Category Archives: Stevensville

Fall Events and Harvest Festivals in Western Montana

When the green landscapes of summer begin to fade into fall, an unmatched tapestry of golden hues comes out, complementing our impossibly big blue sky. Autumn is one of our most vibrant seasons here in Glacier Country, and fall brings a few of our favorite things: scarecrows, pumpkins, the autumn harvest, seasonal microbrews and bugling elk. Breathe in the cool mountain air, put on your coziest flannel and join us for some of our best fall events. Western Montana’s golden season also brings lighter traffic and shoulder season prices.

Fall brings some of our favorite events. Photo: Rio Chantel Photography

KOOTENAI HARVEST FESTIVAL

The Kootenai Harvest Festival in Libby is a family-friendly festival on the banks of the Kootenai River. Celebrate the harvest of locally grown food and land conservation with live music, sample fare from food vendors and discover Montana-made crafts. Kids activities include face painting, sack races, tug-of-war and more. The festival is free to attend, and a garden-to-table meal made entirely with vegetables grown in Libby is served for an additional charge. Festivities occur mid-September.

Happiness abounds at the Kootenai Harvest Festival. Photo: Annie Gassman and Friends of Scotchman Peaks Wilderness

FALL GATHERING AT THE MOON RANDOLPH HOMESTEAD

The Moon Randolph Homestead is Missoula’s public homestead and a historic district on the National Register of Historic Places. The 160 acres of land was purchased in 1889 by Ray and Luella Moon, who built a small claim shack and slowly planted apple and cherry trees on 30+ acres. In 1907 the Randolphs purchased the homestead and added laying hens, dairy cows, and a vegetable garden to the premises. Purchased in 1996, and soon after reconstructed and preserved by the city of Missoula, the homestead is open Saturday for tours of the old outbuildings and the maintained orchard. The Fall Gathering celebrates another year passed on the homestead. Gather under the full harvest moon for live music from local musicians, cider pressing, a harvest feast with fresh local food and homemade pie. This event is ticketed and occurs mid-September.

Cozy up, and bring the whole family. You won’t want to miss the Fall Gathering. Photo: Rio Chantel Photography

HARVEST FESTIVAL AND APPLE DAY AT THE HISTORICAL MUSEUM AT FORT MISSOULA

Also in Missoula, the Historical Museum at Fort Missoula has three gallery spaces with exhibits that change throughout the year, and sits on 32 acres of land covered with more than 20 preserved Montana buildings and structures. The Harvest Festival and Apple Day is the perfect excuse to head to the museum with family in tow. First visit the Hayes Homestead Cabin to learn how homesteaders would begin to prepare for winter in autumn. Then take the full tour of the outside buildings, make cider with an old-fashioned apple press, or get artsy with fall-themed crafts for the kids. Admission is free with a nonperishable food item for the local food bank, and lunch from local food trucks is available for purchase. This event takes place annually near the end of September.

Crush apples to make fresh cider at the Harvest Festival and Apple Day. Photo: Historical Museum at Fort Missoula

GREAT NORTHWEST OKTOBERFEST

Glacier Country continues to be a haven for beer enthusiasts, with more than 30 breweries in the region. So, of course, one of the ways we celebrate autumn is with an epic Brewfest. The Great Northwest Oktoberfest, in Whitefish, is chock-full of delicious German beer, food, music and unique contests like keg hurling, log sawing and stein holding. Test your skills or cheer on competitors from the sidelines. There is a small admission fee, and food and beer are an additional cost. Prepare to wet your whistle and chicken dance your heart out at the beginning of October.

Savor the sip at the Great Northwest Oktoberfest. Photo: Whitefish Chamber of Commerce

STEVENSVILLE SCARECROW FESTIVAL

Grab a pumpkin spice or vanilla chai latte then head to one of our favorite fall festivals. You’d be hard pressed to find a more unique, family friendly event than the Stevensville Scarecrow Festival. Locals craft the cutest, scariest and most creative scarecrows to be viewed and voted upon by you. After you’ve voted, head to downtown Stevensville for music, food, a farmers market, the Scarecrow Festival Brewfest and more. Children will enjoy the straw bale maze, giant slide and bouncy house, and can compete in a pumpkin-carving contest. This festival takes place annually in early October.

