Category Archives: Parks

Off-Road Adventures: 5 ATV Trails to Explore in Western Montana

We have plenty of hidden treasures here in Western Montana, and sometimes the best—and only—way to discover them is to go off-road into our beautiful backcountry and heavenly high country. You can cover quite a bit of ground when you get off the main roads and explore our pristine alpine lakes, lush forests and mesmerizing mountain meadows. From technical to family-friendly rides, alpine all-terrain vehicle (ATV) adventures abound in Glacier Country.

It’s time to revel in the rugged—here’s a handful of our favorite rides.

New to ATVing? Go with a guide! Photo: Montana Office of Tourism and Business Development

ASHLEY LAKE ATV TRAIL #812
Open: June – October
This local’s favorite west of Kalispell is popular in the summertime, but if you’re looking for a quieter ride, venture over in the late spring or early fall before big-game hunting season begins. The trailjust north of Ashley Lake—offers 7 miles of scenic ATV terrain, and the lake itself provides off-trail recreation like swimming, fishing and camping. Pitch a tent on one of three campgrounds and reel in one of the huge rainbow-cutthroat trout hybrids the lake is known for. GETTING THERE: From Kalispell, take U.S. Highway 2 west for 4 miles, turn onto Ashley Lake Road (Forest Service Road #912) for 15 miles, then turn onto Forest Service Road #10236 for about 4 miles. The trailhead is marked with signs.

BLUE MOUNTAIN ROAD
Open: May – November
For picture-perfect views of the Missoula Valley as well as the Sapphire and Rattlesnake Mountains, Blue Mountain Recreation Area boasts about 15 miles of motorized vehicle trails, four of which are open to ATVs. There’s a fire lookout tower in service from July – August, and you can climb to the top for stunning views of Lolo Peak, the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness and the Mission Mountains. Be sure to pick up an off-road sticker (available at the Missoula County Courthouse) before hitting Blue Mountain on your off-highway vehicle (OHV). GETTING THERE: From Missoula, head south on U.S. Highway 93 for about 2 miles, making a right (north) onto Blue Mountain Road for 1.4 miles. Turn left onto Forest Service Road 365 for 1.2 miles, and the staging area will be on your left. 

Every season in Western Montana lends itself to an ATV adventure. Photo: Kurt’s OffRoad

HUNGRY HORSE MOTOCROSS TRACK
Open: Year-round (weather dependent)
Just east of Columbia Falls in Hungry Horse, Montana, this natural terrain track is open to ATVs and packs a punch with steep and challenging elevation gains. You’ll also find camping and other adventures at nearby Hungry Horse Dam. Time your trail trip right and you’ll get to see a race event held by the High Country Motocross Association. GETTING THERE: From Columbia Falls, take U.S. Highway 2 east for about 6 miles. When you see the Forest Service station on your right, turn south onto Colorado Boulevard for about 1.25 miles. Look for a gravel road on the left and turn there. The track is about a half mile down on the right. 

KOOCANUSA SAND DUNES AND TRAIL SYSTEM
Open: Year-round (weather dependent) 
Sand dunes in Montana? Don’t mind if we do. Mix things up off trail in the dunes and play pits of this large open area at the northeast corner of the Koocanusa Reservoir, best accessed late March through late June when the water levels are low. You’ll also find 20 miles of trails that lead into the woods surrounding the reservoir. Fun Fact: This is the original site of the city of Rexford. You’ll discover American Indian burial grounds in the area, which are well marked and closed to riding. GETTING THERE: From Eureka, take U.S. Highway 93 north for 5 miles to State Route 37. Take a left on MT-37 for 2.2 miles, then veer right onto Douglas Hill Road for half a mile, turn right onto Sophie Lake Road for 1 mile, veer left onto Iowa Flats Road for .1 miles, and then turn right onto Sophie Lake Road for 3.5 miles toward the lake.

ATV trails are often shared with hikers and bikers. Photo: Kurt’s OffRoad

OVERWHICH FALLS TRAILS 182 + 248
Open: December 2 – October 14
South of Darby past Painted Rocks Lake, this “destination ride” offers a scenic 8-mile excursion to Overwhich Falls. This easy ride does have a few steep, rocky sections to be aware of, and encounters with horses, hikers and mountain bikers are possible, but the views—and the falls—are worth it. GETTING THERE: From Darby, head south for 4.3 miles. Turn right onto West Fork Road, heading south past Painted Rocks Lake to Forest Service Road #5703, where you’ll head east for about 2 miles to Forest Road #5706. Turn north and follow this road to the trailhead. There is a good turnaround and parking for vehicles and trailers about 7 miles from the trailhead in NW Section 17, west of Gentile Creek. 

