Category Archives: Polson

Show Stopping Performing Arts in Western Montana

Nature isn’t the only thing putting on a spectacular show in Western Montana’s Glacier Country. Talented performing artists flock to the region, inspired by the sheer beauty and wide-open landscape for artistic expression. Long-running theater companies and symphony orchestras have staged captivating performances here for decades. From community plays to Broadway-caliber theater to live concerts, Western Montana boasts a critically acclaimed performing arts scene.

Soaking up soul-inspiring music and skies at Glacier Symphony’s Summer Pops Concert. Photo: Michael Roessman

The Flathead Valley touts a pretty impressive commitment to the arts. One of the region’s most renowned theater companies, the Bigfork Summer Playhouse, performs “Broadway in the Rockies” every summer. This storybook village on Flathead Lake has been wowing audiences for 60 years with many talented performers—like J.K. Simmons of Whiplash and Spider-Man fame—gracing the stage at the local playhouse. From a beautiful 1938 log theater on the south end of the lake, Port Polson Players has long been committed to community, children’s and summer theater with a captivating lineup of shows. In nearby Whitefish, the Alpine Theatre Project, founded by three Broadway veterans, brings Broadway to this charming mountain town, no doubt helping this community claim its spot as “One of the Top 10 Coolest Small Towns in America.” Kalispell’s Glacier Symphony Orchestra and Chorale offers live symphonic music concerts year-round including summer chamber series, outdoor pops and the Festival Amadeus.

Alpine Theatre Project’s productions draw top talent like Broadway star N’Kenge. Photo: Brenda Ahearn

Another breathtakingly beautiful Western Montana valley—the Bitterroot—holds its own with the Hamilton Players, spotlighting the importance of education and community through theater, and the Stevensville Playhouse, offering a springtime lineup in a theater with quite the storied past, including being destroyed twice by fire.

Bigfork Summer Playhouse presents musicals from July – September. Photo: Brach Thomson, “Into the Woods”

As the arts and culture hub of Glacier Country, Missoula packs a big punch in the performing arts realm. The year-round Missoula Community Theater presents five main-stage productions each season and the Missoula Children’s Theater—the nation’s largest touring children’s theater—tours 1,200 communities in all 50 states and Canada, plus schools and U.S. military bases in more than 15 countries.

Hamilton Players prove that small-town theaters can put on big-time shows like “Chicago.” Photo: Tom Brader

The artistically ambitious independent BetweenTheLines Theatre stages raw, contemporary performances at Missoula’s historic Roxy Theater. With a focus on celebrating the human spirit, the Montana Repertory Theatre at the University of Montana is one of the most respected touring companies in the country. You can catch an MRT performance at the Masquer Theatre on the UM campus during their short Missoula summer season, and they also host a Plays on Tap series where you can watch a “site-based theater for small audiences” performance one to two times a year at locations in Missoula, such as a local brewery or taproom. The UM’s School of Theatre & Dance also performs throughout the year. Enjoy an evening of dance at their popular annual Dance in Concert celebrating the captivating and finely crafted choreographic work of students, faculty and guest artists. Check the UM box office for performing arts schedules and tickets.

Missoula’s streets doubled as the set for Montana Repertory Theatre’s “Buckle Up.” Photo: Justin Philalack

Experience the Missoula Symphony Orchestra at Caras Park in downtown Missoula each summer during their local’s favorite Symphony in the Park, or one of their six concerts throughout the year, including a show created specifically for kids. It’s a great way to experience the tight-knit community vibes Missoula is known for and the big talent coming out of small-town Montana.

Delight in a sophisticated performance by the Missoula Symphony. Photo: Jonathan Qualben Photography

Film Festivals and Historic Theaters in Western Montana

Montana’s cinematic landscapes have provided the settings for legendary films like “A River Runs Through It” and “The Horse Whisperer,” and these scenic locations make the perfect spot for film festivals. Here’s a list of renowned film festivals and well-preserved historic theaters in Western Montana’s charming small towns.

A screening at the Flathead Lake International Cinemafest draws a full house. Photo: Steven Pickel

Flathead Lake International Cinemafest in Polson is coming up Jan. 25 – 27, 2019. FLIC 2019 will feature special guests, including award-winning artist and writer Tim Ryan Rouillier and Montana native Gerald Molen. Molen is a well-known producer with a long list of top Hollywood films like “Rain Man,” “Jurassic Park,” “Minority Report” and “Schindler’s List.” On Sunday, Jan. 27, which is International Holocaust Remembrance Day, Mr. Molen will present “Schindler’s List” and chair an audience Q&A following. Adam Yenser, comedian and writer for the Ellen DeGeneres show will also attend FLIC 2019, delivering some of his comedic genius and cultural insights. Get your FLIC 2019 All Access Pass—they’re on sale now.

Film festivals give movie lovers a chance to listen to filmmakers discuss their craft. Photo: Big Sky Film Institute

Celebrating 19 years in 2019, the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival, Feb. 15 – 24, is one of the West’s premier venues for a wide-range of nonfiction films. In addition to screenings, this five-day industry event includes panels, master classes, workshops, and the popular Big Sky Pitch session. BSDFF is an Academy Award qualifying festival in the Shorts and Mini-Doc categories. This much-anticipated event draws an audience of 20,000 and presents an average of 150 films from around the world in the unique and authentic mountain-town of Missoula—the arts and culture hub of Montana. Events take place in Missoula’s historic theater, The Wilma, as well as the newly restored Roxy Theater, and the MCT Center for the Performing Arts. Get your tickets today.