Vote on your favorite piece at the Stevensville Scarecrow Festival. Photo: Visit MT

Fall in Western Montana is a magical season filled with authentic Western Montana events. Find more here.

Western Montana Fruitful Summers + Farmers Markets

One of many things that makes Montana special is that we have four seasons, and each season is beautiful and unique in its own right. Springtime brings blooming wildflowers and sets the stage for the harvest of summer’s distinctly Montana fruits—Flathead cherries, Dixon melons, and wild huckleberries are our favorite flavors of a Glacier Country summer. Whether you attend a festival, pick your own fruit, or stop by a local farmers market, you’d be hard pressed to find a more authentic, and tasty, Western Montana experience.

Cherry trees line the shore of Flathead Lake. Photo: Donnie Sexton

FLATHEAD CHERRIES

Some of the world’s best cherries grow right here in Montana’s Flathead Valley. The Flathead Valley offers ideal growing conditions for cherries, with warm days and cool evenings that extend the growing season, deepening the cherries in color for a sweeter taste. When driving along Flathead Lake—the largest freshwater lake west of the Mississippi—you’ll pass many cherry orchards. Pop-up fruit stands line the main roads, and it’s easy to pull over and purchase a bag of cherries. The harvest begins in late July, so plan a trip to a u-pick orchard—a fun activity for the whole family that lets you pick out the ripest and best-looking cherries. Hockaday Orchards on the west side of the lake is open 8 a.m. – 6 p.m. daily beginning late July, Getmans’ Orchard & Vineyard on the east side requires you to call ahead before stopping by. You’re likely to see other u-pick orchards with signs out welcoming you, so don’t hesitate to stop—you’ll be greeted by warm western hospitality.

You can never get enough of Flathead cherries!

Festival: The annual Polson Main Street Flathead Cherry Festival puts on a family-friendly, mouthwatering good time that’s not to be missed. See, eat and splurge on Flathead cherries, cherry-infused treats, local artwork and handcrafted goods. Test your grit in a cherry pit-spitting contest or cherry pie eating contest. On Main Street in Polson, July 20 – 21, 2019.

Delicious Flathead cherries are a staple fruit in Western Montana.

HUCKLEBERRIES

Huckleberries are a small, dark purple, sweet berry that grow in Western Montana. This beloved berry is a real Montana prize. While visiting, you’re sure to see it infused into everything from honey and vodka to huckleberry pie topped with huckleberry ice cream. Treat yourself to this Montana taste and you’ll understand why this berry is unrivaled. While sampling the fare is sure to delight, you can also pick wild huckleberries, which grow well on slopes between 3,500 and 7,200 feet, with minimal tree coverage. However, a good huckleberry picking spot is like a good fishing hole; some secrets are best discovered on your own. Bears love huckleberries as much as we do, so it’s always a good idea to pick huckleberries in groups and carry bear spray.

These small berries pack a flavorful punch. Photo: Donnie Sexton

Festival: The Trout Creek Huckleberry Festival, located in Trout Creek, is celebrating its 40th year in 2019. More than 100 arts and crafts vendors will be selling their wares, and events include a parade, huckleberry pancake breakfast, 5k fun run, auction, horseshoe tournament, huckleberry dessert contest and much more. Food vendors offer a range of huckleberries in a variety of desserts to cap off your day. At the Trout Creek Park, August 9 – 11, 2019.

