Category Archives: Montana Fun

Bike the Route of the Hiawatha in Western Montana

The crown jewel of America’s Rails to Trails is right here in Glacier Country—just one more reason why Western Montana is the perfect place for an adventure on two wheels. The Route of the Hiawatha bike trail is part of the Olympian Hiawatha route and is noted as one of the most breathtaking scenic stretches of railroad in the country. USA Today called it a Rails to Trails “Top Ten Pick.” Biking this beauty is one way to experience an authentic, family-friendly adventure in Western Montana’s Glacier Country.

The Route of the Hiawatha offers spectacular views of the Bitterroots. Photo: Andy Austin

ABOUT THE TRAIL

The Route of the Hiawatha offers a scenic, easy ride through 10 tunnels and over seven high trestles, crossing the beautiful Bitterroot Mountains between Montana and Idaho. The Taft Tunnel at St. Paul Pass is a highlight of the route, burrowing under the crest of the Bitterroots. You’ll find an interpretive sign—one of 47 along the entire route—midway through the 1.66-mile tunnel, showing the Montana/Idaho line. There’s also a waterfall at the West Portal of the tunnel—a great spot to commemorate your adventure with a photo.

This Rails to Trails adventure allows you to coast downhill and ride the shuttle back. Photo: Andy Austin

GETTING HERE

Lookout Pass Ski Area operates the Route of the Hiawatha. Located adjacent to Interstate Highway 90 on the Montana/Idaho state line at Exit 0, the ski area is just 30 miles west from the St. Regis Travel Center. If you haven’t already bought tickets online, Lookout Pass is where you can purchase trail and shuttle passes and pick up rental bikes and helmets, bike racks and tagalongs/Burley trailers. It’s important to note that Lookout Pass is not where the trailheads are located; riders will need to drive from Lookout Pass to one of the trailheads. If you already have your gear, you can skip Lookout Pass and purchase a ticket at the trailhead or online.

Most folks start at the top of the trail—Taft Tunnel’s East Portal—and take the shuttle back up from the Pearson Trailhead. This is the most-popular option and is great for kids because it offers an easy, gradual downhill ride. If you can ride a bike, you can pedal this trail, as there’s no uphill required. To get there, park at and access the trail off I-90 at Exit 5. After exiting I-90, follow the signs for 2 miles to the trailhead. From the East Portal you’ll enter the Taft Tunnel and then continue the 15-mile ride on a slight downgrade to the Pearson Trailhead. For those who want to bypass the Taft Tunnel, the bike trail can be accessed south of the tunnel at the Roland Trailhead. For advanced riders who’re ready for a 30-mile round-trip adventure, it’s best to start at the bottom of the trail—at the Pearson Trailhead—so your ride back is all downhill. Parking is available at all trailheads. Please note, passes are not available for purchase at the Pearson Trailhead.

Riders will cross seven high trestles over the course of the 15 mile ride. Photo: Andy Austin

SHUTTLES

Shuttle buses run between the Pearson and Roland trailheads only; they do not shuttle riders from Pearson back to the Taft Trailhead or to/from Lookout Pass Ski Area. Shuttle seating is first-come, first-served once you reach the Pearson Trailhead, and shuttle buses fill up quickly. Trip Tip: Start your Hiawatha ride early to avoid afternoon shuttle wait times.

The Route of the Hiawatha is one unforgettable bike ride. Photo: Andy Austin

RIDING SEASON

The Route of the Hiawatha—including the trail, trailheads and facilities—is open daily 8:30 a.m. – 5 p.m. from late May through late September. Shuttle buses operate every day the trail is open. Group rates and season passes are also available. For a unique spin on this bucket-list bike ride, experience one of the Full Moon Night Rides on the Route of the Hiawatha. Reservations are required for this once-in-a-lifetime adventure. See more Route of the Hiawatha events here.

