Category Archives: Montana Fun

Reel Talk: Fall Fishing in Montana is Phenomenal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Western Montana is a fly-fishing mecca.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. AUTHENTIC MONTANA LODGING + HOSPITALITY

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

2. FOOD + DRINK FUN

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

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

3. ENDLESS THINGS TO DO IN MISSOULA

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

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

4. LOCAL EVENTS LIVEN UP TOWN YEAR-ROUND

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NOVEMBER 17 – GRIZ vs. MONTANA STATE BOBCATS  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7. GETTING TO AND AROUND MISSOULA IS EASY

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

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

Discover Fall in Glacier Country

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

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

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

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

INTERSTATE 90 CORRIDOR – MISSOULA

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

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

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

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

BITTERROOT VALLEY

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

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

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

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

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

TOUR 200

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

Fall greets winter in Thompson Falls. Photo: Kate Baxter

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

SEELEY-SWAN CORRIDOR

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

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

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

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

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

FLATHEAD CORRIDOR

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

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

HIGHWAY 2 CORRIDOR LIBBY TO KALISPELL

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

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

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

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

GLACIER NATIONAL PARK SURROUNDING AREA

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

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

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

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

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

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

12 Things To Do in Browning: Discover Western Montana’s Blackfeet Nation

In the velvety, rolling foothills just east of Glacier National Park, the culture and traditions of the American Indian thrive. The largest community on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, Browning, Montana is home to the state’s biggest tribe—the Blackfeet Nation. Museums, shops, galleries and annual celebrations preserve the Blackfeet way of life, and give travelers an authentic glimpse into their heritage.

Browning is the heart of the Blackfeet Nation, one of the two American Indian tribes in Glacier Country.

NORTH AMERICAN INDIAN DAYS

Experience one of the largest gatherings of U.S. and Canadian tribes, featuring traditional games and dancing, a pow wow, and horse relay races. Every summer for four days during the second week of July, Browning hosts this family-friendly, not-to-be-missed authentic celebration.

Sculptures tell the creation story of the Blackfeet people. Photo: Debbie Picard

HEART BUTTE INDIAN DAYS

Witness four days of traditional American Indian dress, dancing and drumming, plus a parade, pow wow, stick game tournament and other traditional activities. Heart Butte Indian Days are held annually the second week of August in Heart Butte, just 26 miles south of Browning.

PONOKAMIITAA RELAY RACES

Head to Browning’s Charging Home Stampede Park for the unique and lively Indian relay races where loyal fans gather to cheer on their favorites. 2018’s first annual event was a roaring success and 2019 dates will be announced soon.

This historic and high-energy event is a cannot miss while visiting Browning. Photo: Montana Office of Tourism and Business Development

CHIEF MOUNTAIN

Take in the unique shape of one of Montana’s most majestic mountains, also believed by the Blackfeet to hold special powers. This natural landmark bordering Glacier National Park and the Blackfeet Reservation provided a “cultural center” for many tribes, and today makes for a scenic day trek for experienced hikers. The views from the summit are nothing short of spectacular. Visitors traveling along Chief Mountain Highway will be able to see the peak from afar.

FISHING + HUNTING ON TRIBAL LANDS

Anglers, hunters and outdoor enthusiasts find solitude and serenity on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, but make sure you are up to speed on rules and regulations for recreating on tribal lands before you head out for some much needed R&R.

Surrounded by stunning mountains, lakes and valleys, the Browning area offers incredible recreation experiences.

BLACKFEET HERITAGE CENTER & ART GALLERY

View the works of more than 500 Native American artists and craftspeople from 19 different tribes, including beadwork, jewelry, quillwork, pottery, rugs, kachinas, moccasins, carvings, bronze work and sculptures, plus baskets, rawhide and horse hair work, drums, dolls and hides at the Blackfeet Heritage Center & Art Gallery. Fine art exhibits include original watercolors, acrylics, oils, wood relief and prints. Also find commemorative coins and a complete baby Tyrannosaurus skeleton.

