Category Archives: Polebridge

How to Spend 6 Days in Western Montana

Start your Western Montana adventure with Glacier Country.

It can be a little overwhelming—albeit exciting—to wrap your head around how you might spend your time exploring Western Montana’s Glacier Country. With our glacial-carved terrain, 1-million-acre national park, 75+ charming small towns and limitless adventure, you’ve got a lot of choices. We’ve put together a six-day itinerary that might help you along the way.

Day 1: The Bitterroot Valley
A short 15-minute drive south of Missoula on Highway 93 is Lolo, home to Travelers’ Rest State Park—a centuries-old gathering place and campsite where Lewis and Clark rested and prepared for their journey—and Holt Heritage Museum (tours by appointment only), including memorabilia and an expansive collection of American Indian artwork as well as western wear, including hats and boots worn by some pretty famous cowboys and cowgirls.

Continue south on Highway 93 to the town of Florence and travel east on the Eastside Highway to the Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge. A naturalist’s paradise, look for tundra swans, woodpeckers, bald eagles and white-tailed deer from the comfort of your vehicle or walk the 2.5-miles of nature trails near the Bitterroot River. Continue south on the Eastside Highway to the community of Stevensville, with a quick detour to Fort Owen State Park. The first permanent pioneer settlement in Montana, Stevensville is home to the historic St. Mary’s Mission.

After lunch at a local eatery, stroll through the downtown shops with a stop at Valley Drug and Variety for something sweet at the old-fashioned soda fountain.

Head farther south to visit the Daly Mansion just outside of Hamilton, the summer home of Copper Baron and millionaire Marcus Daly.

Tour a marvel of a mansion formerly owned by Copper Baron, Marcus Daly.

Continue a few more minutes south and you’ll soon be in Hamilton—the largest town in the valley. Experience the vibrant arts scene with many galleries and shops full of work from local artisans.

You’ll also find sapphire mining for that perfect gem at Sapphire Studios in Hamilton, casting a line on the Bitterroot River or continuing south for 15 minutes to Darby and visiting Jimmy “the hat man” Harrison at Double H Custom Hat Co. for a custom handmade felted fur hat.

For dinner, stop at one of the Bitterroot Valley’s four craft breweries for a taste and a tour. Enjoy a wood-fired pizza or burger and a microbrew before returning to Missoula on Highway 93.

Taste a refreshing and crisp local beer at Lolo Peak Brewing Company.

IF YOU GO:
Bitterroot Valley Chamber of Commerce – 406.363.2400 – bitterrootchamber.com
Daly Mansion – 406.363.6004 – dalymansion.org
Fort Owen State Park – 406.273.4253 – stateparks.mt.gov/fort-owen
Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge – 406.777.5552 – fws.gov/refuge/lee_metcalf
St. Mary’s Mission – 406.777.5734 – saintmarysmission.org
Travelers’ Rest State Park – 406.273.4253 – travelersrest.org
Valley Drug and Variety – 406.777.5591 – mainstreetstevensville.com

EATS:
Bitter Root Brewing (Hamilton) – 406.363.7468 – bitterrootbrewing.com
Bouilla (Hamilton) – 406.361.0223
Lolo Peak Brewing Company (Lolo) – 406.493.6231 – lolopeakbrewery.com
Romeo’s Italian Kitchen (Stevensville) – 406.777.4499 – romeositaliankitchen.com

STAY:
Alta Ranch (Darby) – 406.349.2142 – alta-ranch.com
Bear Creek Lodge (Victor) – 406.642.3306 – bear-creek-lodge.com
Bitterroot Cabins (Hamilton) – 406.363.2258 – bitterrootcabins.com
Bitterroot River Ranch (Darby) – 409.531.4939 – bitterrootriverranch.com
Rye Creek Lodge (Darby) – 406.821.3366 – ryecreeklodge.com
Time After Time Bed and Breakfast (Victor) – 406.642.3258 – timeaftertimebb.com
Triple Creek Ranch (Darby) – 406.821.4600 – triplecreekranch.com

Day 2: Missoula – The Garden City
Missoula is Montana’s cultural hub and sits at the confluence of three rivers. The city boasts nine historic districts, funky boutiques, live theater and music, a symphony and delectable dining. It’s also home to the state’s oldest university.