When it comes to huckleberries, the flavor combinations are endless and sure to delight. Photo: Donnie Sexton

FARMERS MARKETS

Our very popular outdoor community markets are a big part of Western Montana’s charm, and they provide the perfect opportunity to explore our lively small towns. Imagine strolling through a farmers market on a warm summer morning, coffee carts and baked goods in abundance, fresh produce, locally sourced food, and locally-made arts and crafts like pottery, paintings, jewelry, woodcarvings and more for sale. You’re likely to find our beloved huckleberries and Flathead cherries for sale here, too. Glacier Country’s market scene boast gatherings big and small, each one truly unique. Head to a farmers market for a quintessentially Western Montana experience, and take the time to talk with locals—these vendors are some of the friendliest folks around.

Farmers markets are a treasure trove full of vegetables, baked and canned goods, flowers and more.

Pro-Tip: Look for the Dixon Melon truck. The best melons in Montana are a market favorite from this vendor, serving up honeydews, crenshaws and cantaloupes right from the truck.

Savor the flavor of a delicious Dixon melon. Photo: Destination Missoula

GLACIER COUNTRY 2019 FARMERS MARKETS:

Tuesdays: Darby, Missoula, Whitefish

Wednesdays: Bigfork, Arlee, Cut Bank, Trout Creek

Thursdays: Alberton, Columbia Falls, Libby, Eureka (second Thursday of the month)

Fridays: Plains, Polson, West Glacier

Saturdays: Troy, Florence, Hamilton, Kalispell, Missoula, Noxon, Stevensville, Superior

Sundays: Florence, Seeley Lake

Hidden Gem Golf Courses in Western Montana

With wide-open vistas and room to roam, it should come as no surprise that Western Montana’s Glacier Country is a golfer’s paradise. Come spring, we gleefully trade our ski poles for golf clubs. Here, we have the perfect blend of breathtaking landscapes, renowned courses and affordability. Pair that combo with small-town charm, and teeing up in Montana is a real treat. Get on the green in Glacier Country, where you’ll find some of the most stunning and enjoyable golf experiences, and get to know our scenic travel corridors while you’re at it.

Sunset bathes hole 12 of the Nick Faldo-designed course at the Wilderness Club. Photo: Wilderness Club

NORTHWEST CORRIDOR

Along Montana’s quiet Northwest Corridor, you’ll find three courses all offering something special. Eureka may be small but it boasts not one, but two golf hot spots. At Indian Springs Ranch play the links-style, 18-hole championship course that’s pure fun. Bask in the beauty of the Tobacco Valley at this unique, master-planned recreational community. Also in Eureka, the stunning Wilderness Club—designed by golf legend Nick Faldo—was ranked the No. 1 golf course in Montana by Golfweek and Golf Magazine and the No. 2 Best New Private Golf Course in the U.S. by Golf Magazine. In Libby, the aptly named Cabinet View Golf Club offers just that—a great game of golf among gorgeous Cabinet Mountain views.

BITTERROOT VALLEY

The beautiful Bitterroot Valley beckons all year long, but any season you can swing a golf club here is extra special. The unique Whitetail Golf Course in Stevensville is located within the Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge, so it’s the perfect place to find an authentic Montana golfing experience…and spot some wildlife on the green. Further down U.S. Highway 93 in Hamilton, the Hamilton Golf Course offers a fabulous round of golf and some of the best views in the valley.

Playing the 14th hole at Meadow Lake Golf Resort. Photo: Meadow Lake Golf Resort, Inc.

GLACIER NATIONAL PARK SURROUNDING AREA + EAST GLACIER CORRIDOR

If your trip to Glacier National Park isn’t complete without a round of golf (we don’t blame you), here are four places in and around the park to swing your clubs. Meadow Lake Golf Resort in Columbia Falls is a must-play, and Golf Magazine agrees. Golf Digest gives this treasured course 4.5 stars and named it one of the top four public courses in Montana. Within the park itself, Glacier View Golf Course in West Glacier blends natural beauty with a polished game of golf. Along the East Glacier Travel Corridor in East Glacier Park, tee up at Glacier Park Lodge Golf Course. This historic course on the Blackfeet Reservation is the oldest grass greens golf course in Montana, and all 9 holes are named for former Blackfeet chiefs. At the Cut Bank Golf and Country Club a mile west of Cut Bank, enjoy small-town golf at its finest with an exceptional game and down-to-earth vibes.

