Category Archives: Things To Do

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.

Unique Ways to Explore Glacier National Park

The Crown of the Continent beckons outdoor enthusiasts. With more than 1 million acres of towering peaks, cascading waterfalls, wild meadows and sparkling waters—the sheer beauty of Glacier National Park is jaw-dropping from every angle. However, it can be a little intimidating. For those of you who don’t want to bite off more adventure than you can chew, but still want to get out of your car and away from the crowds, here’s an insider’s guide for a low-key introduction to the park.

Glacier National Park is captivating from every angle.

Explore in style by moped, horseback, boat, or a guided walk. These mellow adventures are some of the best ways to cover ground and discover the raw splendor of the park’s glacial-carved terrain. Experience a truly off-grid authentic Montana moment, without breaking a sweat.

Enjoy aquamarine glacial waters on a walk with Glacier Guides. Photo: Glacier Guides and Montana Raft

GUIDED WALKS

Set out on one of the park’s forested footpaths. Glacier National Park has more than 734 miles of maintained trails, including many short walks that provide an intimate tour of the terrain. Glacier Guides and Montana Raft leads hikes for all ages and fitness levels. New this year is a half-day nature walk. Learn about Leave No Trace, forest fire science, river ecology and the history of early settlers, while leisurely strolling on two easy walks—first at Lake McDonald Valley and then in the North Fork Valley. Each walk is about 1.1 miles, with an elevation gain of only 180 feet. 2019 guided walks are available May 30 – August 29. You can also request a custom walk, if you want to go to a different location.

The Sinopah, built in 1926, cruises Two Medicine Lake.

BOAT TOURS

For a different park perspective, step aboard a scenic boat tour by Glacier Park Boat Company. A guided tour of St. Mary Lake, Lake McDonald—the park’s largest lake—Many Glacier or Two Medicine Lake offers panoramic views of the surrounding peaks, allowing you to take in 360 degrees of Glacier National Park grandeur. One of the most tranquil ways to explore the park, you’ll also have the option to get off the boat for a short guided walk. Each tour is unique, informative, and, most importantly, the view from the water is always extraordinary. Book a 2019 tour between May 18 and September 22, depending on location.

Saddle up in Glacier Country. Photo: Swan Mountain Outfitters

GUIDED HORSEBACK TRAIL RIDES

Get off the beaten path and take in Glacier National Park from the saddle with a guided horseback trail ride from Swan Mountain Outfitters. Experience unspoiled beauty and aquamarine glacial waters, along with wildlife and wildflowers around every bend. Trail rides vary from one hour long to one and a half days, and accommodate all levels of riders, beginner to expert. Take off from one of three locations—Apgar, Lake McDonald or Many Glacier. No two trails are alike; choose what views you’d like along the trail, from meadows to forests and lookouts to lakes. Tours are offered mid-May through the end of September/early October, weather dependent.

Enjoy an open ride through the fresh mountain air.

MOPED RIDES

Not wanting to stray far from the road? We’ve got you covered. Revel in the freedom of a self-guided road tour on a moped from Glacier Moped Rentals. Why? Because mopeds are exhilarating! You’ll also enjoy open views, plus the sounds and scents of the fresh mountain air. You don’t need a motorcycle license to ride; a helmet, map and safety briefing are all provided. Rent for as little as an hour, or choose a multiday trip. Mopeds make scenic viewpoints and pull-outs a breeze. Don’t miss the chance to ride the more undiscovered areas of the park on roads less traveled, taking in unrivaled, breathtaking views.

 

For more adventure inspiration, itineraries, facts, and safety information, visit glaciermt.com/glacier-park.

Montana’s Ronan Area: Exploring Glacier Country’s Travel Corridors

Less than 20 minutes south of Flathead Lake—the largest freshwater lake west of the Mississippi—Ronan is quietly situated against the backdrop of the majestic Mission Mountains. This picturesque community off U.S. Highway 93 is more than a small-town agriculture community. The views alone are worth the visit to the Ronan area, but there’s more to this Mission Valley gem. Year-round recreation abounds here, like fishing, hiking in the Mission Mountain Wilderness Area (by permit), birding, camping and golf.

