Category Archives: Parks

8 Things Not to be Missed This Fall in Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park is open year-round and every season in the park is stunning. Fall, however, is uniquely magical. The Crown of the Continent’s glacier-carved valleys and mountainsides are painted with the golden hues of autumn, amplifying the already jaw-dropping views. Fewer visitors, abundant birding and wildlife watching, and exclusive biking access on the Going-to-the-Sun Road make it one of the best times to enjoy the park. Here are our top eight reasons why you should visit Glacier in its golden season.

The Crown of the Continent beckons leaf peepers.

BIRD WATCHING

Glacier National Park’s preserved and pristine landscape makes for prime bird habitat. Its skies are graced with soaring raptors, the lakes and rivers flush with waterfowl and shorebirds, and sweeping meadows and woodlands visited by beautiful songbirds. One bird you can expect to see in fall is the golden eagle—one of North America’s largest and fastest birds of prey—as every fall thousands of them migrate through Glacier.

The golden eagle is one of North America’s largest birds of prey.

SCENIC DRIVES

Chase fall colors and enjoy the sheer beauty of golden alpine forests. With a landscape that varies from jagged mountain peaks to sweeping meadows, Glacier has world-class, scenic drives. A favorite route of ours is Looking Glass Road. This curvy route is located on the Blackfeet Reservation on the east side of the park. Along with picturesque views looking into Two Medicine, you’ll also have a good chance of seeing wildlife in valleys along the highway, including bears, moose and wolves. Being amazed by Glacier can be as simple as driving around.

You don’t even need to see what’s around the next bend to be stopped in your tracks at Glacier National Park.

WILDLIFE WATCHING

One thing that makes Glacier so special is that we share the land with an abundance of beautiful, wild creatures; it’s home to 19 large mammals, including bear, moose and bighorn sheep. As one of the most intact ecosystems in the lower 48 states, there are plenty of opportunities to view wildlife. During the fall, deer, elk and moose are in rut and bears enter hyperphagia (a stage where they eat and drink nonstop to gain weight in preparation for hibernation), making it the most active season to spot wildlife. As always, remember that the wildlife is just that–wild. Stay safe by respecting their space. 

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

BIKE THE GOING-TO-THE-SUN ROAD

For many, the highlight of their trip to Glacier National Park is the Going-to-the-Sun Road—an engineering marvel and National Historic Landmark. Fall offers the unique opportunity to bike the Going-to-the-Sun Road, after the road has been closed to cars (Oct. 15, weather dependent). The cool temperature and awe-inspiring landscape make it a pretty epic way to spend a day in Glacier. Beginning in spring 2020, e-bikes will be allowed everywhere bikes are in national parks.

Elevate your cycling adventure in Glacier Country.

FISHING

Glacier National Park has some of the most pristine, undisturbed waters nature has to offer. Autumn specifically is an incredible time to fish Glacier—fewer folks on the water, quieter rivers and some of the year’s best trout fishing. The Middle Fork of the Flathead River is chock-full of cutthroat and rainbow trout, prime for fly-fishing. Or reel in lake trout on Lake McDonald or one of the park’s many glacial lakes. A valid fishing license is required for all types of fishing, and when fishing on tribal lands an additional license is required. Plan your visit and read the regulations before you go.

Cast for cutthroat trout on the Middle Fork of the Flathead River. Photo: Thompson Westslope

HIKING

Hiking is one of the most intimate ways to explore Glacier National Park, touring the terrain by foot allows you to get up close and personal with nature. Immerse yourself in the grandeur of fall while hiking one of the park’s 734 miles of trails. Enjoy the uncrowded boardwalk on the Trail of the Cedars, or the stillness of a hike through an alpine forest to a glacial lake or cascading waterfall. 

Fall is the perfect time to set off on an adventure. Photo: Couser

GLACIER BY TRAIN

Exploring Glacier National Park on Amtrak’s Empire Builder is a fun and memorable experience. A round-trip journey from Whitefish to Cut Bank or a ride in from Seattle in the fall offer the opportunity to see Glacier draped in golden hues. There are several observation decks between the coach cars, and they provide incredible views. Cozy up—this very scenic and relaxing ride makes for a magical experience. You’ll finally understand why your grandpa loves trains so much. 