Lights are required for the pitch black Taft Tunnel. Photo: Andy Austin

WHAT TO PACK

Bring your own headlamps/lights and helmets, which are required for biking the trail.  Both are also available to rent at Lookout Pass Ski Area. Make sure to carry snacks, drinks and extra clothing on the ride. Even though it’s summer, the Taft Tunnel runs 47 degrees year-round, so layers are encouraged.

Bicycle across a backdrop of endless green. Photo: Andy Austin

LODGING, DINING AND ATTRACTIONS IN THE AREA

For an overnight adventure, there are multiple lodging options in Western Montana. Relax after your ride with a mineral soak at Quinn’s Hot Springs Resort in Paradise, Montana, just about an hour’s drive from the trail. And don’t miss the famous 50,000 Silver Dollar in Haugan, a unique family-friendly stop offering a restaurant, gift shop, motel, gas and a convenience store.

Food is available at both the Taft and Pearson trailheads on most days. You’ll find items like sandwiches, bottled water, soft drinks and Gatorade. You can purchase a picnic lunch at Lookout Pass Ski Area, too. Also at the Taft Trailhead, you’ll find the perfect souvenir, like Route of the Hiawatha T-shirts, sweatshirts, backpacks, magnets and more.

Air Adventures in Glacier Country

Western Montana boasts some of the most breathtaking landscapes in the world. Lush alpine forests, sweeping valleys and mountain meadows full of wildflowers create jaw-dropping views from every angle—but a bird’s-eye view of our spectacular scenery is a view you won’t forget. An aerial tour is a one-of-a-kind adventure, from tranquil hot air balloon rides to the adrenaline rush of skydiving. Take to the skies in Glacier Country. You’ll be glad you did.

Make a treasured memory in Western Montana’s Glacier Country. Photo: Mountain Butterfly

HOT AIR BALLOONING

Soar up, up and away on a hot air balloon flight. Be carefree in the crisp mountain air and enjoy the sheer beauty of Glacier Country from above—there’s not a bad seat in the basket! The panoramic views from high up in our big blue sky are unforgettable. A mellow sunrise or sunset flight is an unbeatable way to explore from above, whether you’re on a romantic getaway or looking for a once-in-a lifetime family adventure. Mountain Butterfly takes flight year-round throughout Glacier Country, with liftoffs from Whitefish to the Bitterroot Valley and points in between. Or, float over the Flathead Valley with 2FlyUs between June and September.

Float over our sweeping valleys. Photo: Mountain Butterfly

 AIRPLANE TOURS

Taking flight in Glacier Country is one of the best ways to explore our vast terrain. See the expanse of land dotted with backcountry glacial lakes you’d otherwise spend a day hiking into, survey many of our charming small mountain towns, take in our stunning peaks amidst sweeping valleys and try to catch a glimpse of wildlife, all from an aerial perspective. Bluegoose Aviation and Montana Air Adventures offer scenic aerial tours over the Mission Mountains, Flathead Valley and Flathead Lake.

Our professional and experienced guides will ensure your comfort. Photo: Montana Air Adventures

BONUS: Take to the skies in a float plane with Backcountry Flying Experience and glide across Flathead Lake—the largest freshwater lake west of the Mississippi—Seeley Lake, Lake Koocanusa and other lakes across northwest Montana.

Waterfalls abound in Glacier Country. Photo: Montana Air Adventures

SKYDIVING

If you’re looking for an adventure that’ll get your adrenaline pumping, skydiving in Western Montana is not to be-missed. Skydiving is an epic adventure anywhere, but Glacier Country sets the scene for a picture-perfect jump. Soak in the 360-degree grandeur of mountain peaks, sparkling lakes and sweeping meadows during the 40 second freefall—you’d be hard pressed to find a more immersive aerial tour. Skydive Whitefish offers tandem jumps from an altitude of 10,000 feet, above the quintessential mountain town of Whitefish between June and October.

