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How to Spend 6 Days in Western Montana

Start your Western Montana adventure with Glacier Country.

It can be a little overwhelming—albeit exciting—to wrap your head around how you might spend your time exploring Western Montana’s Glacier Country. With our glacial-carved terrain, 1-million-acre national park, 75+ charming small towns and limitless adventure, you’ve got a lot of choices. We’ve put together a six-day itinerary that might help you along the way.

Day 1: The Bitterroot Valley
A short 15-minute drive south of Missoula on Highway 93 is Lolo, home to Travelers’ Rest State Park—a centuries-old gathering place and campsite where Lewis and Clark rested and prepared for their journey—and Holt Heritage Museum (tours by appointment only), including memorabilia and an expansive collection of American Indian artwork as well as western wear, including hats and boots worn by some pretty famous cowboys and cowgirls.

Continue south on Highway 93 to the town of Florence and travel east on the Eastside Highway to the Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge. A naturalist’s paradise, look for tundra swans, woodpeckers, bald eagles and white-tailed deer from the comfort of your vehicle or walk the 2.5-miles of nature trails near the Bitterroot River. Continue south on the Eastside Highway to the community of Stevensville, with a quick detour to Fort Owen State Park. The first permanent pioneer settlement in Montana, Stevensville is home to the historic St. Mary’s Mission.

After lunch at a local eatery, stroll through the downtown shops with a stop at Valley Drug and Variety for something sweet at the old-fashioned soda fountain.

Head farther south to visit the Daly Mansion just outside of Hamilton, the summer home of Copper Baron and millionaire Marcus Daly.

Tour a marvel of a mansion formerly owned by Copper Baron, Marcus Daly.

Continue a few more minutes south and you’ll soon be in Hamilton—the largest town in the valley. Experience the vibrant arts scene with many galleries and shops full of work from local artisans.

You’ll also find sapphire mining for that perfect gem at Sapphire Studios in Hamilton, casting a line on the Bitterroot River or continuing south for 15 minutes to Darby and visiting Jimmy “the hat man” Harrison at Double H Custom Hat Co. for a custom handmade felted fur hat.

For dinner, stop at one of the Bitterroot Valley’s four craft breweries for a taste and a tour. Enjoy a wood-fired pizza or burger and a microbrew before returning to Missoula on Highway 93.

Taste a refreshing and crisp local beer at Lolo Peak Brewing Company.

IF YOU GO:
Bitterroot Valley Chamber of Commerce – 406.363.2400 – bitterrootchamber.com
Daly Mansion – 406.363.6004 – dalymansion.org
Fort Owen State Park – 406.273.4253 – stateparks.mt.gov/fort-owen
Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge – 406.777.5552 – fws.gov/refuge/lee_metcalf
St. Mary’s Mission – 406.777.5734 – saintmarysmission.org
Travelers’ Rest State Park – 406.273.4253 – travelersrest.org
Valley Drug and Variety – 406.777.5591 – mainstreetstevensville.com

EATS:
Bitter Root Brewing (Hamilton) – 406.363.7468 – bitterrootbrewing.com
Bouilla (Hamilton) – 406.361.0223
Lolo Peak Brewing Company (Lolo) – 406.493.6231 – lolopeakbrewery.com
Romeo’s Italian Kitchen (Stevensville) – 406.777.4499 – romeositaliankitchen.com

STAY:
Alta Ranch (Darby) – 406.349.2142 – alta-ranch.com
Bear Creek Lodge (Victor) – 406.642.3306 – bear-creek-lodge.com
Bitterroot Cabins (Hamilton) – 406.363.2258 – bitterrootcabins.com
Bitterroot River Ranch (Darby) – 409.531.4939 – bitterrootriverranch.com
Rye Creek Lodge (Darby) – 406.821.3366 – ryecreeklodge.com
Time After Time Bed and Breakfast (Victor) – 406.642.3258 – timeaftertimebb.com
Triple Creek Ranch (Darby) – 406.821.4600 – triplecreekranch.com

Day 2: Missoula – The Garden City
Missoula is Montana’s cultural hub and sits at the confluence of three rivers. The city boasts nine historic districts, funky boutiques, live theater and music, a symphony and delectable dining. It’s also home to the state’s oldest university.

Begin your day in Missoula with one of many self-guided tours and maps offered by the Missoula Downtown Association. Caras Park, located in the heart of downtown Missoula, is a great place to start. Be sure to stroll over to the Brennan’s Wave overlook, where you are likely to see a kayaker (or several) playing on this man-made whitewater wave on the Clark Fork River.