Cover ground in Western Montana, through sage, pine and fresh mountain air. Photo: Montana Office of Tourism and Business Development

BONUS: DARBY TRAILS – BITTERROOT NATIONAL FOREST
Just last summer, the Bitterroot National Forest opened 50 miles of trails to ATVs, including two loops—#1, a 28-mile loop and #2, a 15-mile loop—on the old Darby Lumber Lands, also south of Darby. This new trail system is popular with beginner and intermediate riders, and, as always, the views are spectacular. GETTING THERE: From Darby, head south on U.S. Highway 93 for about 4 miles and take a left on Rye Creek Road. For Loop #1, take Rye Creek Road for 4 miles to North Fork Rye Creek Road/North Fork Road, where you’ll take a left and drive for about 6 miles until you reach Road #1127 and the trailhead. For Loop #2, take Rye Creek Road for 6 miles. Before the Rock Creek Road divide, you’ll see a parking area on the left with signage for Loop #2. 

KNOW BEFORE YOU GO, and ride safely. For information on road designations, conditions and closures, as well as registration (resident and nonresident), permits, maps and off-roading laws, visit Montana State Parks.

TRIP TIP: Did you know? It’s legal to drive ATVs on roads and highways, as long as they’re equipped with “street kits.” This means that all public-land roads are open for riding!

 

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

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

Montana State Parks

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

Lake Mary Ronan State Park

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

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

Thompson Chain of Lakes + Logan State Park

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

Thompson Falls State Park

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

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

Camping at Fish Access Sites

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

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

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

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

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

Blackfoot River Corridor

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

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

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

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

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

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

Main Blackfoot River

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

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

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

Blackfoot River Float-In Campsites

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wildlife and Water Safety in Western Montana

Montana: wild, magical and unapologetically undiscovered. This beautiful state is home to wide-open spaces, national parks, rugged backcountry terrain, glacial rivers, wildlife refuges and wilderness areas.

From massive bison in the National Bison Range to grizzly and black bears in Glacier National Park, Montana is home to a variety of wildlife. In order to help all of us have positive encounters with Montana’s wildlife and wild landscape, we’ve rounded up a few tips and guidelines to keep in mind when exploring the great outdoors.

Wildlife is wild. While bison may seem like gentle giants and bears may look a little playful and cuddly, just remember this: it’s not the case! Do not approach wild animals, or try to pet or touch them. Keep this in mind not just in Glacier National Park, but in our refuge systems as well, and always follow the rules of the area you are visiting. For instance, when traveling along designated roads at the National Bison Range, you are not permitted to exit your vehicle. These rules are in place not just to keep visitors safe, but also for the safety of wildlife.

Follow the recommended wildlife viewing guidelines. Let’s be honest, we’ve ALL been tempted to get just a little bit closer to snag that perfect photo. And while moving in 10 feet closer may help you land that perfectly framed Instagram photo, just don’t do it. Park regulations state that all visitors should stay at least 100 yards (the length of a football field) away from bears and at least 25 yards away from other large animals, including bison, elk, bighorn sheep, deer, moose and coyotes.

A black bear in Western Montana. Photo courtesy: tonybynum.com

Don’t trap them. Videos have been published showing bears and other wildlife pinned on bridges or feeling trapped on trails. If an animal feels trapped, it will become agitated. Try not to put yourself in a situation where you are more focused on taking photos or videos than you are on safety, and recognize when a situation can be handled more cautiously.

Let bears know you’re nearby. When hiking, be sure to hike with a buddy, stay on trails and make noise. Feel free to bust out show tunes or just say “hey bear” loudly as you make your way along the trail. Trust us when we tell you that bears don’t want to see you on the trail just as much as you don’t want to see them there.

Always give bears plenty of room and never approach. Photos: GlacierNPS Flickr (Tim Rains)

Water safety should be a priority. Did you know that water is the number one cause of fatalities in Glacier National Park? Swift, cold glacial streams and rivers, moss-covered rocks and slippery logs all present dangers. Rapid, frigid streams and deep glacial lakes are absolutely stunning, but need to be recognized as a possible threat. Avoid wading in or fording swift streams. Also be aware of signs of hypothermia when cautiously wading through calm streams, hiking trails or swimming in lakes.

