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Glacier Beyond the Crowds: Guest Blog by Andy Austin

As a guide in Yellowstone National Park and Glacier National Park (GNP) I am no stranger to their beauty, but I am also no stranger to their crowds. With record numbers expected to hit GNP again this year, I knew it was time to explore the surrounding regions. My name is Andy Austin, and I’m a photographer based out of Montana. For the past three weeks, I have road-tripped across Montana in search of spring wildflowers and epic adventures. As my tour starts to come to a close in northwest Montana’s Glacier Country, many of my friends guessed that my trip would take me to the Flathead Valley and GNP, an area I spend a good deal of free time in. But, for this adventure, I had my eyes set on solitude and escaping the crowds.

Video by Lyman Gillen. 

As I finished up my tour in Missoula, I headed north on my usual route towards the Flathead, but this trip was different, as I diverted my path west. My first stop was the National Bison Range, a detour that logistically only cost me 20 minutes, but in reality, kept me captivated for an entire morning. As I forced myself to part ways with watching a herd of bison majestically moving against the backdrop of the Mission Mountain Range I set my sights on the first official stop of the trip, Thompson Falls.

The National Bison Range in Moiese, outside of Charlo, is totally worth the stop. Photo: Andy Austin

Thompson Falls is a quaint little town with an almost immediate beauty hidden behind the historic main road. The town’s dam releases an impressive cascade of water and the views are unbeatable. Even one of my followers remarked that they had once driven through Thompson Falls, but didn’t even think to get off the main road. After a day of exploring the area, my friends and I headed to Island Park to get the best view of the dam and watch the sunset. In the two hours we hung out on those cliffs we didn’t see a single soul, and this was a foreshadowing for the solitude we’d find on our journey.

Sunset at the Thompson Falls Dam. Photo: Andy Austin

After a night of camping on Noxon Reservoir, we woke to a crisp mountain sunrise. The stillness of the lake was only matched by the stillness in the air as, once again, we were the only ones there to watch the sunrise. We packed up camp and headed to Ross Creek Cedars Scenic Area to walk amongst the giants. These trees are up to 500 years old and photos don’t even begin to portray their size and beauty.

Ross Creek Cedar Forest offers amazing hiking opportunities; you have to see these trees to believe their size. Photo: Andy Austin

Libby was our next destination, and we arrived to check into our beautiful cabin along the Kootenai River at Dave Blackburn’s Kootenai Angler. The afternoon was spent exploring the Libby Dam before heading off to check a big item off of my bucket list, Kootenai Falls. I’ve seen photos of the falls before and expected a large crowd given how easy the hike is, but, yet again, we were some of the only people around. We took the swinging bridges across the Kootenai River and marveled at the powerful river below before finally heading over to see the actual falls. The whole experience lived up to the hype and then some.

Checked something off the bucket list: the Kootenai River Suspension Bridge. Photo: Andy Austin

The next morning, Kootenai legend Dave Blackburn himself offered to take us out for a float trip down the Kootenai River. The views were stunning and bald eagles were spotted around every bend. As much as I wanted to move into this beautiful cabin, there was still one more town to check off on my roadtrip across the region—Eureka. As we drove up from the Libby Dam we spent the next 40+ miles driving along Lake Koocanusa, and we finally got a feel for just how massive this lake really is. On my list of places to hit was the H.A. Brewing Co., but as I drove out there I realized I was heading off into the mountains. I thought, there is no way there is a brewery tucked out in the middle of nowhere. Sure enough, we arrived at a beautiful, rustic building with a pizza truck out front. Walking in I realized why this place was recommended by so many people I had come across on this trip. H.A. Brewing was an oasis in the middle of the mountains offering up tasty pizza and even tastier brews. Feeling properly fueled for another adventure, my friends and I headed back out onto Lake Koocanusa to go canoeing. Being only an hour from Whitefish I expected to see boaters in every direction, but, yet again, we were the only people out on the water. It was pure bliss.

An evening paddle on Lake Koocanusa is something I could get used to. Photo: Andy Austin

As a lover of Glacier National Park, I think I’ve found my answer when the crowds get the best of me and I need a little solitude. I’ve barely scratched the surface in these mountains, and I can’t wait to return!