Wander art galleries, wineries and boutiques, or explore a museum or historical tour.

Nearby you’ll find various locations that host the Missoula Farmers Market, Clark Fork River Market and The Peoples Market (open Saturdays, May – October), as well as some of Missoula’s most popular festivals.

Have lunch or dinner at one of Missoula’s downtown eateries featuring locally sourced products like Dixon melons, wild huckleberries and grass-fed beef.

You’re in elk country, so a visit to the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation Visitor Center is in order. More than a museum, this visitor center features a number of interactive exhibits where you can learn more about elk, elk country and the role the organization plays in conservation throughout North America.

No visit to Missoula is complete without a visit to the Smokejumper Visitor Center. As the nation’s largest training base for smokejumpers, the visitor center showcases displays, dioramas and videos related to the lore of America’s legendary parachute wildfire fighters.

If local history is what you are looking for, visit The Historical Museum at Fort Missoula. Built in 1877, the fort sits on 32 acres and features 13 historical structures. It provides a rich history lesson about the search for gold in the area and the impact the railroad had on western expansion. The Rocky Mountain Museum of Military History, also located at Fort Missoula, tells the story of the United States Army, from frontier times to present day.

For an evening out, check out a concert at The University of Montana, Big Sky Brewing Company Amphitheater or KettleHouse Amphitheater, located on the banks of the Blackfoot River. Several venues downtown, including the Wilma Theatre, often host live music performances. You can also catch a Missoula Osprey baseball game, Missoula Maulers hockey game or the Hellgate Rollergirls for some roller derby.

Sit back and listen or stand up and dance to the variety of live performances playing throughout Missoula. The KettleHouse Amphitheatre is a cannot miss. Photo: Logjam Presents

IF YOU GO:
Historical Museum at Fort Missoula – 406.728.3476 – fortmissoulamuseum.org
Missoula Downtown Association – 406.543.4238 – missouladowntown.com
Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation Visitor Center – 406.523.3495 – rmef.org
Rocky Mountain Museum of Military History – 406.549.5346 – fortmissoula.org
Smokejumper Visitor Center Association – 406.329.4934 – fs.fed.us
The University of Montana – 406.243.4051 – umt.edu/griztix

EATS:
Biga Pizza – 406.728.2579 – bigapizza.com
Big Dipper Ice Cream – 406.543.5722 – bigdippericecream.com
Scotty’s Table – 406.549.2790 – scottystable.net
Tamarack Brewing Company – 406.830.3113 – tamarackbrewing.com
Top Hat Restaurant & Bar– 406.728.9865 – logjampresents.com/top-hat-restaurant-bar

STAY:
Best Western Grant Creek Inn – 406.543.0700 – bestwestern.com
DoubleTree by Hilton Missoula Edgewater – 406.728.3100 – doubletree3.hilton.com
Gibson Mansion Bed and Breakfast – 406.251.1345 – gibsonmansion.com

Day 3: Flathead Lake
Head north on Highway 93 to your first stop at the St. Ignatius Mission in St. Ignatius. (one hour, 30 minutes from Hamilton). Founded in 1854 by Jesuit missionaries, the mission, and especially Brother Carignano’s remarkable frescoes, are a must-see for anyone who appreciates historical landmarks (30-minute self-guided tour).

Watch nature roam in Glacier Country’s National Bison Range, home to bison, elk, deer and more. Photo: Andy Austin

Then head toward Dixon on Highway 200 and north to Moiese to visit the National Bison Range. Home to hundreds of bison, as well as elk, white-tailed and mule deer, pronghorn antelope, bighorn sheep and black bear. The visitor center provides interpretive displays and orientation videos, as well as a bookstore. A 6-mile loop is accessible to motorcoaches (one-hour self-guided tour).

Wake up to views of majestic mountains and pristine waters at Ninepipes Lodge.

Check out The Ninepipes Museum, located six miles south of Ronan and adjacent to the scenic Ninepipe National Wildlife Refuge. Enjoy the 2,000+ acre scenic refuge for native birds, and the museum’s collection of early photos, artifacts and antiques representing more than a century of life in the Flathead Valley.

The People’s Center, 1 mile north of Pablo (20 miles/25 minutes from St. Ignatius) on Highway 93, is the place to experience the rich cultural heritage of the Salish, Pend d’Oreille and Kootenai Tribes. The center features an exhibit gallery, educational programs and Native Ed-Venture interpretive tours focusing on American Indian heritage, natural history and cultural interpretation (one-hour tour).