Be sure to be safe around beautiful icy blue glacial water.

Stay safe, and happy exploring!

Dallas to Missoula: Fly Direct to Even Bigger Skies

Dallas friends: leave the humidity in the Lone Star State and come bask in the heavenly mountain air in Big Sky Country. American Airlines now offers direct flights from Dallas to Missoula. Your friendly neighbors up north in Western Montana’s Glacier Country offer the warm hospitality you’re used to and your cowboy boots will fit right in here, plus…our mountain landscape offers a stunning change of pace.

There’s a lot to see in Western Montana and Upper Holland Lake is one of our favorites. Photo: Noah Couser

In under three hours you can be in Montana. Let that sink in. People tend to think of Montana as a faraway place, but it’s actually quite simple to get here, and now it’s especially easy—and quick—for you, Texas. Think about it: you can eat breakfast in Dallas and be in Missoula for a bison burger by lunchtime.

We’re picture perfect up here in the mountains of Montana, and our outdoor recreation scene is second to none. Home to storied small towns and mesmerizing panoramic landscapes of majestic peaks and sweeping valleys with sparkling rivers and lakes, adventure is endless no matter the season—did we mention nonstop flights between Dallas and Missoula are year-round? Get away for a weekend of hiking and hot springs. Looking for snow? Take a ski vacation—we specialize in downhill, backcountry and Nordic adventures

Paws Up Resort is one of Glacier Country’s most luxurious and popular resorts. Photo: Donnie Sexton

Accommodations come in every shape and size here, from relaxing guest ranches and luxury resorts to timbered mountain lodges, tents for camping, bigger tents for glamping, B&Bs, vacation homes, cabins, hostels and hotels. Around here, everything’s cozy and everyone’s friendly.

You’ll land in—and love—Missoula, and there’s no reason why you shouldn’t stay put right here in this treasured mountain town. It’s the kind of place you can visit over and over again and never have the same adventure twice, unless you want to, of course. This Western Montana arts and culture hot spot at the confluence of three rivers offers thousands of miles of trails, millions of acres of stunningly beautiful wilderness and a hopping and eclectic downtown bustling with cafés, coffee shops, breweries, distilleries, galleries and museums. Dining ranges from fine to downright fun. Explore festivals and farmers markets—one of the best markets in the West, actually. Take in the performing arts, theater and live music scenes, including an outdoor amphitheater hosting national music acts on the banks of the scenic Blackfoot River.

Missoula has something for everyone. From gorgeous views to amazing food, you’ll love it up here.

There’s plenty to see and do in Missoula, and it also makes a pretty perfect base camp for exploring the rest of Western Montana, including the jaw-dropping beauty of Glacier National Park. Drive the famously gorgeous Going-to-the-Sun Road and discover the history and allure of one of the country’s most breathtaking places. Explore the largest natural frewshwater lake in the West, Flathead Lake, visit one of our Indian reservations, cowboy up at a dude ranch mountain-style, ride rapids, bike trails, hike canyons, fly-fish blue-ribbon trout streams or ski an epic powder paradise.

It’s about time you mosey on up to our neck of the woods and see what all the buzz is about. Whatever your preference: a huckleberry milkshake or whiskey made from glacial waters, we’ve got one waiting for you. From heavenly summers and winter wonderlands to undiscovered spring splendor and golden autumn abundance, you’re bound to love it up here in the mountain air.  

It’s no wonder Glacier National Park is called “The Crown of the Continent.” Photo: Hunter Day

Warning: This flight may become habit-forming. Side effects may include an increased itch to travel to Montana.  

 

Bike the Big Sky This Spring: 9 Trails In Western Montana to Explore

You may have already figured out that we’re pretty good at divulging our own secrets. That’s because we have so much good Glacier getaway intel to share. For instance, spring is one of the best times to explore Big Sky Country by bike. As the temperatures begin to warm in Western Montana, snow enthusiasts head home, making spring one of our quietest—and most serene—seasons. Experience wildflowers, emerging wildlife, rushing rivers and the always welcome shoulder-season pricing (which pairs well with our warm western hospitality).

Hop on two wheels for a refreshing look at Glacier Country. Photo: Montana Office of Tourism and Business Development

Pedal the pure mountain air and discover a Montana springtime on two wheels. Here are a handful of our favorite trails.

