Category Archives: Outdoor Fun

Western Montana Wild West Adventures Part 1

Western Montana often conjures up images of cowboys, dude ranches, the Wild West and horseback rides through alpine forests and sweeping mountain valleys. For those looking to take the reins on their own cowboy or cowgirl adventure, Glacier Country can deliver. Our region is chock-full of resorts and ranches that have harnessed Montana’s history and packaged it for your pleasure. Grab your cowboy hat and saddle up in Western Montana.

Your Wild West adventure awaits in Glacier Country.

WILD WEST WEEKEND AT BAR W GUEST RANCH

The Bar W Guest Ranch, near Whitefish, is ready to welcome you any time of year with warm hospitality and packages for the “western hearted.” The Wild West Weekend offers a one-night package that includes a trail ride; wagon ride; skeet, archery and hand gun shooting; and a steak dinner as well as full breakfast. For a longer stay, ladies only are invited for Cowgirl Up!—a weeklong all-inclusive getaway. Relax and soak in the splendor of nature while you ride horseback, rejuvenate with the spa package and bond during a cattle drive.

Cowgirl up with your gal pals at the Bar W Guest Ranch. Photo: Bar W Guest Ranch

DREAM HAVEN

A horseback riding adventure awaits at Dream Haven Ranch. Outside of Marion, Dream Haven Ranch offers three-day or six-day all-inclusive getaways at the rustic and intimate bed-and-breakfast ranch home. Daily trail rides, roping and arena games will help you carry out your cowboy dreams—you’ll even learn to crack a whip. Try your hand at skeet shooting or archery, then end each night with a western home-cooked meal. Western adventures continue in the winter, with trail riding, snowshoeing and sledding excursions.

Ride through alpine forests with Dream Haven Ranch. Photo: Dream Haven Ranch

MCGINNIS MEADOWS CATTLE & GUEST RANCH

The McGinnis Meadows Cattle & Guest Ranch is an authentic working cattle ranch in Libby. The ranch teaches a horsemanship and cattle program, for all levels of riders, in the Buck Brannaman style—a leading philosophy of horse handling that looks at horse training from the horse’s perspective, ensuring the animal feels safe, which forms a true bond with the rider. The McGinnis Meadows Ranch owner, Shayne Jackson, has traveled with Buck to more than 400 clinics over 20 years, and brings his knowledge back to the ranch creating the only Buck Brannaman program in a live ranch setting. The program is taught daily in a clinic style for the duration of your stay; you’ll practice working, driving and roping cattle, as well as trail riding.

Learn new horsemanship skills at McGinnis Meadows Cattle & Guest Ranch. Photo: McGinnis Meadows Cattle & Guest Ranch

THE WILDERNESS CLUB

Saddle up at the Wilderness Club in Eureka. Take a trail ride or carriage/sleigh ride, and enjoy awe-inspiring views of the Kootenai National Forest. Then tee up at the Wilderness Club golf course, designed by golf legend Nick Faldo and ranked the No. 1 golf course in Montana by Golfweek and Golf Magazine. All 18 holes offer stunning vistas and a scenic swing. Who says cowboys don’t like golf? At the end of the day lay your head down in a deluxe cottage.

Enjoy a horseback ride at the Wilderness Club. Photo: Wilderness Club

BEAR CREEK RANCH

You won’t find a more down-home family-friendly feel than Bear Creek Ranch in Essex. Experience warm western hospitality at one of their cabins and enjoy a home-cooked breakfast in the main lodge daily. Immerse yourself in cowboy culture, gathering and herding cattle for the Indian Summer October cattle drive. Some riding experience is needed, as you’ll hit the trails right away. Prepare for long days in beautiful country adjacent to Glacier National Park. Each season at Bear Creek Ranch offers a unique horseback riding vacation.

Herd cows during a cattle drive at Bear Creek Ranch. Photo: Bear Creek Ranch

It’s not hard to find a Wild West experience in Glacier Country. Click here to explore more.