The Best Western Kwataqnuk Resort in Polson (8 miles/11 minutes from The People’s Center) is your next stop, located on the southwest shore of Flathead Lake. This is the perfect place to stop for a meal and to overnight with magnificent lake views. Enjoy exploring downtown Polson or take a boat tour from Kwataqnuk Resort’s marina. Choose between a narrated bay cruise (1.5 hours) or cruise to the shores of Wild Horse Island, the largest island on Flathead Lake (three hours). Take advantage of Kwataqnuk’s group packages that include lunch and a boat cruise.

IF YOU GO:
National Bison Range – 406.644.2211 – fws.gov
Ninepipes Museum of Early Montana– 406.644.3435 – ninepipesmuseum.org
The People’s Center – 406.675.0160 – peoplescenter.org
Polson Chamber of Commerce– 406.883.5964 – polsonchamber.com
St. Ignatius Mission – 406.745.2768 – stignatiusmission.org

EATS:
Glacier Brewing Company – 406.883.2595 – glacierbrewing.com
Finley Point Grill – 406.887.2020 – finleypointgrill.com

STAY:
Kwataqnuk Resort and Casino – 800.882.6363 – kwataqnuk.com
Ninepipes Lodge – 406.644.2588 – ninepipeslodge.com
Red Lion Inn & Suites – 406.872.2200 – redlion.com/polson

Day 4: The Going-to-the-Sun Road

Hop in your car and prepare for epic views of Glacier National Park…and don’t worry, there are plenty of places to pull over and capture the moment.


Head north and spend your day in Glacier National Park driving the stunning Going-to-the-Sun Road. You can drive the road from west to east and back or you can turn it into a loop tour by driving the road from West Glacier to St. Mary and heading back to West Glacier via East Glacier Park and U.S. Highway 2. Be sure to take advantage of the various pull-outs and scenic viewpoints along the way. Recommended stops include Trail of the Cedars, Logan Pass Visitor Center, Jackson Glacier Overlook, Sunrift Gorge and Sun Point. 

IF YOU GO:
Logan Pass Visitor Center – 406.888.7800 – nps.gov/glac
St. Mary Visitor Center – 406.888.7800 – nps.gov/glac

STAY:
Glacier Outdoor Center (West Glacier) – 406.888.5456 – glacierraftco.com
Glacier Park Lodge (East Glacier Park) – 406.892.2525 – glacierparkcollection.com
Izaak Walton Inn (Essex) – 406.888.5700 – izaakwaltoninn.com

EATS:
The Dining Car at Izaak Walton Inn (Essex) – 406.888.5700 – izaakwaltoninn.com
Eddie’s Café & Mercantile (Apgar Village) – 406.888.5361 – eddiescafegifts.com

Day 5: The North Fork
Today will take you to one of the wildest sections of the park: the North Fork, one of the most scenic and off-the-beaten-path sections of the park that’s accessible by car. Take advantage of the stunning views as you make your way up the Outside North Fork Road. Polebridge, a small off-the-grid town just outside the park’s border, anchors the area. Here you’ll find a historic mercantile, saloon, cabins for rent and a hostel. Be sure to stop at the Polebridge Mercantile for some of the best pastries in the West. After fueling up on goodies, rent a kayak or canoe (or bring your own) and head into the park to Bowman or Kintla lakes for a few hours of paddling on the clear blue waters. If you’re feeling adventurous, take the Inside North Fork Road through the park to Polebridge. Check the road status before you go and be sure you’re in a high clearance, four-wheel drive vehicle.

Take a trip back in time while enjoying some of the finest pastries in the West at the Polebridge Mercantile.

IF YOU GO:
Polebridge Mercantile – 406.888.5105 – polebridgemerc.com

STAY:
North Fork Cabins – 406.871.7717 – polebridgecabins.com
North Fork Hostel & Square Peg Ranch – 406.888.5241 – nfhostel.com

EATS:
Polebridge Mercantile and Bakery – 406.888.5105 – polebridgemerc.com
The Northern Lights Saloon and Café – 406.888.9963 – facebook.com/northern-lights-saloon-1

Day 6: West Glacier
Spend the final day of your trip participating in some of the activities and adventures around one of the park’s hubs—West Glacier. Start your morning on a trail ride with Swan Mountain Outfitters at their West Glacier corral. After taking in the view along the trail, head out on a half-day fly-fishing or whitewater rafting trip along the Middle Fork of the Flathead River. Along the way, you’ll learn about area history and local legends. Round out the night with dinner at the Belton Chalet. Learn more about Glacier National Park by participating in one of the ranger-led activities.