Fall for miles and miles of autumn on an Amtrak adventure. Photo: Alex Hanich

SHOULDER SEASON PRICING

Take advantage of shoulder season prices and uncrowded destinations. Grab a drink at Glacier Distilling Company in Coram. Open year-round, the historic Izaak Walton Inn in Essex sits track-side and combines railroad history with outdoor recreation, or opt to stay in the Historic Tamarack Lodge and Cabins complete with an on-site restaurant and espresso bar. All of your fishing, boating, hiking and camping rental needs can be found at Glacier Outdoor Center, or, if you’re looking for a guided hike, rock climbing or winter sports excursion, Glacier Adventure Guides operates year-round in and around Glacier National Park. 

Get cozy fireside at the Izaak Walton Inn. Photo: Donnie Sexton

Traveling to Glacier National Park in fall is an unforgettable experience, best fitted with the flexible type of person who enjoys self-guided tours and seeing more animals than humans. Most of the lodging, restaurants and concessionaire services close mid-October. For the right person, going to Glacier National Park in the fall is an authentic, off-the-beaten-path opportunity to see the Crown of the Continent at its finest.

Summer Fun: Top 7 Kid Friendly Activities

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

Relax and refresh in Glacier Country.

KAYAKING

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

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

HORSEBACK RIDING

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

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

WILD HORSE ISLAND

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

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

CAROUSEL

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

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

WHITEFISH MOUNTAIN RESORT

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

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

FARMERS MARKETS

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

Savor the flavor of our locally grown fruits and vegetables.

U-PICK FARMS

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

Andy Austin Spring Tour: I-90 Corridor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Adventuring,
Andy Austin

Wildlife Viewing Areas in Western Montana

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Top 7 Easy Spring Hikes in Glacier Country

Spring has sprung and we couldn’t be more excited. The snow is melting, wildflowers are blooming and wildlife is emerging. While the snow in the mountains will take longer to melt, at lower elevations the snow has quickly disappeared. Which means our closer-to-town trails are cleared off and ready to hike. One of the easiest ways to explore Western Montana’s charming small towns is by foot. Stretch your legs and enjoy these leisurely hikes.

Spring colors are surreal. Photo: Missoula Parks and Recreation

FORTLOOP TRAIL

Directions: In Missoula—the cultural hub of Glacier Country—head to the newest city park: Fort Missoula Regional Park. Home to nine multisport fields, tennis courts, a dog park and more, Fortloop Trail loops the entire park—an approximately 2.5-mile hike. In total, there are 7 miles of trails to explore, some of which connect directly to the Historical Museum at Fort Missoula, which houses 20 historical structures and buildings on the grounds.

Round Trip Distance: Fortloop Trail, 2.5 miles.

Walk along the Clark Fork River from bustling downtown Missoula into the serene Kim WIlliams Nature Area. Photo: Missoula Current

MILWAUKEE TRAIL / KIM WILLIAMS TRAIL

Directions: Located in the heart of downtown Missoula, the Milwaukee Trail follows the Clark Fork River through downtown to the University of Montana. The trail then merges into the Kim Williams Nature Trail, and eventually between the Clark Fork River and the base of Mount Sentinel. On top of the old Milwaukee Railroad tracks, this trail is wide and flat. If you stay quiet along the river you’re likely to see wildlife, like blue herons and sandhill cranes or an osprey in one of the multiple nests along the way. To walk the entire length of the trail, park at McCormick Park.

Round Trip Distance: From McCormick, 13 miles. For a shorter hike, turn around at the university, 4.4 miles.

At a distance of only 2 miles to the summit, the views are worth the hike. Photo: Explore Libby

FLAGSTAFF TRAIL

Directions: After exploring Libby, travel north on Highway 37, turn left at River Road and travel 4 miles. Turn right at Quartz Creek Road 600 and follow it for 5 miles, then turn left on West Fork Road. Continue until the road ends at a “T” junction. Turn left to follow Road 4690 7.3 miles to the trailhead. The Flagstaff Trail winds through grassy meadows, filled with wildflowers this time of year, and leads to the summit of Flagstaff Mountain. It’s 2 miles to the summit with an elevation gain of 1,642 ft. Once there, the trail continues another 3.45 miles, or you can turn around.