Happy Adventuring,

Andy Austin

Small-town Discovery in Glacier Country: Meet Columbia Falls

If you’ve been reading our blog, you know just how obsessed we are with Western Montana—the glacial-carved terrain, wildflower-filled meadows, charming small towns and endless outdoor adventure are all pretty easy to love. One of our favorite places to spend time in Glacier Country is Columbia Falls.

A gateway to Glacier National Park, Columbia Falls is just 15 minutes from the park’s west entrance. This beautiful Montana town is home to locally owned shops, restaurants, a brewery and a not-to-be-missed summer farmers market.

We recently explored this friendly little town, and it was such an enjoyable way to spend time in Western Montana’s Glacier Country. Check out our day below, and then head to Columbia Falls for your own adventure.

Old Red Bridge in Columbia Falls.

Uptown Hearth + Azul Coffee Bar
Starting our morning off right, we headed to the Uptown Hearth. Walking into this microbakery and food studio feels like a big warm hug. It’s a super cozy spot with the scent of coffee and freshly baked pastries filling the air. Azul Coffee Bar shares the space with Uptown Hearth (hence the mouthwatering aroma) and offers handcrafted specialty coffee and espresso served from a custom-built mobile coffee cart. This is honestly some of the best coffee we’ve ever tasted.

Bad Rock Books
After our caffeine fix, we stopped at the used book store next door. With a large and diverse selection of titles plus stellar prices, Bad Rock Books is a bibliophile’s paradise. Any book junkie could spend an entire afternoon browsing the shelves. But we headed to the park…

Depot Park
Just a short walk from Bad Rock at 57 Railroad Street and Nucleus Ave. we explored Depot Park’s historic locomotive, the Shay Engine. Pssst…this is a great outdoor spot for a family picnic.

Backslope Brewing
Montana has become a top destination for breweries and distilleries, and one of our favorite brew stops is Backslope Brewing. Located in the shadows of Glacier National Park, Backslope offers a comfortable atmosphere to indulge in a delicious, handcrafted beer, and we did just that. Not only is the beer at this brewery tasty, but they also offer an amazing selection of food. From burgers to parmesan fries and dessert, the array of delectable foods made it hard to choose!

If you’re planning to visit Western Montana, Columbia Falls is just the place for a true taste of the charm, hospitality and fun Glacier Country offers.

Happy adventuring!

Beyond the Park: Explore Western Montana’s Glacier Country

The Crown of the Continent. The Backbone of the World. Heaven on Earth. Glacier National Park boasts some pretty apt nicknames. But did you know the epic beauty and unrivaled adventure extend well beyond park boundaries? From charming small towns to pristine rivers and recreation areas, Montana offers a wonderland of discovery.

Blodgett Canyon Overlook shows off Western Montana’s classic big-mountain views. Photo: Noah Couser

Summertime is the park’s busiest season, making it the perfect time to explore what the rest of Western Montana’s Glacier Country has to offer. Here’s a list of things to do and places to see outside the park, plus a few tips and tricks to navigate our peak season and busiest times of day.

SCENIC DRIVES
The stunning scenery and glacial-carved terrain roll right on out of the park for hundreds of miles in every direction. Take the road less traveled on some of Montana’s scenic byways for a jaw-dropping drive in some of the country’s most beautiful landscapes. The best part? There’s usually a backroad adventure or hidden small-town treasure around every bend. Hit the road on one of our favorite routes:

Highway 200: Bonner to Clearwater Junction
Highway 83/Highway 12: Lolo to Idaho
St. Regis-Paradise Scenic Byway
Montana Tour 200 
Highway 2, Kalispell to Troy
Highway 89, St. Mary to Choteau
Lake Koocanusa Scenic Byway

WILDLIFE VIEWING
Sometimes the best way to spot our majestic wildlife is to go where the crowds aren’t. Western Montana is a birder’s paradise and haven for creatures big and small, offering some pretty incredible viewing areas. Remember to bring your binoculars and always follow wildlife safety guidelines—this is grizzly country, after all! Head to one of our most-treasured wildlife habitat areas:

National Lee Metcalf Wildlife Refuge
National Bison Range
Ninepipe National Wildlife Refuge
Bull River Wildlife Management Area

HIKING
One of the easiest ways to cover ground in and get up close and personal with Montana is to head out on your own two feet. Every single one of our trailheads leads to a path of discovery, running the gamut from easy rambles to backcountry wilderness treks. You’ll find sprawling valleys, wildflower-filled meadows, towering peaks, pristine alpine lakes and waterfalls, lush forestland and quiet canyons, all offering an awe-inspiring and unforgettable adventure. The following wilderness areas offer of miles upon miles of trails to explore, or check out more of our favorite trails here.

Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex
Cabinet Mountains Wilderness
Mission Mountains Wilderness Complex

OUTSIDE PLAY
From rodeos to rock climbing and zip lining to llama trekking, Western Montana offers infinite ways to play. Here, we hit the rivers and lakes for boating, rafting and world-class fly-fishing. We explore small towns for real cowboy adventures and relaxing yoga retreats. We take to the trails by bike and by horseback. Below are some of our favorite ways to play, Montana style:

Biking: Whitefish Bike Retreat
Gondola Rides: Whitefish Mountain Resort
Rafting: Adventure Missoula
Fly-Fishing, Kootenai Angler
Yoga Retreats: Dancing Spirit Ranch
Horseback Riding: Swan Mountain Outfitters
Llama Trekking: Swan Mountain
Rock Climbing at Lake Koocanusa: Rock Climb Montana
Cowboy Up: Rodeos

With Swan Mountain Outfitters, see Western Montana by horseback, on a llama or on your own two feet. Photo: Donnie Sexton

HISTORY + CULTURE
Montana’s rich heritage and breathtaking vistas inspire a cultural landscape you’ll not want to miss. From two Indian Nations—the Blackfeet and the Flathead—to numerous museums, galleries, theaters, historical sites, farmers markets, shops, eateries (from fine dining to food trucks) and watering holes (did we mention we have more than 20 breweries and distilleries?) you’ll be planning your next visit before this one’s even over. Check out the following Montana must-see cultural destinations:

Bigfork Summer Playhouse  
Missoula Art Museum  
Ninepipes Museum of Early Montana
Museum of Mountain Flying
Smokejumper Visitor Center

The Missoula Art Museum showcases a thriving art scene in Western Montana. Photo: Slikati Photography

LODGES + CABINS
Staying outside the park gives you the opportunity to explore some of our border-town communities infused with the spirit of Glacier Country and that warm western hospitality we’re known for. Take advantage of beyond-the-park adventures and then head into the park at less crowded times of day. Here are three friendly and memorable places to get cozy beyond park boundaries:

Averill’s Flathead Lake Lodge
Park Cabin Co.
Polebridge Cabins

STATE PARKS + FISHING ACCESS SITES
Psst…did you know that Montana Fish Wildlife & Parks fishing access sites are also campsites? Check out their website for campsite info. We love our state parks, and while many do reach capacity throughout the summer, they offer a true and unforgettable Western Montana outdoor experience. Make your way to one of the following public-land paradises: 

Logan State Park 
Thompson Falls State Park
Placid Lake State Park  
Salmon Lake State Park 

Swim, boat, fish and play at Placid Lake in the Swan Valley, a Glacier Country gem. Photo: Kelsey Lau

PEAK SEASON TRAVEL TIPS + TRICKS
Glacier National Park is expecting another record year for visitor numbers. Planning your trip with this in mind can help you navigate some of the peak-season challenges. Check out Glacier National Park’s Twitter feed for real-time updates on parking-lot statuses, weather, road closures, and other important information. Webcam feeds are also updated on Glacier website for some of the park’s most popular spots.

Here are few other tips and tricks we recommend for making your visit to Glacier National Park enjoyable and memorable:

  • Take a Tour: Help reduce traffic and hop on a bus for an educational and interactive tour with Red Bus Tours or Sun Tours. Check on the Glacier Institute’s list of summer programs and outings.
  • Shuttle it: Ride Glacier National Park’s Free Shuttle System.
  • Plan for delays: With a record number of people heading to Glacier National Park this summer, roads, parking lots and trails will be busier. Pack extra food and water, and set aside a little extra time to fully enjoy your adventure in The Crown of the Continent.

One of the best experiecnes you can have in Glacier National Park—a Red Bus Tour.

There’s so much to see and do in Glacier Country. From our charming small town to the Going-to-the-Sun Road, we’ve got a lifetime of discovery and experiences to offer. Come see for yourself!