Jaw-dropping views of the snowcapped Mission Mountains will delight visitors to the Ronan area.

Ronan offers a warm Montana welcome with the impossible-to-miss iconic Main Street Arch. If you’re anything like us, one of the first things you think in a new place is “where can I get a coffee around here?” Ronan’s got you covered. Grab a fresh doughnut and a mighty fine latte from Dobson Creek Coffee Company. Fuel up on food for your adventure with a scratch-made breakfast at Stella’s Bakery & Deli or lunch from Little Montana. Once you’ve got your fix, and you’ve also explored downtown Ronan’s shops—including Muley Bluz-Cowboys Toys—there’s much more to see.

Mmmm…nothing beats coffee and a donut at Dobson Creek Coffee Company.

The Ninepipe National Wildlife Refuge isn’t just for the bird enthusiast. This pristine wetland complex boasts more than 800 glacial potholes, a large reservoir and excellent wildlife watching opportunities. In addition to 200+ species of birds, you’ll find nationally acclaimed winter raptor viewing and numerous mammals and reptiles. Explore the interpretative site for interesting information about the refuge.

Face to face with a grizzly at the Ninepipes Museum of Early Montana.

Directly across the highway from the refuge, explore the Ninepipes Museum of Early Montana. The museum honors the history and culture of the Flathead Indian Reservation and early Montana with four rooms of artifacts, historical photographs, a selection of stunning beadwork, guns, bows and arrows and a diorama room filled with mounted wildlife and an American Indian camp circa 1880. For an exceptional view of the Mission Mountains, don’t miss the short nature trail.

North of Ronan (outside Polson), the Pablo National Wildlife Refuge also provides a unique glimpse at pothole wetlands and offers hiking, biking, fishing, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing in one of Western Montana’s most serene landscapes.

The People’s Center in Pablo showcases the history, culture and craftsmanship of local tribes.

At The People’s Center, explore a museum honoring the rich cultural heritage of the Salish, Pend d’Oreille and Kootenai tribes through rotating exhibits, educational displays and programs. The People’s Center gift shop has an extensive collection of local American Indian art and handcrafted items for sale, including paintings, beadwork, jewelry and tribal moccasins.

Pick out some cute Made in Montana and Montana-themed souvenirs at Great Gray Gifts.

 

Authentically western and cozy accommodations can be found at Ninepipes Lodge—featuring an in-house restaurant and one of Montana’s best gift shops, Great Gray Gifts. You’ll find plenty of Made in Montana items to take home, like unique jewelry, leather goods and bath and body items. You can also set up camp at Diamond S RV Park and Campground, or, for a relaxing home away from home, rent the Mission Valley Escape.

If you’re visiting in the summer, plan your trip to the Ronan area around one of the community’s annual events, like the three-day Chainsaw Carving Rendezvous taking place in June at the Ronan Fairgrounds.

For more information about the Ronan area, stop by the Mission Mountain County Visitor Center, serving summer visitors to the Mission Valley. You’ll also experience a warm dose of western hospitality while you’re there.

Top 7 Easy Spring Hikes in Glacier Country

Spring has sprung and we couldn’t be more excited. The snow is melting, wildflowers are blooming and wildlife is emerging. While the snow in the mountains will take longer to melt, at lower elevations the snow has quickly disappeared. Which means our closer-to-town trails are cleared off and ready to hike. One of the easiest ways to explore Western Montana’s charming small towns is by foot. Stretch your legs and enjoy these leisurely hikes.

Spring colors are surreal. Photo: Missoula Parks and Recreation

FORTLOOP TRAIL

Directions: In Missoula—the cultural hub of Glacier Country—head to the newest city park: Fort Missoula Regional Park. Home to nine multisport fields, tennis courts, a dog park and more, Fortloop Trail loops the entire park—an approximately 2.5-mile hike. In total, there are 7 miles of trails to explore, some of which connect directly to the Historical Museum at Fort Missoula, which houses 20 historical structures and buildings on the grounds.

Round Trip Distance: Fortloop Trail, 2.5 miles.

