Category Archives: Sula

Big Fun at Small-Town Ski Hills in Western Montana

We continue to live up to our nickname here in the Treasure State. Montana is chock-full of hidden gems, and when it comes to adventure, Glacier Country is a treasure trove of discovery. One of our best-kept secrets is our handful of small-town ski hills, where fresh powder delivers and local vibes prevail. What you won’t find on these hills? Crowds, high-priced lift tickets and long lift lines.

Skiers delight in the impeccably groomed trails at Lookout Pass. Photo: Lookout Pass Ski & Recreation Area

Here’s the inside scoop on where to find some of the country’s best undiscovered skiing and snowboarding.

Discovery Ski Area is a true local’s hangout, offering beautiful views and the perfect combination of uncrowded slopes, tree skiing, expert bowl skiing, groomed trails and mogul runs. You’ll find some of the steepest lift-served terrain in the region here, while the variety of beginner and intermediate runs call to all abilities. Discovery—known locally as “Disco”—is a must-experience for anyone, and the lodge’s famous shortbread chocolate chip cookies alone are worth the visit. National Geographic magazine featured Philipsburg in a 2013 write-up of the Best Secret Ski Towns of North America that “deliver some of the most unspoiled skiing North America has to offer.” Downhill Detail: 2,200 acres + 67 runs + 2,388 ft. vertical drop.

Lookout Pass receives epic amounts of snowfall. Photo: Lookout Pass Ski & Recreation Area

Straddling the Montana/Idaho border west of Missoula, Lookout Pass sees the heaviest snowfall in Western Montana at 400 inches per year. The season starts early at this family-friendly resort offering bargain prices for big snow and an adventurous mix of easy, intermediate and expert runs as well as a full-service lodge with food, drinks, rentals and lessons. Lookout Pass also offers two terrain parks with huge banks, mounds, launches, rails and an 1,111-foot quarter pipe. Downhill Detail: 540 acres + 35 runs + 1,150 ft. vertical drop (with a planned expansion to 1,023 acres and 1,650 ft. vertical drop).

Feeling on top of the world on a bluebird day at Lost Trail Powder Mountain.

Also straddling the Montana/Idaho border on top of the Continental Divide, Lost Trail Powder Mountain is well-known for its reliable snowfall and consistently good snow conditions. From the slopes, take in breathtaking views of the Bitterroot Range of the Northern Rockies. Lost Trail is family-owned and operated and offers plenty of room for all types of skiers and boarders, whether you’re a beginner or expert. Downhill Detail: 1,800 acres + 69 runs + 1,800 ft. vertical drop.

One of Montana’s newer ski hills, Blacktail Mountain caters mostly to beginner and intermediate skiers, making it the ideal downhill destination for a memorable family ski vacation. At this unique ski area you actually start out at the top of the mountain and take the chairlift back up. The well-groomed intermediate runs here are perfect for long, carved turns with a few steep sections to mix things up. Just 17 miles from the charming town of Lakeside on Flathead Lake, take in jaw-dropping views of the lake, Glacier National Park and the Mission Mountains. Downhill Detail: 1,000 acres + 24 runs + 1,440 ft. vertical drop.

Call yourself King of the Hill on the wide-open slopes at Turner Mountain. Excellent snow conditions and beautiful scenery make for a successful day on the slopes at one of Montana’s most under-the-radar ski areas, once described as having some of the “best lift-assisted powder skiing in the U.S.” by SKI magazine. Just north of Libby, Turner boasts an impressive vertical drop—2,100 feet—and 60 percent of its terrain is rated black diamond, though there’s plenty of beginner and intermediate terrain to be explored. Fun fact: The entire ski area is available for private rental. Downhill Detail: 400 acres + 22 runs + 2,110 ft. vertical drop.

Riding high at Montana Snowbowl, only minutes from downtown Missoula. Photo: Larry Turner Photography

You’ll also find epic downhill and ski-town charm at Montana Snowbowl, 12 miles from Missoula. This extremist’s dream known for deep powder bowls and expert runs is also a local’s favorite, with plenty of terrain for beginner and intermediate skiers. The lodge’s wood-fired pizza and famous bloody marys are irresistible, too. Downhill Detail: 950 acres + 37 runs + 2,600 ft. vertical drop.

For downhill adventures at our most well-known ski area, make your way to Whitefish Mountain Resort in the quintessential winter mountain village of Whitefish.

Your Ticket To Western Montana’s Concert Hot Spots

From downtown theaters, bars, breweries and main streets to hot springs and a river’s edge amphitheater, there’s no shortage of places to see good music in Western Montana. Our noteworthy music scene boasts venues big and small, hosting national acts, local singers and songwriters, symphonies and other mountain sounds made all the more magical by the stunning Montana landscape.

