Category Archives: Parks

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

The Brag-Worthy Beauty of Montana’s Wildflowers

Here’s a little something you may not know about us. In Western Montana, one of our best features is the wonder of our wildflower blooms. Just when you thought we couldn’t be any more jaw-dropping, these miniature miracles of nature brave cold nights and dramatic spring weather to sprout their way up into Montana’s landscape in a striking display of beauty. During our heavenly warm season, our mountain woodlands, prairie grasslands, foothills and alpine meadows are sprinkled with the splendor of nature’s loveliest and most colorful artwork. Montana’s rich flora thrives in several different ecosystems, drawing wildflower aficionados, visitors and locals alike on a quest for the carpet of color or the elusive stem hidden high on an alpine ridgeline.

Beargrass blooms in Glacier National Park.

BEARGRASS

Beargrass is a celebrity around these parts. The impressively high (5 to 8 feet) stalks of dense white clusters blanket the subalpine landscapes of Glacier National Park and draw visitors in for a glimpse. Contrary to what the name might suggest, bears do not eat this plant!

WHERE + WHEN:

Beargrass can be found throughout Western Montana, but it’s especially coveted in Glacier National Park. It blooms in late May in the lower country and can be found in the high country into August. Though it’s a perennial and therefore blooms every year, mass blooms occur every five to 10 years, when the climate is just right.

Indian paintbrush colors a Montana meadow.

INDIAN PAINTBRUSH

Indian Paintbrush (or prairie fire) is aptly named, having a vibrant paintbrush-like appearance and contrasting the glacial-carved terrain with rich scarlet hues. Glacier National Park boasts three red and four yellow species of paintbrush, which grow between 4 and 16 inches in height.

WHERE + WHEN:

During July and August, Montana’s alpine and subalpine meadows and mountain slopes are a canvas of Indian paintbrush. You’re certain to find them on the banks of the West Fork of the Bitterroot River in the Bitterroot National Forest.

Arrowleaf balsamroot blankets a hillside overlooking the Mission Mountains.
Photo courtesy of Randi de Santa Anna

ARROWLEAF BALSAMROOT

These easily recognized yellow flowers define our spring landscape and transform our hillsides into a golden-yellow. Part of the sunflower family, these plants grow in clumps 2 – 3 feet tall. Tribal nations once relied on Arrowleaf Balsamroot for food and medicinal purpose, and although these plants are still used for food today, they’re mostly eaten by our wildlife.

WHERE + WHEN:

These plants are common in low-elevation grasslands, on open slopes and ridges and in open ponderosa pine woodlands. They are often found in the company of sagebrush. Take a hike up Missoula’s Mt. Jumbo in early May to immerse yourself in the sea of yellow.

A yellowbell welcomes spring in the Seeley Swan Valley.
Photo courtesy of Randi de Santa Anna

YELLOWBELLS

These tiny treasures are beloved because their arrival means spring is upon us. They’re one of the first of Montana’s wildflowers to bloom and can even be found humbly poking up near lingering snow. Don’t miss the distinct reddish-purple ring around the base of the yellow flower.

WHERE + WHEN:

These bashful bells keep their heads down in grasslands and dry sagebrush prairies as well as ponderosa pine forests, blooming through early May.

Fireweed strikes a colorful pose on a Glacier National Park hillside.
Photo courtesy of Donnie Sexton

FIREWEED

A favorite among bees and delicious in jam and tea, Fireweed is a striking pinkish-purple 4 to 9-foot cone-like shoot against the stunning Montana landscape. They flourish in avalanche sites and burn areas, where they’re usually the first plant to emerge after a fire—hence the name.

WHERE + WHEN:

From June through September, you’ll find fireweed in open meadows, along stream banks or in open forest areas after wildfires.

Best Day Hikes in Western Montana: Part II

Last week in Part One of this series, we explored some of our favorite day hikes in the southerly region of Glacier Country (if you missed it, you should definitely go take a peak). This week, we’re finishing the list by heading up the map toward Highway 200, the Jewel Basin, Tobacco Valley and the Crown of the Continent: Glacier National Park.