Walk along the Clark Fork River from bustling downtown Missoula into the serene Kim WIlliams Nature Area. Photo: Missoula Current

MILWAUKEE TRAIL / KIM WILLIAMS TRAIL

Directions: Located in the heart of downtown Missoula, the Milwaukee Trail follows the Clark Fork River through downtown to the University of Montana. The trail then merges into the Kim Williams Nature Trail, and eventually between the Clark Fork River and the base of Mount Sentinel. On top of the old Milwaukee Railroad tracks, this trail is wide and flat. If you stay quiet along the river you’re likely to see wildlife, like blue herons and sandhill cranes or an osprey in one of the multiple nests along the way. To walk the entire length of the trail, park at McCormick Park.

Round Trip Distance: From McCormick, 13 miles. For a shorter hike, turn around at the university, 4.4 miles.

At a distance of only 2 miles to the summit, the views are worth the hike. Photo: Explore Libby

FLAGSTAFF TRAIL

Directions: After exploring Libby, travel north on Highway 37, turn left at River Road and travel 4 miles. Turn right at Quartz Creek Road 600 and follow it for 5 miles, then turn left on West Fork Road. Continue until the road ends at a “T” junction. Turn left to follow Road 4690 7.3 miles to the trailhead. The Flagstaff Trail winds through grassy meadows, filled with wildflowers this time of year, and leads to the summit of Flagstaff Mountain. It’s 2 miles to the summit with an elevation gain of 1,642 ft. Once there, the trail continues another 3.45 miles, or you can turn around.

Round Trip Distance: Flagstaff Mountain Summit, 4 miles.

This scenic path is great for all ages. Photo: Brian Schott / Explore Whitefish

WHITEFISH RIVER PATH

Directions: Whitefish has a network of in-town trails which are maintained year-round. The Whitefish River Trail, one of the most accessible walks, begins at Riverside Park. The paved path travels through town along the Whitefish River and along part of Whitefish Lake. The path eventually connects to Reservoir Road, just 0.5 miles from the Reservoir Trailhead of The Whitefish Trail—one of 12 trailheads that encompasses 42 miles of single track trails.

Round Trip Distance: The Whitefish River path has approximately 15 miles of paved path, which then connects to The Whitefish Trail. Hike for however long you want, then turn around.

Explore as much or as little of this 22-mile trail. Photo: Rails to Trails of Northwest Montana

GREAT NORTHERN RAILS TO TRAILS

Directions: The Great Northern Historical Trail extends 22 miles between Somers—at the north end of Flathead Lake—and Kalispell, then South, ending at the tiny community of Kila (no amenities, but parking is available). Start in Somers, Kila or Kalispell. The trail follows the old Great Northern Railway route, serving up unrivaled views of the Swan, Mission, Salish and Whitefish ranges. To find the trail in Kalispell, head west until you meet the intersection of U.S. 2 and Spring Creek Road. Find parking just east of the intersection.

Round Trip Distance: 44 miles round-trip. Pick your starting point, then turn around whenever you want.

Enjoy views of the Cut Bank Coulee and rolling plains on the 2-mile Cut Bank Coulee Trail.

CUT BANK COULEE TRAIL

Directions: From Cut Bank, find parking for the Cut Bank Coulee Trail at two trailheads. The east trailhead is located at Seventh Avenue South and Dean Drive. The west trailhead is located at Mountain View Boulevard and Lookout Road. This U-shaped trail follows the Cut Bank Creek Coulee for 2 miles.

Round Trip Distance: 4 miles.

MULE PASTURE LOOP

Directions: Mule Pasture Loop is 0.5 miles north of Thompson Falls. Follow the USFS direction signs from either the east or west ramp north of Highway 200. The Mule Pasture Loop travels through a beautiful wooded setting, which feels remote yet is in town.

Round Trip Distance: 2.3 miles.

If trekking up steep hills and mountains isn’t your idea of fun, these hikes are a great option— allowing you to get outdoors but keep things casual. Enjoy these hikes year-round and find more trails at glaciermt.com/hiking.

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.

Spring Festivals and Events in Western Montana

Spring is one of the best—and most underrated—times to visit Western Montana. Shoulder season prices are in effect, wildflowers are blooming and wildlife is emerging; the splendor of spring is not to be missed. As the temperatures warm, our vibrant small towns are ready to celebrate spring and the special events and festivals it brings. Whether you’re interested in sporting competitions or food festivals, we have something for everyone. Plan these events into your schedule. You’ll be glad you did.