Saddle up, cowboys and cowgirls. Experience a classic way to see the park and cover miles of scenic terrain.

IF YOU GO:
Swan Mountain Outfitters – 406.387.4405 – swanmountainoutfitters.com
Glacier National Park Conservancy – 406.888.5756 – glacier.org

STAY:
The Belton Chalet – 406.888.5000 – beltonchalet.com
Glacier Guides Lodge – 406.387.5555 – glacierguides.com
Glacier Haven Inn – 406.888.5720 – glacierhaveninn.com

EATS:
Belton Grill Dining Room – 406.888.5000 – beltonchalet.com
Belton Tap Room – 406.888.5000 – beltonchalet.com
Health Haven Café – 406.888.5720 – glacierhaveninn.com

SUP: Top 12 Places to Stand-Up Paddleboard in Western Montana

Come see what’s SUP in Western Montana. Stand-up paddleboarding, or SUP, is an increasingly popular way to explore Montana’s sparkling alpine lakes and scenic, lazy rivers. In fact, SUP is the fastest-growing water sport in the world. Surfing meets kayaking in this epically fun way to play on the water.

Glide across Western Montana waters on a SUP board. Photo: Noah Couser 

If you’re new to the sport, your best bet is to go with a guide. Many local outfitters here in Glacier Country offer rentals, lessons and guided trips, so, you’re in luck. Here’s a list of our top 12 SUP spots as well as the folks who can help you get on the water for your Western Montana stand-up paddleboarding adventure.

ASHLEY LAKE
Fifteen miles west of Kalispell, Ashley Lake is a real charmer. Easy on the eyes, the alpine aqua waters of this special SUP spot make for an unforgettably picturesque day.
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FLATHEAD LAKE: WAYFARERS STATE PARK
Paddle the largest freshwater lake west of the Mississippi. Wayfarers State Park has some of the best Flathead Lake access, including a beach area as well as rocky cliffs along the shoreline. The water is clean and clear and is typically sheltered from wind and waves, though it can make for some fun SUP action when the swell picks up and creates near surf-like conditions, which are also great for downwind paddling. Wayfarers happens to be one of the best spots on the lake to watch the sunset, too.
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Base Camp Bigfork has got you covered on rentals, instruction and location tips. Photo: Base Camp Bigfork

The north shore of Flathead Lake offers miles of undeveloped shoreline. It’s a great place to spot waterfowl, eagles, osprey and deer, and take in amazing mountain views. If you access the lake via Bigfork Bay, you’ll be able to paddle right into the storybook town of Bigfork for some post-SUP food and drinks or delicious Sweet Peaks Ice Cream. If you’re up for a celebration, plan your trip around the Northern Rockies Paddlefest at Wayfarers State Park, held annually in May.

Anywhere you decide to put in on Flathead Lake, great views and cool waters will meet you there.

SWAN RIVER
The Swan River flows into the Bigfork Bay, which allows the more adventurous to try paddling moving water. There are several access points, which allow for more of a downriver journey while the river winds through a picture-perfect landscape. There are miles of slow-moving water perfect for beginners. There is also a nice class 2+ rapid stretch, which is popular for inner tubing, but also ideal for paddlers looking for an introduction to whitewater paddleboarding.

SWAN VALLEY LAKES: SWAN LAKE, ECHO LAKE AND HOLLAND LAKE
These three lakes offer authentic Montana SUP adventures. Paddle to the sandbar in the middle of scenic Swan Lake, experience the famously warm waters of Echo Lake, or combine your Holland Lake paddle with a 3.3-mile out-and-back hike to gorgeous Holland Falls.

The Swan Valley lakes offer amazing paddling in pristine waters. Here a paddleboarder cruises Swan Lake.

TRIP TIP: For Swan River plus Ashley, Flathead and Swan lakes SUP gear, rent a board at Base Camp Bigfork and get complimentary delivery and pickup as well as on-the-water instruction. Base Camp also rents boards to those who want to self-drive their gear to any number of lakes in Glacier National Park.

BLACKFOOT RIVER
The clear, cold, trout-filled waters of the Blackfoot—made famous by Norman Maclean’s “A River Runs Through It”—offer the scenic splendor of canyon walls often dotted with majestic bighorn sheep. Paddle the Blackfoot in July for unobstructed flows.