If you’ve already read Part One, skip ahead. For our friends new to the blog, we have a couple pointers to help keep you safe and happy:

Rules of the Trail:

  1. It’s always a good idea to wear layers and comfortable hiking shoes or boots. It gets a little cold around here (in case the name “Glacier Country” didn’t tip you off), though temperatures still reach into the 80s and 90s during summer. Wear broken-in hiking footwear so uncomfortable feet don’t distract you from our breathtaking views.
  2. Be bear aware! Make noise and carry bear spray. You’re in bear country, and no matter how wild you think you might be, we can assure you the wildlife have you beat. (It’s also never a good idea to try to feed the wildlife).
  3. Make room in your pack for water, snacks and a camera. It’s good to stay hydrated, and good to have a camera ready to capture your Montana moments.
  4. Always stay on the trail. Wandering Montana’s splendor is easy to do, but it’s important not to lose your way. We promise you won’t miss out on anything.
  5. Ask the locals. Montana is full of secrets and who better to ask than a Montanan?

Now that we’ve got our safety suggestions out of the way, here’s your much-awaited Part Two:

Huckleberry Mountain Lookout

Photo courtesy of Kristal Martin (IG: @kriszm_)
The hike to Huckleberry Mountain Fire Lookout is on the west side of Glacier National Park. After getting back from this beautiful hike, venture into Apgar Village or West Glacier in search of huckleberry pie. The search is half the fun.

DIRECTIONS: Head to Glacier National Park from West Glacier and Apgar Visitor Center. About two miles into Going-to-the-Sun Road you’ll take a left onto Camas Road. Find the trailhead six miles in on the left. The trail is six miles in, six miles out and climbs 3,400 feet in elevation. If this trek sounds like more than you bargained for, keep driving up Camas Road to find the much tamer 1/2 mile Huckleberry Nature Trail.

ROUND-TRIP: 12 miles
PERMIT: National Parks Pass
HIGHLIGHTS: When “huckleberry” is in the name, it means there could be bears nearby. Bring friends and make noise so you don’t get into trouble.

Gable Pass

The Gable Pass trail system takes you through a beautiful alpine meadow with views of Mount Cleveland, Gable Mountain and Chief Mountain (pictured). Photo courtesy of Glacier Guides and Montana Raft.

DIRECTIONS: Gable Pass is northwest of Babb on the east side of Glacier National Park and begins at the Lee Ridge Trailhead. To get here, take Highway 17 (Chief Joseph Highway) north. You’ll find the trailhead about half a mile before Chief Mountain Trailhead at the International Border Crossing (you should see a sign that says “Customs 1/2 Mile Ahead”). Find parking for the trail in the pullout about 150 yards north at the top of the hill.

ROUND-TRIP: 12 miles
HIGHLIGHTS:  View Mount Cleveland, Gable Mountain and Chief Mountain from this lush alpine meadow.

Ross Creek Cedars

DIRECTIONS: For a truly awe-inspiring stroll, head to Ross Creek and walk among the over 400-year-old western red cedars. If you’re coming from Thompson Falls, take Highway 200 northwest to Highway 56. You can also reach Highway 56 from Highway 2 heading east from Troy or west from Libby. South of Bull Lake on Highway 56, turn east onto Forest Service Road 398 (locally known as Bull Lake Road). Drive this paved road 4 miles to a parking area.

ROUND-TRIP: 1 mile
HIGHLIGHTS: Drive 2 miles farther up Bull Lake Road for a scenic view of the Cabinet Mountains and Bull River Valley.

Mount Aeneas

The view from Mount Aeneas on a bluebird sky day. Photo courtesy of Glacier Guides and Montana Raft.