Dark Skies + Stargazing in Glacier Country

Glacier Country is revered for our big blue skies and seemingly endless views of awe-inspiring sunrises and sunsets. But a well-kept secret is that these endless blue skies turn into jaw-dropping starry nights. Glacier National Park is internationally recognized as a Dark Sky Park, but, throughout Western Montana, our skies deliver, night after night. We’ve made it easy to enjoy our starry nights with observatories throughout the region. Lay out a blanket and count the stars in Glacier Country.

Come see the Milky Way in Western Montana. Photo: Nicholas Parker

GLACIER NATIONAL PARK DARK SKIES

Glacier National Park is one of 26 parks to be internationally recognized as a Dark Sky Park and the first park to span an international boarder—the designation extending into the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park. Glacier National Park received this designation for its minimal light and air pollution, a commitment to prevent light and air pollution, and the broad, unending expanse of sky over the park creates a distinguished quality of starry nights. Camp overnight next to an aquamarine glacial lake, get cozy fireside and enjoy the unmatched view; if you’re lucky you’ll catch a glimpse of a falling star.

You won’t want to miss nighttime in Glacier National Park. Photo: Jacob Frank/NPS

STAR DOME AT ST. MARY

At the east entrance to Glacier National Park sits St. Mary. New this year to the park is the St. Mary Observatory, funded by Glacier National Park Conservancy. The Star Dome is equipped with a 20-inch telescope, one of the largest telescopes in the National Park Service and the largest in Montana, which gives visitors high-resolution views of planets, galaxies and nebulae. If you’re not looking through the telescope you can view the images on one of two 55-inch monitors mounted on the observatory. The Half the Park Happens After Dark program hosts guided viewing and star parties June through September on clear nights at rotating locations.

Our big blue skies appear endless on a starry night. Photo: Ray Stinson

STAR GAZING ROOM: PAYNE FAMILY NATIVE AMERICAN CENTER

The Payne Family Native American Center, located on the University of Montana campus in Missoula, was the first campus facility in the nation built specifically for a Department of Native American Studies and American Indian Student Services. One of the newest additions to the center is the Star Gazing Room, which hosts celestial stargazing shows open to the public. Learn about the constellations, planets and upcoming celestial events. Each show will also cover a unique topic from star lore of different cultures to the evolution of our universe.

Stay cozy inside while exploring the galaxy. Photo: Todd Goodrich

BLUE MOUNTAIN OBSERVATORY

In Missoula, the Blue Mountain Observatory sits atop Blue Mountain at an elevation of 6,300 feet. It’s about a 45-minute drive from the heart of downtown Missoula, a perfect distance from town resulting in minimal light pollution. Attend a public observation night to explore planets, star clusters, distant galaxies and nebulae. You’ll also learn how to spot celestial objects with binoculars or the naked eye. Bring a blanket and bundle up—a treasure trove of stars and sweeping views of the Milky Way await.

Book early to secure your ticket to an observation night at Blue Mountain Observatory. Photo: Ashley Juric

SIGHTING OPPORTUNITIES

Northern Lights: When the earth’s magnetic field has been energized from solar events it will send charged electrons toward the poles. These collide with the upper atmosphere and produce light that we call the northern lights or aurora borealis. You can sometimes view the northern lights from the northern parts of Western Montana. Glacier National Park, the Northwest Corridor and the East Glacier Corridor are prime viewing areas. For a picture-perfect experience head to Glacier National Park, or travel just a bit out of town on one of our scenic corridors. Northern lights are most active between September and March.

Chase the Northern Lights in Glacier Country. Photo: Noah Couser

Harvest Moon: In ancient times it was common to use the phases of the moon to track the year, instead of the solar year, which we now use. Each month’s full moon was given a special name based on the characteristics associated with that month. During the fall equinox, when the harvest moon is full, the moon rises almost as the sun sets. This slight change makes a much lighter night. It is thought that farmers would work later into the night harvesting crops, hence the origin of the term ‘harvest moon.’ Western Montana has deep farming roots; come pay homage to our roots and join us in celebrating the fall harvest and harvest moon.

