Category Archives: Stryker

Dark Skies + Stargazing in Glacier Country

Glacier Country is revered for our big blue skies and seemingly endless views of awe-inspiring sunrises and sunsets. But a well-kept secret is that these endless blue skies turn into jaw-dropping starry nights. Glacier National Park is internationally recognized as a Dark Sky Park, but, throughout Western Montana, our skies deliver, night after night. We’ve made it easy to enjoy our starry nights with observatories throughout the region. Lay out a blanket and count the stars in Glacier Country.

Come see the Milky Way in Western Montana. Photo: Nicholas Parker

GLACIER NATIONAL PARK DARK SKIES

Glacier National Park is one of 26 parks to be internationally recognized as a Dark Sky Park and the first park to span an international boarder—the designation extending into the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park. Glacier National Park received this designation for its minimal light and air pollution, a commitment to prevent light and air pollution, and the broad, unending expanse of sky over the park creates a distinguished quality of starry nights. Camp overnight next to an aquamarine glacial lake, get cozy fireside and enjoy the unmatched view; if you’re lucky you’ll catch a glimpse of a falling star.

You won’t want to miss nighttime in Glacier National Park. Photo: Jacob Frank/NPS

STAR DOME AT ST. MARY

At the east entrance to Glacier National Park sits St. Mary. New this year to the park is the St. Mary Observatory, funded by Glacier National Park Conservancy. The Star Dome is equipped with a 20-inch telescope, one of the largest telescopes in the National Park Service and the largest in Montana, which gives visitors high-resolution views of planets, galaxies and nebulae. If you’re not looking through the telescope you can view the images on one of two 55-inch monitors mounted on the observatory. The Half the Park Happens After Dark program hosts guided viewing and star parties June through September on clear nights at rotating locations.

Our big blue skies appear endless on a starry night. Photo: Ray Stinson

STAR GAZING ROOM: PAYNE FAMILY NATIVE AMERICAN CENTER

The Payne Family Native American Center, located on the University of Montana campus in Missoula, was the first campus facility in the nation built specifically for a Department of Native American Studies and American Indian Student Services. One of the newest additions to the center is the Star Gazing Room, which hosts celestial stargazing shows open to the public. Learn about the constellations, planets and upcoming celestial events. Each show will also cover a unique topic from star lore of different cultures to the evolution of our universe.

Stay cozy inside while exploring the galaxy. Photo: Todd Goodrich

BLUE MOUNTAIN OBSERVATORY

In Missoula, the Blue Mountain Observatory sits atop Blue Mountain at an elevation of 6,300 feet. It’s about a 45-minute drive from the heart of downtown Missoula, a perfect distance from town resulting in minimal light pollution. Attend a public observation night to explore planets, star clusters, distant galaxies and nebulae. You’ll also learn how to spot celestial objects with binoculars or the naked eye. Bring a blanket and bundle up—a treasure trove of stars and sweeping views of the Milky Way await.

Book early to secure your ticket to an observation night at Blue Mountain Observatory. Photo: Ashley Juric

SIGHTING OPPORTUNITIES

Northern Lights: When the earth’s magnetic field has been energized from solar events it will send charged electrons toward the poles. These collide with the upper atmosphere and produce light that we call the northern lights or aurora borealis. You can sometimes view the northern lights from the northern parts of Western Montana. Glacier National Park, the Northwest Corridor and the East Glacier Corridor are prime viewing areas. For a picture-perfect experience head to Glacier National Park, or travel just a bit out of town on one of our scenic corridors. Northern lights are most active between September and March.

Chase the Northern Lights in Glacier Country. Photo: Noah Couser

Harvest Moon: In ancient times it was common to use the phases of the moon to track the year, instead of the solar year, which we now use. Each month’s full moon was given a special name based on the characteristics associated with that month. During the fall equinox, when the harvest moon is full, the moon rises almost as the sun sets. This slight change makes a much lighter night. It is thought that farmers would work later into the night harvesting crops, hence the origin of the term ‘harvest moon.’ Western Montana has deep farming roots; come pay homage to our roots and join us in celebrating the fall harvest and harvest moon.