Picture Perfect Spring Road Trip: Charlo + Ninepipe National Wildlife Refuge

There are few things better than hitting the open road with friends and discovering the beauty of a place from behind the wheel of your vehicle. One of the best places to explore by car: Western Montana’s Glacier Country. Our wide-open spaces, charming small towns, jaw-dropping landscapes and well-maintained highway system make for the perfect place to hit the open road.

The weather has been warming up, so, naturally, we found it necessary to take a road trip to the Ninepipe National Wildlife Refuge. We kicked off our travels in Missoula and took the scenic route through Moiese. That was the right choice—it offered up some beautiful scenery! Here are some of our favorite shots from one perfect afternoon.

A big blue sky and puffy white clouds offered a picture-perfect day.

Driving to the Ninepipe National Wildlife Refuge, we took a must-stop in Moiese at the National Bison Range.

We stopped in Charlo for lunch at this little gem. The food was delicious!

We made it!

We were greeted with spectacular views of the refuge and the Mission Mountains.

Excuse us while we swoon over this view.

This 4,027-acre refuge, open year-round, offers amazing opportunities for hiking, birding and wildlife viewing.

On our way home, we stopped at Great Gray Gifts. This place has some of the best Made-in-Montana gifts around.

And…the tastiest huckleberry milkshakes!

For more daily doses of Western Montana, be sure to follow us on instagram (GlacierMT) and twitter (GlacierMT).

Happy Adventuring!

 

Small-town Discovery in Glacier Country: Meet Stevensville

There are some places that feel so welcoming. Those towns that once you hit their main street are filled with charm, happy people and something. Places that make you want to stop and stay a while.

One such place is the historic town of Stevensville, Montana. Nestled between the Bitterroot and Sapphire mountains, in Western Montana’s Bitterroot Valley, Stevensville offers some beautiful views, great outdoor recreation and it over flows with small town charm. During the winter months this town doesn’t rest at all, and we had the chance to go and check out all the sites.

Stevensville, Montana is Montana’s first permanent settlement.

First stop had to be the Morning Star, this place has some of the most delicious coffee and sweets around.

So delicious!

Truth time: we love walking down these streets.

Just two blocks from Main Street, is the historic St. Mary’s Mission, founded in 1841.

No trip to Stevensville is complete without visiting their general store, Valley Drug & Variety. Inside you’ll find an old fashioned soda fountain…

…with the most delicious milkshakes around!

Just a few miles outside of Stevensville, is the Lee Metcalf Wildlife Refuge. This 2,800 acre wildlife refuge is open year-round and offers some beautiful sites no matter the season.

Even with it being a little cold out, this place was super peaceful and beautiful.

We ended our perfect day with some local Montana brews at Blacksmith Brewery.

Stevensville is a real charmer and we can’t wait to go back.

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

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

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

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

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

Where to stop…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THOMPSON TIPS:

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

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

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

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

You must try Minnies Montana Cafe on Main Street.

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

Save room for dessert at Little Bear.

See you on 200.

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!

Oh Snap! A Montana Spring in Pictures

As you know, a picture is worth a thousand words, and when we get our fans and friends out there capturing Montana moments in Glacier Country, we’re left speechless. These snapshots of our corner of paradise speak for themselves. Do we actually get to live, work and play in this place? Yep, we sure do, and you’d be ahead to come experience the magic and wonder for yourself. There’s a reason why we call it heaven on earth. So, although we love telling you all about our stunning landscapes and unrivaled recreation opportunities, this time we’re going to just show you. (We’re still bragging, but with less words and more pictures.)

Warning: daydreaming for an unspecified amount of time is sure to ensue after you make your way through this post.

Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park.

Photo: Quinton Tolman (instagram.com/quintontolman)

Wildflowers in Glacier National Park.

Photo: Matthew Mason (instagram.com/mason.art.globe)

Waterworks Hill in Missoula, Montana.

Photo: Sara Schroeder (instagram.com/saraoutside)

Blodgett Canyon near Hamilton, Montana.

Photo: Hunter Day Photo (hunterday.photo/montana)

Horses at Bar W Guest Ranch.

Along the Bull River.

Photo: Glacier Country Tourism

Lake McDonald in Glacier National Park.

The forest near Bowman Lake in Glacier National Park.

Photo: Glacier Country Tourism

A mountain goat at Grinnell Glacier in Glacier National Park.