Missoula’s venerable Wilma Theatre hosts the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival. Photo: Big Sky Film Institute

The storybook village of Bigfork has a story to tell at the annual Bigfork Independent Film Festival April 5 – 7, 2019. The Bigfork Center for the Performing Arts keeps it local by showing a variety of short, feature, documentary and student films that were either made by Montana filmmakers or were made right here in Montana. For each film block, a live introduction will be provided and filmmakers will be included in a Q&A session. Buy your tickets now.

With our abundance of wildlife and wild places, it’s no wonder Western Montana plays host to the annual International Wildlife Film Festival. In its 41st year, the festival is the first and longest running event of its kind. Held in the retro Roxy Theater in Missoula, April 13 – 19, 2019, emerging filmmakers showcase the finest in wildlife and environmental filmmaking. Take in stories that promote awareness, knowledge and an understanding of the world around us. Passes and tickets for the IWFF are on sale now.

One more reason why autumn is one of the best times to visit Western Montana—the Montana Film Festival. This Missoula-based event offers a fresh perspective on film fests, with a diversity of films and filmmakers dedicated to the community of filmmaking. This convergence of creativity takes place at the funky and fun Roxy Theater. 2019 event dates to be announced; check back soon.

Cinephiles will dig The Roxy Theater’s retro marquee and well-curated selection of films. Photo: The Roxy Theater

As mentioned above, the beloved 80-year-old Roxy Theater was recently renovated. Downtown Missoula’s hip-strip theater now boasts a new art-deco marquee and Dolby surround sound. The Roxy hosts screenings and events seven days a week including new releases nightly and a monthly calendar of independent, foreign and classic films, theater and community events.

Showing movies and hosting live concerts by local musicians, theater performances and comedy events, the historic Rex Theatre on Main Street in Thompson Falls is a lively community treasure.

Libby’s Dome Theater offers a classic, small-town movie theater vibe. Enjoy films, concerts and performing arts with a state-of-the-art sound system and updated concessions area, all in one of Kootenai Country’s most cherished towns.

Other not-to-be-missed historic theaters in Glacier Country—Glacier Cinemas in Cut Bank and the Entertainer Theater in Ronan.

Holiday Charm in Western Montana

Winter in Western Montana’s Glacier Country is pure magic; we really know how to deck the halls and celebrate the season of giving with all things merry and bright. It’s also true that winter’s the time of year when it’s pretty easy to get a little stir crazy, which is why we fill the season with holiday events and celebrations galore.

Deck the halls! Bigfork, Montana shows off its western holiday spirit. Photo: Bigfork Chamber of Commerce

HOLIDAY STROLLS AND PARADES OF LIGHT

You would be hard-pressed to find a more authentic Western Montana evening than a Christmas stroll. Wander the streets and enjoy the perfect combination of wagon rides, chestnut roasting and vendors selling Montana-made goods and artisan crafts. The holiday celebration doesn’t end there. Experience the splendor of a Parade of Light and prepare to be swept up in the magic of the holidays. Sightings include Santa, reindeer and floats adorned in lights galore.

Glacier Country gives family time a whole new meaning. Photo: Chelsea Culp

HOLIDAY CHEER AT THE THEATER

If you are ready to cozy up inside for a unique and unforgettable winter experience you will be pleasantly surprised to find out that the state’s rugged exterior belies a highly developed artistic sensibility. Musicals, symphony concerts, ballets and more dot the region during the holiday season and are a Western Montana specialty. Attend the timeless performance of “The Nutcracker Ballet” (University of Montana’s Adams Center), enjoy a buttered popcorn and a soda or adult beverage while watching classics like “It’s a Wonderful Life” (Roxy Theater), or listen to This Sacred Season and “Messiah” with the Glacier Symphony (Whitefish Performing Arts Center). Here are many ways you can add a splash of culture to the holiday season.

The grace and tradition of Missoula’s Nutcracker performance will be the highlight of your holiday season. Photo: Garden City Ballet – Neil Chaput de Saintonge

HOLIDAY BAZAAR

One of the things Western Montana does best is put on a good holiday bazaar. Embrace the spirit of giving this season with gifts from locally sourced and canned foods, hand-crafted jewelry, pottery, woodworking, handmade soaps and other Montana artisan goods and wares. While you’re browsing, be sure to enjoy a cup of cocoa and mingle with the locals—we’re known for being some of the friendliest folks around.

So many different and amazing choices for children and adults alike. Photo: HandMADE Montana -Carol Lynn Lapotka

NEW YEAR’S EVE

Glacier Country Montana is always ready to make your trip memorable, but there is a special atmosphere around New Year’s Eve. Whether you are looking for a night out dancing, a fireworks send-off under the vast night sky, or a low-key night downtown without the big-city crowds—we’ve got the best place to close out the holidays and make your 2019 resolutions.