DIRECTIONS: From Highway 83 north of Bigfork, take Echo Lake Road north and take a right onto Foothill Road. Follow Foothill until the road turns into Jewel Basin Road. Continue about 11 miles up Jewel Basin to Camp Misery Trailhead. Follow the old service road behind the gate 1 mile before the trail narrows and turns into trail #717. Follow the signs half a mile and stay on #717. From here, the trail takes quite the elevation gain. Follow the switchbacks up the mountain to get to the ridgeline for views of Glacier National Park, Flathead Valley and the Bob Marshall Wilderness.

ROUND-TRIP: 6 miles
HIGHLIGHTS: This is a great mountain goat viewing area.

Little North Fork

DIRECTIONS: From Rexford, travel 7 miles south past the Koocanusa Bridge. Take Road 336 and follow for 1 mile to the marked trail.

ROUND-TRIP: Under 1 mile
HIGHLIGHTS: This short hike takes you past a sparkling waterfall.

Powerhouse Loop Trail

Thompson Falls is adding 1.5 miles of ADA-friendly trails to Powerhouse Loop in the summer of 2017. The additions will lead visitors to Thompson Falls State Park. Photo courtesy of the Sanders County Community Development Corporation

DIRECTIONS: After exploring Thompson Falls, head west on Main Street (Highway 200). Turn left on Pond Street, and take another left on Maiden Lane. Here you’ll find the PPL Montana Power Park and a great parking spot. Walk into the park and head to the powerhouse gates. To the left of the gate, you’ll see signs pointing to the trail. The signs will take you in a nice loop leading you back to Main Street and your car.

ROUND-TRIP: 2.3 miles
BONUS: Dog-friendly

Swift Creek Trail

DIRECTIONS: North of Whitefish Lake, Swift Creek has multiple trailheads perfect for a variety of visitors. To get here from Whitefish, drive north on Baker Avenue and continue on as the road turns into Wisconsin Avenue. Then head east on East Lakeshore Drive around the west side of Whitefish Lake. You will pass Big Mountain Road and continue another 5.9 miles before reaching the trailhead.

ROUND-TRIP: 3 – 6 miles
BONUS: The Swift Creek area includes an ADA accessible trail leading to the Swift Creek overlook.

Best Day Hikes in Western Montana: Part I

Western Montana’s Glacier Country covers the northwest corner of Montana, stretching from the Canadian border all the way down through the Bitterroot Valley. It’s a big region, with a lot to explore. We started this blog post hoping to share our top 10 favorite hikes, and we quickly realized it was just too much for one post…so, we’re splitting it up. Part One covers the more southern portion of Glacier Country including the Seeley-Swan Valley and the Bitterroot Valley. Next week we’re sharing the northern-most parts of Western Montana including the Flathead National Forest, Glacier National Park, Tobacco Valley and more.

One of the easiest ways to explore our little slice of heaven is to set out by foot. Here are a handful of trail tips for the aspiring Western Montana hiker:

Tips for the Trail:

  1. It’s always a good idea to wear layers and comfortable hiking shoes or boots. It gets a little cold around here (in case the name “Glacier Country” didn’t tip you off), though temperatures still reach into the 80s and 90s during summer. Wear broken-in hiking footwear so uncomfortable feet don’t distract you from our breathtaking views.
  2. Be bear aware! Make noise and carry bear spray. You’re in bear country, and no matter how wild you think you might be, we can assure you the wildlife have you beat. (It’s also never a good idea to try to feed the wildlife).
  3. Make room in your pack for water, snacks and a camera. It’s good to stay hydrated, and good to have a camera ready to capture your Montana moments.
  4. Always stay on the trail. Wandering Montana’s splendor is easy to do, but it’s important not to lose your way. We promise you won’t miss out on anything.
  5. Ask the locals. Montana is full of secrets and who better to ask than a Montanan?

Now that you’re all set for a hike, let us help you find one. Below is a list of our top 10 spots and how to find them.

Morrell Falls

The hike on Morrell Falls National Recreation Trail leads to Morrell Lake and the stunning Morrell Falls at the base of the Swan Mountain Range.