TOUR 200

The laid-back Wild Horse Plains Golf Course in Plains is a family favorite along Montana’s scenic Tour 200 just north of Paradise. From there, drive the length of this scenic byway and end up in the quaint town of Thompson Falls for another round at Rivers Bend Golf Course, where every third hole finds you back at the clubhouse.

The Mission Mountain Golf Club offers gorgeous views of its namesake. Photo: Mission Mountain Golf Club

FLATHEAD CORRIDOR

The Flathead Valley has been named a “Top 50 Golf Course Destination” by Golf Digest. There’s no denying the beauty of the region and the caliber of its courses. At the southern tip of Flathead Lake—the largest freshwater lake west of the Mississippi—the Polson Bay Golf Course in Polson offers beautiful mountain views and fairways adjacent to the lake. South of that, in Pablo, the 9-hole executive Silver Fox Golf Course winds its way through lush trees, serene ponds and a wildlife corridor on the Salish Kootenai College campus. Even farther south, take in exceptional Mission Mountain views and a challenging game of golf at the Mission Mountain Golf Club in Ronan.

I-90 CORRIDOR

Experience good old-fashioned Montana hospitality 10 miles west of Missoula at King Ranch Golf Course in Frenchtown, where you’ll find 18 holes on wide fairways along the scenic Clark Fork River. Another I-90 Corridor favorite along the Clark Fork, and one of Western Montana’s hidden gems, is Trestle Creek Golf Course in St. Regis—known for some of the finest greens.

The Double Arrow Lodge features a spectacular golf course plus lodging and dining in Seeley Lake.

SEELEY-SWAN CORRIDOR

The recreation opportunities in the Seeley-Swan Corridor are some of Montana’s best, and golf is no exception. In the storybook village of Bigfork on the north shore of Flathead Lake, the semi-private Eagle Bend Golf Club offers a championship 27-hole course. In Seeley Lake, the pristine ponderosa pine setting of the Double Arrow Golf Course offers resort golfing nestled between the Swan and Mission mountain ranges. Watch wildlife as you make your way around water features and bunkers, and don’t miss the No. 15 signature hole, featuring an elevated tee and island green.

The list goes on—Western Montana is dotted with golf courses, from small-town favorites to large championship and semi-private golf clubs and resorts. Go green under our famous blue sky. For more inspiration, visit the Northwest Montana Golf Association, and read more about Glacier Country’s larger golf courses here.

Added Bonus: In addition to stunning scenery and incredible terrain, golfing in Western Montana won’t break the bank; it’s part of the warm western hospitality we’re known for.

Wildlife Viewing Areas in Western Montana

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Western Montana Wings: Birding in Glacier Country

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NOTABLE GLACIER COUNTRY BIRDS

A western meadowlark bursts into song. Photo: Brian Williams

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mountain bluebirds match the color of Western Montana skies.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Top 10 Brunch Spots in Western Montana

During the everchanging seasons in Western Montana outdoor adventures abound. Weekends are filled with epic lake days, Nordic excursions, biking and more. After all this recreating, you may need a rest. We get it—some days are meant for cozy clothes and relaxing with friends and family. Here are the top 10 brunch spots we’re digging in Glacier Country, for days when the only reason to get off the couch is to find food.

You’ll be hard pressed to find a more authentic Montana brunch than The Trough. Photo: The Trough

THE TROUGH

Make Missoula a priority when planning your trip to Glacier Country—the food scene is one you won’t want to miss. One of our favorite undiscovered brunch spots is The Trough. In the more rural part of town, this spot used to be a working dairy, hence the name of the adjacent market—The Olde Dairy. This newer restaurant has taken Missoula by storm, the food is worth bragging about and the experience is authentically Montana. Get a breakfast sandwich your way or try the Farmer’s Skillet.