CLARK FORK RIVER
Experience the eclectic town of Missoula from the waters of the winding Clark Fork River. Put in at the Sha-Ron fishing access site in East Missoula and then hop off the water at the river’s edge in downtown Missoula, where you’ll find good eats, plenty to drink, and lots to see and do.

BITTERROOT RIVER
This scenic valley waterway is flanked by the beautiful rolling Sapphire Range to one side and the dramatic Bitterroot Mountains to the other. Hop on the water at Bells Crossing and paddle to the Stevensville Crossing site to hop out.

LAKE COMO
Solitude abounds at this Bitterroot Valley gem 8 miles south of Hamilton in the Bitterroot National Forest. There’s a sandy beach at the north end of the lake, perfect for paddling and swimming. Bring a picnic lunch and your hiking shoes…abundant trails surround the lake.

TRIP TIP: For Blackfoot, Clark Fork, Bitterroot and Como SUP rentals, guides, gear and tips, check out Missoula’s Trail Head, or Bob Ward’s, with locations in both Missoula and Hamilton.

UPPER WHITEFISH LAKE
This Stillwater State Forest stunner north of Whitefish, dazzles and is the perfect tucked-away spot for a quiet day on the lake. Feeling adventurous? Head south to Whitefish (1.5 hours) for post-paddle food, drinks and fun.
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TALLY LAKE
West of Whitefish, the warm waters of Tally Lake offer a peaceful paddle among the lush trees and scenic cliff walls of the Kootenai National Forest. Head to the east shore for a serene evening paddle.
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FLATHEAD RIVER: THE NORTH AND MIDDLE FORKS
The stunning emerald waters of the Flathead River offer a Glacier Country experience like no other. Paddle the Middle Fork from West Glacier to Blankenship Bridge, passing through a jaw-dropping gorge with a perfect cliff-jumping spot. The North Fork is one of only four Wild and Scenic Rivers in Montana and forms the western border of Glacier National Park. Breathtaking scenery is a given, and black bear sightings are not unheard of.

It doesn’t get much better (or prettier) than the Flathead River. Photo: Noah Couser 

TRIP TIP:
For Tally Lake and Flathead River SUP rentals, plus the goods on gear and guides, visit the friendly folks at Tamarack Ski & Lake Shop.
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LAKE KOOCANUSA
This trout-heavy reservoir between the Purcell and Salish mountains in Libby, Montana offers scenic-byway landscapes, a sandy beach, wildlife watching and the opportunity to take a pre- or post-paddle Libby Dam tour.
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TRIP TIP: For Lake Koocanusa access and gear rentals, head to the Wilderness Club, just a short walk to the Lake Koocanusa beach area.

SUP SAFETY
Before you hit the water for your Western Montana SUP adventure, contact one of the outfitters listed above for details on where to float when, based on water flows and temps, and always check the weather before you head out (especially when lake paddling away from shore). Spring runoff means fast-moving rivers. (If you’re new to SUP, stick to a late-summer guided river trip or take a calm lake tour.) Learn basic techniques and safety tips from these local outfitters, too.

Our lakes and rivers offer amazing experiences, but proper preparation and equipment are always recommended.

On the river, wear a quick-release leash around your waist. It’s IMPERATIVE that you use quick-release technology in SUP, as ankle leashes can get hung up on rocks and other debris. Wear a PFD, a helmet, a wetsuit and protective gear, especially in shallow rivers.

On the lake, bring a flotation device, try to confine your trip to an hour or less, and stay closer to the shore. SUP is a full-body workout. Plan your trip with that in mind. Learn more about safety, rules and regulations through Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks.

Lastly, have fun paddling paradise. That’s what’s SUP in Western Montana’s Glacier Country.

Glacier Beyond the Crowds: Guest Blog by Andy Austin

As a guide in Yellowstone National Park and Glacier National Park (GNP) I am no stranger to their beauty, but I am also no stranger to their crowds. With record numbers expected to hit GNP again this year, I knew it was time to explore the surrounding regions. My name is Andy Austin, and I’m a photographer based out of Montana. For the past three weeks, I have road-tripped across Montana in search of spring wildflowers and epic adventures. As my tour starts to come to a close in northwest Montana’s Glacier Country, many of my friends guessed that my trip would take me to the Flathead Valley and GNP, an area I spend a good deal of free time in. But, for this adventure, I had my eyes set on solitude and escaping the crowds.

Video by Lyman Gillen. 