Round Trip Distance: Flagstaff Mountain Summit, 4 miles.

This scenic path is great for all ages. Photo: Brian Schott / Explore Whitefish

WHITEFISH RIVER PATH

Directions: Whitefish has a network of in-town trails which are maintained year-round. The Whitefish River Trail, one of the most accessible walks, begins at Riverside Park. The paved path travels through town along the Whitefish River and along part of Whitefish Lake. The path eventually connects to Reservoir Road, just 0.5 miles from the Reservoir Trailhead of The Whitefish Trail—one of 12 trailheads that encompasses 42 miles of single track trails.

Round Trip Distance: The Whitefish River path has approximately 15 miles of paved path, which then connects to The Whitefish Trail. Hike for however long you want, then turn around.

Explore as much or as little of this 22-mile trail. Photo: Rails to Trails of Northwest Montana

GREAT NORTHERN RAILS TO TRAILS

Directions: The Great Northern Historical Trail extends 22 miles between Somers—at the north end of Flathead Lake—and Kalispell, then South, ending at the tiny community of Kila (no amenities, but parking is available). Start in Somers, Kila or Kalispell. The trail follows the old Great Northern Railway route, serving up unrivaled views of the Swan, Mission, Salish and Whitefish ranges. To find the trail in Kalispell, head west until you meet the intersection of U.S. 2 and Spring Creek Road. Find parking just east of the intersection.

Round Trip Distance: 44 miles round-trip. Pick your starting point, then turn around whenever you want.

Enjoy views of the Cut Bank Coulee and rolling plains on the 2-mile Cut Bank Coulee Trail.

CUT BANK COULEE TRAIL

Directions: From Cut Bank, find parking for the Cut Bank Coulee Trail at two trailheads. The east trailhead is located at Seventh Avenue South and Dean Drive. The west trailhead is located at Mountain View Boulevard and Lookout Road. This U-shaped trail follows the Cut Bank Creek Coulee for 2 miles.

Round Trip Distance: 4 miles.

MULE PASTURE LOOP

Directions: Mule Pasture Loop is 0.5 miles north of Thompson Falls. Follow the USFS direction signs from either the east or west ramp north of Highway 200. The Mule Pasture Loop travels through a beautiful wooded setting, which feels remote yet is in town.

Round Trip Distance: 2.3 miles.

If trekking up steep hills and mountains isn’t your idea of fun, these hikes are a great option— allowing you to get outdoors but keep things casual. Enjoy these hikes year-round and find more trails at glaciermt.com/hiking.

Western Montana Wings: Birding in Glacier Country

Western Montana’s pristine landscape makes for prime bird habitat. Our skies are graced with soaring raptors, our lakes and rivers are flush with waterfowl and shorebirds, and our grasslands and woodlands are visited by beautiful songbirds. Whether you’re an avid birder checking birds off a life list, or someone who just wants a look at something wild and free, there’s plenty of opportunity to catch some good glimpses of Glacier Country’s feathered residents.

There’s no better way to locate and learn about Western Montana’s birds than to go on a birding trip with a local expert. Glacier Country is home to four chapters of the Audubon Society: Bitterroot Audubon, Five Valleys Audubon, Flathead Audubon, and Mission Mountain Audubon. These groups frequently offer free or low-cost outings, but you may need to sign up in advance. Usually the group leader sets up a spotting scope for everyone to share, but you’ll want to bring your own binoculars. Check out The Montana Natural History Center in Missoula for birding events, like Naturalist Field Weekend: Sage Grouse Experience at the end of April and Naturalist Field Day: Birding by Ear in May.

The Montana Natural History Center offers birding classes and outings. Photo: Montana Natural History Center

If you’d like to do some birding on your own, check out the following hot spots:

In the Bitterroot Valley there’s no better place to bird-watch than Stevensville’s Lee Metcalf Wildlife Refuge. More than 225 species of birds have been recorded there. Hit the riparian habitat along the walking path by the Bitterroot River trail. Don’t miss the ponds on the north end of the park that fill with migrating waterfowl in the spring and fall.