The Going-to-the-Sun Road is one of our favorite routes. Photo: Whitefish Bike Retreat

1. Going-to-the-Sun Road
Level: Intermediate – Advanced Road Biking  
Length: Varied
Biking this beauty is a pretty epic way to see spring flourish in Glacier National Park, and this season of serenity is the only time you can pedal one of the most scenic roads in America before it opens to vehicular traffic. Additionally, biking is also permitted on all roads in the park, plus three park trails. Side trip, anyone? Weekend spring shuttle service begins May 13. For more information, visit the National Park Service. Also, contact our friends at Glacier Guides for bike rentals, guided bike tours and unforgettable custom Glacier National Park adventures. This is one Glacier Getaway for the books.

2. Whitefish Bike Trail
Level: Beginner Road Biking
Length: Varied
The quintessential mountain town of Whitefish is a mecca of meandering trails. One particular stretch—the paved Whitefish Bike and Pedestrian Trail—follows the Whitefish River through town near Riverside Park. Whitefish is a year-round resort community, and the spring warm-up offers a chance to explore this charmer without the crowds. Make it an overnight adventure with Whitefish Bike Retreat, offering trail-side lodging—and a very authentic Montana experience—just west of town.

3. Lake Koocanusa Loop
Level: Intermediate – Advanced Road Biking
Length: 80 miles
Who doesn’t love a good loop? Add a lake and you’ve got one of the best road rides in Montana. Discover beauty around every bend as you circle Lake Koocanusa between Eureka and Libby. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a flat stretch on this gem, so gear up for the hills. Go the distance on this lake loop and you won’t be disappointed. Oh, and there are breweries in both Eureka and Libby, so no matter which town you end up in, you can treat yourself to a handcrafted big-sky brew after a long ride.      

Missoula via bike is the best way to see this beautiful city.

4. Ron MacDonald Riverfront Trail System
Level: Beginner Road Biking
Length: 7 miles
Explore springtime by bike in one of Western Montana’s cultural hot spots—MissoulaFollow the Clark Fork River and wind through downtown before connecting to the Kim Williams Nature Trail. This university town is very pedal friendly, so, when the trail ends, take to the streets and discover everything this Glacier Country getaway community has to offer, including one of the West’s top 10 farmers market, which begins annually in May.  

See mountains and quaint towns on the Bitterroot Trail. Photo: Saara Snow

5. Bitterroot Trail
Level: Beginner Road Biking
Length: 50 miles
Cycle the sights along the winding Bitterroot River between the jagged peaks of the Bitterroot Mountains and the rolling Sapphire Range. Biking the Bitterroot from Missoula to Hamilton via the paved Bitterroot Trail is a unique and fun way to explore this very scenic valley. You’ll pass through multiple charming communities in “The Root,” with stops ranging from side trails and fishing spots to eclectic shops, coffee houses, breweries and bakeries.

6. Buttercup Loop
Level: Intermediate – Advanced Mountain Biking
Length: 21.1 miles
A little farther down the Bitterroot in Darby, get in gear for the Buttercup Loop. The first 7 miles of this trail are paved, but the Sleeping Child Canyon setting makes it well worth the ride. Then it’s time to climb Black Tail Road, enjoying the Bitterroot Valley views along the way. Bonus: En route to the trailhead, there’s a bike shop housed in an old red barn featuring a collection of classic bikes.

7. Route of the Hiawatha Trail
Level: Beginner – Intermediate Mountain Biking
Length: 15 miles
This Rails to Trails “Crown Jewel” is a Western Montana family favorite. It’s one of the most scenic stretches of railroad in the country, and is all downhill to boot. Traverse multiple towering trestles in the Lolo National Forest and burrow under the Bitterroot Mountains in the Taft Tunnel. For tickets, reservation dates and bike rental information, visit the official website.  

Route of the Hiawatha opens May 26. Gear up…this trail is one of Western Montana’s best.

8. Clark Fork River Trail #233
Level: Intermediate – Advanced Mountain Biking
Length: 9 miles
Pedal Paradise (literally) to St. Regis on this Sanders Country single-track, navigating lush old-growth forestland and sweeping meadows popping with color—springtime is wildflower season, after all. Soak up the solitude in this hidden heaven, and then literally go for a soak at Quinn’s Hot Springs Resort, just a couple miles north of the trailhead—a perfect way to relax after a perfect ride.  