Send off 2018 with a bang. Photo: Flathead Beacon – Lido Vizzutti

MUST-STOP TOWNS BURSTING WITH HOLIDAY CHARM

Bigfork: Located on the bay of Flathead Lake, the storybook town of Bigfork gets a little magical around the holidays. The community “elves” come together every year to adorn the town with wreaths, ribbon, garland and lights, creating authentic Western Montana holiday charm.

Whitefish: The quintessential mountain resort town of Whitefish goes all out creating an enchanting winter wonderland. A stroll through downtown will yield bells, wreaths, boughs and lights ornamenting each business and weaving through the streets.

Ovando: Another stop-worthy town is Ovando. This quaint (and beyond adorable) town lays on the charm for the holiday season. Downtown, the 100-year-old buildings create the atmosphere of an authentic Old West holiday.

Not many places celebrate the holidays like Whitefish, Montana. Photo: Brian Schott

You can also check out a full listing of holiday events at glaciermt.com/events.

On the Trail of Art and Culture in Western Montana’s Glacier Country

Montana’s main draw is its natural beauty and world-class outdoor recreation, so it can be a quite a pleasant surprise to find out the state’s rugged exterior belies a highly developed artistic sensibility. Many of Western Montana’s communities boast big-city-worthy galleries and artists with talent galore. Local art makes a lovely souvenir, so take some time to browse and shop.

The cultural experience doesn’t end there. Western Montana has a fascinating backstory, filled with tales of American Indians, adventurers, “black robes,” ranchers, homesteaders and soldiers. Uncover intriguing details about Montana’s history by exploring the state’s many museums.

Here’s a sampling of communities that can add a splash of culture to your Montana travels.

A tour of the Daly Mansion includes the family’s showy music room.

HAMILTON

Although you don’t really need an excuse to visit the charming small towns nestled at the base of the Bitterroot Mountains, the Daly Mansion—the 24,000 square foot home of copper baron Marcus Daly—may motivate you to visit Hamilton. A fascinating tour details Daly’s rise from penniless immigrant to captain of industry and shows off his extravagant digs.

Now that your interest in history is piqued, stop at the Ravalli County Museum and Historical Society to further delve into the Bitterroot Valley’s past.

STEVENSVILLE

Stevensville is honored to be Montana’s oldest existing settlement. The humble but pivotal St. Mary’s Mission figures prominently in its history. Tour the mission complex and its grounds to learn about the history of the Salish Indians and the Christian missionaries known to the Salish as the “Black Robes.”

Combine that with a visit to the Stevensville Historical Museum to complete the picture of life in mid-1800s “Stevi,” as the town is commonly referred to these days.

LOLO

Just up the road in Lolo lies one of Montana’s most renowned historical sites, Travelers’ Rest. This Corps of Discovery landmark can brag that it’s the only known campsite where archaeological evidence of early explorers has been found. Now a state park, visitors can walk along Lolo Creek in the footsteps of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark. A visitor’s center and museum will fill you in on the historical details of their adventure.

The nearby Holt Heritage Museum focuses on those perennial favorites of the Old West: cowboys and Indians. The museum is open by appointment only, so give the Holts—a longtime Montana rodeo family—a call, and feast your eyes on their western treasures.

MISSOULA

One of the first things you’ll notice upon entering Missoula is the abundance of public art. Over 50 traffic signal boxes have been painted by local artists, so you can see a work of art at almost every intersection. Pick up a free Missoula Public Art Guide at the Missoula Art Museum to discover more of the Garden City’s creative side, from murals to large-scale sculptures.

There’s almost always something new on exhibit at the Missoula Art Museum. Photo: Taylar Robbins

Of course, there’s plenty of opportunity to see art on display in a curated environment as well, starting with the aforementioned Missoula Art Museum, which offers free admission. The always thought-provoking exhibits at this contemporary art museum are just as likely to feature internationally renowned masters as they are regional artists. After you’re done browsing, be sure to check out the rotating exhibit of sculptures in the adjacent Art Park.

A stroll through downtown Missoula will yield galleries galore, including Radius Gallery, which frequently offers exhibits, artist talks and other events. The best time to gallery-hop is on the first Friday of every month from 5 – 8 p.m., when practically every downtown business hosts an art exhibit and lays out a spread of hors d’oeuvres and drinks.

Radius Gallery offers a feast for the eyes. Photo: Radius Gallery

Missoula’s history comes to life at the Historical Museum at Fort Missoula. Learn about Fort Missoula’s role in the Indian Wars, the African-American 25th Infantry Bicycle Corps, and the World War II internment camp that held Italian and Japanese nationals. Wander the grounds to view over 20 historic buildings and structures, including a train engine, tipi burner and fire tower (you can get a pretty nice view of Missoula from up there, too).

THOMPSON FALLS

Continue your journey into Montana history at Thompson Falls’ intriguing Old Jail Museum. Inside this 100-year-old former jail, learn about the exploits of the town’s namesake—Canadian explorer and fur trapper David Thompson—the horror of the devastating forest fires of 1910, and the work of the Civilian Conservation Corps.

CHARLO

Views of the Mission Mountains will leave you awestruck as you drive north along Interstate Highway 93. Pull over and gape from the Ninepipes Museum in Charlo, where the history of the Flathead Reservation is on display. The indoor exhibits and museum grounds are complemented by a handicapped-accessible nature trail.