Begin your day in Missoula with one of many self-guided tours and maps offered by the Missoula Downtown Association. Caras Park, located in the heart of downtown Missoula, is a great place to start. Be sure to stroll over to the Brennan’s Wave overlook, where you are likely to see a kayaker (or several) playing on this man-made whitewater wave on the Clark Fork River.

Wander art galleries, wineries and boutiques, or explore a museum or historical tour.

Nearby you’ll find various locations that host the Missoula Farmers Market, Clark Fork River Market and The Peoples Market (open Saturdays, May – October), as well as some of Missoula’s most popular festivals.

Have lunch or dinner at one of Missoula’s downtown eateries featuring locally sourced products like Dixon melons, wild huckleberries and grass-fed beef.

You’re in elk country, so a visit to the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation Visitor Center is in order. More than a museum, this visitor center features a number of interactive exhibits where you can learn more about elk, elk country and the role the organization plays in conservation throughout North America.

No visit to Missoula is complete without a visit to the Smokejumper Visitor Center. As the nation’s largest training base for smokejumpers, the visitor center showcases displays, dioramas and videos related to the lore of America’s legendary parachute wildfire fighters.

If local history is what you are looking for, visit The Historical Museum at Fort Missoula. Built in 1877, the fort sits on 32 acres and features 13 historical structures. It provides a rich history lesson about the search for gold in the area and the impact the railroad had on western expansion. The Rocky Mountain Museum of Military History, also located at Fort Missoula, tells the story of the United States Army, from frontier times to present day.

For an evening out, check out a concert at The University of Montana, Big Sky Brewing Company Amphitheater or KettleHouse Amphitheater, located on the banks of the Blackfoot River. Several venues downtown, including the Wilma Theatre, often host live music performances. You can also catch a Missoula Osprey baseball game, Missoula Maulers hockey game or the Hellgate Rollergirls for some roller derby.

Sit back and listen or stand up and dance to the variety of live performances playing throughout Missoula. The KettleHouse Amphitheatre is a cannot miss. Photo: Logjam Presents

IF YOU GO:
Historical Museum at Fort Missoula – 406.728.3476 – fortmissoulamuseum.org
Missoula Downtown Association – 406.543.4238 – missouladowntown.com
Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation Visitor Center – 406.523.3495 – rmef.org
Rocky Mountain Museum of Military History – 406.549.5346 – fortmissoula.org
Smokejumper Visitor Center Association – 406.329.4934 – fs.fed.us
The University of Montana – 406.243.4051 – umt.edu/griztix

EATS:
Biga Pizza – 406.728.2579 – bigapizza.com
Big Dipper Ice Cream – 406.543.5722 – bigdippericecream.com
Scotty’s Table – 406.549.2790 – scottystable.net
Tamarack Brewing Company – 406.830.3113 – tamarackbrewing.com
Top Hat Restaurant & Bar– 406.728.9865 – logjampresents.com/top-hat-restaurant-bar

STAY:
Best Western Grant Creek Inn – 406.543.0700 – bestwestern.com
DoubleTree by Hilton Missoula Edgewater – 406.728.3100 – doubletree3.hilton.com
Gibson Mansion Bed and Breakfast – 406.251.1345 – gibsonmansion.com

Day 3: Flathead Lake
Head north on Highway 93 to your first stop at the St. Ignatius Mission in St. Ignatius. (one hour, 30 minutes from Hamilton). Founded in 1854 by Jesuit missionaries, the mission, and especially Brother Carignano’s remarkable frescoes, are a must-see for anyone who appreciates historical landmarks (30-minute self-guided tour).

Watch nature roam in Glacier Country’s National Bison Range, home to bison, elk, deer and more. Photo: Andy Austin

Then head toward Dixon on Highway 200 and north to Moiese to visit the National Bison Range. Home to hundreds of bison, as well as elk, white-tailed and mule deer, pronghorn antelope, bighorn sheep and black bear. The visitor center provides interpretive displays and orientation videos, as well as a bookstore. A 6-mile loop is accessible to motorcoaches (one-hour self-guided tour).

Wake up to views of majestic mountains and pristine waters at Ninepipes Lodge.