9. Herron Overlook Loops
Level: Beginner – Advanced Mountain Biking
Length: 10.3 miles
Clip in near Kalispell for Foy Lake fun, and wind through Western Montana wildflower country. These Herron Park trail routes to Chase and Notch overlooks offer excellent Flathead Valley views. Both of these single-track climbs are moderate, but be prepared for fast and technical descents. Then, be prepared to enjoy the exceptional food and friendly local vibe in downtown Kalispell.

 

Discover Winter’s Wonder with a Snowshoe in Western Montana

Winter in Montana isn’t only for adventurous powder plungers and downhill dreamers. It’s also for paradise seekers looking for a peaceful escape in an enchanting frosty forest of white. We hike all year here, and taking a walk in the snow is high on our list of things we love—it just requires a little extra gear. Snowshoes make it possible to head onto the trails and into backcountry quiet places that might otherwise not be accessible this time of year. This easy—and family-friendly—snowsport is a must-do winter activity, bound to leave you with some pretty incredible Montana memories.

See Glacier Country on snowshoees for an outdoor experience you won’t forget.

Many facilities around the region rent gear and offer friendly tips and trail advice to eager adventure seekers. Not all snowshoes are the same, and not all trails are either. Our gear shops can help with size and fit and steer you in the right direction. Local outfitters are also available to show you the way if you’re looking for a guided tour.

Here are some tips for the trek.

TRAILS + TERRAIN
Groomed and ungroomed winter trails are a dime a dozen around here, and we tend to brag about our backcountry terrain because it’s just so brag-worthy. That said, here are some of our favorite spots to explore.

Snowshoe the park.
Winter is the most magical time of year in Glacier National Park. The crowds are gone and the landscape is heavenly. The stillness and quiet offer an ideal time to strap on a pair of snowshoes and discover this powder paradise. Take a self-guided tour along the shores of Lake McDonald or up the famous Going-to-the-Sun Road.

Let our resident experts show you the way around the park by snowshoe. Glacier Adventure Guides offers alpine adventures through old-growth forest, past frozen waterfalls and lakes and across meadows blanketed with snow.

Lake McDonald views with Glacier Adventure Guides. Photo: Devin Schmit

You can also take an interpretive ranger-led snowshoe tour of the park’s Apgar area, learning about the park’s topography and wildlife along the way.

Autumn Creek Trail in East Glacier is one of the most popular routes in the area. This 6-mile trail begins at the summit of Marias Pass before entering the park.

Beyond the park.
Whitefish is pretty much winter defined. Whitefish Mountain Resort offers two uphill routes—the Toni Matt and the East Route—and, west of town, you can shoe the dog-friendly Round Meadow trail system. Whitefish’s Sportsman & Ski Haus will set you up with the right gear for your adventure.  

One of the best things about snowshoeing is it’s easy to master. Lone Pine State Park in Kalispell is a great place to try out this beginner-friendly sport for the first time, and Spoke & Paddle can help you with equipment rentals. Nearby Herron Park/Foy’s to Blacktail Trails is another great place to start out.

For fun near Flathead Lake, trek Lakeside’s Blacktail Mountain or Bigfork’s Crane Mountain Snowmobile Trail (Road #498). Contact the friendly folks at Base Camp for gear rentals and trail suggestions.

Head up near “The Yaak” to Troy’s Cougar Ridge for a trek on snow-covered roads that wind in and out of the wintry woods of the Kootenai National Forest.

The Thompson Falls Fitness Trail is a wonderful hike for families, as it’s relatively flat, deer sightings can be frequent and following wildlife tracks in the snow is fun for the kids.

Check trail resources ahead of time to see if dogs are allowed to come along. Photo: Thompson Falls Main Street

Explore Missoula’s Pattee Canyon or Blue Mountain recreation areas for endless trails. You’ll also find snowshoe adventures in the Rattlesnake Wilderness and Missoula’s South Hills. Just east of Missoula, Greenough’s Lubrecht Forest offers a quiet getaway to test your snowshoe know-how. Lookout Pass Ski and Recreation Area on the Montana/Idaho border offers over 15 miles of groomed trails for snowshoers. You’ll find gear and good advice from the fine folks at Missoula’s Trailhead.

From Lookout Pass, you can snowshoe, ski or snowmobile to Taft, about 10 miles. This route is for well-experienced snowshoers only, due to the nature of the trail.