POLSON

Just before you reach the shores of Flathead Lake, swing by the Miracle of America Museum in Polson. Anyone into Americana will get a charge out of the immense quantity of nostalgia-inducing items on display there. Another must-stop, the Polson Flathead Historical Museum offers educational exhibits of the pioneer days, homesteaders and the Native Americans who inhabited the region, plus, it’s the home of the famous Flathead Lake Monster!

BIGFORK

Driving up the east side of the lake will bring you to Bigfork, a storybook town excelling in charm. The gallery-rich environment will have art enthusiasts in a daze. ARTFusion, Bjorge Gallery, Brett Thuma Gallery, Electric Buffalo Gallery, Eric Thorsen Sculpture Gallery and Riecke’s Bayside Gallery are all Electric Avenue must-sees.

A century-old schoolhouse continues to educate those who walk through its doors. Photo: Kelly Nelson

KALISPELL

Get a lesson in history at Kalispell’s Museum at Central School. This restored 1894 schoolhouse is packed with the compelling artifacts and records of Northwest Montana and the Flathead Valley. For another close look at the city’s past, tour the Conrad Mansion Museum, once home to the founder of Kalispell, Charles E. Conrad.

Headed to or coming from Glacier National Park? Visit the Hockaday Museum of Art to see the popular permanent exhibition “Crown of the Continent,” which features works celebrating the grandeur of the park.

WHITEFISH

Whitefish is definitely in the running for having the most galleries per capita of any Montana town. A whopping 13 galleries participate in the seasonal First Thursday Gallery Nights. One mainstay of the art scene, The Purple Pomegranate, tempts shoppers with functional and decorative art from over 150 artists and craftspeople.

Stunning American Indian headdresses and clothing impress visitors at the Museum of the Plains Indian

BROWNING

Travelers are drawn to Montana’s rich American Indian culture, and one of the best places to experience it is at the Museum of the Plains Indian on the Blackfeet Reservation in Browning. Clothing, weapons and many other artifacts from regional tribes wow visitors with their beauty and functionality. Special exhibits often feature contemporary American Indian artists.

Continue your exploration of American Indian art at Lodgepole Gallery & Tipi Village, which showcases the work of several Blackfeet artists, including the gallery’s talented owner, Darrell Norman.

CUT BANK

Just east of the reservation, pull into Cut Bank, where an oil derrick, a 1917 schoolhouse and a Burlington Northern caboose are just a few of the curiosities that adorn the 14-acre grounds of the Glacier County Historical Museum and Archive. On summer weekends, costumed interpreters act out the lives of early homesteaders at a replica homestead cabin and farm.

Hours and prices vary, and some museums are open seasonally. Check the links above for more information about visiting museums and galleries in Western Montana’s Glacier Country.

An oil derrick stands sentinel at the Glacier County Historical Museum. Photo: Racene Friede

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

Hidden History Gems: Meet Montana’s Off-The-Beaten-Path Museums

History buffs + eager explorers—this one’s for you. Western Montana is home to several museums, some of which are a little off the beaten path, making them all the more explore-worthy. These hidden gems display everything from American Indian beadwork to homesteader history to storied lake monsters, and each one offers a celebration and preservation of Montana’s rich heritage, coupled with a unique adventure in small-town discovery.

The eclectic Ninepipes Museum of Early Montana. Photo: Montana Office of Tourism and Business Development

TROY MUSEUM & VISITOR CENTER
Troy, Montana
Open: Memorial Day – Labor Day
Step back in time and experience the cultural and natural heritage of Troy Learn about Troy’s homesteading days, mining and logging life, and the 1910 fire, and play a round of folf (frisbee golf) at the museum’s on-site course. If you time it right, you can attend the Arts on the Grass event on the museum lawn, where local artists and craftspeople sell their handmade work, perfect for taking something home to remember us by.

OLD JAIL MUSEUM
Thompson Falls, Montana
Open: Memorial Day – Labor Day
Visit one of Sanders County’s oldest buildings, now honoring the pioneers who settled our corner of Big Sky Country. The Old Jail Museum was formerly the county jail, and sheriff’s office and residence. View historical artifacts, maps and photographs taken from original glass negatives giving a glimpse into the early days of mining, logging, farming and ranching in Sanders County. Also, the town of Thompson Falls is a hidden gem in and of itself, offering Clark Fork River access and pristine national forestland recreation.

NINEPIPES MUSEUM OF EARLY MONTANA
Charlo, Montana
Open: Memorial Day – Labor Day
Nestled in the breathtaking Mission Mountains, this Mission Valley treasure protects and preserves the history and culture of the Flathead Indian Reservation, home to the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes. You’ll find American Indian artifacts (including a large collection of beadwork); a life-size diorama of wildlife in an early camp scene complete with elk-hide tipis; vintage photographs; a collection of weaponry; and a gallery of Old West art. Ninepipes offers tours and a nature trail, plus it’s close to the National Bison Range and bordered by Ninepipe National Wildlife Refuge, so be prepared to spend some time in the area.

Ninepipes Museum of Early Montana display’s the history and culture of the Flathead Indian People.