As I finished up my tour in Missoula, I headed north on my usual route towards the Flathead, but this trip was different, as I diverted my path west. My first stop was the National Bison Range, a detour that logistically only cost me 20 minutes, but in reality, kept me captivated for an entire morning. As I forced myself to part ways with watching a herd of bison majestically moving against the backdrop of the Mission Mountain Range I set my sights on the first official stop of the trip, Thompson Falls.

The National Bison Range in Moiese, outside of Charlo, is totally worth the stop. Photo: Andy Austin

Thompson Falls is a quaint little town with an almost immediate beauty hidden behind the historic main road. The town’s dam releases an impressive cascade of water and the views are unbeatable. Even one of my followers remarked that they had once driven through Thompson Falls, but didn’t even think to get off the main road. After a day of exploring the area, my friends and I headed to Island Park to get the best view of the dam and watch the sunset. In the two hours we hung out on those cliffs we didn’t see a single soul, and this was a foreshadowing for the solitude we’d find on our journey.

Sunset at the Thompson Falls Dam. Photo: Andy Austin

After a night of camping on Noxon Reservoir, we woke to a crisp mountain sunrise. The stillness of the lake was only matched by the stillness in the air as, once again, we were the only ones there to watch the sunrise. We packed up camp and headed to Ross Creek Cedars Scenic Area to walk amongst the giants. These trees are up to 500 years old and photos don’t even begin to portray their size and beauty.

Ross Creek Cedar Forest offers amazing hiking opportunities; you have to see these trees to believe their size. Photo: Andy Austin

Libby was our next destination, and we arrived to check into our beautiful cabin along the Kootenai River at Dave Blackburn’s Kootenai Angler. The afternoon was spent exploring the Libby Dam before heading off to check a big item off of my bucket list, Kootenai Falls. I’ve seen photos of the falls before and expected a large crowd given how easy the hike is, but, yet again, we were some of the only people around. We took the swinging bridges across the Kootenai River and marveled at the powerful river below before finally heading over to see the actual falls. The whole experience lived up to the hype and then some.

Checked something off the bucket list: the Kootenai River Suspension Bridge. Photo: Andy Austin

The next morning, Kootenai legend Dave Blackburn himself offered to take us out for a float trip down the Kootenai River. The views were stunning and bald eagles were spotted around every bend. As much as I wanted to move into this beautiful cabin, there was still one more town to check off on my roadtrip across the region—Eureka. As we drove up from the Libby Dam we spent the next 40+ miles driving along Lake Koocanusa, and we finally got a feel for just how massive this lake really is. On my list of places to hit was the H.A. Brewing Co., but as I drove out there I realized I was heading off into the mountains. I thought, there is no way there is a brewery tucked out in the middle of nowhere. Sure enough, we arrived at a beautiful, rustic building with a pizza truck out front. Walking in I realized why this place was recommended by so many people I had come across on this trip. H.A. Brewing was an oasis in the middle of the mountains offering up tasty pizza and even tastier brews. Feeling properly fueled for another adventure, my friends and I headed back out onto Lake Koocanusa to go canoeing. Being only an hour from Whitefish I expected to see boaters in every direction, but, yet again, we were the only people out on the water. It was pure bliss.

An evening paddle on Lake Koocanusa is something I could get used to. Photo: Andy Austin

As a lover of Glacier National Park, I think I’ve found my answer when the crowds get the best of me and I need a little solitude. I’ve barely scratched the surface in these mountains, and I can’t wait to return!

Happy Adventuring,

Andy Austin

A Perfect Western Montana Getaway: Bigfork

Western Montana’s Glacier Country spans 22,000 square miles of pure perfection. Boasting natural wonders like Glacier National Park, the Bob Marshall Wilderness, the Bitterroot Valley and Flathead Lake, you’ll never tire of exploring our corner of heaven. This stunningly beautiful region is home to 75+ communities, and each of them deserves to be discovered. We recently visited one of our very favorite Western Montana towns, the storybook village of Bigfork.

One of our favorite small towns, Bigfork. Photo: Montana Office of Tourism and Business Development

Spending a summer weekend in Bigfork is the stuff that dreams are made of. Hugging the sparkling blue bay where the Swan River flows into the northeast corner of Flathead Lake, this picturesque community lays on the charm with world-class art galleries, fine dining, live theater and outdoor fun. We feel right at home whenever we find ourselves in this little Glacier Country gem, and we wanted to share some of our favorite Bigfork hot spots and activities with you.