Check out The Ninepipes Museum, located six miles south of Ronan and adjacent to the scenic Ninepipe National Wildlife Refuge. Enjoy the 2,000+ acre scenic refuge for native birds, and the museum’s collection of early photos, artifacts and antiques representing more than a century of life in the Flathead Valley.

The People’s Center, 1 mile north of Pablo (20 miles/25 minutes from St. Ignatius) on Highway 93, is the place to experience the rich cultural heritage of the Salish, Pend d’Oreille and Kootenai Tribes. The center features an exhibit gallery, educational programs and Native Ed-Venture interpretive tours focusing on American Indian heritage, natural history and cultural interpretation (one-hour tour).

The Best Western Kwataqnuk Resort in Polson (8 miles/11 minutes from The People’s Center) is your next stop, located on the southwest shore of Flathead Lake. This is the perfect place to stop for a meal and to overnight with magnificent lake views. Enjoy exploring downtown Polson or take a boat tour from Kwataqnuk Resort’s marina. Choose between a narrated bay cruise (1.5 hours) or cruise to the shores of Wild Horse Island, the largest island on Flathead Lake (three hours). Take advantage of Kwataqnuk’s group packages that include lunch and a boat cruise.

IF YOU GO:
National Bison Range – 406.644.2211 – fws.gov
Ninepipes Museum of Early Montana– 406.644.3435 – ninepipesmuseum.org
The People’s Center – 406.675.0160 – peoplescenter.org
Polson Chamber of Commerce– 406.883.5964 – polsonchamber.com
St. Ignatius Mission – 406.745.2768 – stignatiusmission.org

EATS:
Glacier Brewing Company – 406.883.2595 – glacierbrewing.com
Finley Point Grill – 406.887.2020 – finleypointgrill.com

STAY:
Kwataqnuk Resort and Casino – 800.882.6363 – kwataqnuk.com
Ninepipes Lodge – 406.644.2588 – ninepipeslodge.com
Red Lion Inn & Suites – 406.872.2200 – redlion.com/polson

Day 4: The Going-to-the-Sun Road

Hop in your car and prepare for epic views of Glacier National Park…and don’t worry, there are plenty of places to pull over and capture the moment.


Head north and spend your day in Glacier National Park driving the stunning Going-to-the-Sun Road. You can drive the road from west to east and back or you can turn it into a loop tour by driving the road from West Glacier to St. Mary and heading back to West Glacier via East Glacier Park and U.S. Highway 2. Be sure to take advantage of the various pull-outs and scenic viewpoints along the way. Recommended stops include Trail of the Cedars, Logan Pass Visitor Center, Jackson Glacier Overlook, Sunrift Gorge and Sun Point. 

IF YOU GO:
Logan Pass Visitor Center – 406.888.7800 – nps.gov/glac
St. Mary Visitor Center – 406.888.7800 – nps.gov/glac

STAY:
Glacier Outdoor Center (West Glacier) – 406.888.5456 – glacierraftco.com
Glacier Park Lodge (East Glacier Park) – 406.892.2525 – glacierparkcollection.com
Izaak Walton Inn (Essex) – 406.888.5700 – izaakwaltoninn.com

EATS:
The Dining Car at Izaak Walton Inn (Essex) – 406.888.5700 – izaakwaltoninn.com
Eddie’s Café & Mercantile (Apgar Village) – 406.888.5361 – eddiescafegifts.com

Day 5: The North Fork
Today will take you to one of the wildest sections of the park: the North Fork, one of the most scenic and off-the-beaten-path sections of the park that’s accessible by car. Take advantage of the stunning views as you make your way up the Outside North Fork Road. Polebridge, a small off-the-grid town just outside the park’s border, anchors the area. Here you’ll find a historic mercantile, saloon, cabins for rent and a hostel. Be sure to stop at the Polebridge Mercantile for some of the best pastries in the West. After fueling up on goodies, rent a kayak or canoe (or bring your own) and head into the park to Bowman or Kintla lakes for a few hours of paddling on the clear blue waters. If you’re feeling adventurous, take the Inside North Fork Road through the park to Polebridge. Check the road status before you go and be sure you’re in a high clearance, four-wheel drive vehicle.

Take a trip back in time while enjoying some of the finest pastries in the West at the Polebridge Mercantile.