Fall in love with skydiving. Photo: Skydive Whitefish

You’d be hard pressed to find a better view. Photo: Skydive Whitefish

MUSEUMS

For those of you hesitant to jump in a small plane—or out of one—here are a few options to satisfy your curiosity of Western Montana’s aerial adventures, while keeping your feet firmly planted on the ground. The Smokejumper Visitor Center in Missoula is the nation’s largest smokejumper base. Displays give you a glimpse into the life of a smokejumper. You’ll learn about smokejumper gear, cargo and aircraft, and you can explore the reconstructed lookout tower. The Missoula Smokejumper Visitor Center is open Memorial Day to Labor Day, then by appointment only. The Museum of Mountain Flying, also in Missoula and very near to the Smokejumper Visitor Center, focuses on the history of mountain flying in the Northern Rockies. Displays include multiple vintage aircraft, clothing, photographs and personal narratives and diaries.

If you visit in the spring you may even see smokejumpers taking practice jumps. Photo: Smokejumper Visitor Center

Small Town Rodeos in Western Montana

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

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

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

CALF ROPING

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

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

BARREL RACING

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

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

BRONC RIDING

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

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

LIVESTOCK SHOWING

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

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

WESTERN MONTANA FAIR

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

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

UPCOMING RODEOS

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

Summer Fun: Top 7 Kid Friendly Activities

For generations Western Montana’s authentic way of living has drawn families to vacation here, where adventure comes in many forms and simple pleasures such as floating a river, picking cherries off a tree or seeing wildlife on Wild Horse Island are plentiful. Try kayaking on Flathead Lake, learning to ride a horse, or taking a zip-line tour at a ski resort. Summer fun abounds in Glacier Country.

Relax and refresh in Glacier Country.

KAYAKING

Whether you’re getting the whole family out on one of our numerous lakes or floating casually down a river, Western Montana is a prime kayaking destination. Our waters make up some of the most serene parts of our region and offer an intimate way to explore our landscape and catch a glimpse of wildlife. Rentals are available throughout the region, or hire a guide who can customize a float to your comfort level and age of kids.

Saddle-up for fun! Photo: Bar W Guest Ranch

HORSEBACK RIDING

Saddling up in Western Montana is a part of the western experience, and with thousands of miles of horseback riding trails to explore, there are options (and lessons) for every experience level. Riding on horseback is a great way to see the countryside inaccessible to motorized vehicles, and kids can find their inner cowboy or cowgirl. Experienced guides can take you out for a lesson in the arena, a ride on a creekside trail, or a daylong journey into Glacier National Park or the Bob Marshall Wilderness. Either way, your family’s Western Montana vacation is sure to be memorable from the vantage point of a saddle.

Imagine the magical moments you can have on Wild Horse Island. Photo: Explore Flathead Lake

WILD HORSE ISLAND

Flathead Lake—the largest freshwater lake west of the Mississippi—is one of Glacier Country’s biggest playgrounds, and a summer recreation hot spot. Multiple islands dot the lake, the largest of which is Wild Horse Island. Accessible only by boat, this 2,160-acre island serves as a day-use state park. Wild Horse Island is sure to delight kids of all ages. Not only is the island breathtaking, it’s a prime wildlife-watching destination, home to wild horses (hence the name), bighorn sheep, coyotes, deer and a variety of birds. While hiking on one of the island’s short trails, you can tell your kids the legend of Wild Horse Island. The Kootenai American Indians were reported to have used the island to pasture their horses and to keep them from being stolen by neighboring tribes. The horses on the Island today are, if legend is believed, descendants of those horses. To access the island you can rent a boat, or book a private charter service with a guide such as Explore Flathead Lake.

If you can’t decide which horse to ride, just ride them all. Photo: Destination Missoula

CAROUSEL

A Carousel for Missoula is not-to-be-missed and delights children and adults alike. The carousel has more than 38 horses, 14 gargoyles and two chariots; each was hand-carved and painted. The carousel is housed inside, but on warm days the shuttered walls are opened. A band organ plays while the carousel spins around, and is the largest band organ (with 400 wooden pipes) in continuous use today in the U.S. Directly next to the carousel is Dragon Hollow Park. This magical park was constructed by volunteers and envisioned by children. It’s complete with a three headed dragon, an obstacle course and a tiny tots area.