Downtown Missoula is steps away from the Riverfront Trail, where even without binoculars you can often spot osprey, great blue herons, kingfishers, and more. If you’re willing to venture a little further, the Rattlesnake National Recreation Area is teeming with avian life. Word is, birders often don’t even need to leave the parking lot.

The Flathead Valley’s Owen Sowerwine Natural Area abounds with songbirds and waterfowl. Also scope out the West Valley Ponds, where there’s a new viewing area from which to see hundreds of sandhill cranes during fall migration.

Base your birding adventure out of the Mission Valley. There are three outstanding destinations here: the National Bison Range, Ninepipe National Wildlife Refuge and Pablo National Wildlife Refuge.

NOTABLE GLACIER COUNTRY BIRDS

A western meadowlark bursts into song. Photo: Brian Williams

Montana’s state bird, the western meadowlark, can be seen in abundance at the National Bison Range in the spring and summer. This medium-sized songbird with a striking yellow neck and chest nests and forages in tall grasses, so you’ll often hear its beautiful voice before seeing it. Luckily, you won’t have to wait long before it flies up to perch on a fence or a shrub to put on a concert for you.

Who ordered take-out? An osprey delivers a fish. Photo: Alan D. Wilson

The osprey is one of Glacier Country’s most recognizable birds. Not only is the city of Missoula’s semi-pro baseball team named after this charismatic raptor, but the stadium includes a nesting platform where an osprey pair can be reliably seen from April through September. It’s a real treat to watch one fishing—osprey plunge feet first into the water to grab a fish, which they’ll hold facing forward and upright in their talons as they glide off to find a dining spot.

Male harlequin ducks are a sight to be seen. Photo: Alan D. Wilson

Glacier National Park claims the densest population of harlequin ducks in the state and is, therefore, one of the best places to find them. Still, one researcher claims it’s rarer to spot a harlequin than a grizzly. Harlequins are the only North American duck that breed and forage in clear, fast rivers and streams. Keep an eye out for these distinctively colored ducks during May and June at Upper McDonald Creek near the Going-to-the-Sun Road.

A variety of woodpeckers call Western Montana home for part of the year. Named after Corps of Discovery adventurer Meriwether Lewis, Lewis’s woodpeckers can be spotted in Council Grove State Park from roughly May through August. Look for dead trees, where the birds nest in cavities. Their greenish-black back and wings, salmon-colored bellies and red faces make them easy to identify.

Look for pileated woodpeckers in areas with large dead trees. Photo: Alan D. Wilson

Over a foot long, with black bodies, white-striped faces and flaming red crests, pileated woodpeckers are always an exciting find. Their loud calls and drumming will help you locate these year-round residents in their forest habitat, like the cottonwood snags in the Owen Sowerwine Natural Area.

Mountain bluebirds match the color of Western Montana skies.

Glacier Country’s skies get even bluer when mountain bluebirds and western bluebirds arrive in the spring. The males of these two species of songbirds are easy to tell apart; mountain bluebirds are blue all over, while western bluebirds sport an orange chest. Western bluebirds prefer open woodlands like Blue Mountain in Missoula. Mountain bluebirds are prevalent at the National Bison Range. Like western meadowlarks, both species flit between the ground and low perches.

A sandhill crane flies with its legs and neck fully stretched out. Photo: Alan D. Wilson

One of the largest birds you’ll see in Montana is the sandhill crane at 3.5 feet tall with a 6-foot wingspan. These elegant gray giants fly with neck and legs extended, looking like prehistoric pterodactyls come to life. From April to October, the long-legged cranes can be seen in open habitats like marshes and grasslands. The best place to spot them is during fall migration at the new viewing platform in West Valley near Kalispell.

Trumpeter swans are making a comeback at the Flathead Indian Reservation. Photo: Alan D. Wilson

For a chance to see America’s largest waterfowl, the trumpeter swan, head to the Flathead Indian Reservation’s Pablo National Wildlife Refuge, where these impressive birds have been successfully reintroduced. Biologists for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes have been working for 20 years to establish a viable population, which now numbers roughly 200 swans.

Great blue herons are a common sight in Western Montana waters. Photo: Alan D. Wilson

The majestic great blue heron can be found year-round almost anywhere there’s a river, lake or wetland. Birders can get relatively close to the nesting colonies at Lee Metcalf Wildlife Refuge. In the spring and summer, the conifers near the pond host several nests each, and visitors are treated to an abundance of heron activity.