MUSEUM OF THE PLAINS INDIAN
Browning, Montana
Open: Year-Round
This permanent exhibition gallery displays a diverse and bountiful collection of historic art created by tribal people of the Northern Plains, as well as contemporary work by American Indian artists and craftspeople. You’ll find traditional, detailed costumes on life-size figures. Other displays exhibit the social and ceremonial aspects of the region’s tribes. Help support individual artists and craftspeople by taking home a meaningful souvenir. The museum galleries offer oil paintings, watercolors, sculptures, beadwork and traditional crafts for sale.

Blackfeet exhibit at Museum of the Plains Indian. Photo: Montana Office of Tourism and Business Development

TOBACCO VALLEY HISTORICAL VILLAGE
Eureka, Montana
Open: Memorial Day – Labor Day
Sitting along the Tobacco River, this unique, volunteer-run village houses a collection of historic buildings from the 1880s and early 1900s. Explore a schoolhouse, church, library, general store, fire tower, railroad depot, caboose and several log cabins, all outfitted with era-appropriate artifacts. Interpretive programs are also offered on site. Bring a picnic lunch, and explore the adjoining Eureka Riverwalk Trail or the Eureka Kootenai Rails to Trails/Tobacco River Memorial Trail.

LARUE-HOT SPRINGS MUSEUM
Hot Springs, Montana
Open: Memorial Day – Labor Day
Paying homage to the Hot Springs homesteader days, this little gem showcases a gathering of artifacts from local tribes and homesteader families, plus a large doll collection and the trophies and ribbons won by local resident Fay Hayne, a local trick rider and barrel racer. Also on display, 120 years of VFW uniforms and memorabilia, antique farming equipment and trucks, plus artifacts from local merchants, craftsmen and ranchers. Explore a historic cabin and the original Hot Springs concrete jail.

GLACIER COUNTY HISTORICAL MUSEUM & ARCHIVE
Cut Bank, Montana
Open: Year-Round
This museum includes a captivating collection of historical artifacts, buildings and memorabilia on display, as well as a comprehensive early history of the people of the region, including a vast Blackfeet Indian collection. The 14-acre site is home to two museum exhibit buildings, an oil worker’s house, oil derrick, 1917 schoolhouse, 1980’s caboose and a living-history interpretive replica homestead house and farm. History buffs can also find educational and interactive exhibits on Lewis and Clark, local artists, community businesses, oil and Cut Bank’s early days.

The Glacier County Historical Museum has numerous displays and exhibits of the county’s diverse past.

POLSON FLATHEAD HISTORICAL MUSEUM
Polson, Montana
Open: Memorial Day – Labor Day
Home of the Flathead Lake Monster—a 7.5-foot, 181-pound sturgeon caught in Flathead Lake in 1955—the Polson-Flathead Historical Museum offers firsthand examples of the trials of surviving the harsh conditions of the region’s homesteading days. Exhibits include a trading post, stagecoaches, a chuck wagon and buggies, a pioneer kitchen, Calamity Jane’s saddle from her “Last Ride,” firefighting equipment and antique trucks that still work!

SEELEY LAKE HISTORICAL MUSEUM
Seeley Lake, Montana
Open: Year-Round
The old Double Arrow Ranch barn is now the site of the Seeley Lake Historical Museum and Visitor Center, recalling the past of the Seeley Lake region. Outside displays include a horse-drawn log-haul wagon, a gravel haul and spread wagon, a Lewis and Clark Botanical Garden, Blackfoot Indian Lodge, a dugout canoe and a forthcoming 100-year-old canoe. The grounds also include seven double (two-horse) stalls featuring locally-themed displays named after the horses who occupied them, such as Nip & Tuck: Old Time Logging; Ace & Joker: Norman Maclean Fire and Fish Display; and Popcorn & Peanuts: Cabin Fever Cures.

BRAND BAR MUSEUM
Ovando, Montana
Open: Year-Round
Formerly a saloon once referred to as the “Bucket of Blood,” the Brand Bar Museum today houses Ovando memorabilia and stories of days gone by. This collection of local history and unique antiques also has a hoosegow—a jail for visitors—where you can overnight in a bunk (or you can camp out on the lawn). The Brand Bar Museum is always open. Just ask one of the nearby local businesses for the key. You’ll find it.

A Blackfoot Valley gem: The Brand Bar Museum. Photo: Montana Office of Tourism and Business Development

RAVALLI COUNTY MUSEUM & HISTORICAL SOCIETY
Hamilton, Montana
Open: Year-Round
Blending art with local and natural history, this cultural venue provides rare historical collections honoring our American Indian heritage, life in the West and the travels of Lewis and Clark. Educational programming includes lectures, tours and workshops for children. The museum serves as a hub for community events, including McIntosh Apple Days, A Cowboy Christmas and Bitter Root Day, and is situated at the confluence of the Ice Age Floods National Geologic Trail, the Nee-Me-Poo National Historic Trail and the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail.

Sparks Fly Under the Big Sky: Romantic Getaways

This probably comes as no surprise, but we’re suckers for romance. That’s because we’re surrounded by natural beauty and breathtaking places go hand in hand with romantic adventures. It’s simple to see why Glacier Country is the perfect spot for new couples to connect and longtime lovebirds to rekindle the romance.