Glide across the pond on skis or a snowboard at the Whitefish Pond Skim. Photo: Whitefish Mountain Resort

WHITEFISH POND SKIM:

Whitefish Mountain Resort ends each ski season with a splash at the Whitefish Pond Skim. In early April, watch skiers and snowboarders attempt to skim across a man-made pond, avoiding zebra floaties and other obstacles. It’s outrageously entertaining. Did we mention costumes are required?

Dancers compete at the Kyiyo Pow Wow. Photo: Kyiyo Pow Wow

KYIYO POW WOW:

Glacier Country is home to two Indian reservations—the Flathead and the Blackfeet. The tribal nations here often share their culture and traditions through pow wows and storytelling. This spring marks the 51st Annual Kyiyo Pow Wow Celebration in Missoula, mid-April at the University of Montana. Filled with dance competitions, singing and traditional drumming, this gathering is an unforgettable experience for people of all ages.

Get close to the action at the Bigfork Whitewater Festival. Photo: Mike Roessmann Photography

BIGFORK WHITEWATER FESTIVAL:

The Bigfork Whitewater Festival—annually at the end of May—is a much-anticipated event not just for whitewater enthusiasts. This extreme whitewater kayaking competition draws competitors from around the world and spectators have multiple unique vantage points to view kayakers maneuvering through whitewater. Accompanied by a community celebration, this is a fun—and usually pretty lively—event.

Wood chopping, pole climbing, ax throwing and cross-cut sawing are some of the competitions you’ll see at Forestry Day. Photo: Historical Museum at Fort Missoula

FORESTRY DAY:

You’d be hard pressed to find a more authentic timber sports competition than Forestry Day at the Historical Museum at Fort Missoula. This competition pays tribute to the bravery of loggers and honors Montana’s history. Excitement is palpable during the log rolling, pole climbing and ax throwing competitions. This event includes antique logging equipment exhibits and demonstrations.

Sampling food has never been so easy. Photo: Whitefish Feast

FOOD CELEBRATION:

Glacier Country is home to many world-class chefs and culinary artists; their dishes are inspired by the sheer beauty of our landscapes and pay homage to Montana’s wild places. Feast on flavor at one of the many food festivals that dot the region with deliciousness. Food celebrations let you sample a range of cuisines—from fine dining to comfort food and everything in between.

Taste of Bigfork: end of April

Festival of Flavors: Kalispell, beginning of May

Feast Whitefish: mid-May

Taste of Kalispell: mid-June

Bacon and brew beckon you to Missoula. Photo: Bacon and Brew Fest

BREWFEST:

Glacier Country is becoming known for craft beer. We’re home to more than 30 breweries, after all, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that one of the things we do best is put on an epic brewfest. One of our larger events, Garden City Brewfest in Missoula in early May, boasts more than 70 local craft beers, wines and ciders. Savor the sip, then satisfy any food cravings at on-site food trucks. At the end of April, Missoula’s Bacon and Brewfest pairs two of our favorite things—beer and bacon! Whitefish hosts the Dummy Derby & Winter Brewfest in late March.

Biking is one of the best ways to explore Glacier Country. Photo: Bike Walk Bitterroot

FORK TO FARM:

In early June, the Fork to Farm Bike Tour is a cycling adventure to culinary bliss. This 40-mile bike ride through the beautiful Bitterroot Valley stops at four farms for agricultural tours. Fuel up at each stop on delicious, locally sourced tapas cuisine. At the end of the ride you’ll be greeted with live music, a full dinner, cider and beer.

A treasure trove awaits you at the Creston Auction. Photo: Creston Fire Department

CRESTON AUCTION & COUNTY FAIR:

For a small-town auction experience—one known for bringing in several thousand people—attend the 53rd Annual Creston Auction & Country Fair in early April. Auction items range from Montana made art, goods and wares, to farm and ranch equipment. Montana treasures come in all makes and styles, new and old.

For other celebrated events in Glacier Country, visit our events page.

