Category Archives: Outdoor 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

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.

 

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.

Hidden Gem Golf Courses in Western Montana

With wide-open vistas and room to roam, it should come as no surprise that Western Montana’s Glacier Country is a golfer’s paradise. Come spring, we gleefully trade our ski poles for golf clubs. Here, we have the perfect blend of breathtaking landscapes, renowned courses and affordability. Pair that combo with small-town charm, and teeing up in Montana is a real treat. Get on the green in Glacier Country, where you’ll find some of the most stunning and enjoyable golf experiences, and get to know our scenic travel corridors while you’re at it.

Sunset bathes hole 12 of the Nick Faldo-designed course at the Wilderness Club. Photo: Wilderness Club

NORTHWEST CORRIDOR

Along Montana’s quiet Northwest Corridor, you’ll find three courses all offering something special. Eureka may be small but it boasts not one, but two golf hot spots. At Indian Springs Ranch play the links-style, 18-hole championship course that’s pure fun. Bask in the beauty of the Tobacco Valley at this unique, master-planned recreational community. Also in Eureka, the stunning Wilderness Club—designed by golf legend Nick Faldo—was ranked the No. 1 golf course in Montana by Golfweek and Golf Magazine and the No. 2 Best New Private Golf Course in the U.S. by Golf Magazine. In Libby, the aptly named Cabinet View Golf Club offers just that—a great game of golf among gorgeous Cabinet Mountain views.

BITTERROOT VALLEY

The beautiful Bitterroot Valley beckons all year long, but any season you can swing a golf club here is extra special. The unique Whitetail Golf Course in Stevensville is located within the Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge, so it’s the perfect place to find an authentic Montana golfing experience…and spot some wildlife on the green. Further down U.S. Highway 93 in Hamilton, the Hamilton Golf Course offers a fabulous round of golf and some of the best views in the valley.

Playing the 14th hole at Meadow Lake Golf Resort. Photo: Meadow Lake Golf Resort, Inc.

GLACIER NATIONAL PARK SURROUNDING AREA + EAST GLACIER CORRIDOR

If your trip to Glacier National Park isn’t complete without a round of golf (we don’t blame you), here are four places in and around the park to swing your clubs. Meadow Lake Golf Resort in Columbia Falls is a must-play, and Golf Magazine agrees. Golf Digest gives this treasured course 4.5 stars and named it one of the top four public courses in Montana. Within the park itself, Glacier View Golf Course in West Glacier blends natural beauty with a polished game of golf. Along the East Glacier Travel Corridor in East Glacier Park, tee up at Glacier Park Lodge Golf Course. This historic course on the Blackfeet Reservation is the oldest grass greens golf course in Montana, and all 9 holes are named for former Blackfeet chiefs. At the Cut Bank Golf and Country Club a mile west of Cut Bank, enjoy small-town golf at its finest with an exceptional game and down-to-earth vibes.

TOUR 200

The laid-back Wild Horse Plains Golf Course in Plains is a family favorite along Montana’s scenic Tour 200 just north of Paradise. From there, drive the length of this scenic byway and end up in the quaint town of Thompson Falls for another round at Rivers Bend Golf Course, where every third hole finds you back at the clubhouse.

The Mission Mountain Golf Club offers gorgeous views of its namesake. Photo: Mission Mountain Golf Club

FLATHEAD CORRIDOR

The Flathead Valley has been named a “Top 50 Golf Course Destination” by Golf Digest. There’s no denying the beauty of the region and the caliber of its courses. At the southern tip of Flathead Lake—the largest freshwater lake west of the Mississippi—the Polson Bay Golf Course in Polson offers beautiful mountain views and fairways adjacent to the lake. South of that, in Pablo, the 9-hole executive Silver Fox Golf Course winds its way through lush trees, serene ponds and a wildlife corridor on the Salish Kootenai College campus. Even farther south, take in exceptional Mission Mountain views and a challenging game of golf at the Mission Mountain Golf Club in Ronan.

I-90 CORRIDOR

Experience good old-fashioned Montana hospitality 10 miles west of Missoula at King Ranch Golf Course in Frenchtown, where you’ll find 18 holes on wide fairways along the scenic Clark Fork River. Another I-90 Corridor favorite along the Clark Fork, and one of Western Montana’s hidden gems, is Trestle Creek Golf Course in St. Regis—known for some of the finest greens.

The Double Arrow Lodge features a spectacular golf course plus lodging and dining in Seeley Lake.