Swing, climb and navigate your way through the Aerial Adventure Park at Whitefish Mountain Resort.

WHITEFISH MOUNTAIN RESORT

Whitefish Mountain Resort is one of our premium destinations for kid-friendly fun; with unique adventures from novice to expert, there’s an activity for everyone in the family. This skier’s paradise turns into a full-swing summer resort once the snow melts, and serves up fun on the Aerial Adventure Park, zip line, alpine slides, new tubing slide and much more. Rising above the town of Whitefish, sweeping views of the Flathead Valley and Glacier National Park are jaw dropping from the mountain. With on-site lodging and food, it’s easy to play the entire day.

It’s not hard to find a delicious treat at a farmers market. Photo: Destination Missoula

FARMERS MARKETS

A farmers market is the perfect way to spend a Western Montana morning, and with more than 20 in the region it’s easy to plan one into your trip. Not only will kids get an authentic glance of life in our charming small towns, but they’ll have the chance to sample local fare. From elephant chai ice cream to baked goods or fresh fruits, the markets are chock-full of locally grown and handmade food. Treats are not the only thing to delight in; often you can find a vendor who does face painting or balloon animals.

Savor the flavor of our locally grown fruits and vegetables.

U-PICK FARMS

You’d be hard pressed to find a more authentic experience than a u-pick farm. U-pick farms let kids get their hands dirty, and play a role in picking out their food, both of which kids love. The Flathead Valley boasts more than 120 growers of our famous Flathead cherries. Western Montana’s warm days and cool evenings make the perfect growing conditions for this beloved fruit, and it’s hard to find a sweeter tasting cherry. The cherry harvest begins late July, and many u-pick orchards will place signs out welcoming you to stop by. In many of our towns you’ll be able to find a u-pick farm to pick a sampling of local fruit, vegetables and farm fresh eggs.

Western Montana Fruitful Summers + Farmers Markets

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

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

FLATHEAD CHERRIES

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

You can never get enough of Flathead cherries!

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

Delicious Flathead cherries are a staple fruit in Western Montana.

HUCKLEBERRIES

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

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

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

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

FARMERS MARKETS

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

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

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

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

GLACIER COUNTRY 2019 FARMERS MARKETS:

Tuesdays: Darby, Missoula, Whitefish

Wednesdays: Bigfork, Arlee, Cut Bank, Trout Creek

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

Fridays: Plains, Polson, West Glacier

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

Sundays: Florence, Seeley Lake

For the Love of the Forest: Celebrating Montana’s Heritage

There are 154 national forests in the United States, and Montana is home to 12 of them. Five of those cover ground in Glacier Country—Lolo, Bitterroot, Flathead, Kootenai and part of the Idaho Panhandle National Forests—and claim more than 8 million acres of national forestland comprised of some of the most pristine terrain in America. Dramatic mountain peaks and soft rolling foothills; lush and diverse woodlands; sparkling lakes and rivers; and remote wilderness areas make up these beloved forestlands, all a vital part of Montana’s prized landscape. And thanks to the help of the U.S. Forest Service, and their efforts and partnerships with local organizations to conserve the land, we plan to keep it that way.

You can explore the rich history of our forests and the U.S. Forest Service’s legacy at various events and attractions throughout Western Montana’s Glacier Country.

EVENTS

Darby Logger Days thrills onlookers with competitions in axe throwing, pole climbing and cross cut sawing.

A few of our charming small towns celebrate forest heritage with lively timber-sports events. The beautiful Bitterroot Valley creates a happy ruckus with Darby Logger Days in July, celebrating the skill and bravery of those who work in the time-honored tradition of logging with logging competitions and live music, plus plenty of family fun for your little lumberjacks. Missoula joins in on the festivities with Forestry Days at Fort Missoula every April with everything from logging competitions to antique sawmill and horse logging demonstrations. The community of Libby showcases its forest stewardship heritage every June at Libby Logger Days, with educational exhibits, displays and demonstrations reflecting the rich history of forest management over the last two centuries.

