty lively—event.

Wood chopping, pole climbing, ax throwing and cross-cut sawing are some of the competitions you’ll see at Forestry Day. Photo: Historical Museum at Fort Missoula

FORESTRY DAY:

You’d be hard pressed to find a more authentic timber sports competition than Forestry Day at the Historical Museum at Fort Missoula. This competition pays tribute to the bravery of loggers and honors Montana’s history. Excitement is palpable during the log rolling, pole climbing and ax throwing competitions. This event includes antique logging equipment exhibits and demonstrations.

Sampling food has never been so easy. Photo: Whitefish Feast

FOOD CELEBRATION:

Glacier Country is home to many world-class chefs and culinary artists; their dishes are inspired by the sheer beauty of our landscapes and pay homage to Montana’s wild places. Feast on flavor at one of the many food festivals that dot the region with deliciousness. Food celebrations let you sample a range of cuisines—from fine dining to comfort food and everything in between.

Taste of Bigfork: end of April

Festival of Flavors: Kalispell, beginning of May

Feast Whitefish: mid-May

Taste of Kalispell: mid-June

Bacon and brew beckon you to Missoula. Photo: Bacon and Brew Fest

BREWFEST:

Glacier Country is becoming known for craft beer. We’re home to more than 30 breweries, after all, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that one of the things we do best is put on an epic brewfest. One of our larger events, Garden City Brewfest in Missoula in early May, boasts more than 70 local craft beers, wines and ciders. Savor the sip, then satisfy any food cravings at on-site food trucks. At the end of April, Missoula’s Bacon and Brewfest pairs two of our favorite things—beer and bacon! Whitefish hosts the Dummy Derby & Winter Brewfest in late March.

Biking is one of the best ways to explore Glacier Country. Photo: Bike Walk Bitterroot

FORK TO FARM:

In early June, the Fork to Farm Bike Tour is a cycling adventure to culinary bliss. This 40-mile bike ride through the beautiful Bitterroot Valley stops at four farms for agricultural tours. Fuel up at each stop on delicious, locally sourced tapas cuisine. At the end of the ride you’ll be greeted with live music, a full dinner, cider and beer.

A treasure trove awaits you at the Creston Auction. Photo: Creston Fire Department

CRESTON AUCTION & COUNTY FAIR:

For a small-town auction experience—one known for bringing in several thousand people—attend the 53rd Annual Creston Auction & Country Fair in early April. Auction items range from Montana made art, goods and wares, to farm and ranch equipment. Montana treasures come in all makes and styles, new and old.

For other celebrated events in Glacier Country, visit our events page.

Glacier Country: Road and Trail Races That Can’t Be Beat

The gorgeous Montana landscape inspires runners to get out in the fresh mountain air, and springtime is a major motivator for lacing up and hitting the roads and trails. Many of our charming small towns play host to races that not only bring the community together, but also provide an authentic Montana experience to out-of-town runners.

Like these Missoula Marathoners, you’ll be happy you signed up for one of our road races. Photo: FinisherPix

BUTTERCUP RUN: APRIL 13, 2019

The town of Arlee on the Flathead Indian Reservation puts on one of the first of Western Montana’s springtime races—the Buttercup Run. This is a chance to see the incredible small-town spirit of Glacier Country—the whole community comes out for the wide range of events: a 1 mile, 5K, 10K and half marathon. No matter which run you choose, views of the beautiful Jocko Valley and the Mission Mountains stretch the distance. Serious swag: A long-sleeved T-shirt with wildlife art by a local artist.

BITTERROOT RUNOFF TRAIL RUNS: APRIL 14, 2019

Kick off trail running season in Montana by entering the first race in the 2019 Runner’s Edge Trail Race Series. Both the 5.2 and 9.7 mile runs follow challenging single track trails on Lolo’s forested hillsides in the beautiful Bitterroot Valley. Finishers can replenish their energy with a generous post-race brunch—and beer from Big Sky Brewing Co. Serious swag: A Bitterroot Runoff logo buff and a custom finisher award.

SWEATHOUSE HALF MARATHON: MAY 11, 2019

Run Wild Missoula, the running club that heads up the famed Missoula Marathon, heads south to Victor to put on the Sweathouse Half Marathon. This race has been a late September staple, but moved to May this year; be one of the first to run this course in the springtime! Named for nearby Sweathouse Falls, this race presents a wonderful opportunity to take in 13.1 miles of scenic backroads in the gorgeous Bitterroot Valley. Serious swag: A short-sleeved technical T-shirt and a finisher medal.