FAUGHT’S BLACKFEET TRADING POST

You mustn’t leave Montana without taking home something to remember us by. Authentic American Indian souvenirs and gifts can be found at Faught’s Blackfeet Trading Post. Choose from clothing—including American Indian clothing and western wear—books, pictures and prints, lotions, beading supplies and many other Montana-made American Indian arts and crafts.

LODGEPOLE GALLERY + TIPI VILLAGE

Spend the night in a tipi! Browning’s Lodgepole Gallery & Tipi Village offers unique lodging in the foothills of the breathtaking Rocky Mountains. Stay in a real tipi complete with a fire ring for an authentic American Indian experience. Explore the prairie, tour buffalo jump sites and tipi rings, and meet the village’s herd of Spanish Mustang horses. The Lodgepole Gallery displays contemporary and traditional fine art, including Blackfeet art and intricate Blackfeet beadwork.

The art, culture and skies of the Blackfeet Nation are truly amazing. Photo: Andrew Betino

GLACIER PEAKS HOTEL + CASINO

Hit the jackpot in the heart of Blackfeet Country. Montana channels Las Vegas at Glacier Peaks Casino, where locals and visitors enjoy some of the largest payouts in the state. Glacier Peaks is open 24 hours, seven days a week and offers more than 500 machines, blackjack, craps, poker, roulette and more, plus a full-service bar, fine dining and modern accommodations.

WESTERN CURIOS

This Browning mainstay has been a popular visitor attraction for years. At Western Curios you’ll find Blackfeet and Glacier Park logo souvenirs, moccasins, local crafts, Made in Montana items—including our beloved huckleberry products—breads, spices and Montana Silversmith jewelry. Stop in and find some goodies to take home with you.

MUSEUM OF THE PLAINS INDIAN

Discover the rich, historic and diverse arts of Northern Plains Tribal peoples at Browning’s popular Museum of the Plains Indian. The museum’s fascinating and educational exhibits include historic clothing, horse gear, weapons, household implements, baby carriers and toys, to name just a handful. The gift shop features fine American Indian jewelry.

The Museum of the Plains Indian has exhibits depicting the rich diversity and history of the tribal peoples of the Northern Plains. Photo: Racene Friede

SCENIC DRIVES

Highway 2 from Browning to East Glacier Park really holds its own, especially if you’re thinking about beating the crowds and saving the Going-to-the-Sun Road for another day. You’ll find 14 miles of stunning scenery, and there’s just something quite awesome about driving towards the majestic peaks of Glacier National Park. Along the way, spot the Blackfeet’s own herd of bison.

Highway 89 from Browning to Saint Mary Lake makes for an unbelievably stunning drive that picks up the east end of the jaw-dropping Going-to-the-Sun Road. Stay and play at the awe-inspiring lake, or continue on to crisscross Glacier National Park via one of the most beautiful drives in the U.S.

It doesn’t get much more scenic than this. Photo: Debbie Picard

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!

 

12 Hidden-Treasure State Parks + Camping Sites in Western Montana

Part of what makes Western Montana’s great outdoors so great is the abundance of explore-worthy, off-the-beaten-path public lands. Admittedly, we’re a little obsessed with visiting the lesser-known gems of Glacier Country, where crowds are light or non-existent and the adventure is always one of discovery.

Montana State Parks

Montana’s state parks are preserved for their natural beauty and amazing recreation opportunities. These heavenly places are some of the greatest natural and cultural treasures around. Here, we’ve listed a few that aren’t usually overcrowded and offer unforgettable authentic Montana experiences. State park campsites can be reserved, and you’ll also find ample water recreation activities like fishing, swimming and boating, plus RV access, picnic areas and latrines.

Lake Mary Ronan State Park

Known for epic fishing, Lake Mary Ronan State Park—just 7 miles west of Flathead Lake—also offers numerous hiking trails and individual campsites among lush forestland, perfect for spotting wildlife and wildflowers. For season and hours, plus amenities, activities and contact information, click here.

Lake Mary Ronan State Park is quaint and quiet, but offers plenty of recreational activities and beautiful views. Photo: Pat Doyle

Thompson Chain of Lakes + Logan State Park

How does shoreline access to 18 sparkling glacial lakes within a 20-mile stretch sound? Thompson Chain of Lakes offers 3,000 acres of excellent fishing, boating, camping, birding and hiking. Logan State Park, located on Middle Thompson Lake, is a heavily forested family-fun hot spot. For season and hours, plus amenities, activities and contact information, click here.