ATTRACTIONS

Big Pine
The largest known ponderosa pine tree in Montana and third-largest in the United States stands tall near Alberton, less than 5 miles off Interstate 90 at one end of the Big Pine Campground. Make sure to pay a visit to this almost 400-year-old giant.

How would you like to spend the night in a fire lookout? Photo: Brian Savage

Forest Service Fire Lookout + Cabin Rentals
One of Western Montana’s best-kept secrets is that our Forest Service cabins and fire lookout towers can be rented. Cabins range from mountaintop lookouts to historic log cabins alongside blue-ribbon trout streams. These rustic accommodations offer a fun and affordable Western Montana adventure.

Haugan Savenac Historic U.S. Forest Service Nursery
Overnight at this former forest service nursery, offering a visitor center as well as a bunkhouse, cookhouse and cottage available for rent in Haugan, 90 miles west of Missoula in the scenic Clark Fork Valley. Walk the interpretive trail, and explore displays, artifacts and memorials. Open Memorial Day through Labor Day.

Climb to the top of a historic fire tower lookout. Photo: Historical Museum at Fort Missoula

Historical Museum at Fort Missoula
Explore Missoula County history at Fort Missoula, where you’ll find a teepee burner—once plentiful in the Missoula Valley and used by sawmills to burn waste from milling operations. Also on display, the Forestry Area Sawmill, representing the portable sawmills once used throughout the region; Miller Creek Guard Station, once used to house “fire watchers” posted throughout the region after the devastating fires of 1910 destroyed 3 million acres of Western Montana forestland; and the Sliderock Lookout, a tower used in the 1930s to spot fires in Montana’s vast landscape, similar to those still used today.

The Jack Saloon
Don’t miss “The Best Bar in America,” located on Graves Creek between Lolo and Lolo Hot Springs. The Jack—built from rough-hewn cedar logs by a local lumberjack legend—provides an authentic glimpse of Montana logging history. Enjoy the bar and grill, live music, cabin rentals and RV parking, and, most importantly, the history—loggers have etched and burned their names and sentiments into the wooden bar and timber walls for decades.

Tour the Smokejumper Visitor Center to see these real-life heroes at work. Photo: MOTBD

Missoula Smokejumper Visitor Center
One of the most popular visitor attractions in Missoula is a working smokejumper facility that educates folks on firefighting procedures, smokejumper history and fire-related information with murals, videos, a reconstructed lookout tower and exhibits of men and women fighting wildfire throughout history. Learn about jump gear, parachutes, cargo, training and aircraft. Tours last about 45 minutes. Open Memorial Day through Labor Day. Through the winter, tours are available by appointment.

Watching a demonstration at the pack corral. Photo: National Museum of Forest Service History

National Museum of Forest Service History
Learn about early efforts to protect America’s forests, and discover heroes in conservation like Teddy Roosevelt and Gifford Pinchot—the first Chief of the U.S. Forest Service—the evolution of America’s alpine ski areas, and the smokejumper/WWII paratrooper connection. The visitor center is a restored ranger cabin housing exhibits and a gift shop. On the museum grounds, walk the interpretive Forest Discovery Trail through a “Champion Grove,” trees that share the DNA of similar groves around the nation and planted in honor of champions of the cause, and explore the pack corral and knot-tying station as well an L-4 Fire Lookout Tower replica. Open Memorial Day through Labor Day.

Ninemile Remount Depot and Historic Ranger Station
This Frenchtown Visitor Center offers a self-guided tour of the history of the place that provided experienced packer animals and firefighters and their animals to fight fires and help with backcountry work projects. Enjoy Cape Cod architecture, a pasture and a mountain landscape. Located on the Ninemile Ranger District campground near Frenchtown. In 1930 the Forest Service secured a lease of the Ninemile Property to set up a central depot to supply pack stock, to serve as a training base for packers and to standardize packing practices in the forests.