Dramatic peaks provide the backdrop for the Whitefish Marathon. Photo: Mountain Life Photography

WHITEFISH MARATHON: MAY 11, 2019

The 2019 edition of the Whitefish Marathon features an all-new blacktop course that skirts the edges of Glacier National Park. Incredible landscapes unfold as you race toward the finish line of the marathon, half marathon or 5K. Piggyback Barbecue serves runners a well-deserved post-race lunch. Serious swag: A finisher shirt, finisher medal and a day pass for The Wave Aqua + Fitness Center.

Run along historic railroad grades during the Trail Rail Run. Photo: Trail Rail Run

TRAIL RAIL RUN: JUNE 8, 2019

All of the Trail Rail Run courses follow old Northern Pacific and Milwaukee Railroad grades through spectacular Lolo National Forest. These wide, forgiving dirt and gravel surfaces never rise above a two percent grade, so this could be your chance to get a PR! In the longest event of the Trail Rail Run, ultra-runners can race 50.5 miles from Mullan, Idaho to St. Regis, Montana. If that’s more than your quads and calves can handle, there are plenty of other distances to choose from: a 50-mile relay, 30K, 12K and 5K. All racers are bussed from St. Regis to their assorted starting points. Serious swag: Patagonia Houdini windbreaker jackets for 50-milers; T-shirts and a used railroad spike with an engraved plate for everyone else.

SKUNK ALLEY RUN: JUNE 8, 2019

Hot Springs Homesteader’s Days celebration includes the Skunk Alley Run, a 10K and a 3K along old logging roads above town. It’s perhaps the only race that starts with a whip crack, and one of the few where runners get to see cowboys and cowgirls working to keep a herd of cattle off the trail. Afterwards, take in an authentic small-town festival and soak your weary legs at Symes Hot Springs. Serious swag: T-shirt.

Challenging hill climbs are part of the fun at the Herron Half. Photo: Burket Kniveton

HERRON HALF: JUNE 9, 2019

The expansive Foy’s to Blacktail Trail system in Kalispell’s Herron Park is the perfect setting for a half marathon, 10K, 5K and kids 1K. After some challenging climbs, the race’s 10K and half-marathon runners will be rewarded with awesome views of the Flathead Valley, while the 5K and 1K kids run provides a fun introduction to the fast-growing sport of trail running. Serious swag: The first 250 race participants receive a hat.

MOUNTAIN TO MEADOW: JUNE 15, 2019

Boasting one of Glacier Country’s highest altitude starting lines—5,223-foot Lolo Pass—Mountain to Meadow offers trail runners an irresistible challenge. Not only is the half marathon an extra half mile (13.6 miles), runners will also get in over 1,200 feet of climbing. Half marathoners and 5K racers have it much easier, with climbs of 300 and 100 feet respectively. What all three have in common is the flat stretch by historic Packer Meadow (Lewis and Clark camped here) where camas wildflowers should be in full bloom, coloring the whole meadow a stunning purple. Serious swag: Mountain to Meadow trucker hat.

The Glacier Half Marathon + a stay in Glacier National Park = the perfect “runcation.” Photo: Lucid Images

GLACIER HALF MARATHON: JUNE 22, 2019

The payoff of this challenging run is the stunning Glacier National Park landscape, at sunrise no less. This course—on the Blackfeet Reservation in East Glacier Park—is unbelievably gorgeous. Climb Looking Glass Hill and take in views of Two Medicine Lake, ending at the iconic Glacier Park Lodge. Then, explore the park! Serious swag: Finisher medals and shirts for all participants.

SEELEY 50, 25 + 10K: JUNE 22, 2019

Test your mettle in a trail race amidst one of Glacier Country’s most beautiful places—Seeley Lake. The courses lead runners through the Rice Ridge burn area, which at this time of year is an eye-catching neon green and black. The Filling Station Bar and Grill hosts the after-party and primitive camping is free for runners. Serious swag: Finisher medals for 50 + 25K runners, and a shirt for all participants.

Almost there! Runners make the final push toward Missoula Marathon’s finish line. Photo: Gameface Media

MISSOULA MARATHON: JUNE 30, 2019

Let’s see. The Missoula Marathon was a named “Top 10 Bucket List Marathon” by Runner’s World in 2018, “#1 Marathon in the U.S.” by BibRave in 2017, the “Top Marathon for Back-of-the-Packers” by Runner’s World in 2017 and “Best Marathon in the U.S.” by Runner’s World in 2010. Need any more incentives to sign up? You’ve got it: There’s also a half marathon, a 5K, a kids marathon, an expo, a free beer run and a finish line flanked by cheering spectators in beautiful downtown Missoula on the banks of the Clark Fork River. Serious swag: Short-sleeved technical T-shirt, medal, on-course, finish line and post-race victory stand photos for all racers; half marathon and marathon finishers also receive a post-race beer from Big Sky Brewing and a post-race meal from the Good Food Store.