Snowy owl sightings in Western Montana are a rare treat. Photo: Elaine R. Wilson

Western Montana is home to 15 owl species, and one of the foremost owl researchers in the world, Denver Holt. His Owl Research Institute, based out of Charlo, often leads workshops and field days, which are open to the public. Driving through the Flathead and Mission Valleys in the winter, you’ll want to keep your eyes peeled for snowy owls—they sometimes migrate down from the Arctic to feast on voles.

Common loons arrive in the summer to nest on Glacier Country’s lakes. Photo: Elaine R. Wilson

Glacier Country boasts the only common loon habitat in Montana. If you’re hoping to hear this black and white bird’s legendary call, visit Spencer Lake west of Whitefish from March through September. There are three distinctive vocalizations you might hear during the summer months: 1) a long, and some say eerie, cry, 2) a high-pitched fast call, and 3) the territorial yodel of the males.

For more information on birding in Western Montana, visit glaciermt.com/birding.

Glacier by Train: See the Park by Amtrak from Cut Bank to Whitefish

Exploring Glacier Country on Amtrak’s Empire Builder is a fun and memorable way for travelers of all ages to see Glacier National Park and experience Western Montana’s small-town charm. A mid-to-late autumn round-trip journey from Cut Bank to Whitefish offers the opportunity to see Western Montana and Glacier National Park draped in fall colors lightly dusted with fresh snow—a uniquely beautiful blending of seasons.

Wide windows make for incredible viewing of Glacier’s golden hues.

From Cut Bank, board the evening train for Whitefish. Conductors will assist riders with loading on. Coach seats are unassigned, but the train cars are spacious, so finding a spot shouldn’t be a problem. After your tickets are checked, we recommend making your way to one of several observation decks between the coach cars. These decks offer incredible views!

All aboard in the charming town of Cut Bank!

Trip-Tip: Book your tickets ahead of time at amtrak.com, where you can also find carry-on and checked-luggage rules.

Amtrak’s coach windows are wide, allowing for excellent sightseeing. Watch the sun set across the plains of the Blackfeet Nation, illuminating the scenic Rocky Mountain backdrop with the last light of day. Snacks and beverages are offered downstairs of the observation deck, or make a reservation for dinner in the restaurant car. The evening ride is quiet and smooth, and, after a three-hour journey, Whitefish—the quintessential mountain town—offers up warm hospitality and cozy accommodations.

See the sights from the comfort of Amtrak’s cozy cars.

The Whitefish train depot is located right downtown, so grab your bags and walk to any number of accommodations. We recommend maximizing your adventure with a finely-crafted local beer at the Great Northern Brewing Company and overnighting at The Firebrand Hotel, where we highly recommend making reservations well in advance.

Good morning, Whitefish. It’s lovely to be here.

Rise and shine to jaw-dropping mountain vistas, well worth the early wake-up. The Whitefish Depot’s alpine architectural style is quaint and cozy and the platform offers gorgeous views of the surrounding hills speckled with golden tamarack pine trees. Check a bag inside, or bring along your carry on. The morning ride through the park is absolutely stunning. From Whitefish, the train takes you west-to-east through Glacier National Park as you make your way back to Cut Bank.

Sit back, relax and take in the Glacial-carved landscape while enjoying a fresh, hot coffee.

The ride into Glacier National Park is very scenic and quite relaxing. See the glacial blue waters of the Flathead River among the orange and gold contrast of trees in their seasonal shade. Grab a cup of coffee or snack from the concessionary downstairs from the observation deck, or make a reservation for breakfast in the dining car. With views like this, you’ll be in awe from any part of the train.

Fall for miles and miles of autumn on an Amtrak adventure.

The vibrant colors and snowcapped peaks of a fall-kissed Glacier Country are always spectacular, but there is something about the view from a train window that makes for a magical experience. You get to cover some serious ground and view the vastness of the landscape, from deep river valleys and high mountain peaks to the beautiful wide-open plains of Browning and Cut Bank. This is one Glacier Country train tour everyone should travel.

Witness the beautiful blending of seasons in Glacier Country.

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.