There’s something magical about an evening spent under the moon in Montana. Photo: Donnie Sexton

Glacier Country’s Garnet Ghost Town

When we refer to Montana by its nickname “The Treasure State,” we’re usually thinking of all the beauty and wonder that makes this place extraordinary—stunning landscapes, charming small towns, and world-class recreation. But Montana has been a place of rich mineral reserves, and, in 1852, gold was discovered here. This revelation not only led to Montana’s nickname, but to an immediate boom in mining, which became an economic stronghold in the region.

Garnet’s relatively short-lived boom in the in late 1800s is a history buff’s paradise today.

Mining towns began popping up all over the state, but as the minerals diminished, the towns did too. This “boom and bust” phenomenon left once-thriving mining towns abandoned—seemingly overnight. Today, these ghost towns offer a unique, authentic glimpse of homesteader life in the Old West. Step back in time to a place where miners dreamed of riches and better days.

Garnet has been named one of the coolest and best preserved ghost towns in America.

Montana’s best-preserved ghost town is right here in Glacier Country. Garnet Ghost Town was named one of America’s Coolest Ghost Towns by Travel + Leisure. Just 30 miles east of Missoula in the Garnet Mountain Range, Garnet was named for the semi-precious ruby-colored stone and gold-bearing quartz scoured from the mountains here.

Garnet’s buildings date back to the late 1800s, when mining was booming and the town boasted 1,000 residents.

By the end of the 19th century, nearly 1,000 people called Garnet home—a population large enough to warrant four stores, four hotels, two barber shops, a butcher shop, a candy store, and a whopping 13 saloons. But precious ore dwindled over time, and in 1912 a fire destroyed much of the area. By the 1940s, Garnet was a ghost town. Thirty historic buildings remain today—including cabins, a saloon and part of a hotel—all offering a fascinating look at what life was like during the Montana gold rush.

A visit to Garnet Ghost Town will spark the imaginations of family members old and young. Photo: MOTBD

Garnet Ghost Town is open year-round with limited winter access, and there are two winter rental cabins available on-site. The cabins are accessed by cross-country ski, snowmobile and snowshoe only, offering a unique winter wonderland experience. Visit garnetghosttown.org or call the BLM Missoula Field Office at 406.329.3914 for directions and information.

Hand tools from days gone by serve as reminders that Garnet was once a thriving community.

In addition to exploring the ghost town itself, the Garnet area is a treasure trove of outdoor fun, including hiking, biking, fishing, snowmobiling and cross-country skiing. Multiple hiking trails begin at the Garnet Parking Lot, and traverse through beautiful, steep timbered drainages climbing to nearly 7,000 feet. You’ll also find more that 30 miles of backcountry trails for mountain biking and off-highway vehicle (OHV) use. If you’re keen on catching rainbows—trout that is—bring your fly rod. Elk Creek, just two miles northeast of Garnet Ghost Town is flush with brook, cutthroat and rainbow trout and empties into the Blackfoot River nearby—the perfect setting for an idyllic angling adventure.

The Garnet Mountains offer recreational opportunities galore.

Fall Events and Harvest Festivals in Western Montana

When the green landscapes of summer begin to fade into fall, an unmatched tapestry of golden hues comes out, complementing our impossibly big blue sky. Autumn is one of our most vibrant seasons here in Glacier Country, and fall brings a few of our favorite things: scarecrows, pumpkins, the autumn harvest, seasonal microbrews and bugling elk. Breathe in the cool mountain air, put on your coziest flannel and join us for some of our best fall events. Western Montana’s golden season also brings lighter traffic and shoulder season prices.