SEELEY-SWAN CORRIDOR

The recreation opportunities in the Seeley-Swan Corridor are some of Montana’s best, and golf is no exception. In the storybook village of Bigfork on the north shore of Flathead Lake, the semi-private Eagle Bend Golf Club offers a championship 27-hole course. In Seeley Lake, the pristine ponderosa pine setting of the Double Arrow Golf Course offers resort golfing nestled between the Swan and Mission mountain ranges. Watch wildlife as you make your way around water features and bunkers, and don’t miss the No. 15 signature hole, featuring an elevated tee and island green.

The list goes on—Western Montana is dotted with golf courses, from small-town favorites to large championship and semi-private golf clubs and resorts. Go green under our famous blue sky. For more inspiration, visit the Northwest Montana Golf Association, and read more about Glacier Country’s larger golf courses here.

Added Bonus: In addition to stunning scenery and incredible terrain, golfing in Western Montana won’t break the bank; it’s part of the warm western hospitality we’re known for.

7 Mountain Bike Trails to Explore in Glacier Country

Mountain biking Glacier Country’s extensive trail systems is the perfect way to cover epic ground while breathing in fresh mountain air. Shred a single-track mountain biking trail or visit our family-friendly ski resorts turned downhill mountain bike resorts. There’s no shortage of terrain to pedal; miles of trail systems crisscross the region, and there’s something for every skill level. Explore Western Montana on two wheels. Here are a handful of our favorite trails.

Elevate your mountain biking adventure in Glacier Country.

WHITEFISH MOUNTAIN RESORT – WHITEFISH 

Level: Children and Beginners – Advanced

Whitefish Mountain Resort, located 8 miles north of the quintessential mountain town of Whitefish is a mecca of meandering trails. Ski mountains provide some of the best terrain for mountain biking and family fun for riders of every skill level, and Whitefish has it down to an art. At Strider Bike Park aspiring young mountain bikers, ages 2 – 6, practice their riding skills on pedal-less bikes. A bike school is offered for first-timers, while skilled riders can explore 30-plus miles of chair lift-accessed cross-country mountain bike trails. Unbeatable panoramic views of the Flathead Valley can be taken in from the top. Bike rentals are available on site. Whitefish Mountain Resort opens for summer activities May 25, 2019 (weather dependent).

Round Trip Distance: Varies

Western Montana’s alpine forests wait to be explored. Photo: Whitefish Bike Retreat

WHITEFISH BIKE RETREAT AND BEAVER LAKE TRAIL – WHITEFISH

Level: Beginners – Intermediate  

Eight miles west of Whitefish is the Whitefish Bike Retreat, the perfect place to begin your biking adventure. Make it an overnight—trail-side lodging and on-site bike rentals let you sleep, wake and ride. Warm up for the day by taking a lap on the short loop circling the 19-acre property, navigate berms on the pump track or weave through obstacles in the skills park. When you’re ready to explore more, the Whitefish Bike Retreat connects directly to The Whitefish Trail, serving up more than 42 miles of single-track trails. The Beaver Lake Trailhead, located next to the retreat, is a short but fun 3-mile loop. Choose to turn back, or keep exploring The Whitefish Trail system.

Round Trip Distance: 3.5 miles

Take in panoramic views of the Missoula Valley at Montana Snowbowl. Photo: Montana Snowbowl

MONTANA SNOWBOWL – MISSOULA

Level: Intermediate – Advanced

Montana Snowbowl, located minutes from downtown Missoula, is a local’s favorite ski mountain in the winter and a mountain bike enthusiast’s dream during the summer. Ride the Grizzly Chairlift to 7,000 feet, taking in the sheer beauty of Lolo National Forest with breathtaking views of sweeping meadows and alpine forests. Challenge yourself to bike to the top of Point Six Trail, an elevation gain of 926 feet, and try to beat the record of 37 minutes, 36 seconds. After a hard but brief push to the top, enjoy mostly downhill trails on the other 25 miles of trail systems, then ride the chairlift back up and do it all again. Cap off the day with a post-adventure bloody mary and delicious wood-fired pizza. Montana Snowbowl opens for summer activities in late June.

Round Trip Distance: Varies

BLUE MOUNTAIN – MISSOULA

Level: Intermediate

Directions: After exploring Missoula—the arts and culture hub of Western Montana—head south for 2 miles on U.S. Highway 93. Turn right onto Blue Mountain Road and the trailhead is on the left where the road makes a 90-degree turn. This popular recreation area boasts more than 41 miles of trails, so be sure to pick up a map. You’ll begin your ride in open meadows, where you can enjoy views of the Missoula Valley and Sapphire and Rattlesnake mountains, before you ascend into forested wilderness. Ride a quick and easy 3-mile loop, or explore much farther.