Winter or summer, Western Montana is the perfect setting for a romantic getaway.

Whether you’re looking for a rustic weekend adventure in the woods, a relaxing spa retreat in a mountain lodge, a quiet bed-and-breakfast with personalized service or a luxury hotel in one of our bustling (and quite charming) community downtowns, Western Montana is always ready to make your time together memorable.

Surprise your partner this Valentine’s Day (pssst…it’s just around the corner) and plan a late-winter weekend or spring fling in Glacier Country.

Spend a special weekend in Glacier Country for an adventure, some leisure or both. Photo: Joyce Walkup

Here’s your romantic getaway trip planner for some ideas.

Take your sweetheart to Swan Lake. Nested in the stunning Seeley-Swan Valley, Swan Lake’s Laughing Horse Lodge (open May through October) offers a two-night springtime package for couples, including a four-course gourmet dinner and chef-recommended bottle of wine both nights. During the colder months, find epic snowmobiling and cross-country skiing in Seeley Lake—a winter recreation mecca. Cozy up at Seeley Lake’s Double Arrow Lodge for the perfect evening: enjoy a meal at their delicious Seasons Restaurant, followed by fireside drinks and a nostalgic horse-drawn sleigh ride for two under the big starry sky, including champagne, a buffalo robe to stay warm and hot rocks to keep your feet toasty. How’s that for romantic? And we’re just getting started…

A tad southwest of Seeley Lake, The Resort at Paws Up in Greenough offers luxury lodging, spa packages for couples and 37,000 gorgeous acres with inclusive year-round activities like ice skating, snowshoeing and nature hikes.

The Resort at Paws Up knows fine dining, so treat you and your special someone to a world-class dinner.

Head north for a relaxing escape to the woods at Silverwolf Log Chalets—private designer chalets built for two, just minutes from the western entrance of Glacier National Park. Nearby Coram’s Green Valley Ranch offers fantastic Montana accommodations, breathtaking views of the park and snowmobiling adventures with Swan Mountain Snowmobiling.

Indulge in one-hour massages for two as part of the spa package at Whitefish’s Kandahar Lodge. This authentic mountain lodge offers cozy accommodations and upscale dining—or check out the Tupelo Grille, one of the top eateries in the Flathead Valley. Taste the local spirit and toast to your time together at Spotted Bear Spirits or Great Northern Brewing Co.

Cheers to love and Montana at Spotted Bear Distillery in Whitefish. Photo: Spotted Bear Spirits

Bigfork lays on the charm with fireside steaks and lake views at Terra Steak at Mountain Lake Lodge. The lodge also offers fireplace suites, on-site massages and winter packages. While you’re in town, find time to enjoy Pink Peppercorn Pear Gin cocktails at Whistling Andy Distillery.

Further south on Flathead Lake, Red Lion Ridgewater Inn & Suites is the perfect home base for exploring Polson. Flathead Lake stuns year-round, and Polson offers easy access to surrounding recreation areas.

West of the lake, soak in the healing mineral waters at the local hot springs resort in Hot Springs. Head north and stay in a Jacuzzi suite or cabin on the shores of Noxon Reservoir at Trout Creek’s Lakeside Motel & Resort.

Find Western Montana’s cultural hotspot in Missoula. This lively town is explore-worthy all year long, boasting galleries, museums, theaters, eclectic dining spots, breweries, distilleries and wine bars. Stay at the 1903 Gibson Mansion B&B—where Victorian elegance meets modern convenience—and plan your trip around a show at The Wilma, Missoula Community Theatre or The Top Hat. The Top Hat has amazing food to boot. By day, explore Missoula’s shops, galleries, cafés and coffee shops. Not to be missed: the free Missoula Art Museum.

See art together at the Missoula Art Museum for a romantic and cultural experience. Photo: Slikati Photography

The Bitterroot Valley beckons those looking for a relaxing getaway. Immerse yourself in cowboy culture at Darby’s award-winning, adults-only retreat, Triple Creek Ranch. Embark on a dog-sledding adventure, ride horses and enjoy fine wines. Also in Darby, take a guided snowmobile ride with Rye Creek Ranch or experience true western hospitality at the Bitterroot River Ranch. Just north in Hamilton, ABC acres offers a unique permaculture farm-stay for eco-minded couples looking to experience ecological design and sustainable food, production and healthy living systems.

The Ranch at Rock Creek in Philipsburg is the world’s only Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star Guest Ranch. Need we say more? Find downhill skiing nearby or cross-country ski at Georgetown Lake. Stop for treats at The Sweet Palace, or treat your sweetheart to a beautiful piece of Montana jewelry at The Sapphire Gallery and when the weather gets warmer, pan for your own sapphires.

Want to take your relationship to a new level? Book a scenic flight over the jaw-dropping Mission Valley with Blue Goose Aviation (by appointment only and weather dependent).

You won’t want to leave Dancing Spirit Ranch after a stay in one their chic cabins. Photo: Dancing Spirit Ranch

Just outside Glacier National Park, bring your creative spirits to experience the stillness, splendor and simplicity at Columbia Fall’s unique Dancing Spirit Ranch where you’ll have the opportunity to become one with nature (or two, as it were). With winter yoga retreats and activities like Thai bodywork for couples, you’re sure to connect with yourself and with each other. Nearby in Kalispell, enjoy a concert by the Glacier Symphony and Chorale.