Thompson Falls State Park

Relax in the quiet Clark Fork Valley among old-growth pine, and explore the Thompson Falls Trail along the scenic Clark Fork River. The park also features a family fishing pond, camping and bird-watching. For season and hours, plus amenities, activities and contact information, click here.

Whether you’re camping, fishing or simply enjoying the scenery, Thompson Falls State Park is the perfect place to be. Photo: Andy Austin

Camping at Fish Access Sites

Here’s a fun little secret: many Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks fishing access sites offer camping. Sites can’t be reserved in advance, however, so make sure you have a backup plan. Check links below for individual site amenities, but note that these are all dry camping spots with no electric/water/sewer services available. Most sites also include boat launches, and all include opportunities to recreate.

Harpers Lake
Camp along the beautiful Clearwater River at Harpers Lake or neighboring Blanchard Lake. Sites are close to the road, offering easy access.
14 campsites + gravel boat launch
31 miles east of Bonner on Highway 200, turn north on Highway 83 for 2 miles

Fishing access sites are a great camping option throughout Western Montana. Photo: Montana Office of Tourism and Business Development

Island Lake
One of Montana’s newly developed fishing access sites, Island Lake has enhanced the fishing opportunities between Libby and Kalispell and the small number of campsites means solitude under a starry night sky.
3 campsites + boat launch
46 miles west of Kalispell

Upsata Lake
Enjoy stunning views of the entrance to Montana’s Bob Marshall Wilderness as well as lush, rolling prairie land.
6 campsites + gravel boat launch
37 miles east of Bonner on Highway 200 to milepost 38, then 4 miles north on Woodworth Road

Blackfoot River Corridor

Made famous by Norman Maclean’s “A River Runs Through It,” the Blackfoot River is one of Montana’s most popular, and the 26-mile Blackfoot River Corridor offers some of the best trout fishing in the state. This favorite of floaters ranges from slow-moving to whitewater, and the corridor’s numerous fishing access sites offer a diversity of camping options in the heart of one of Montana’s most treasured areas. Added bonus: the Blackfoot River Corridor Scenic Drive.

The Blackfoot River is a Glacier Country gem. Photo: Montana Office of Tourism and Business Development

Russell Gates
Russell Gates—a popular rafting put-in and take-out—lays on the charm with a fantastic view, plenty of shade trees, wide-river fishing and lots of deer.
12 campsites + gravel boat launch
River right, mile 40, 34 miles east of Bonner on Highway 200

Ninemile Prairie
Solitude abounds at Ninemile Prairie, with only a few campsites.
3 campsites
River right, mile 25, 25.5 miles east of Bonner on Highway 200, turn west (just before mile marker 27) on Ninemile Prairie Road for 4.2 miles

Corrick’s River Bend
Sleep out under our signature sky among majestic ponderosa pines at this scenic river spot.
12 campsites + boat launch
River right, mile 23, 25.5 miles east of Bonner on Highway 200, then 6 miles west on Ninemile Prairie Road 

Thibodeau
Find fun tubing down Thibodeau Falls ending at this popular campsite, and by night experience the peaceful sound of the river flowing.
6 campsites + potable water
River left, mile 18, 10.3 miles east of Bonner on Highway 200, turn north of Johnsrud Park Road for 5.5 miles

Main Blackfoot River

There’s even more solitude to be found the higher you go on the Blackfoot. Up the river from Russell Gates, you’ll find the following Western Montana gems:

Harry Morgan
This popular launch point makes for a great rustic overnight camping experience on the edge of crystal-clear Blackfoot waters.
4 campsites + gravel boat launch
River right, mile 2, 3.5 miles south of Ovando on the Ovando-Helmville Road

River Junction
Set up camp at River Junction for access to one very spectacular stretch of the famous Blackfoot River.
6 campsites + primitive boat launch
River right, mile 52, 38 miles east of Bonner on Highway 200, turn southeast on an unmarked county road (FAS sign at the junction) for 9 rough miles, follow the signs

Blackfoot River Float-In Campsites

Turn your float-fishing trip into an overnight adventure. The float-in campsite program on the Blackfoot lets you float right into your rustic overnight accommodations. Float-in sites are River Junction, Clearwater, Corrick’s River Bend and Ninemile Prairie. A special permit is required. Click here for more information.