Round Trip Distance: Varies

Ride to Paradise on the Clark Fork River Trail. Photo: Vo von Sehlen

CLARK FORK RIVER TRAIL – ST. REGIS

Level: Intermediate

Directions: From St. Regis, travel east 11 miles on State Highway 135. The trailhead is at the Ferry Landing fishing access, located on the north side of the highway. The Clark Fork River Trail takes you through Lolo National Forest along the Clark Fork River between Paradise and St. Regis. It’s a smooth single-track trail that winds along lush old-growth forest and sweeping wildflower meadows. The first switchback climbs are the most difficult, but push through them because this ride is well worth it.

Round Trip Distance: 18 miles

There’s plenty of fun to be had at Lake Como.

LAKE COMO TRAIL – DARBY

Level: Intermediate/Advanced

Directions: After experiencing the Old West charm of Darby, travel north for 4 miles on US-93 then turn left on Lake Como Road. Follow it for 3 miles until you meet the campground and trailhead on your right. Lake Como Trail is a relatively flat yet technically difficult trail. Discover beauty around every bend as you circle Lake Como, pass by a waterfall and take in the dramatic mountain setting. This is a popular hiking trail in the summer and it’s a bit narrow, so spring is the perfect time to ride it.

Round Trip Distance: 8 miles

BUTTERCUP LOOP – HAMILTON

Level: Intermediate – Advanced

Directions: From Hamilton, turn south onto US-93 for 2.8 miles before turning left on State Highway 38 heading east. After 0.7 miles, turn right onto Sleeping Child Road and continue for 4 miles until you reach the junction of Little Sleeping Child Road. Park at the junction where you’ll often see vehicles of fellow bikers, but there is no designated parking lot. This is the beginning of the Buttercup Loop trail. The first 7 miles of the ride are on Sleeping Child Road, but views of the canyon make the short road-riding portion well worth it. You’ll start climbing on Black Tail Road and wind through woodland terrain until it opens up to meadows popping with color. After a bit of a difficult climb, the fresh mountain air and unrivaled views of the Bitterroot Valley are worth it before coasting back down to the car. Go the distance on this loop and you won’t be disappointed.

Round Trip Distance: 21.1 miles

The Crown of the Continent beckons cyclers.

BONUS: GOING-TO-THE-SUN ROAD – GLACIER NATIONAL PARK

Level: Intermediate Road Biking

You won’t want to miss the opportunity to bike the Going-to-the-Sun Road—an engineering marvel and National Historic Landmark—before the road is fully open to cars. In the spring, hikers and bikers are given first access, and biking one of America’s most scenic roads is a pretty epic way to see spring flourish in Glacier National Park. Take in jaw-dropping views of glacial-carved terrain.

Round Trip Distance: Varies. Check road status here.

Pro-Tip: Catch a shuttle on the weekends between Apgar Visitor Center and Avalanche Creek. Shuttle service begins mid-May and operates until the road is fully open to vehicles. Or, do a guided trip with our friends at Glacier Guides, who provide shuttle, bike rental, helmet and lunch.

GEAR UP

  1. Spring weather is unpredictable. Dress in layers and bring a rain jacket. Wear worn-in and comfortable biking shoes.
  2. It’s important to stay safe in the sometimes remote Western Montana wilderness. Wear a helmet.
  3. Pack a light backpack with water, snacks, a map and a tire pump.
  4. Carry bear spray with you—you never know what wildlife you’ll encounter.

Helpful trail maps can be found at local visitor centers, ranger stations and forest service offices. Bike rentals are available throughout the region.

Wildlife Viewing Areas in Western Montana

One of the things that makes Montana so special is that we share the land with an abundance of beautiful, wild creatures. There are plenty of undesignated places to watch wildlife in Western Montana, but some pretty amazing spots are set aside specifically for Montana’s mammals, birds and reptiles. Glacier Country’s year-round wildlife refuges and viewing areas boast a diversity of habitat and offer a look at some of the region’s most majestic inhabitants.

A drive through the National Bison Range offers a look at these majestic mammals. Photo: Andy Austin

The beloved National Bison Range in Moiese is not only an excellent place to view bison (250 – 300 head of bison call this area home), but deer, elk, bighorn sheep, pronghorn antelope, mountain lions and the occasional black bear also roam the area, along with 200+ species of birds. The range consists of a diverse ecosystem of grasslands, fir and pine forests, riparian areas and ponds. Open dawn to dusk daily, the range includes three wildlife drives. The West Loop and Prairie Drive are short year-round drives. Red Sleep Mountain Drive is open mid-May to mid-October. It’s a two-hour 19-mile loop with switchbacks and 2,000 feet of elevation gain. Make sure to bring your camera and binoculars or spotting scope. Plan your visit with seasonal visitor center hours in mind.