There’s no end to the romantic adventures and authentic experiences couples can experience in Western Montana’s Glacier Country. Make time to connect under the big sky.   

 

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

Winter Family Fun in Western Montana: Getaway to Glacier Together

Winter’s the time of year when it’s pretty easy to get a little stir crazy. But in Western Montana’s Glacier Country, it’s the season of snowy splendor, and we’ve got the best cure for cabin fever: literally get your family to a cabin—preferably a slopeside one—and embrace all that winter in Western Montana has to offer. If a cabin is not for you, we have plenty of lodges, resorts, ski chalets and vacation homes too for the whole family. Our lodging is exceptionally cozy, and our hospitality is always warm.

Glacier Country gives family time a whole new meaning.

We play all year here, but winter is one of our best seasons for adventure. Exploration is exponential this time of year, and we promise your family will love spending time under the big sky. There’s no better place to rekindle and beat winter boredom. Snow-season activities abound in Western Montana and most are family friendly—just like our charming mountain towns. So pack up your favorite people and head on over to our little slice of winter heaven.

SKI + BOARD
Trade in all your screens for skis and plug into our powder paradise of family-friendly resorts. Western Montana makes your family ski vacation a memorable alpine adventure with six downhill ski areas. Get the entire family on the slopes with affordable lift tickets, no crowds or lift lines, plus ski school and rentals.

You know it was a good day of skiing at Lost Trail Powder Mountain with a smile like this.

The Kids Center at Whitefish Mountain Resort provides childcare for the littles who aren’t skiing yet and early ski and board programs for those just starting out.

Located on the Montana/Idaho border is Lookout Pass. Their famous free ski school (restrictions apply; see their website for details) plus their affordable lift tickets (free for children 6 and under) make for an unforgettable experience.

Visiting Missoula for the holidays? Snowbowl has a three-day ski school between Christmas and the new year. Plus, their pizza is so good, locals drive up to “The Bowl” just for that. (Parents take note: Snowbowl is also known for its bloody marys.)

SLEIGH RIDES
Experience the magic of our enchanting winter wonderland by dashing through the snow in a horse-drawn sleigh—complete with hot cocoa and jingle bells, of course. Sleigh rides in Glacier Country offer snowy vistas by day and starry skies by night.

It’s pure enchantment when you see Western Montana by horse-drawn-sleigh. Photo: Cripple Creek Ranch

HOCKEY + ICE SKATING
Pass the puck at a pickup game of hockey at Missoula’s indoor ice rink, enjoy open skate at Kalispell’s newly renovated outdoor rink, Woodlandland Ice Center, or try the outdoor rink in Missoula’s Rattlesnake Valley. Headed to the Bitterroot Valley? Florence has a new outdoor rink as well, plus there’s an old-fashioned candy store further on down “The Root” in Darby.

SLEDDING
This quintessential winter pastime is one of the easiest ways to play in the Montana powder and always affords plenty of laughs. Enjoy the crisp mountain air and breathtaking scenery. Sledding is a pretty great way to make magical winter memories. Grab a sled, tube or toboggan and head for the hills. You’ll find popular sledding spots all across the region, and many of our resorts offer sledding and tobogganing activities. If you’re in the Flathead Valley, check out the sledding hills at Polson’s Riverside Park, and then take a scenic wintry drive up Flathead Lake to explore the storied town of Bigfork.

There’s nothing quite as classic than sledding with family on Montana winter’s day.

GOOD EATS FOR EVERYONE
After a long day playing together, food is essential. In Glacier Country, it’s also very yummy. Grab a meal at one of our many kid-friendly restaurants. Check out the kids’ menu at The Montana Club in Kalispell and Missoula, or dine at one of our family-friendly breweries and then cozy up fireside and reminisce of the day’s adventures. Pro-Parent Tip: Missoula’s Northside KettleHouse Brewery has toys and games for the kiddos.

Enjoy KettleHouse’s amazing beer at their family-friendly Missoula brewery.

GO WITH A GUIDE
We realize (all too well) that getting everyone out of the house can be a bit chaotic. Take a travel tip from us and make your trip as relaxing as possible. Western Montana guides and outfitters are here to help you have a memorable, authentic and safe experience, no matter your adventure preference. Snowshoe tour through Glacier National Park, anyone? Glacier Adventure Guides offers tours for the whole family.

Guided trips offer a fun and unique experience for everyone in the family. Photo: Devin Schmit

Psst…if you’re planning a family reunion, think about renting a block of condos next to Whitefish Mountain Resort and gather in a Glacier Country winter. There’s something for everyone here.

 

 

 

15 Holiday Events in Western Montana: A Big Sky Country Christmas

We always talk about how much we love winter, and it’s the truth. It’s also true that we love the festive holiday frolic the season brings. In Western Montana’s Glacier Country, we really know how to deck the halls and celebrate the season of giving with all things merry and bright.

So without further ado, here’s a look at Western Montana’s must-see happenings this holiday season.

Deck the halls! Whitefish, Montana showing off its western holiday spirit. Photo: Brian Schott.