Pro-tip: Always be sure to be up to date on all closures and restrictions before heading into any of these state parks or campsites.

8 Things To Do in the Charming Town of Cut Bank, Montana

The treasured little Glacier Country town of Cut Bank is cozied up against the backdrop of the breathtaking Rocky Mountains just under an hour from Glacier National Park. Along the eastern border of the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, history, tradition, western adventures and outdoor opportunities abound in this stay-and-play, full-service community, complete with comfortable lodging, friendly hospitality and a personality all its own.

We’ve got a list of things for you to see and do in Cut Bank, one of Glacier Country’s most charming small towns.

EVENTS + FESTIVALS

Montana Shakespeare in the Parks makes an annual stop in Cut Bank City Park each summer, and the whole town turns out for the beloved annual Lewis and Clark Days Festival, featuring live music, a chili cook-off, a parade, a car show, games and more.

The Cut Bank City Park is home to the community’s popular events for locals and visitors to enjoy.

GLACIER COUNTY HISTORICAL MUSEUM + ARCHIVE

Devoted to local history, the 14-acre Glacier County Historical Museum includes a 1917 schoolhouse, an oil worker’s house and derrick, an old caboose, Lewis and Clark exhibits, and a replica of a homestead house and farm. On weekends, interact with costumed characters circa 1915, who help demonstrate what life might have been like for Montana homesteaders.

History runs deep in Cut Bank. Learn all about it at the Glacier County Historical Museum. Photo: Racene Friede

HISTORICAL SITES

Three historically significant sites along the Lewis & Clark Trail are located in the Cut Bank area: Camp Disappointment, Cut Bank Camp and the Meriwether Lewis Fight Site. Follow in the Footsteps of the Corps of Discovery, the first American expedition to cross the western portion of the United States.

DOWNTOWN HISTORICAL MURALS

Set against the wide-open landscape, explore multiple downtown murals dedicated to the history of this unique community, commemorating Cut Bank’s homesteading roots, the importance of agriculture and cattle ranching, the Lewis and Clark Expedition and American Indian history.

Murals depicting the history, lifestyle and rich culture of the area can be found all around downtown Cut Bank.

OUTDOOR RECREATION

Enjoy some of the best stream fishing in the state, plus tubing, boating, upland bird/waterfowl hunting, bird-watching and camping. Or, take to the green at the Cut Bank Golf and Country Club, offering a 9-hole course (for all skill levels) and excellent views.

CUT BANK TRAILS

Hiking and biking your way around Cut Bank keeps getting easier with the expanding Cut Bank Trail System. Take the Coulee Trail along the Cut Bank Creek Coulee, using the east trailhead at 7th Avenue S. and Dean Drive, or the west trailhead at Mountain View Boulevard and Lookout Road.

The Coulee Trail System along Cut Bank Creek is easily accessible and seriously scenic.

CUT BANK CREEK BREWERY

What we love most about the Cut Bank Creek Brewery—aside from their exceptional, finely crafted brews—is their philosophy of good people, good beer and good living. We can’t help but agree. Stop by this neighborhood gathering place for cold beer, handcrafted ginger ale, locally roasted coffee, live music and board games. Rub elbows with the locals and see just how good living in Cut Bank is.

Add the Cut Bank Creek Brewery to the list of Montana breweries we love.

CUT BANK FARMERS MARKET

One of the things Montana does best is put on a good farmers market. Cut Bank lays on the charm Wednesdays from 3 – 6 p.m. (seasonally) at Cut Bank City Park. Shop local—from fresh foods, baked goods, produce and flowers, to artisan crafts, woodworking and handmade soaps. The Hutterites are a mainstay of the Cut Bank Farmers Market—try their fresh, local eggs!