Photo: Kent Johns (instagram.com/kent_johns)

A wedding in Glacier National Park

Photo: Emil Rajkowski (instagram.com/raj_photo)

Aurora Borealis over the North Fork of the Flathead River.

David Marx Photo (instagram.com/davidmarxphoto)

A peaceful view of Flathead Lake.

Photo: Glacier Country Tourism

A kayaker rides Brennans Wave on the Clark Fork River in Missoula.

Photo: Glacier Country Tourism

How’s that for inspiring? There’s more where these came from. Follow us on Facebook and Instagram for your daily dose of Western Montana beauty.

Want to share your incredible travels in Western Montana? Use #GlacierMT on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram for a chance to be featured.

The Brag-Worthy Beauty of Montana’s Wildflowers

Here’s a little something you may not know about us. In Western Montana, one of our best features is the wonder of our wildflower blooms. Just when you thought we couldn’t be any more jaw-dropping, these miniature miracles of nature brave cold nights and dramatic spring weather to sprout their way up into Montana’s landscape in a striking display of beauty. During our heavenly warm season, our mountain woodlands, prairie grasslands, foothills and alpine meadows are sprinkled with the splendor of nature’s loveliest and most colorful artwork. Montana’s rich flora thrives in several different ecosystems, drawing wildflower aficionados, visitors and locals alike on a quest for the carpet of color or the elusive stem hidden high on an alpine ridgeline.

Beargrass blooms in Glacier National Park.

BEARGRASS

Beargrass is a celebrity around these parts. The impressively high (5 to 8 feet) stalks of dense white clusters blanket the subalpine landscapes of Glacier National Park and draw visitors in for a glimpse. Contrary to what the name might suggest, bears do not eat this plant!

WHERE + WHEN:

Beargrass can be found throughout Western Montana, but it’s especially coveted in Glacier National Park. It blooms in late May in the lower country and can be found in the high country into August. Though it’s a perennial and therefore blooms every year, mass blooms occur every five to 10 years, when the climate is just right.

Indian paintbrush colors a Montana meadow.

INDIAN PAINTBRUSH

Indian Paintbrush (or prairie fire) is aptly named, having a vibrant paintbrush-like appearance and contrasting the glacial-carved terrain with rich scarlet hues. Glacier National Park boasts three red and four yellow species of paintbrush, which grow between 4 and 16 inches in height.

WHERE + WHEN:

During July and August, Montana’s alpine and subalpine meadows and mountain slopes are a canvas of Indian paintbrush. You’re certain to find them on the banks of the West Fork of the Bitterroot River in the Bitterroot National Forest.

Arrowleaf balsamroot blankets a hillside overlooking the Mission Mountains.
Photo courtesy of Randi de Santa Anna

ARROWLEAF BALSAMROOT

These easily recognized yellow flowers define our spring landscape and transform our hillsides into a golden-yellow. Part of the sunflower family, these plants grow in clumps 2 – 3 feet tall. Tribal nations once relied on Arrowleaf Balsamroot for food and medicinal purpose, and although these plants are still used for food today, they’re mostly eaten by our wildlife.

WHERE + WHEN:

These plants are common in low-elevation grasslands, on open slopes and ridges and in open ponderosa pine woodlands. They are often found in the company of sagebrush. Take a hike up Missoula’s Mt. Jumbo in early May to immerse yourself in the sea of yellow.

A yellowbell welcomes spring in the Seeley Swan Valley.
Photo courtesy of Randi de Santa Anna

YELLOWBELLS

These tiny treasures are beloved because their arrival means spring is upon us. They’re one of the first of Montana’s wildflowers to bloom and can even be found humbly poking up near lingering snow. Don’t miss the distinct reddish-purple ring around the base of the yellow flower.

WHERE + WHEN:

These bashful bells keep their heads down in grasslands and dry sagebrush prairies as well as ponderosa pine forests, blooming through early May.

Fireweed strikes a colorful pose on a Glacier National Park hillside.
Photo courtesy of Donnie Sexton

FIREWEED

A favorite among bees and delicious in jam and tea, Fireweed is a striking pinkish-purple 4 to 9-foot cone-like shoot against the stunning Montana landscape. They flourish in avalanche sites and burn areas, where they’re usually the first plant to emerge after a fire—hence the name.

WHERE + WHEN:

From June through September, you’ll find fireweed in open meadows, along stream banks or in open forest areas after wildfires.