The Bitterroot Valley boasts stunning winter landscapes, charming small towns with warm western hospitality, and trails abound. Lolo Pass lets you choose your own adventure with multiple snow-covered roads. Four miles from the pass, walk upstream to Snowshoe Falls for the perfectly picturesque winter waterfall scene. Hike the Continental Divide at the Chief Joseph Trail System’s large network of groomed trails, complete with a cozy log cabin at the trailhead for warming up after your trek. Skalkaho Snowpark provides access to Skalkaho Pass in the scenic Sapphire Mountains.

Wandering snowy trails under Western Montana’s winter sun, does it get much better?

Make it an overnight adventure.
Many of Western Montana’s ranches and resorts offer year-round activities, and snowshoeing is no exception. You can also find off-the-beaten-path overnight adventures at lodges, vacation homes and U.S. Forest Service cabins.

Revel in rustic splendor at Sula’s Twogood Cabin, a 6-mile hike from the Warm Springs Creek Trailhead. (Open until October 15th and the month of December.)   

Explore the breathtaking Seeley-Swan Valley from your cabin door at Seeley Lake’s Double Arrow Lodge, where you can borrow a pair of snowshoes or rent a pair at nearby Rocky Mountain Adventure Gear.

The 37,000-acre Resort at Paws Up offers guests two-hour snowshoe tours of the resort grounds, plus luxury Montana lodging in beautiful Greenough.

It’s safe to say, wherever you stay, there’s probably a trail close by and a pair of snowshoes calling your name.

Shoe safely.
Though snowshoeing is a tranquil and fairly simple winter activity, it’s still important to know your snow safety. Be avalanche aware and read snow reports before you head out. Dress appropriately for the weather conditions, pack water and snacks, take a trail map and follow trail signs, and be wildlife savvy.

Wildlife.

Our trails may come with lots of surprises, be prepared for wildlife and changing conditions. Photo: Devin Schmit

See you on the trail, friends.

Winter Road Trips and Scenic Drives in Western Montana

Road trips are often equated with summertime, or at least with the warmer months (and by warmer we mean no threat of snowy road conditions). But here’s the thing: we recreate outdoors all year here in Western Montana, so we’re always on the road driving from one ski hill, Nordic paradise or snowmobile trail to another, and we’re here to tell you this—the winter panoramas from the pavement here are pretty magical, and the stops along the way are, too. 

Winter views in Western Montana, like East Glacier’s Dancing Lady Mountain, will not disappoint. Photo: Tracey Vivar

A winter road trip in Glacier Country is always good for a snow-season refresh, whether you get out for a few hours or a whole day, or you turn your travels into an overnight adventure. Never-ending bluebird skies against pure white snow sparkling in the sunshine? Yes please.

Here are a few of our favorite winter drives in Western Montana:

RAVALLI TO ST. REGIS – TOUR 200 + ST. REGIS/PARADISE SCENIC BYWAY
53 Miles
Just outside of Ravalli, head west on Highway 200 traveling along with the Flathead River as it snakes through scenic valley vistas. You’ll pass through the small towns of Dixon—famous for their mouthwatering Dixon Melons—and Perma. As this two-lane highway winds down the valley, the mountains continue to get more and more grand. Head south on Highway 135, following the Clark Fork River down the St. Regis/Paradise Scenic Byway. Stop for a soak at Quinn’s Hot Springs Resort or a meal at their historic Harwood House Restaurant. Continue south down this picturesque mountain highway until you reach St. Regis. Stop at the St. Regis Travel Center for gas and a huckleberry shake, and don’t miss the free live trout aquarium!

Highway 135 follows alongside the Clark Fork River, making for a gorgeous and fun drive. Photo: Jerrie Bullock

MISSOULA TO SULA HIGHWAY 93
82 Miles
This four-lane highway takes you straight through the always-gorgeous Bitterroot Valley. From Missoula, drive south towards Lolo, admiring the many towering peaks of this picturesque range, like Lolo and St. Mary. Make an appointment with the Holt Heritage Museum for a history lesson on cowboy culture, American Indians and the Lewis and Clark Expedition. From Lolo, head to Florence and on through Stevensville, Victor and finally to Hamilton. Continue south on 93 until you see the right-hand turn for Lake Como Road. Follow that until you reach the Lake Como Group Picnic Site. Check the Bitterroot National Forest website for trail information, or just enjoy the views of Lake Como underneath Western Montana’s El Capitan and West Como Peak.

Jump back on Highway 93 towards the quaint, Old West town of Darby, where you can fuel up on food and gas, or extend your trip with a stay at Alta Ranch—a great place for cross-country skiing. Highway 93 takes you past Lost Trail Powder Mountain and Chief Joseph Pass for more cross-country-country skiing, snowshoeing or winter hiking.