IF YOU GO:
Polebridge Mercantile – 406.888.5105 – polebridgemerc.com

STAY:
North Fork Cabins – 406.871.7717 – polebridgecabins.com
North Fork Hostel & Square Peg Ranch – 406.888.5241 – nfhostel.com

EATS:
Polebridge Mercantile and Bakery – 406.888.5105 – polebridgemerc.com
The Northern Lights Saloon and Café – 406.888.9963 – facebook.com/northern-lights-saloon-1

Day 6: West Glacier
Spend the final day of your trip participating in some of the activities and adventures around one of the park’s hubs—West Glacier. Start your morning on a trail ride with Swan Mountain Outfitters at their West Glacier corral. After taking in the view along the trail, head out on a half-day fly-fishing or whitewater rafting trip along the Middle Fork of the Flathead River. Along the way, you’ll learn about area history and local legends. Round out the night with dinner at the Belton Chalet. Learn more about Glacier National Park by participating in one of the ranger-led activities.

Saddle up, cowboys and cowgirls. Experience a classic way to see the park and cover miles of scenic terrain.

IF YOU GO:
Swan Mountain Outfitters – 406.387.4405 – swanmountainoutfitters.com
Glacier National Park Conservancy – 406.888.5756 – glacier.org

STAY:
The Belton Chalet – 406.888.5000 – beltonchalet.com
Glacier Guides Lodge – 406.387.5555 – glacierguides.com
Glacier Haven Inn – 406.888.5720 – glacierhaveninn.com

EATS:
Belton Grill Dining Room – 406.888.5000 – beltonchalet.com
Belton Tap Room – 406.888.5000 – beltonchalet.com
Health Haven Café – 406.888.5720 – glacierhaveninn.com

Beyond the Park: Explore Western Montana’s Glacier Country

The Crown of the Continent. The Backbone of the World. Heaven on Earth. Glacier National Park boasts some pretty apt nicknames. But did you know the epic beauty and unrivaled adventure extend well beyond park boundaries? From charming small towns to pristine rivers and recreation areas, Montana offers a wonderland of discovery.

Blodgett Canyon Overlook shows off Western Montana’s classic big-mountain views. Photo: Noah Couser

Summertime is the park’s busiest season, making it the perfect time to explore what the rest of Western Montana’s Glacier Country has to offer. Here’s a list of things to do and places to see outside the park, plus a few tips and tricks to navigate our peak season and busiest times of day.

SCENIC DRIVES
The stunning scenery and glacial-carved terrain roll right on out of the park for hundreds of miles in every direction. Take the road less traveled on some of Montana’s scenic byways for a jaw-dropping drive in some of the country’s most beautiful landscapes. The best part? There’s usually a backroad adventure or hidden small-town treasure around every bend. Hit the road on one of our favorite routes:

Highway 200: Bonner to Clearwater Junction
Highway 83/Highway 12: Lolo to Idaho
St. Regis-Paradise Scenic Byway
Montana Tour 200 
Highway 2, Kalispell to Troy
Highway 89, St. Mary to Choteau
Lake Koocanusa Scenic Byway

WILDLIFE VIEWING
Sometimes the best way to spot our majestic wildlife is to go where the crowds aren’t. Western Montana is a birder’s paradise and haven for creatures big and small, offering some pretty incredible viewing areas. Remember to bring your binoculars and always follow wildlife safety guidelines—this is grizzly country, after all! Head to one of our most-treasured wildlife habitat areas:

National Lee Metcalf Wildlife Refuge
National Bison Range
Ninepipe National Wildlife Refuge
Bull River Wildlife Management Area

HIKING
One of the easiest ways to cover ground in and get up close and personal with Montana is to head out on your own two feet. Every single one of our trailheads leads to a path of discovery, running the gamut from easy rambles to backcountry wilderness treks. You’ll find sprawling valleys, wildflower-filled meadows, towering peaks, pristine alpine lakes and waterfalls, lush forestland and quiet canyons, all offering an awe-inspiring and unforgettable adventure. The following wilderness areas offer of miles upon miles of trails to explore, or check out more of our favorite trails here.

Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex
Cabinet Mountains Wilderness
Mission Mountains Wilderness Complex

OUTSIDE PLAY
From rodeos to rock climbing and zip lining to llama trekking, Western Montana offers infinite ways to play. Here, we hit the rivers and lakes for boating, rafting and world-class fly-fishing. We explore small towns for real cowboy adventures and relaxing yoga retreats. We take to the trails by bike and by horseback. Below are some of our favorite ways to play, Montana style:

Biking: Whitefish Bike Retreat
Gondola Rides: Whitefish Mountain Resort
Rafting: Adventure Missoula
Fly-Fishing, Kootenai Angler
Yoga Retreats: Dancing Spirit Ranch
Horseback Riding: Swan Mountain Outfitters
Llama Trekking: Swan Mountain
Rock Climbing at Lake Koocanusa: Rock Climb Montana
Cowboy Up: Rodeos

With Swan Mountain Outfitters, see Western Montana by horseback, on a llama or on your own two feet. Photo: Donnie Sexton

HISTORY + CULTURE
Montana’s rich heritage and breathtaking vistas inspire a cultural landscape you’ll not want to miss. From two Indian Nations—the Blackfeet and the Flathead—to numerous museums, galleries, theaters, historical sites, farmers markets, shops, eateries (from fine dining to food trucks) and watering holes (did we mention we have more than 20 breweries and distilleries?) you’ll be planning your next visit before this one’s even over. Check out the following Montana must-see cultural destinations:

Bigfork Summer Playhouse  
Missoula Art Museum  
Ninepipes Museum of Early Montana
Museum of Mountain Flying
Smokejumper Visitor Center

The Missoula Art Museum showcases a thriving art scene in Western Montana. Photo: Slikati Photography

LODGES + CABINS
Staying outside the park gives you the opportunity to explore some of our border-town communities infused with the spirit of Glacier Country and that warm western hospitality we’re known for. Take advantage of beyond-the-park adventures and then head into the park at less crowded times of day. Here are three friendly and memorable places to get cozy beyond park boundaries:

Averill’s Flathead Lake Lodge
Park Cabin Co.
Polebridge Cabins

STATE PARKS + FISHING ACCESS SITES
Psst…did you know that Montana Fish Wildlife & Parks fishing access sites are also campsites? Check out their website for campsite info. We love our state parks, and while many do reach capacity throughout the summer, they offer a true and unforgettable Western Montana outdoor experience. Make your way to one of the following public-land paradises: 

Logan State Park 
Thompson Falls State Park
Placid Lake State Park  
Salmon Lake State Park 

Swim, boat, fish and play at Placid Lake in the Swan Valley, a Glacier Country gem. Photo: Kelsey Lau

PEAK SEASON TRAVEL TIPS + TRICKS
Glacier National Park is expecting another record year for visitor numbers. Planning your trip with this in mind can help you navigate some of the peak-season challenges. Check out Glacier National Park’s Twitter feed for real-time updates on parking-lot statuses, weather, road closures, and other important information. Webcam feeds are also updated on Glacier website for some of the park’s most popular spots.

Here are few other tips and tricks we recommend for making your visit to Glacier National Park enjoyable and memorable:

  • Take a Tour: Help reduce traffic and hop on a bus for an educational and interactive tour with Red Bus Tours or Sun Tours. Check on the Glacier Institute’s list of summer programs and outings.
  • Shuttle it: Ride Glacier National Park’s Free Shuttle System.
  • Plan for delays: With a record number of people heading to Glacier National Park this summer, roads, parking lots and trails will be busier. Pack extra food and water, and set aside a little extra time to fully enjoy your adventure in The Crown of the Continent.

One of the best experiecnes you can have in Glacier National Park—a Red Bus Tour.

There’s so much to see and do in Glacier Country. From our charming small town to the Going-to-the-Sun Road, we’ve got a lifetime of discovery and experiences to offer. Come see for yourself!

One Trip, Two National Parks: Glacier to Waterton Lakes

Western Montana is gorgeous, and is undoubtedly a vacation all its own, but on the 150th anniversary of Canadian Parks we know you might want to scoot across the border for free park entry. The locals refer to Waterton Lakes National Park as “where the mountains meet the prairies” and Glacier National Park as “the backbone of the world.” These majestic lands have inspired many writers and world travelers, and will certainly inspire you too. From Glacier’s Going-to-the-Sun Road to Waterton’s Red Rock Canyon, you’ll be glad you decided on a two-nation vacation.