There’s something magical about an evening spent under the moon in Montana. Photo: Donnie Sexton

Get a Grip: Rock Climb Western Montana

Western Montana’s rock faces are so beguiling they draw visitors from all over the world; even photos of them can take your breath away. Rock climbing is a fantastic way to experience Glacier Country. The thrill of reaching the top of a climb, witnessing miles of gorgeous views spread out before you, smiling down at your companions below, and taking a few congratulatory selfies is an opportunity not to be missed. Plus, it’s an excellent group bonding experience for family and friends. Participants can learn new skills, test their mettle, enjoy spending time outside in a beautiful setting, and perhaps even discover a new lifelong pursuit.

Inject some adrenaline into your Western Montana adventure by going rock climbing.

If you’re new to rock climbing, you’ll need the assistance of a professional. Rock Climb Montana has been introducing rock climbing to visitors ages 3 – 81 for more than a decade at three gorgeous and easily accessible locations in northwestern Montana: Kila Crags, Stryker and Stone Hill. During a half-day or full-day trip, your certified instructor will teach you the basics (knot tying, safety checks, climbing commands) and set you up on routes that match your abilities. Gear (harness, helmet, and grippy pointed shoes) is included in the guiding fee.

Before a climber attempts the wall, she receives knot tying and safety lessons.

Concerned fear might get the better of you? Climbing’s not nearly as unnerving as you might think. A climber is anchored to the top of the climbing route by a rope that’s secured to both themselves and another person on the ground, called a belayer. If the climber slips off the rock, the belayer will hold the climber in place, so there’s little to no “fall.” The climber can easily get back on the route and continue ascending where she left off, or ask to be slowly lowered down. To further allay your fears, Rock Climb Montana boasts a perfect safety record.

The amazing view from Kila Crags, only a few minutes from Kalispell.

Kila Crags, only 8 miles west of Kalispell off U.S. Highway 2, has nearly 50 routes that vary in difficulty from 5.5 to 5.12 (which means there are climbs for all skill levels). Despite the area’s proximity to the road, climbers are rewarded with beautiful meadow, mountain and forest views even while hanging out at the base of the three main walls: Guardian Wall, Psychology Wall and Upper Wall. These south-facing, roughly 60-foot-high shale cliffs are a great place to climb on cool spring and fall days since the sun quickly warms the rock.

Searching for toe and handholds, a beginning climber ascends the wall.

For a more shaded climb, plan a trip to Stryker, a half hour north of Whitefish, where the Stillwater River cuts through the green argillite walls of Stillwater Canyon. The cool air coming off the water combined with the shade provided by the surrounding Koocanusa National Forest means that climbers don’t need to worry about overheating while trying to “top out”—climber slang for standing on top of the crag you’ve just climbed or “sent.”

Link Neimark, owner of Rock Climb Montana, has more than 25 years of climbing experience.

For an even more epic climbing adventure, Rock Climb Montana and Glacier Adventure Guides both offer day trips to Stone Hill, northwest Montana’s largest climbing area. Less than 20 miles from Eureka and sporting 500 climbing routes, Stone Hill is a climber’s wonderland. Dig your toes and fingers into the quartzite rock and scale crags that will reward you with outstanding views of nearby Lake Koocanusa, a 90-mile-long reservoir that stretches into Canada, and lush ponderosa pine forestland.

Kila Crags offers challenging routes for skilled climbers as well as easier ones for beginners.

Although guided climbs are limited to these three areas, experienced climbers capable of heading out on their own will want to check out Point of Rocks near Whitefish (you’ll need to buy a State Lands Permit); Berne Park Boulders in Bad Rock Canyon near Hungry Horse; Blodgett Canyon and Lost Horse, both near Hamilton; and the Lolo Pass area between Lolo and the Idaho State Line.

Bonus: Uncrowded climbing areas are the norm here, and if you do encounter a fellow climber you’ll be greeted with warm western hospitality.