Our mouths are officially watering. Photo: Burns St. Bistro

BURNS ST. BISTRO

Creative recipes with mouthwatering dishes resulted in a following of “Bistronauts” for Burns St. Bistro. Not surprisingly, in 2017 locals voted it Best Brunch in Missoula. Themed brunches take the spotlight Saturday and Sunday—like the Star Trek Brunch or the Cheese Brunch. Monday – Friday grab breakfast, lunch or dinner; the everchanging menu makes this eatery one we never tire of. It’s hard to know what will be on the menu when you go, but we do know it will be delicious.

Kick back with a Bloody Mary at Tamarack Brewing Company in Missoula. Photo: Tamarack Brewing Company

TAMARACK BREWING COMPANY

When in Missoula, another local’s favorite is Tamarack Brewing Company. The build-your-own Bloody Mary bar has everything you could dream of putting in your drink—bacon, asparagus, pickles and more. Once you have this staple of a good brunch secured, we recommend trying the chicken and waffles or biscuits and gravy. Open for brunch on weekends.

Start your morning off right with a pour-over coffee. Photo: Caffè Dolce

CAFFÈ DOLCE

In the Missoula slant streets area hides a popular neighborhood hot spot, Caffè Dolce. With Italian fresco paintings donning the ceiling, this vibrant restaurant has carefully crafted a brunch menu that will delight your palate. To bring your brunch game to the next level, try their meticulously created pour-over coffee paired with their seasonally changing scramble of the day. Brunch is on Sundays; breakfast, lunch and dinner are available Monday – Saturday.

The Monte Cristo sandwich will leave a smile on your face. Photo: Starrett Artists

MISSION BISTRO

Mission Bistro in historic Stevensville sits on Main Street immersed in Old West charm. This quaint bistro serves up hearty meals with immense flavors, such as the wild mushroom and bacon scramble or the Monte Cristo sandwich. Open Sundays for brunch.

Montana meets France at a Taste of Paris. Photo: Taste of Paris

TASTE OF PARIS

Nestled at the base of the Bitterroot Mountains in Hamilton, you’ll find Taste of Paris. They’re known for fabulous crepes, served with an array of topping options like lemon juice with sugar or poached pears, chocolate sauce and Chantilly cream. Save room for dessert—pastries are made fresh daily. Open Sundays for brunch.

POCKETSTONE CAFE

In the storybook village of Bigfork, Pocketstone Cafe lays on the charm. Homestyle cooking is their specialty, and the omelets hold a special place in our hearts. If the food doesn’t make you smile, the menu will; picking out your brunch is an experience in itself. A cinnamon roll the size of your head is a must, and, as the menu reads, “These are really good, really big and really homemade.”

This twist on a classic eggs Benedict will keep you coming back for more. Photo: Swift Creek Cafe

SWIFT CREEK CAFE

If you’re venturing to the quintessential mountain town of Whitefish, be sure to stop at Swift Creek Cafe, which is open for breakfast and lunch seven days a week, and brunch on Sundays. The owners, a father and son team, have a passion for food that is evident in their diverse dishes—the Braised Duck Benedict is a favorite of ours.

The Smoked Salmon Croque will keep you coming back again and again. Photo: The Boat Club

THE BOAT CLUB

The Boat Club at The Lodge at Whitefish Lake is the perfect place to savor exquisite Montana food. Try the Smoked Salmon Croque Madame, a croissant filled with salmon, spinach, avocado and cheese, topped with béchamel and a fried egg; it’s amazing. Pair brunch with a signature Apple Cider Mimosa for the complete dining experience. Brunch is served on Saturdays and Sundays.

Quintessential brunch food can be found at The Knead Cafe. Photo: The Knead Cafe

THE KNEAD CAFE

Get your farm-to-table fix at The Knead Cafe in Kalispell. On the menu you’ll find classics like eggs Benedict and vegetarian-friendly options such as a veggie frittata. For those looking for a sweeter option, try the pecan-crusted pancakes. Serving up warm western hospitality Monday – Saturday.