Seeley Lake Ranger District + Gus the Tree
Stop by this local visitor center and don’t miss the world’s largest larch tree. Near the western shore of Seeley Lake, a mile-long nature trail winds through the Gerard Grove to a 1,000-year-old western larch, locally known as Gus.

American Indian Culture + Events in Western Montana

Explore the rich heritage of American Indians and time-honored traditions like pow wows in Western Montana’s Glacier Country, where you’ll find two of the seven Indian reservations that fall within Montana’s borders—the Blackfeet Nation of the Blackfeet Reservation and the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of the Flathead Reservation. In addition to multiple year-round tribal events, you’ll find museums, galleries, shops and organizations dedicated to preserving the American Indian history and way of life with compelling exhibits and artifacts, and authentic arts and crafts.

Lively dancers, vibrant costumes and rhythmic drumming make a pow wow a can’t-miss event. Photo: MOTBD

BLACKFEET RESERVATION

Encompassing 1.5 million acres in northwestern Montana, the Blackfeet Reservation is bordered by Canada and the gorgeous landscape of Glacier National Park. The Blackfeet Nation—made up of the North Piegan, South Piegan, Blood and Siksika—is the largest American Indian population in Montana. Exploring the Blackfeet Nation gives an intimate look at the culture of the American Indians allegedly named for the dark color of their moccasins.

The Indian Relay at North American Indian Days in Browning offers full-blown excitement. Photo: MOTBD

In Browning, Montana, experience one of the largest gatherings of North American tribes, held annually for four days during the second week of July. North American Indian Days pow wow and rodeo festivities include a parade, traditional and fancy dancing, drumming, customary stick games, and a rodeo with the spectator-favorite Indian Relay races—horse relay races featuring tribal competitors from across the Rocky Mountain West.

Also in Browning, at the Museum of the Plains Indian, pore over historic clothing, weapons, household items and other artifacts from the Northern Plains tribal peoples. Authentic Blackfeet and American Indian arts, crafts and jewelry are on display at the Blackfeet Heritage Center and Art Gallery, representing hundreds of tribal artists’ pottery, rugs, beadwork, moccasins, rawhide work, and much more. Don’t miss the popular visitor stop of Faught’s Blackfeet Trading Post, a full-service clothing store supporting local tribal artists and craftspeople through the sale of specialty native-made crafts, books, lotions, gifts, souvenirs and beading supplies.

Spend an unforgettable night in an authentic Blackfeet tipi. Photo: Lodgepole Gallery & Tipi Village

Near Browning at the Lodgepole Gallery & Tipi Village, spend the night in a tipi or cabin, visit the on-site fine art gallery representing Blackfeet artists, and take a cultural history tour or art workshop. Between Browning and East Glacier Park, visit the Blackfeet Nation Bison Reserve viewing area on U.S. Highway 2. Based out of East Glacier Park, Sun Tours provides an authentic glimpse of Blackfeet Nation culture and heritage via interpretive tours throughout Blackfeet Country, including the jaw-dropping Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park.

To get a Blackfeet Indian perspective of Glacier National Park, take a trip with Sun Tours. Photo: Sun Tours

Every summer in the park, tribal members share their knowledge of the history and culture of American Indians with park visitors as part of the Native America Speaks program. Don’t miss this important opportunity to learn more about American Indian culture in Montana among the beauty of the Glacier National Park landscape.

FLATHEAD RESERVATION

Home to the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, the Flathead Reservation encompasses 1.2 million acres between Missoula and Kalispell, including the southern half of Flathead Lake. This part of the region is known for Mission Mountain scenery and world-class recreation opportunities.

Get a close-up look at American Indian culture by attending a pow wow in Glacier Country. Photo: MOTBD

Annual Flathead Reservation events provide a look into the traditions of the American Indians, including the Arlee Celebration pow wow in Arlee held annually in July; the Standing Arrow Pow Wow in Elmo also held annually in July; and the Kyiyo Pow Wow in Missoula held every April. Witness traditional dancing, drumming and dress, plus games and tribal story sharing. Each pow wow offers something unique.