HIGHWAY 12 SCENIC DRIVE
70 Miles
Highway 12 into Idaho is one spectacular drive, especially in the winter. This two-lane highway weaves through the lush Lolo National Forest. Check out Travelers’ Rest State Park for a little Lewis and Clark history. Highway 12 follows West Fork Lolo Creek, and with the density of the trees and slope of the surrounding mountains, this beautiful drive makes you feel far away from it all. Take a much-deserved stop Lolo Hot Springs for a mineral soak, a warm meal or place to rest your head. Lolo Hot Springs is close to easy snowshoe and cross-country trails (Lolo Pass). Head back towards Lolo to enjoy a different view, but take it easy on this winding mountain road. When you’re back in Lolo, treat yourself to a steak dinner.

WHITEFISH TO WEST GLACIER
26 Miles
Thousands travel this route throughout the summer months, but as a winter drive, it’s just as stunning. Begin in Whitefish with views of a winter Whitefish Lake, or take a fat-bike ride around Beaver Lake with Whitefish Bike Retreat. Outside of Whitefish, head south on Highway 93 to Highway 40 toward Columbia Falls. Highway 40 becomes Highway 2 as you drive into the mouth of this breathtaking canyon. Covered in ice and snow, the Flathead River is truly stunning. Stop in Hungry Horse at the Huckleberry Patch for a slice of homemade Montana pie or fudge. Continue on Highway 2, making a stop at Glacier Distilling Company in Coram (be sure to designate your driver). Highway 2 passes through West Glacier, with access to Glacier National Park. For winter access to Lake McDonald, head north to Apgar Village. The Apgar Visitor Center has weekend hours throughout the winter months. Make sure to check their hours online.

Fat bikes are one cool way to sightsee around Glacier Country. Photo: Adam Caira

The National Park Service also offers weekend ranger-guided snowshoe park tours January through March. Make sure to check the Going-to-the-Sun Road status to see how far into the park the road is open.

Lake McDonald’s keeps its stunning allure all year long.

POLSON TO POLSON: FLATHEAD LAKE LOOP
87.5 Miles
See Flathead Lake from all sides. From Polson, head northwest on Highway 93. Stop by the Kwataqnuk Resort & Casino for a little extra fun. Stay on 93 towards Big Arm and Flathead State Park. Wraps around the “big arm” of the lake through Elmo, Dayton, and Rollins. Lakeside Motel & Resort offers relaxing and scenic lakeside lodging, plus delicious food. From Lakeside, continue north to Somers and then take a left on Highway 82, which will take you past Kalispell Bay and over the Flathead River, then turn onto Highway 35 heading south.

Bigfork is a real charmer. Determine your designated driver and stop by Flathead Lake Brewing Company, or check out The Barn Antiques, Consignment & Gifts. Afterwards, travel on to the stellar winter lake views at Wayfarers/Flathead Lake State Park. We recommend taking it easy on this two-lane highway, for safety reasons and because the winter views of Flathead Lake are incredible. Continue on past Woods Bay towards Finley Point, where we recommend sitting down for dinner at Finley Point Grill.

ESSEX TO ST. MARY
72 Miles
Taking the route from Essex to St. Mary is a unique way to see a very wintry Glacier Country. In Essex, start by cross-country skiing or snowshoeing from the Izaak Walton Inn. If you’re looking for a place to spend the night, rent one of their cabins or iconic renovated cabooses. From Essex, head east on Highway 2. This two-lane highway winds through the mountains, including Mt. Furlong, Snowslip Mountain and Calf Robe Mountain. Wintertime in East Glacier is quiet, but you’ll enjoy the view of Glacier National Park’s peaks where they meet the plains of Eastern Montana. Take the more frequently traveled Highway 2 east towards Browning or the less-traveled Highway 49 north towards Lower Two Medicine Lake, which eventually meets Highway 89. In Browning, check out Faught’s Blackfeet Trading Post or the Museum of the Plains Indian for fascinating American Indian history. Beyond Browning, jump on Highway 89 heading west, passing through the small towns of Star and Kiowa. Continue north until you reach the junction back into the park to see Saint Mary Lake or Lower St. Mary Lake. Travel into Glacier National Park on the east side is a bit more limited than the west, but always know what’s open by checking road conditions online.