Glacier Country: Road and Trail Races That Can’t Be Beat

The gorgeous Montana landscape inspires runners to get out in the fresh mountain air, and springtime is a major motivator for lacing up and hitting the roads and trails. Many of our charming small towns play host to races that not only bring the community together, but also provide an authentic Montana experience to out-of-town runners.

Like these Missoula Marathoners, you’ll be happy you signed up for one of our road races. Photo: FinisherPix

BUTTERCUP RUN: APRIL 13, 2019

The town of Arlee on the Flathead Indian Reservation puts on one of the first of Western Montana’s springtime races—the Buttercup Run. This is a chance to see the incredible small-town spirit of Glacier Country—the whole community comes out for the wide range of events: a 1 mile, 5K, 10K and half marathon. No matter which run you choose, views of the beautiful Jocko Valley and the Mission Mountains stretch the distance. Serious swag: A long-sleeved T-shirt with wildlife art by a local artist.

BITTERROOT RUNOFF TRAIL RUNS: APRIL 14, 2019

Kick off trail running season in Montana by entering the first race in the 2019 Runner’s Edge Trail Race Series. Both the 5.2 and 9.7 mile runs follow challenging single track trails on Lolo’s forested hillsides in the beautiful Bitterroot Valley. Finishers can replenish their energy with a generous post-race brunch—and beer from Big Sky Brewing Co. Serious swag: A Bitterroot Runoff logo buff and a custom finisher award.

SWEATHOUSE HALF MARATHON: MAY 11, 2019

Run Wild Missoula, the running club that heads up the famed Missoula Marathon, heads south to Victor to put on the Sweathouse Half Marathon. This race has been a late September staple, but moved to May this year; be one of the first to run this course in the springtime! Named for nearby Sweathouse Falls, this race presents a wonderful opportunity to take in 13.1 miles of scenic backroads in the gorgeous Bitterroot Valley. Serious swag: A short-sleeved technical T-shirt and a finisher medal.

Dramatic peaks provide the backdrop for the Whitefish Marathon. Photo: Mountain Life Photography

WHITEFISH MARATHON: MAY 11, 2019

The 2019 edition of the Whitefish Marathon features an all-new blacktop course that skirts the edges of Glacier National Park. Incredible landscapes unfold as you race toward the finish line of the marathon, half marathon or 5K. Piggyback Barbecue serves runners a well-deserved post-race lunch. Serious swag: A finisher shirt, finisher medal and a day pass for The Wave Aqua + Fitness Center.

Run along historic railroad grades during the Trail Rail Run. Photo: Trail Rail Run

TRAIL RAIL RUN: JUNE 8, 2019

All of the Trail Rail Run courses follow old Northern Pacific and Milwaukee Railroad grades through spectacular Lolo National Forest. These wide, forgiving dirt and gravel surfaces never rise above a two percent grade, so this could be your chance to get a PR! In the longest event of the Trail Rail Run, ultra-runners can race 50.5 miles from Mullan, Idaho to St. Regis, Montana. If that’s more than your quads and calves can handle, there are plenty of other distances to choose from: a 50-mile relay, 30K, 12K and 5K. All racers are bussed from St. Regis to their assorted starting points. Serious swag: Patagonia Houdini windbreaker jackets for 50-milers; T-shirts and a used railroad spike with an engraved plate for everyone else.

SKUNK ALLEY RUN: JUNE 8, 2019

Hot Springs Homesteader’s Days celebration includes the Skunk Alley Run, a 10K and a 3K along old logging roads above town. It’s perhaps the only race that starts with a whip crack, and one of the few where runners get to see cowboys and cowgirls working to keep a herd of cattle off the trail. Afterwards, take in an authentic small-town festival and soak your weary legs at Symes Hot Springs. Serious swag: T-shirt.

Challenging hill climbs are part of the fun at the Herron Half. Photo: Burket Kniveton

HERRON HALF: JUNE 9, 2019

The expansive Foy’s to Blacktail Trail system in Kalispell’s Herron Park is the perfect setting for a half marathon, 10K, 5K and kids 1K. After some challenging climbs, the race’s 10K and half-marathon runners will be rewarded with awesome views of the Flathead Valley, while the 5K and 1K kids run provides a fun introduction to the fast-growing sport of trail running. Serious swag: The first 250 race participants receive a hat.