At the center of the Flathead Reservation, explore the National Bison Range in Moiese, home to roughly 350 – 500 bison, as well as elk, deer, pronghorn antelope, bighorn sheep and a variety of birds. You’ll find three wildlife drives in the range; West Loop and Prairie Drive are short year-round drives, and Red Sleep Mountain Drive is open mid-May to Mid-October.

The People’s Center introduces visitors to the history and culture of the Flathead Reservation. Photo: MOTBD

The People’s Center in Pablo tells the story of the Salish, Kootenai and Pend d’Oreille tribes through a museum and exhibit gallery. This unique cultural center offers educational activities, history presentations, beading classes, and traditional gatherings like pow wows.

The Ninepipes Museum of Early Montana in Charlo memorializes the history and culture of the Flathead Indian Reservation and early Montana with artifacts, historical photographs, beadwork, guns, bows and arrows and a diorama room filled with mounted wildlife and an American Indian camp. Also take in stunning Mission Mountain views on the museum’s short nature trail.

Set foot in the oldest continually operated trading post in Montana at the Four Winds Indian Trading Post in St. Ignatius, where you’ll find beads, face paint, headdresses, animal hides, genuine sinew, and other authentic American Indian supplies. Another must stop—the Montana American Indian owned and operated Takes Horse Gallery in Polson, offering museum-quality artwork ranging from Western contemporary to abstract.

The Mission Mountains beckon, but be sure to buy a permit before recreating on reservation lands. Photo: MOTBD

Please recreate with respect on tribal lands, and note that a Tribal Conservation Permit is required to recreate on these reservation lands. Learn more about Blackfeet Reservation recreation regulations here and Flathead Reservation recreation regulations here.

Andy Austin Spring Tour: I-90 Corridor

Every summer, thousands of travelers drive I-90 as they cruise across Montana. Many of these folks will take a detour south near Bozeman to head to Yellowstone, and others may take the detour north of Missoula to Glacier National Park. But Montana has so many hidden gems tucked just off the interstate, from endless mountain views to quaint small towns with big personalities. My name is Andy Austin. I am a Montana-based photographer and lover of the lesser-visited places in my beautiful state. When Glacier Country Tourism reached out to do a shoot in the I-90 corridor west of Missoula, I was quick to say yes to exploring one of the few areas I have only driven through. 

I-90 and the Clark Fork River in a perfect scene under a double rainbow. Photo: Andy Austin

Day 1:
I met up with some friends in Missoula in the morning and we headed west to Tarkio to put a few boats in the river and try our luck at fly-fishing. Any day on the river is a good day in my book, but the beautiful weather and stunning scenery along the Clark Fork made for a picture-perfect day (literally). After catching a few trout, we took the boats out at Forest Grove and headed for the quiet town of Superior.

Our fly-fishing guide, Sarah, with a beautiful rainbow trout caught on the Clark Fork River. Photo: Andy Austin

We set up camp just minutes from town in the secluded Trout Creek Campground before setting our sights on the countless forest service roads sprawling throughout the Bitterroot Mountains. Driving up Thompson Peak was one of the more incredible drives I’ve taken this year, as wildflowers and grandiose views kept me wanting to stop every few feet. Watching the sunset up here made me realize how large and vast this range is, and I realized how little of it I actually have seen from the interstate.

Enjoying the peace and quiet of the Lolo National Forest with friends and campfire stories. Photo: Andy Austin

Day 2:
A rainy morning made for the perfect opportunity to spend the day exploring the small towns just minutes from the interstate. We started in Alberton at the historic Montana Valley Bookstore, and, honestly, I would have been happy if you left me there all day. With more than 10,000 used books, this small bookstore immediately leaves you in awe. From here we headed down the road to St. Regis and one of the most visited attractions of the area, the Travel Center. Of course, I had to get a huckleberry milkshake (okay, I had two) while I wandered the store and found some Montana-made gifts to send to out-of-state friends.