Look to the north on Highway 2 for a view of Calf Robe Mountain. Photo: Tracey Vivar

WINTER DRIVING SAFETY TIPS

  • Check out Montana Department of Transportation’s Travel Map for up-to-date road conditions.
  • Travel with sleeping bags, blankets, extra water and food, extra warm clothes, and look ahead for where cell service may be spotty or nonexistent.  
  • Make sure your vehicle is well-maintained: working headlights and tail lights, coolant, windshield wipers, tire pressure, etc.
  • Take it slow! Road conditions may change quickly.
  • Keep an eye out for wildlife.
  • Assign a designated driver if consuming alcohol.
  • Refuel when you can—in some areas, gas stations can be few and far between.
  • Always check business hours before stopping, in case there are weather-related closings or changes.    

We love our wildlife, so please watch carefully for bighorn sheep or other animals while driving. Photo: Jerrie Bullock

Day Hike in Glacier National Park: Avalanche Lake

Hiking in Glacier National Park is a beautiful and wondrous thing, and we recently had the opportunity to hike one of the more popular routes in the park—the Avalanche Lake Trail. This serene and breathtaking trail winds through lush forest, along a pristine stream and inland through a northwest rainforest to a stunning alpine lake boasting sheer cliffs and waterfalls.

The hike begins with the Trail of the Cedars to Avalanche Creek. From there, the trail leads to Avalanche Lake. It follows the creek up a frothing gorge and meanders through a cedar and hemlock forest, giving the feeling that you’re walking among giants. After two miles, the trail opens up to the lake, which is fed by the waterfalls at the lake’s far end.

Here are some photos from our journey.

Our starting point: Avalanche Lake Trailhead.

Early on, we’re greeted with some beautiful icy blue water.

We found absolute perfection all along the trail.

As the trail turns inland…

We found ourselves walking among the giants.

Honestly, the views were ridiculously breathtaking.

After 2 miles, we made it to Avalanche Lake and the view was absolute perfection.

Pro tip: Carry bear spray (we saw a bear on the trail near the lake), use bug spray and make sure to apply sunscreen (although the trail has a forest canopy, there are some super sunny areas, so just be prepared).

Happy Trails,

Nicole

 

Spring Biking the Going-to-the-Sun Road in Montana’s Glacier National Park

Around these parts, it’s no secret that spring is one of our favorite seasons. Don’t get us wrong, we’ll never stop loving our heavenly summers and epic winter wonderlands, but there is something magical about the color changes and uncrowded roads that makes us long for shoulder seasons. One of the most unforgettable experiences Glacier National Park has to offer is biking the Going-to-the-Sun Road. This ride is truly special in the springtime when it’s only open to non-vehicular traffic, giving you and fellow riders the run of the road.

Recently, we had the pleasure of taking this incredibly scenic ride with our friends at Glacier Guides and Montana Raft. While biking the road by yourself offers a peaceful, one-of-a-kind experience, booking a trip with a guide allows you to discover more of the park’s treasures. We really lucked out with our GGMR biking guides—one of them even read to us about the native wildflowers we passed along the way.

Take a look at our unforgettable day:

Gearing up to start biking up the Going-to-the-Sun Road near West Glacier.

This view greeted us right away and we found ourselves falling in love.

Our guides from Glacier Guides and Montana Raft periodically stopped to tell us the history of Glacier National Park.

The park is full of refreshingly breathtaking glacial streams and lakes resting under majestic mountain peaks, much like this one.

We stopped for lunch (which was delicious and provided by our guides) and enjoyed this spectacular view.

It was hard to pull ourselves away from these incredible views.

The early spring landscape in Glacier National Park is something only hikers and bikers get to experience.

It was an absolutely perfect day in Western Montana.

If you plan to bike the Going-to-the-Sun Road, here are a few tips:

  • Leave the logistics to the experts. After spending the day with Glacier Guides and Montana Raft, we know firsthand that you won’t be disappointed.
  • Take advantage of the free bike shuttle service. The biker shuttle runs daily from Apgar and Lake McDonald Lodge to Avalanche Creek now through late June or when the Going-to-the-Sun Road opens to vehicular traffic, whichever comes first. You can check the Going-to-the-Sun Road status here.
  • Try riding in the spring before the road is open to vehicular traffic.
  • You can bring your own bike or rent one. We recommend picking up a rental bike at Glacier Guides and Montana Raft or Great Northern Cycle & Ski in Whitefish.

Cheers,

NG