DIRECTIONS: From the town of Seeley Lake, travel half a mile north on Highway 83. Turn right on Morrell Creek Road, which becomes Forest Service Road #477/Cottonwood Lakes Road and travel just over 1 mile. Turn left on West Morrell Road #4353 and travel about 6 miles. Turn right on Pyramid Pass Road #4381 and travel a quarter-mile. Then turn left on Morrell Falls Road #4364. Continue for 1 mile to the Morrell Falls Trailhead and parking area.

ROUND-TRIP: 2.7 miles
BONUS: Dog-friendly

Turquoise Lake

DIRECTIONS: Flathead National Forest is home to so many natural wonders it can be a little overwhelming when you’re trying to plan a hike. Allow us to help, beginning with Turquoise Lake. In the Swan Valley, head south on Highway 83. Just past mile marker 38 south of Condon, turn right onto Kraft Creek Road. Drive 11.5 miles in to Glacier Creek trail #690. Follow #690 3 miles to Turquoise Lake trail #708. From there, you’re only 3 more miles to the beautiful turquoise waters of this pristine glacial lake.

ROUND-TRIP: 12.2 miles
PERMIT: Turquoise Lake is on tribal lands. Be sure to stop by any local grocer or outfitter to pick up your Tribal Conservation Permit.
HIGHLIGHTS: If you have extra time, hike down to Lace Lake for cliff jumping.

Three Lakes Peak

DIRECTIONS: Take Exit 82 on Interstate 90 east of Missoula and make your way west on Highway 10 until you reach Remount Road. Turn north onto Remount Road and drive 2.5 miles before turning west onto Ninemile Road. Continue for about 12 miles, then turn right onto Foothills Road #5498. Drive 5 miles to reach Burnt Fork Trail #418. This trail is easily navigated with posted signs.

ROUND-TRIP: 3.2 miles
PERMIT: Three Lakes Peak is on tribal lands. Be sure to stop in Missoula at Bob Ward and Sons, Cabela’s , MT Fish, Wildlife & Parks – Region 2 or Wholesale Sports to pick up your Tribal Conservation Permit.

Blodgett Canyon

Blodgett Canyon is known for its incredible overlook and relatively easy hike to the summit. If you’re feeling particularly adventurous you can venture into the valley for breathtaking views like this one.
Photo courtesy of Hunter Day Photography (hunterday.photo/montana)

DIRECTIONS: From Hamilton, take Main Street west into the foothills of the Bitterroot Mountains, following signs on Forest Service road 735 to the Blodgett Trailhead and overlook. The trailhead is to the right of the parking area.

ROUND-TRIP: 3 miles
HIGHLIGHTS: Several benches are placed along the hike up. Stop and take in the incredible views, but keep going—you’re in for a treat at the top!

Lake Como

Lake Como is easily accessible in any season. Photo: instagram.com/scottwilsonphotography

DIRECTIONS: Access Lake Como Road from Hamilton, Montana. Take the road around the south side of Lake Como to find Little Rock Creek Trailhead.

ROUND-TRIP: 9 miles
HIGHLIGHTS: This is a lovely overnight camping spot.

Mount Sentinel

Mount Sentinel’s colors change with the seasons, making it a fresh new hike every few weeks. Visit in April and May to catch the mountain covered in green and peek at the wildflowers sprinkled throughout the hike.

DIRECTIONS: Hike “the M” for a breathtaking view of the Missoula Valley. The trail starts at the eastern edge of The University of Montana campus. This steep, zigzag path includes 11 switchbacks and gains 620 feet of elevation in under a mile.

ROUND-TRIP: 1.75 miles
HIGHLIGHTS: The trail is named for the large whitewashed rock “M” placed on the mountainside in 1908.

Kootenai Creek

DIRECTIONS: From the Stevensville junction on Highway 93, travel north 1 mile. Turn west on Kootenai Creek Road and continue two miles to the trailhead.

ROUND-TRIP: Up to 18 miles…choose your adventure.
HIGHLIGHTS: Find great rock climbing about half a mile in. If you want to venture farther in, the Kootenai lakes can be found at mile 9.