It’s called the “Best Shake Ever” and I cannot disagree with that. Photo: Andy Austin

We rounded out the afternoon with a trip to Haugan and a visit to the 50,000 Silver Dollar Bar (although the number of silver dollars has now passed 75,000) as well as a visit to Superior for a beautiful hike up the Vista Trail Scenic Overlook. We headed back west for a good night’s rest in a cabin along the Clark Fork River just north of St. Regis.

Alberton offers this hidden gem of a bookstore on its historic Railroad Avenue. Photo: Michael Graef

Day 3:
An early morning trip to the Montana/Idaho state line was in order so we could spend the majority of our day on the Route of the Hiawatha Trail. A rails to trails mountain biking route took us down 15 miles of the most scenic riding I’ve ever been on. This route followed the original route of the Milwaukee Railroad as we crossed seven steel trestle bridges and through 10 tunnels that have all been here for more than 100 years. Along the way, numerous informative signs told us the rich history of the area and the trail we were on. After completing 15 downhill miles, a shuttle bus was waiting at the bottom to take us back to the top.

Riding the Route of the Hiawatha was a perfect way to cap off an incredible trip. Photo: Andy Austin

Overall the trip will always hold a special place in my heart and now I’m going to have to budget a lot more time when I take I-90, as I have many new favorite places to make stops for.

Happy Adventuring,
Andy Austin

Have Fun Boating Montana’s Waters, But Be Responsible, Too

From Flathead Lake—the largest freshwater lake west of the Mississippi—to countless alpine lakes, legendary rivers and famous blue-ribbon trout streams, there’s no shortage of places to play on the pristine waters of Western Montana’s Glacier Country. Boaters, rafters, paddlers, sailors and anglers alike flock to the region to take advantage of world-class water recreation opportunities among some of the planet’s most scenic and unspoiled landscapes.

After a day of adventure on the water, practice CLEAN. DRAIN. DRY. to guard against aquatic invasive species.

One of the most vital ways we keep Montana’s waters clean is by doing our part and complying with Montana’s Aquatic Invasive Species laws and rules. As a recreator in the region, we rely on you to help keep Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS) out of our waters. If you’re planning a boating or fishing trip in Montana, it’s important to know about AIS—plants, animals and pathogens that are not native to Montana and can have far-reaching impacts on the state, wreaking havoc on our environment.

AIS can displace native species and threaten recreational fishing opportunities—those trophy rainbow trout we all love to fish. Wildlife—like bears, elk, moose, birds and waterfowl can be greatly impacted by AIS contamination, when their food and habitat are compromised. AIS can also clog waterways, impact irrigation and power systems, degrade ecosystems and cause public health problems.

Aquatic invasive species include half-inch-long zebra mussels, which can quickly infest lakes and rivers.

It’s easy for these non-native invasive water species to hop a ride on watercraft, paddles, fishing nets or a pair of waders, and find a new home in Montana. When these invasive creatures set in, they spread quickly and are nearly impossible—and very costly—to contain.

You can take a few simple steps to ensure that your unforgettable Montana adventure doesn’t have a negative impact on the environment:

CLEAN. DRAIN. DRY.

CLEAN Completely remove all mud, water and vegetation from your watercraft and gear before leaving the access area of a place you’ve recreated.

DRAIN All water from your watercraft and gear.

DRY Your watercraft and gear completely.

Stop for a quick mandatory inspection. Montanas’s waterways are worth it! Photo: Washington DFW

Prior to launching on a Montana waterway, you’ll need to have your watercraft inspected. This is a state requirement. Watercraft isn’t limited to boats and rafts; it includes kayaks, canoes, paddleboards and river-surfing boards. You can find more information about inspections and inspection stations here.

As you take in the natural beauty of Montana’s waterways, please remember to always CLEAN. DRAIN. DRY., and comply with our rules and regulations. Visit the Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks website for boating laws, fishing licenses and regulations and information about places to boat, float and kayak in the area. Together, we can keep the Treasure State a treasured place for all to enjoy.

 

Get a Grip: Rock Climb Western Montana

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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