BIGFORK VILLAGE
Don’t be surprised if you fall in love with Bigfork the moment you set foot in it. This waterfront village is lined with quaint and eclectic shops and boutiques, fun eateries, and art galleries where you’ll discover artwork made by cherished Western Montana artists. Taking in the rustic charm of this historic little downtown is a Flathead Valley must.

Bigfork Village is seriously charming. See it for yourself.

BIGFORK SUMMER PLAYHOUSE
If you’re visiting Bigfork between May and September, do yourself a favor and catch a performance at the Bigfork Summer Playhouse, which brings in popular Broadway shows with exceptionally talented artists. For more information, click here.

The performances at the Bigfork Summer Playhouse are a cannot miss. Photo: The Bigfork Summer Playhouse

POCKETSTONE CAFÉ
Start your morning off right by eating at the Pocketstone Café. All the food here is delicious, but their breakfast is absolutely delectable—think pancakes, waffles, crepes and scrambles. Located in Bigfork Village on Electric Avenue, Pocketstone offers home cooking that will leave your taste buds simply satisfied. Tip: get the cinnamon roll; you’ll thank us later.

THE RAVEN BAR & GRILL
Located in Woods Bay (just south of Bigfork), The Raven Bar & Grill offers guests Flathead Lake waterfront dining in a comfortable, friendly atmosphere. This welcoming spot serves up some tasty food and drinks. If you’re looking for a scenic and fun dining experience, The Raven is where you’ll find it.

The Raven Bar & Grill offers tasty food, refreshing cocktails, and cool lake breezes. Photo: Beth Woods

BRIDGE STREET COTTAGES
Enjoy a weekend in Bigfork with a stay at the Bridge Street Cottages. These luxury cottages along the Swan River at the edge of Bigfork are within walking distance of Bigfork’s restaurants, galleries, shops and the Bigfork Summer Playhouse. These cozy cottages are open year-round.

MARINA CAY RESORT
As one of the only lakeside resorts on Flathead Lake, Marina Cay Resort is one of Glacier Country’s finest. Enjoy a cocktail at the waterfront Tiki Bar, or during the off-season, the Fireside Restaurant & Lounge provides a fine-dining experience of locally sourced food. Marina Cay offers activities for everybody: live music events, a relaxing spa and fishing charters as well as rentals for jet skis, pontoons, boats, inner tubes and wakeboards.

OUTDOOR FUN
In addition to exploring all of the indoor fun to be had in Bigfork, outdoor recreation abounds here. Perfectly situated on the sparkling and pristine Flathead Lake, water play is a given. For starters, take a boat tour with Flathead Lake Sailing and Charters or WildHorse Island Boat Tours. Or, try your hand at “SUP” (stand-up paddleboarding), rent a boat or kayak, or cast a line on the lake’s calm cool waters. June through August, hook up with the friendly folks at Base Camp Bigfork for a guided kayak tour of the lake at sunset or wake up to a refreshing morning paddle. If you are looking for something a little different, we suggest taking a horseback ride with Swan Mountain Outfitters for a short excursion or day trip.

Relax by the lake or dive-in, Bigfork is the perfect point for all Flathead Lake activities. Photo: Donnie Sexton

INSIDER TIP
Bigfork charms all year long, but if you plan your visit around one of their celebrated annual events or weekly markets, it’s icing on the cake.

Whitewater Festival: May
Fourth of July Parade
Bigfork Rodeo: July
Festival of the Arts: August
Crown of the Continent Guitar Festival: August/September
Rumble in the Bay Car Show: September
Farmers Market: Tuesdays + Fridays, May – September

Here’s wishing you a big time in one of our favorite little villages!

Small-town Discovery in Glacier Country: Meet Columbia Falls

If you’ve been reading our blog, you know just how obsessed we are with Western Montana—the glacial-carved terrain, wildflower-filled meadows, charming small towns and endless outdoor adventure are all pretty easy to love. One of our favorite places to spend time in Glacier Country is Columbia Falls.

A gateway to Glacier National Park, Columbia Falls is just 15 minutes from the park’s west entrance. This beautiful Montana town is home to locally owned shops, restaurants, a brewery and a not-to-be-missed summer farmers market.

We recently explored this friendly little town, and it was such an enjoyable way to spend time in Western Montana’s Glacier Country. Check out our day below, and then head to Columbia Falls for your own adventure.

Old Red Bridge in Columbia Falls.