MOUNTAIN TO MEADOW: JUNE 15, 2019

Boasting one of Glacier Country’s highest altitude starting lines—5,223-foot Lolo Pass—Mountain to Meadow offers trail runners an irresistible challenge. Not only is the half marathon an extra half mile (13.6 miles), runners will also get in over 1,200 feet of climbing. Half marathoners and 5K racers have it much easier, with climbs of 300 and 100 feet respectively. What all three have in common is the flat stretch by historic Packer Meadow (Lewis and Clark camped here) where camas wildflowers should be in full bloom, coloring the whole meadow a stunning purple. Serious swag: Mountain to Meadow trucker hat.

The Glacier Half Marathon + a stay in Glacier National Park = the perfect “runcation.” Photo: Lucid Images

GLACIER HALF MARATHON: JUNE 22, 2019

The payoff of this challenging run is the stunning Glacier National Park landscape, at sunrise no less. This course—on the Blackfeet Reservation in East Glacier Park—is unbelievably gorgeous. Climb Looking Glass Hill and take in views of Two Medicine Lake, ending at the iconic Glacier Park Lodge. Then, explore the park! Serious swag: Finisher medals and shirts for all participants.

SEELEY 50, 25 + 10K: JUNE 22, 2019

Test your mettle in a trail race amidst one of Glacier Country’s most beautiful places—Seeley Lake. The courses lead runners through the Rice Ridge burn area, which at this time of year is an eye-catching neon green and black. The Filling Station Bar and Grill hosts the after-party and primitive camping is free for runners. Serious swag: Finisher medals for 50 + 25K runners, and a shirt for all participants.

Almost there! Runners make the final push toward Missoula Marathon’s finish line. Photo: Gameface Media

MISSOULA MARATHON: JUNE 30, 2019

Let’s see. The Missoula Marathon was a named “Top 10 Bucket List Marathon” by Runner’s World in 2018, “#1 Marathon in the U.S.” by BibRave in 2017, the “Top Marathon for Back-of-the-Packers” by Runner’s World in 2017 and “Best Marathon in the U.S.” by Runner’s World in 2010. Need any more incentives to sign up? You’ve got it: There’s also a half marathon, a 5K, a kids marathon, an expo, a free beer run and a finish line flanked by cheering spectators in beautiful downtown Missoula on the banks of the Clark Fork River. Serious swag: Short-sleeved technical T-shirt, medal, on-course, finish line and post-race victory stand photos for all racers; half marathon and marathon finishers also receive a post-race beer from Big Sky Brewing and a post-race meal from the Good Food Store.

 

 

 

Montana Mixology: 6 Glacier Country Distilleries to Visit

Glacier Country is flowing with distilleries—11 at the moment—and the grain-to-glass game here is strong. Our glacial waters and Rocky Mountain rivers beckon connoisseurs of fine spirits and exquisite flavors. The next time you’re in Western Montana enjoying our winter wonderland or the splendor of spring, hit up one of our favorite spots to savor a sip.

Not to brag, but our spirits are pretty spectacular. Photo: Montgomery Distillery

MONTGOMERY DISTILLERY

In the heart of downtown Missoula, Montgomery Distillery is the perfect place to wet your whistle. Inspired by traditional distilling methods, founders Ryan and Jenny traveled to Scotland to learn centuries-old techniques. Their cocktails dance the line between traditional and modern—the Bye Felicia is made with aquavit, a traditional Scandinavian spirit, mixed with pickled beets, lemon bitters, thyme and soda. The wheat and rye used in their distillery process come from their farm, which has been in the family for five generations.

Montana Mixology – Go Gingerly: This perfect fusion of gin, ginger, basil and grapefruit is so good it was named among Redbook’s 51 of the Best Cocktail Recipes From Across America.

Step aside coffee! Photo: Glacier Distilling Company

GLACIER DISTILLING COMPANY

More of a whiskey person? Don’t worry, we love whiskey and so does Glacier Distilling Company founder Nic Lee. A taste for whiskey is what inspired Lee to open a distillery in Coram, nestled in the northwest corner of Montana. A recent addition to the distillery, Josephine’s Bar & Kitchen is a restored homestead cabin next door. The kitchen, which is open seasonally, was named for bootlegger Josephine Doody who ran a bootleg operation in Glacier National Park.