From homegrown fruits and vegetables to pies, breads and homemade jams, the Cut Bank Farmers Market is the real deal.

TRIP TIP + PHOTO OP: Do not miss the 27-foot-tall penguin—Cut Bank’s roadside landmark is actually impossible to miss. The towering penguin claims bragging rights to calling “the coldest spot in the nation” home.

See Glacier Country’s most famous penguin!

Come see Cut Bank; getting here is easy, with an international airport for private planes, an Amtrak station, and easy access off U.S. Route 2. Road trip anyone?

SUP: Top 12 Places to Stand-Up Paddleboard in Western Montana

Come see what’s SUP in Western Montana. Stand-up paddleboarding, or SUP, is an increasingly popular way to explore Montana’s sparkling alpine lakes and scenic, lazy rivers. In fact, SUP is the fastest-growing water sport in the world. Surfing meets kayaking in this epically fun way to play on the water.

Glide across Western Montana waters on a SUP board. Photo: Noah Couser

If you’re new to the sport, your best bet is to go with a guide. Many local outfitters here in Glacier Country offer rentals, lessons and guided trips, so, you’re in luck. Here’s a list of our top 12 SUP spots as well as the folks who can help you get on the water for your Western Montana stand-up paddleboarding adventure.

ASHLEY LAKE
Fifteen miles west of Kalispell, Ashley Lake is a real charmer. Easy on the eyes, the alpine aqua waters of this special SUP spot make for an unforgettably picturesque day.
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FLATHEAD LAKE: WAYFARERS STATE PARK
Paddle the largest freshwater lake west of the Mississippi. Wayfarers State Park has some of the best Flathead Lake access, including a beach area as well as rocky cliffs along the shoreline. The water is clean and clear and is typically sheltered from wind and waves, though it can make for some fun SUP action when the swell picks up and creates near surf-like conditions, which are also great for downwind paddling. Wayfarers happens to be one of the best spots on the lake to watch the sunset, too.
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Base Camp Bigfork has got you covered on rentals, instruction and location tips. Photo: Base Camp Bigfork

The north shore of Flathead Lake offers miles of undeveloped shoreline. It’s a great place to spot waterfowl, eagles, osprey and deer, and take in amazing mountain views. If you access the lake via Bigfork Bay, you’ll be able to paddle right into the storybook town of Bigfork for some post-SUP food and drinks or delicious Sweet Peaks Ice Cream. If you’re up for a celebration, plan your trip around the Northern Rockies Paddlefest at Wayfarers State Park, held annually in May.

Anywhere you decide to put in on Flathead Lake, great views and cool waters will meet you there.

SWAN RIVER
The Swan River flows into the Bigfork Bay, which allows the more adventurous to try paddling moving water. There are several access points, which allow for more of a downriver journey while the river winds through a picture-perfect landscape. There are miles of slow-moving water perfect for beginners. There is also a nice class 2+ rapid stretch, which is popular for inner tubing, but also ideal for paddlers looking for an introduction to whitewater paddleboarding.

SWAN VALLEY LAKES: SWAN LAKE, ECHO LAKE AND HOLLAND LAKE
These three lakes offer authentic Montana SUP adventures. Paddle to the sandbar in the middle of scenic Swan Lake, experience the famously warm waters of Echo Lake, or combine your Holland Lake paddle with a 3.3-mile out-and-back hike to gorgeous Holland Falls.

The Swan Valley lakes offer amazing paddling in pristine waters. Here a paddleboarder cruises Swan Lake.

TRIP TIP: For Swan River plus Ashley, Flathead and Swan lakes SUP gear, rent a board at Base Camp Bigfork and get complimentary delivery and pickup as well as on-the-water instruction. Base Camp also rents boards to those who want to self-drive their gear to any number of lakes in Glacier National Park.

BLACKFOOT RIVER
The clear, cold, trout-filled waters of the Blackfoot—made famous by Norman Maclean’s “A River Runs Through It”—offer the scenic splendor of canyon walls often dotted with majestic bighorn sheep. Paddle the Blackfoot in July for unobstructed flows.