We want you to get the most enjoyment from your adventure as you possibly can, so we’ve gathered up some trip tips to ensure your vacation expectations are far exceeded.

Ports of Entry

There are four ports of entry near Glacier National Park. Two of them can only be reached by hiking into the backcountry or by taking a boat from Waterton Lakes. The easiest ways to visit Canada from northwest Montana are:

  • Port of Roosville U.S. Customs and Border Protection:
    Visit Eureka on your way to British Columbia Kootenay National Park/Banff National Park.
  • Chief Mountain Border Crossing on AB 6 crossing over MT HWY 17:
    Waterton Lakes and Glacier share a border, and there are two other ports of entry within the parks.

*Crossing only available by Waterton Lake boat tour or hiking trails.
**Crossing closes at the end of September and reopens mid-May.

Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park

In 1932, the park was designated the first International Peace Park. It commemorates the bonds of peace and friendship between the two nations. The Peace Park is accessible from the U.S. by backcountry hike and from Canada by boat. Take a two-hour stunningly scenic cruise from Waterton across the border to Goat Haunt July through mid-September. The Prince of Wales Hotel is one of the most beautiful hotels in the Rocky Mountain West. Book early to secure a stay and soak it all in.

An incredible view of Lake Louise.

Lake Louise + Banff

If you’re taking this trip, you’re likely excited about seeing some glaciers. Just four hours north of Waterton Lakes National Park, you’ll find Banff’s Lake Louise. One of the most photographed locations in North America, this perfectly framed glacial lake is breathtaking. Enjoy the turquoise waters in the summer and skate across the smooth frozen surface during the winter. Lake Louise was named after Queen Victoria’s fourth daughter. However, the lake was known as Ho-Run-Num-Nay, meaning “the Lake of Little Fishes” in the language of the Stoney Nakoda First Nations.

TIP: Passports

Don’t let legal details ruin your trip. Be sure to check the status of your passport before heading up. For more tips and helpful information about legal border travel, visit our International Crossings page. Before leaving your home base, look up border hours of operation and seasonal closures.

Driving through the West Tunnel on Going-to-the-Sun Road.

Glacier National Park + Going-to-the-Sun Road

Wind through glacier-carved peaks and valleys on the Going-to-the-Sun Road for an awe-inspiring experience. Find waterfalls and wildlife around every bend. Book a red bus tour or an adventure with Sun Tours for an American Indian perspective. Boat tours are also available on Lake McDonald and St. Mary Lake.

TIP: Glacier National Park Crowds

Glacier National Park encompasses more than 1 million acres and receives nearly 3 million visitors annually. If all 3 million visited at the exact same time, there would only be three people per acre. Luckily, we don’t all visit at the same time, so crowds are manageable even during peak seasons. Visit during one of our shoulder seasons to find the park at its most peaceful, or explore one of the many other roads or hiking trails listed above.

This view during spring can only be seen by hikers and bikers on the Going-to-the-Sun Road.

Glacier National Park + More Paths to Explore

Venture beyond the famed Going-to-the-Sun Road to find over 175 mountains, 762 lakes and 563 streams. If that sounds crazy to you, picture this: there are more than 200 named waterfalls and 25 named glaciers in the park. “NAMED,” meaning there are more that may not even be on the map. Cruise up to Polebridge for a freshly baked treat on your way to Inside North Fork Road. This is the best way to get to Bowman Lake, a relatively remote camping spot with easily accessible hiking and kayaking. There are five other main roads available for your exploration. Check their status here.

The fall color on the trees and underbrush was starting to really change, so we took a short hike down from Wild Goose Overlook.

TIP: Weather Watch

The absolute best times to visit the parks are spring and fall. Though the weather can be fickle at the tail ends of these seasons, the vibrant colors and cooler temperatures make it well worth the wait. Spring arrives in early May and fall in early September. The tamarack and aspen trees draw autumn color chasers to this area every year. Don’t miss out.

 

For a more detailed 7-day itinerary visit our Business to Business blog.


2017 Two-Nation Vacation Giveaway

Win a Park Pass for access to any U.S. or Canadian Park

To congratulate Canadian Parks on their 150th anniversary, we’re giving away free park passes for both park systems. Enter here:

Two-Nation Vacation