Montana Mixology – North Fork Hot Toddy: A favorite on cold or wet days, this mouthwatering concoction features North Fork Whiskey—a gold medal winner at the 2017 San Francisco World Spirits Competition—mixed with hot water, freshly squeezed lemon juice and honey simple syrup.

A traditional French-drip cocktail is made by slowly pouring club soda over a sugar cube until it dissolves. Photo: Vilya Spirits

VILYA SPIRITS

If you’ve acquired a taste for absinthe, head to Vilya Spirits in Kalispell. An obsession with gardening combined with an appetite for spirits kicked off the start of the company in 2009. Many of the herbs in their spirits are grown in the owners’ garden, including Artemisia absinthium for absinthe.

Montana Mixology – French-drip Absinthe: Experience traditionally crafted deliciousness that will delight your palate—Absinthe Verte, gold medal winner at the 2012 Denver World Spirits Competition, served over ice and topped with a sugar cube and club soda (or water).

It’s no secret we love food, but we’re also partial to Western Montana’s cocktails. Photo: Whitefish Handcrafted Spirits

WHITEFISH HANDCRAFTED SPIRITS

While in Kalispell, don’t forget to stop at Whitefish Handcrafted Spirits. The tasting room is a one-stop shop for great cocktails and mouthwatering food. To complement their spirits, they sell premium cigars from their on-site humidor. Keep an eye out for their upcoming cabanas that will let you sip outside in cozy safari-style tents, regardless of the weather.

Montana Mixology – Margarita: With weekly featured drinks it’s hard to choose a favorite, but if you’re searching for a classic, we recommend a salted lime margarita on the rocks.

Cheers to Western Montana, where adventure abounds. Photo: Spotted Bear Spirits

SPOTTED BEAR SPIRITS

If it isn’t already, Spotted Bear Spirits needs to be on your list of places to stop in Whitefish. Spirits here are inspired by the unrivaled beauty of Western Montana’s landscapes. Their tasting room is the perfect spot for a post-adventure cocktail, with one of the friendliest atmospheres in the region.

Montana Mixology – Snowghost: Made with Spotted Bear Vodka, Spotted Bear Coffee Liqueur, half-and-half, cold brew coffee and soda, this merger of sumptuous flavors is a must. 

A Moscow mule is the perfect ending to any day. Photo: Whistling Andy Inc.

WHISTLING ANDY INC.

Nestled in the quiet storybook village of Bigfork, Whistling Andy Inc. has been livening up the town since 2010. Try the Pink Peppercorn and Pear Gin, a labor of love that took two years to perfect, and won the 2017 Sip Northwest Best of the Northwest. Schedule a tour online with one of the distillers.

Montana Mixology – Blueberry Mule: If you love Moscow mules half as much as we do, you need to try Whistling Andy’s brilliant variation—Pink Peppercorn and Pear Gin mixed with blueberry syrup, ginger beer, basil and fresh lime.

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

Budget Friendly Girls Getaways in Glacier Country

With countless ways to recreate, from golf to yoga and biking to fly-fishing, Western Montana sets the scene for an epic girls getaway—without breaking the bank. Our awe-inspiring views create the perfect backdrop to relax, reconnect and rejuvenate with friends. Set aside time to explore one of our vibrant (and quite charming) downtowns where you will be greeted with warm western hospitality. Here’s your guide to an authentic small-town adventure and instagram-worthy retreats in Glacier Country.

Create unforgettable memories together at Dancing Spirit Ranch. Photo: Dancing Spirit Ranch

ADVENTUROUS GETAWAYS

Just outside Glacier National Park, Dancing Spirit Ranch provides year-round yoga retreats. Reach peaceful serenity by practicing yoga outside in the unmatched scenery of the Flathead Valley. The Ladies Summer Camp, May 30 – June 2, 2019, combines invigorating and restorative yoga with meditation, leaving you in a blissful state. The camp is rounded out with daily activities like stand-up paddleboarding and hikes in Glacier National Park, plus nightly campfires.

Explore Glacier Country on two wheels.