CLARK FORK RIVER
Experience the eclectic town of Missoula from the waters of the winding Clark Fork River. Put in at the Sha-Ron fishing access site in East Missoula and then hop off the water at the river’s edge in downtown Missoula, where you’ll find good eats, plenty to drink, and lots to see and do.

BITTERROOT RIVER
This scenic valley waterway is flanked by the beautiful rolling Sapphire Range to one side and the dramatic Bitterroot Mountains to the other. Hop on the water at Bells Crossing and paddle to the Stevensville Crossing site to hop out.

LAKE COMO
Solitude abounds at this Bitterroot Valley gem 8 miles south of Hamilton in the Bitterroot National Forest. There’s a sandy beach at the north end of the lake, perfect for paddling and swimming. Bring a picnic lunch and your hiking shoes…abundant trails surround the lake.

TRIP TIP: For Blackfoot, Clark Fork, Bitterroot and Como SUP rentals, guides, gear and tips, check out Missoula’s Trail Head, or Bob Ward’s, with locations in both Missoula and Hamilton.

UPPER WHITEFISH LAKE
This Stillwater State Forest stunner north of Whitefish, dazzles and is the perfect tucked-away spot for a quiet day on the lake. Feeling adventurous? Head south to Whitefish (1.5 hours) for post-paddle food, drinks and fun.
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TALLY LAKE
West of Whitefish, the warm waters of Tally Lake offer a peaceful paddle among the lush trees and scenic cliff walls of the Kootenai National Forest. Head to the east shore for a serene evening paddle.
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FLATHEAD RIVER: THE NORTH AND MIDDLE FORKS
The stunning emerald waters of the Flathead River offer a Glacier Country experience like no other. Paddle the Middle Fork from West Glacier to Blankenship Bridge, passing through a jaw-dropping gorge with a perfect cliff-jumping spot. The North Fork is one of only four Wild and Scenic Rivers in Montana and forms the western border of Glacier National Park. Breathtaking scenery is a given, and black bear sightings are not unheard of.

It doesn’t get much better (or prettier) than the Flathead River. Photo: Noah Couser

TRIP TIP:
For Tally Lake and Flathead River SUP rentals, plus the goods on gear and guides, visit the friendly folks at Tamarack Ski & Lake Shop.
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LAKE KOOCANUSA
This trout-heavy reservoir between the Purcell and Salish mountains in Libby, Montana offers scenic-byway landscapes, a sandy beach, wildlife watching and the opportunity to take a pre- or post-paddle Libby Dam tour.
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TRIP TIP: For Lake Koocanusa access and gear rentals, head to the Wilderness Club, just a short walk to the Lake Koocanusa beach area.

SUP SAFETY
Before you hit the water for your Western Montana SUP adventure, contact one of the outfitters listed above for details on where to float when, based on water flows and temps, and always check the weather before you head out (especially when lake paddling away from shore). Spring runoff means fast-moving rivers. (If you’re new to SUP, stick to a late-summer guided river trip or take a calm lake tour.) Learn basic techniques and safety tips from these local outfitters, too.

Our lakes and rivers offer amazing experiences, but proper preparation and equipment are always recommended.

On the river, wear a quick-release leash around your waist. It’s IMPERATIVE that you use quick-release technology in SUP, as ankle leashes can get hung up on rocks and other debris. Wear a PFD, a helmet, a wetsuit and protective gear, especially in shallow rivers.

On the lake, bring a flotation device, try to confine your trip to an hour or less, and stay closer to the shore. SUP is a full-body workout. Plan your trip with that in mind. Learn more about safety, rules and regulations through Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks.

Lastly, have fun paddling paradise. That’s what’s SUP in Western Montana’s Glacier Country.

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

A Perfect Western Montana Getaway: Bigfork

Western Montana’s Glacier Country spans 22,000 square miles of pure perfection. Boasting natural wonders like Glacier National Park, the Bob Marshall Wilderness, the Bitterroot Valley and Flathead Lake, you’ll never tire of exploring our corner of heaven. This stunningly beautiful region is home to 75+ communities, and each of them deserves to be discovered. We recently visited one of our very favorite Western Montana towns, the storybook village of Bigfork.