Keep an eye out for muskrats, waterfowl and deer while riding along Wildfowl Lane in the Lee Metcalf NWR.

In the beautiful Bitterroot Valley, the Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge—2 miles north of Stevensville—is one of the most popular refuges in Montana. Open dawn to dusk daily, walk along the 2.5-mile Wildlife Viewing Area Trail and 1.25-mile Kenai Nature Trail. Drive or bike Wildfowl Lane, a county road that runs through the refuge and provides a close look at ponds packed with migrating waterfowl in the spring and fall. More than 240 species of birds have been observed in the area, and mammals in the refuge include white-tailed deer, yellow-bellied marmots, porcupines, beavers and gophers, among others. Plan your visit with time to stop by the year-round visitor center.

Dusk is a great time for wildlife watching at Ninepipe. Photo: Dave Fitzpatrick/USFWS

Stunning Mission Valley views accompany the scenic Ninepipe National Wildlife Refuge, a pristine wetland complex in Charlo. Photographers flock here to capture the evening grandeur of the reservoir’s Mission Mountain backdrop. In addition to 200+ species of birds, you’ll find nationally acclaimed winter raptor viewing and mammals like white-tailed deer, the occasional grizzly bear and wetland creatures like muskrats, skunks, mice and voles. Explore the interpretative site for interesting information about the refuge.  Directly across the highway from the refuge, explore the Ninepipes Museum of Early Montana. Established to accommodate nesting birds, access to the refuge changes with the seasons, and there are no amenities or facilities of any kind at the refuge itself, so plan your visit accordingly. Driving on Ninepipe Road is available year-round. Walking is limited on the refuge as water comprises more than 80% of the area and much of the land is very wet during the spring.

Wild Horse Island/Flathead Lake State Park is a true Montana treasure, featuring old-growth ponderosa pine forestland and prairie grasslands with scenic trails and ample wildlife viewing. If you’re lucky, you’ll catch a glimpse of the wild horses for which the island is named. Accessible only by boat, the biggest island (3 miles long) on the largest freshwater lake west of the Mississippi—Flathead Lake—abounds with wild adventures like hiking, swimming, sailing and boating. Other island inhabitants include bighorn sheep, deer, songbirds, waterfowl, bald eagles, falcons and bears. (Note: store food in bear-safe containers on your boat.) Also, a joint state/tribal fishing license is required for anglers at this Flathead Indian Reservation site. For a fun paddling adventure, kayak to the island from Dayton. It’ll take you about 45 minutes.

Two miles south of Polson—and also within Flathead Indian Reservation boundaries—the Pablo National Wildlife Refuge provides a unique glimpse at pothole wetlands and offers hiking, biking, fishing, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. This serene setting is the site of the trumpeter swan release during the 1996 reintroduction to the Mission Valley, and continues to be an important release site. Vehicles can access the refuge along roads across the dam and along the north side of the refuge. The wetland habitat supports abundant waterfowl species and common wetland-friendly mammals, like muskrats, striped skunks, mink, field mice and meadow voles. There are no amenities or facilities of any kind here, and portions of the refuge are closed in the spring to minimize human disturbance to nesting birds, so plan your visit accordingly.

Seeing a moose in the wild is an unforgettable experience. Photo: tonybynum.com

The Swan River National Wildlife Refuge is situated between the breathtaking Swan and Mission Mountain ranges south of Swan Lake, offering a scenic wildlife viewing adventure. The refuge provides wetland and grassland habitat for 171 bird species, white-tailed deer, mule deer, elk, and moose, plus beavers, muskrats and raccoons. Visitors enjoy hiking and snowshoeing this picturesque refuge from east to west via Bog Road. You’ll find a viewing platform and information kiosk with interpretive panels, but there are no significant facilities on the refuge, so plan your visit with that in mind.

Lost Trail’s Dahl Lake draws animals looking for a drink or a swim. Photo: Beverly Skinner

Lost Trail National Wildlife Refuge lies in the tranquil Pleasant Valley mountain drainage area northwest of Marion. Prairie grasslands, riparian and wetland areas and aspen groves serve as important habitat for a variety of wildlife including elk, deer and moose. Although elusive, wolverines, Canada lynx, fishers and grizzly bears have all been documented here as well. This remote refuge offers a secluded authentic Montana experience. Please note, GPS navigation to the refuge is not always perfect and cell phone service can be spotty, so plan your visit accordingly.

As always, remember that wildlife is just that—wild. Respect their space, keep your distance and stay safe when recreating in wild places. Read more about Western Montana wildlife safety here.