You would be hard-pressed to find a more authentic Glacier Country adventure than Whitefish Bike Retreat. This unique destination located outside of Whitefish calls to you and your bike-loving friends. The resort has a single-lap trail around the property and a skills area with jumps and obstacles for all levels of rider, and also offers accommodations so you can sleep-wake-ride. The property leads to The Whitefish Trail network, which encompasses 42+ miles of trails with loops, scenic overlooks, logging roads and natural-surface trails to ride. In the winter, try fat biking—an increasingly popular and wildly fun activity. The oversized tires on fat bikes make it easy to move across the snow. Rentals are available on-site at Whitefish Bike Retreat.

Soak in natural mineral waters at Quinn’s Hot Springs Resort.

One of our favorite ways to unwind is to soak in the warm mineral waters at Quinn’s Hot Springs Resort located outside of Paradise. If you are searching for a low-key girls weekend, look no further. Mineral pools have long been thought to offer health benefits, and the pools at Quinn’s are 100 percent natural. Temperatures range from a steamy 106 degrees to a cool and mellow 89 degrees. Overlooking the Clark Fork River, it’s the perfect place to relax and stay awhile, with two lodges, 25 beautiful log cabins, a restaurant and a tavern all on location. Plan to stay during their High Country Cowboys Dinner Show March 18, 2019 or May 6, 2019, to enjoy live western music and fine dining after a rejuvenating soak.

Head to Double Arrow Resort for a round (or many) of golf, and you won’t be disappointed.

In Western Montana springtime means swing time. Challenge your friends on the golf course at Double Arrow Resort, near Seeley Lake. It’s a true golfer’s paradise with breathtaking views of the Swan and Mission mountain ranges, and you’re bound to catch a glimpse of some wildlife on the sidelines. The 6,500-yard course is woven through the landscape truly immersing you in its beauty. Each hole of this scenic course is staged with three sets of tees; choose one based on your skill level. Top off the day with a glass of award-winning wine and classic country cuisine at Seasons Restaurant in the historic main lodge, then get cozy in one of the rustic or new spacious cabins and settle in. Don’t miss the Spring Stay & Play Golf Package available through June 8, 2019.

Try all the different brews by ordering a flight.

EXPLORING WESTERN MONTANA’S TOWNS

Missoula—the cultural hub of Glacier Country—is one town that bustles year-round. It boasts a fast-growing live music scene, museums, art galleries, plus food options from fine dining to cafés and everything in between. With 11 breweries, three distilleries, two wineries and a cidery, it’s not a stretch to say your squad could spend the whole weekend enjoying the eateries and spirits. Stay at the Gibson Mansion Bed and Breakfast, where Victorian elegance meets modern convenience. For a more central stay, the Holiday Inn Missoula Downtown, in the heart of Missoula, is a short walk from many of the best shops and galleries.

Cast a line in Western Montana.

Anchoring the Bitterroot Valley is Hamilton, the valley’s largest community. This explore-worthy town offers something for everyone in your group, with theater, live music, local breweries and eclectic downtown shops. For a look at Hamilton’s history, tour the historic Daly Mansion, the 24,000 square foot home of copper baron Marcus Daly. The Bitterroot River, a short drive away, is an angler’s paradise known for phenomenal fishing. The Cabins at Deer Crossing offer a rustic retreat; choose between the Homestead Cabin and the Montana Cabin, or stay at the Big Sky Suite in the main lodge. Steps away from downtown, The Historic Wesley Building can be rented on VRBO. With a wraparound porch and conservatory, this house lays on the charm.

GETTING HERE

With two major international airports—Missoula (MSO) and Glacier Park (FCA)—serviced by Allegiant Air, Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Airlines, Frontier Airlines and United Airlines, there are plenty of routes to provide smooth travel plans for visiting Western Montana.

Direct flights regularly arrive from Dallas-Fort Worth, Denver, Las Vegas, Minneapolis-Saint Paul, Phoenix-Mesa, Portland, Salt Lake City and Seattle-Tacoma. Seasonal flights arrive from Atlanta, Chicago O’Hare, Los Angeles, Oakland and San Francisco. In addition to air travel, you can get here by train on Amtrak’s Empire Builder or drive in on our very scenic highway system.