From blues to bluegrass, there is so much to hear and see in Glacier Country. Photo: Crown of the Continent Guitar Festival.

Tune in below to read about Glacier Country’s top spots for concerts, music festivals and intimate local shows.

MISSOULA MELODIES
As the musical hub in Western Montana’s Glacier Country, Missoula is offering up some amazing spaces to enjoy live music. Offering a world-class entertainment experience with a community-centric vibe, Missoula’s venues are serving up a serious dose of Montana melodies. One of Glacier Country’s newest venues, the KettleHouse Amphitheater capitalizes on its natural setting for an authentic Western Montana outdoor concert experience, i.e., a downright good time. Nestled on the banks of the famed Blackfoot River and adjacent to the KettleHouse Brewery, the new amphitheater brings your favorite artists to a truly unique and inspiring spot. Next you can check out a Missoula icon: The Wilma. This beautiful venue, located in downtown Missoula on the edge of the Clark Fork River, offers concertgoers the character and charm of a historic theater with state-of-the-art amenities like one of the country’s best sound systems. Check out what’s happening at The Wilma here. Get up close with your favorite national and local musicians in the intimate club experience that The Top Hat provides, and eat like a rock star, too. The Top Hat serves up good tunes and great food. See what’s up next on the music menu here. Last but not least, Big Sky Brewing Company Amphitheater offers an incredible summer concert series every year and you’ll love the brews and tunes at this location.

The Kettlehouse Amphitheatre offers a world-class concert experience. Photo: Logjam Presents

BREWS + BEATS
When it comes to mixing local beer with live music, we don’t miss a beat. To know Western Montana is to know that we lovingly craft (and savor) award-winning microbrews in more than 20 breweries across the region, and we like to pair our tall ones with live tunes. Just outside Glacier National Park, Kalispell Brewing hosts weekly music events and their rooftop patio provides a breathtaking view of the Swan Mountains. Dubbed Libby’s Living Room, dig the neighborhood vibe at Cabinet Mountain Brewing Co. This Kootenai River Valley community gathering place hosts live music every week. Check out our full list of breweries and see what’s on tap.

SOAK UP THE SOUNDS
How about a little rhythm and relaxation? One of the things that makes Montana so heavenly is our hot springs. Visit one of our resorts for a soak in the soothing mineral waters and plan your trip around a live-music event. Bask in Bitterroot beauty at Lolo Hot Springs (Lolo), offering live music in the bar every summer Saturday night (Memorial Day – Labor Day). In the aptly named town of Paradise, relax and restore at Quinn’s Hot Springs Resort and enjoy concerts and music events from classical to cowboy at Quinn’s Paradise Hall. The Historic Symes Hot Springs Hotel and Mineral Baths hosts an annual Blues Festival plus live music every Friday and Saturday night. Soak up the sounds of mountain music right here in Glacier Country.

FESTIVAL FUN
There’s no denying we love our festivals in Western Montana, and a good ol’ fashioned music fest is just our scene. Plan your trip around one of these much-anticipated annual events.

Festival Amadeus at the Glacier Symphony is a unique concert-going experience for Western Montana. Photo: Glacier Symphony & Chorale

Missoula Symphony Orchestra and Choral: Symphony in the Park (Missoula)

Hardtimes Bluegrass Festival (Hamilton)

Averill’s Flathead Lake Lodge: Crown of the Continent Guitar Festival (Bigfork)

Riverfront Blues Festival (Libby)

Travelers’ Rest Music Festival (Missoula)

River City Roots Festival (Missoula)

Montana Baroque Music Festival (Paradise)

Bob Marshall Music Festival (Seeley Lake)

Lost Trail Ski Area: Lost Trail Fest (Sula)

+ Glacier Symphony & Chorale: Festival Amadeus (Whitefish)

Happy Listening!

Discover Winter’s Wonder with a Snowshoe in Western Montana

Winter in Montana isn’t only for adventurous powder plungers and downhill dreamers. It’s also for paradise seekers looking for a peaceful escape in an enchanting frosty forest of white. We hike all year here, and taking a walk in the snow is high on our list of things we love—it just requires a little extra gear. Snowshoes make it possible to head onto the trails and into backcountry quiet places that might otherwise not be accessible this time of year. This easy—and family-friendly—snowsport is a must-do winter activity, bound to leave you with some pretty incredible Montana memories.

See Glacier Country on snowshoees for an outdoor experience you won’t forget.

Many facilities around the region rent gear and offer friendly tips and trail advice to eager adventure seekers. Not all snowshoes are the same, and not all trails are either. Our gear shops can help with size and fit and steer you in the right direction. Local outfitters are also available to show you the way if you’re looking for a guided tour.

Here are some tips for the trek.

TRAILS + TERRAIN
Groomed and ungroomed winter trails are a dime a dozen around here, and we tend to brag about our backcountry terrain because it’s just so brag-worthy. That said, here are some of our favorite spots to explore.