Fall brings some of our favorite events. Photo: Rio Chantel Photography

KOOTENAI HARVEST FESTIVAL

The Kootenai Harvest Festival in Libby is a family-friendly festival on the banks of the Kootenai River. Celebrate the harvest of locally grown food and land conservation with live music, sample fare from food vendors and discover Montana-made crafts. Kids activities include face painting, sack races, tug-of-war and more. The festival is free to attend, and a garden-to-table meal made entirely with vegetables grown in Libby is served for an additional charge. Festivities occur mid-September.

Happiness abounds at the Kootenai Harvest Festival. Photo: Annie Gassman and Friends of Scotchman Peaks Wilderness

FALL GATHERING AT THE MOON RANDOLPH HOMESTEAD

The Moon Randolph Homestead is Missoula’s public homestead and a historic district on the National Register of Historic Places. The 160 acres of land was purchased in 1889 by Ray and Luella Moon, who built a small claim shack and slowly planted apple and cherry trees on 30+ acres. In 1907 the Randolphs purchased the homestead and added laying hens, dairy cows, and a vegetable garden to the premises. Purchased in 1996, and soon after reconstructed and preserved by the city of Missoula, the homestead is open Saturday for tours of the old outbuildings and the maintained orchard. The Fall Gathering celebrates another year passed on the homestead. Gather under the full harvest moon for live music from local musicians, cider pressing, a harvest feast with fresh local food and homemade pie. This event is ticketed and occurs mid-September.

Cozy up, and bring the whole family. You won’t want to miss the Fall Gathering. Photo: Rio Chantel Photography

HARVEST FESTIVAL AND APPLE DAY AT THE HISTORICAL MUSEUM AT FORT MISSOULA

Also in Missoula, the Historical Museum at Fort Missoula has three gallery spaces with exhibits that change throughout the year, and sits on 32 acres of land covered with more than 20 preserved Montana buildings and structures. The Harvest Festival and Apple Day is the perfect excuse to head to the museum with family in tow. First visit the Hayes Homestead Cabin to learn how homesteaders would begin to prepare for winter in autumn. Then take the full tour of the outside buildings, make cider with an old-fashioned apple press, or get artsy with fall-themed crafts for the kids. Admission is free with a nonperishable food item for the local food bank, and lunch from local food trucks is available for purchase. This event takes place annually near the end of September.

Crush apples to make fresh cider at the Harvest Festival and Apple Day. Photo: Historical Museum at Fort Missoula

GREAT NORTHWEST OKTOBERFEST

Glacier Country continues to be a haven for beer enthusiasts, with more than 30 breweries in the region. So, of course, one of the ways we celebrate autumn is with an epic Brewfest. The Great Northwest Oktoberfest, in Whitefish, is chock-full of delicious German beer, food, music and unique contests like keg hurling, log sawing and stein holding. Test your skills or cheer on competitors from the sidelines. There is a small admission fee, and food and beer are an additional cost. Prepare to wet your whistle and chicken dance your heart out at the beginning of October.

Savor the sip at the Great Northwest Oktoberfest. Photo: Whitefish Chamber of Commerce

STEVENSVILLE SCARECROW FESTIVAL

Grab a pumpkin spice or vanilla chai latte then head to one of our favorite fall festivals. You’d be hard pressed to find a more unique, family friendly event than the Stevensville Scarecrow Festival. Locals craft the cutest, scariest and most creative scarecrows to be viewed and voted upon by you. After you’ve voted, head to downtown Stevensville for music, food, a farmers market, the Scarecrow Festival Brewfest and more. Children will enjoy the straw bale maze, giant slide and bouncy house, and can compete in a pumpkin-carving contest. This festival takes place annually in early October.

Vote on your favorite piece at the Stevensville Scarecrow Festival. Photo: Visit MT

Fall in Western Montana is a magical season filled with authentic Western Montana events. Find more here.

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

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.

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.

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.