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

Romantic Getaways in Western Montana’s Glacier Country

Western Montana is a heaven for honeymooners, but it’s not just a perfect spot to celebrate wedded bliss. Lovebirds flock to Glacier Country for anniversary adventures, romantic weekend getaways, spa retreats and bed-and-breakfast charm. Unique lodging and fine dining, plus outdoor adventures and indoor comforts all allow for romance, reconnection and relaxation. Total bonus: The scenery here is so gorgeous you’ll fall in love with Montana, too.

With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, we’ve put together some of our favorite romantic getaways in Western Montana that’ll make your heart skip a beat.

Treat your sweetie to breakfast in bed at The Firebrand Hotel. Photo: Unveiled Radiance Photography

Resorts, luxury lodges and spas are a pretty popular destination for couples looking to be pampered. Nestle up for some fireside splendor at Mountain Lake Lodge in the storybook village of Bigfork, offering fireplace suites with Jacuzzis, on-site massage, two restaurants, an outdoor hot tub and beautiful views of Flathead Lake. The lodge offers winter specials, including a Romance Package.

Take your sweetheart on a sleigh ride through Western Montana’s winter landscape. The historic Double Arrow Lodge tucked in the Seeley Lake Valley can oblige. Embark on a romantic ride for two in an antique cutter sleigh, complete with champagne, hot rocks to warm your feet, a buffalo robe to keep you cozy, and the breathtaking Swan Mountains.

After a day of cross country skiing, cozy up in a caboose at Izaak Walton Inn. Photo: Noah Couser

Called the perfect location to whisper “I love you” by Bridal Guide and Destination Weddings & Honeymoons, The Resort at Paws Up in Greenough is picture perfect. This luxury western destination offers a Montana for Two Valentine’s day getaway complete with fireside dining prepared by the resort’s executive chef, plus live music, a winter spa and luxury cabins with hot tubs.

Western Romance meets rustic elegance at the award-winning adults-only Triple Creek Ranch in Darby. Restore and renew in the cowboy culture, beautiful scenery and luxury accommodations of this Montana hideaway. Delight in their Valentine’s Day candlelit dinner featuring hand-picked wine and chocolates prepared by the ranch’s pastry chef.

Also located in Darby, the Bitterroot River Ranch Bed & Breakfast offers a peaceful log home ranch setting with rustic elegance. They’re just 30 minutes from Lost Trail Powder Mountain ski area and their Sweetheart Package includes a dozen red roses, chocolate-covered strawberries and your choice of a bottle of wine or sparkling cider.

Relax and rekindle in the rejuvenating waters at Quinn’s Hot Springs Resort. Photo: Quinn’s Hot Springs Resort

For rejuvenation seekers, come soak in the healing mineral waters of a hot spring. In the aptly named town of Paradise, Quinn’s Hot Springs Resort offers a Valentine special with live music, dinner, dancing and lodging, or cuddle up with champagne and chocolates at Lolo Hot Springs in the beautiful Bitterroot Valley.

Some couples like a little outdoor recreation to complement their downtime. Snow Bear Chalets offers ski-in/ski-out lodging in a luxury treehouse literally right on the slopes of Whitefish Mountain Resort, or book a romance package just outside of Glacier National Park at the Izaak Walton Inn in Essex where you’ll find lodging in a luxury railcar and dinner for two, as well as cross-country skiing among stunning scenery.

What’s more romantic than dining in a castle? Photo: The Keep Restaurant

In addition to our world-class lodging options, Western Montana is the perfect place for a culinary adventure with the one you love. Get starry-eyed at The Keep Restaurant, tucked up in the south hills of Missoula. Enjoy a gourmet meal paired with fine wine and panoramic views of the valley below. In the quintessential winter village of Whitefish, The Firebrand Hotel excels at shareable small plates and contemporary cuisine, plus handcrafted cocktails and delectable desserts. Make reservations now for their special Valentine’s Day Dinner. At The Catered Table Restaurant in Stevensville, top off a mouthwatering steak dinner with a sweet treat like chocolate decadence or white chocolate cranberry creme brulee.

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