Santa at Missoula’s Southgate Mall + Holiday Performances
Capture the magic of the season at Southgate Mall, the region’s largest shopping center, with a Santa visit and photos, as well as a gingerbread house contest display and holiday performances. For a complete rundown of holiday happenings at the mall, visit shopsouthgate.com. New this year: Holiday Hustle for Him on Wednesday, December 20 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Christmas at Kalispell’s Conrad Mansion Museum
November 24 – December 31
The home of one of Kalispell’s founders, Charles Conrad, gets completely decked out in seasonal splendor, and the mansion offers tours Fridays and Saturdays during the holiday season at 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m

Old-Fashioned Forest Service Christmas at the National Museum of Forest Service History, Missoula
November 25, 1 p.m. – 4 p.m.
Join Santa Claus and his pack mule team, plus Smokey Bear and Woodsy Owl, for Christmas stories and songs around the campfire, a candy cane hunt, holiday shopping at the Bungalow Ranger Station, plus Bill Moore’s book, “The Lochsa Story,” his documentary, “Bud’s Place,” and a book signing with author Vicky MacLean.

Carriage Rides in Downtown Missoula
Saturdays and Sundays November 25 – December 17, 11 a.m. – 4 p.m.
Take a break from the holiday hustle for a festive horse-drawn carriage ride in downtown Missoula. The Resort at Paws Up brings two of their beloved horses to town for free carriage rides. Make your way to Missoula’s East Pine Street and hop in.

Enjoy a festive carriage ride through downtown Missoula. Photo: Taylar Robbins

Polson Parade of Lights
December 1, 6 p.m.
Get festive in the Flathead Valley and celebrate the beginning of the Christmas season with Santa, a bonfire, food vendors and a parade. Downtown Polson shops stay open late so you can start checking names off your gift list.

Lantern Tours at the Historical Museum at Fort Missoula
December 1 – 3, 5:30 p.m.- 7:00 p.m.
The Historical Museum at Fort Missoula offers guided lantern tours providing a look into past winters (complete with plenty of Christmas moments) and ends with cocoa and cookies. Book early! Call 406.728.3476 (extension 1) to purchase tickets.

Whitefish Christmas Stroll
December 8, 5:30 p.m. – 9 p.m.
The quintessential mountain resort town of Whitefish decks its halls and kicks off the holiday season with a downtown Christmas Stroll featuring concerts, a tree-lighting ceremony, Santa, and wagon rides from Bar W Guest Ranch.

A Christmas carol before your eyes—chestnuts roasting on an open fire in Whitefish, Montana  Photo: Peter Siudara

Christmas Light Trolley Tours in Kalispell
December 8 – 31
Hop aboard a cozy trolley and set out to view the holiday lights in Kalispell with Montana Trolley Co. Click here for specific times and additional info.

Christmas in Bigfork
Located on the bay of Flathead Lake, the quaint (and beyond adorable) community of Bigfork goes all out for Christmas. Two days to note: Saturday, December 9 and Saturday, December 16. On those days, Santa comes to Bigfork, along with carolers and free live music dowtown, and the Bigfork Playhouse Children’s Theatre presents “White Christmas.”

Not many places celebrate Christmas quite like Bigfork, Montana. Photo: Bigfork Chamber of Commerce

Dolce Canto’s Light, Beauty, Peace at the Historic St. Ignatius Mission
December 10, 7 p.m.
One of the most beautiful churches in the state, the St. Ignatius Mission hosts Missoula’s a cappella (though sometimes accompanied) choir, Dolce Canto, for a holiday concert encouraging listeners to meditate on the notion of hope this holiday season.

Handel’s Messiah with Glacier Symphony + Chorale
December 15 – 17, 7:30 p.m.
A popular holiday tradition, the Glacier Symphony and Chorale performs Handel’s Messiah in Bigfork, Whitefish and Kalispell.

The Nutcracker in Missoula
December 15 – 17
A beloved holiday tradition, Montana’s Garden City Ballet performs “The Nutcracker.” Check specific times here for this treasured Missoula community event.

The grace and tradition of Missoula’s Nutcracker performance will be the highlight of your holiday season. Photo Neil Chaput de Saintonge

Community Christmas Party
December 16, 11 a.m. – 3 p.m.
Hamilton’s historic Daly Mansion hosts a Community Christmas Party complete with a visit from Santa and activities for the whole family.

Yuletide Affair 14 at Alpine Theatre Project
December 21-23, 7 p.m.
This sellout show stages once again at the Whitefish Performing Arts Center with a mix of holiday music, Broadway-caliber performances and hilarious satire. You can snag tickets here.

Whitefish’s Yuletide Affair is the perfect combination of comedy and winter cheer. Photo: Brenda Ahearn

Christmas Eve Torchlight Parade at Whitefish Mountain Resort
December 24
A Christmas Eve tradition, Santa visits the slopes of Whitefish Mountain Resort, leads a torchlight parade on snow-covered Big Mountain, and gives out gifts at Ed & Mully’s after the parade (so hopefully you’ve been good this year).

You can also check out a full listing of holiday events at glaciermt.com/events.

May your days be merry and bright! (If you’re in Montana, all of your Christmases will probably be white, too. We just can’t help ourselves.)