Snowshoe the park.
Winter is the most magical time of year in Glacier National Park. The crowds are gone and the landscape is heavenly. The stillness and quiet offer an ideal time to strap on a pair of snowshoes and discover this powder paradise. Take a self-guided tour along the shores of Lake McDonald or up the famous Going-to-the-Sun Road.

Let our resident experts show you the way around the park by snowshoe. Glacier Adventure Guides offers alpine adventures through old-growth forest, past frozen waterfalls and lakes and across meadows blanketed with snow.

Lake McDonald views with Glacier Adventure Guides. Photo: Devin Schmit

You can also take an interpretive ranger-led snowshoe tour of the park’s Apgar area, learning about the park’s topography and wildlife along the way.

Autumn Creek Trail in East Glacier is one of the most popular routes in the area. This 6-mile trail begins at the summit of Marias Pass before entering the park.

Beyond the park.
Whitefish is pretty much winter defined. Whitefish Mountain Resort offers two uphill routes—the Toni Matt and the East Route—and, west of town, you can shoe the dog-friendly Round Meadow trail system. Whitefish’s Sportsman & Ski Haus will set you up with the right gear for your adventure.  

One of the best things about snowshoeing is it’s easy to master. Lone Pine State Park in Kalispell is a great place to try out this beginner-friendly sport for the first time, and Spoke & Paddle can help you with equipment rentals. Nearby Herron Park/Foy’s to Blacktail Trails is another great place to start out.

For fun near Flathead Lake, trek Lakeside’s Blacktail Mountain or Bigfork’s Crane Mountain Snowmobile Trail (Road #498). Contact the friendly folks at Base Camp for gear rentals and trail suggestions.

Head up near “The Yaak” to Troy’s Cougar Ridge for a trek on snow-covered roads that wind in and out of the wintry woods of the Kootenai National Forest.

The Thompson Falls Fitness Trail is a wonderful hike for families, as it’s relatively flat, deer sightings can be frequent and following wildlife tracks in the snow is fun for the kids.

Check trail resources ahead of time to see if dogs are allowed to come along. Photo: Thompson Falls Main Street

Explore Missoula’s Pattee Canyon or Blue Mountain recreation areas for endless trails. You’ll also find snowshoe adventures in the Rattlesnake Wilderness and Missoula’s South Hills. Just east of Missoula, Greenough’s Lubrecht Forest offers a quiet getaway to test your snowshoe know-how. Lookout Pass Ski and Recreation Area on the Montana/Idaho border offers over 15 miles of groomed trails for snowshoers. You’ll find gear and good advice from the fine folks at Missoula’s Trailhead.

From Lookout Pass, you can snowshoe, ski or snowmobile to Taft, about 10 miles. This route is for well-experienced snowshoers only, due to the nature of the trail.

The Bitterroot Valley boasts stunning winter landscapes, charming small towns with warm western hospitality, and trails abound. Lolo Pass lets you choose your own adventure with multiple snow-covered roads. Four miles from the pass, walk upstream to Snowshoe Falls for the perfectly picturesque winter waterfall scene. Hike the Continental Divide at the Chief Joseph Trail System’s large network of groomed trails, complete with a cozy log cabin at the trailhead for warming up after your trek. Skalkaho Snowpark provides access to Skalkaho Pass in the scenic Sapphire Mountains.

Wandering snowy trails under Western Montana’s winter sun, does it get much better?

Make it an overnight adventure.
Many of Western Montana’s ranches and resorts offer year-round activities, and snowshoeing is no exception. You can also find off-the-beaten-path overnight adventures at lodges, vacation homes and U.S. Forest Service cabins.

Revel in rustic splendor at Sula’s Twogood Cabin, a 6-mile hike from the Warm Springs Creek Trailhead. (Open until October 15th and the month of December.)   

Explore the breathtaking Seeley-Swan Valley from your cabin door at Seeley Lake’s Double Arrow Lodge, where you can borrow a pair of snowshoes or rent a pair at nearby Rocky Mountain Adventure Gear.

The 37,000-acre Resort at Paws Up offers guests two-hour snowshoe tours of the resort grounds, plus luxury Montana lodging in beautiful Greenough.

It’s safe to say, wherever you stay, there’s probably a trail close by and a pair of snowshoes calling your name.

Shoe safely.
Though snowshoeing is a tranquil and fairly simple winter activity, it’s still important to know your snow safety. Be avalanche aware and read snow reports before you head out. Dress appropriately for the weather conditions, pack water and snacks, take a trail map and follow trail signs, and be wildlife savvy.

Wildlife.

Our trails may come with lots of surprises, be prepared for wildlife and changing conditions. Photo: Devin Schmit

See you on the trail, friends.

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