One of our favorite small towns, Bigfork. Photo: Montana Office of Tourism and Business Development

Spending a summer weekend in Bigfork is the stuff that dreams are made of. Hugging the sparkling blue bay where the Swan River flows into the northeast corner of Flathead Lake, this picturesque community lays on the charm with world-class art galleries, fine dining, live theater and outdoor fun. We feel right at home whenever we find ourselves in this little Glacier Country gem, and we wanted to share some of our favorite Bigfork hot spots and activities with you.

BIGFORK VILLAGE
Don’t be surprised if you fall in love with Bigfork the moment you set foot in it. This waterfront village is lined with quaint and eclectic shops and boutiques, fun eateries, and art galleries where you’ll discover artwork made by cherished Western Montana artists. Taking in the rustic charm of this historic little downtown is a Flathead Valley must.

Bigfork Village is seriously charming. See it for yourself.

BIGFORK SUMMER PLAYHOUSE
If you’re visiting Bigfork between May and September, do yourself a favor and catch a performance at the Bigfork Summer Playhouse, which brings in popular Broadway shows with exceptionally talented artists. For more information, click here.

The performances at the Bigfork Summer Playhouse are a cannot miss. Photo: The Bigfork Summer Playhouse

POCKETSTONE CAFÉ
Start your morning off right by eating at the Pocketstone Café. All the food here is delicious, but their breakfast is absolutely delectable—think pancakes, waffles, crepes and scrambles. Located in Bigfork Village on Electric Avenue, Pocketstone offers home cooking that will leave your taste buds simply satisfied. Tip: get the cinnamon roll; you’ll thank us later.

THE RAVEN BAR & GRILL
Located in Woods Bay (just south of Bigfork), The Raven Bar & Grill offers guests Flathead Lake waterfront dining in a comfortable, friendly atmosphere. This welcoming spot serves up some tasty food and drinks. If you’re looking for a scenic and fun dining experience, The Raven is where you’ll find it.

The Raven Bar & Grill offers tasty food, refreshing cocktails, and cool lake breezes. Photo: Beth Woods

BRIDGE STREET COTTAGES
Enjoy a weekend in Bigfork with a stay at the Bridge Street Cottages. These luxury cottages along the Swan River at the edge of Bigfork are within walking distance of Bigfork’s restaurants, galleries, shops and the Bigfork Summer Playhouse. These cozy cottages are open year-round.

MARINA CAY RESORT
As one of the only lakeside resorts on Flathead Lake, Marina Cay Resort is one of Glacier Country’s finest. Enjoy a cocktail at the waterfront Tiki Bar, or during the off-season, the Fireside Restaurant & Lounge provides a fine-dining experience of locally sourced food. Marina Cay offers activities for everybody: live music events, a relaxing spa and fishing charters as well as rentals for jet skis, pontoons, boats, inner tubes and wakeboards.

OUTDOOR FUN
In addition to exploring all of the indoor fun to be had in Bigfork, outdoor recreation abounds here. Perfectly situated on the sparkling and pristine Flathead Lake, water play is a given. For starters, take a boat tour with Flathead Lake Sailing and Charters or WildHorse Island Boat Tours. Or, try your hand at “SUP” (stand-up paddleboarding), rent a boat or kayak, or cast a line on the lake’s calm cool waters. June through August, hook up with the friendly folks at Base Camp Bigfork for a guided kayak tour of the lake at sunset or wake up to a refreshing morning paddle. If you are looking for something a little different, we suggest taking a horseback ride with Swan Mountain Outfitters for a short excursion or day trip.

Relax by the lake or dive-in, Bigfork is the perfect point for all Flathead Lake activities. Photo: Donnie Sexton

INSIDER TIP
Bigfork charms all year long, but if you plan your visit around one of their celebrated annual events or weekly markets, it’s icing on the cake.

Whitewater Festival: May
Fourth of July Parade
Bigfork Rodeo: July
Festival of the Arts: August
Crown of the Continent Guitar Festival: August/September
Rumble in the Bay Car Show: September
Farmers Market: Tuesdays + Fridays, May – September

Here’s wishing you a big time in one of our favorite little villages!