Uptown Hearth + Azul Coffee Bar
Starting our morning off right, we headed to the Uptown Hearth. Walking into this microbakery and food studio feels like a big warm hug. It’s a super cozy spot with the scent of coffee and freshly baked pastries filling the air. Azul Coffee Bar shares the space with Uptown Hearth (hence the mouthwatering aroma) and offers handcrafted specialty coffee and espresso served from a custom-built mobile coffee cart. This is honestly some of the best coffee we’ve ever tasted.

Bad Rock Books
After our caffeine fix, we stopped at the used book store next door. With a large and diverse selection of titles plus stellar prices, Bad Rock Books is a bibliophile’s paradise. Any book junkie could spend an entire afternoon browsing the shelves. But we headed to the park…

Depot Park
Just a short walk from Bad Rock at 57 Railroad Street and Nucleus Ave. we explored Depot Park’s historic locomotive, the Shay Engine. Pssst…this is a great outdoor spot for a family picnic.

Backslope Brewing
Montana has become a top destination for breweries and distilleries, and one of our favorite brew stops is Backslope Brewing. Located in the shadows of Glacier National Park, Backslope offers a comfortable atmosphere to indulge in a delicious, handcrafted beer, and we did just that. Not only is the beer at this brewery tasty, but they also offer an amazing selection of food. From burgers to parmesan fries and dessert, the array of delectable foods made it hard to choose!

If you’re planning to visit Western Montana, Columbia Falls is just the place for a true taste of the charm, hospitality and fun Glacier Country offers.

Happy adventuring!

Homegrown + Handmade: Farmers Markets in Western Montana

Homegrown, handmade and locally harvested—that’s what you’ll find in abundance across Western Montana’s Glacier Country. The farmers market scene here is brag-worthy. Locally grown produce is a given, but there’s so much more to discover, from fresh flowers and baked goods to cheeses, meats, honey, jams and jellies, coveted Montana huckleberries and Dixon Melons, plus the elusive morel mushrooms.

Experience a bright morning or early evening stroll through historic downtown streets or a community park for live music, coffee carts, food trucks, handmade arts and crafts, friendly locals and of course, a spirit you’ll only find in a charming small town in Western Montana.

Grab a bundle of fresh vegetables at one of Glacier Country’s amazing farmer’s markets. Photo: Montana Office of Tourism and Business Development

With 75+ communities brimming with local pride, it’s no surprise Glacier Country plays host to so many outdoor markets—more than 20, in fact—including the Missoula Farmers Market, voted Best in the West by Sunset magazine. Below you’ll find all of the markets in our area listed out. While you’re at it, check out the Montana Office of Agriculture’s Famers Market Directory for a complete list of markets around Glacier County and the rest of the state!

Go and enjoy all that our wonderful farmers markets have to offer. Note: markets are seasonal, and usually open May through September/October, but check specific dates before visiting.

ARLEE FARMERS MARKET
Wednesdays 4 p.m. – 7 p.m.
Hangin Art Gallery Lot
92555 U.S. Highway 93
More info

ALBERTON COMMUNITY FARMERS MARKET
Thursdays 5 p.m. – 8 p.m.
701 Railroad Ave.
(Community Center Lot)
More info

BIGFORK FARMERS MARKET COOPERATIVE
Tuesdays 3 p.m. – 6 p.m. + Fridays 10 a.m. – 1 p.m.
Masonic Temple
8098 State Highway 35
More info

BIGFORK VILLAGE MARKET
Mondays 3 p.m. – 7 p.m.
Brookside Yard
191 Mill St.
More info

COLUMBIA FALLS FARMERS MARKET
Mondays 5 p.m. – 8 p.m.
Marantette Park
133 13th St. E.
More info

COLUMBIA FALLS COMMUNITY MARKET
Thursdays 5 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.
The Coop in Columbia Falls
830 First Ave. W.
More info

CUT BANK FARMERS MARKET
Wednesdays 3 p.m. – 6 p.m.
Main Street City Park
North Side of Park (Railroad Street)
More info

DARBY FARMERS MARKET
Tuesdays 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.
Main Street Park
106 S. Main St.
More info

EUREKA FARMERS MARKET
Wednesdays 3:30 p.m. – 6:30 p.m.
Memorial Park
2 Dewey Ave.
More info

FLORENCE HAAS COUNTRY MARKET
Saturdays 9 a.m. – 1 p.m.
5189 State Highway 93 S.
More info

Fill your basket with a bouquet of flowers or fresh herbs. Photo: Donnie Sexton

HAMILTON FARMERS MARKET
Saturdays 9 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.
Bedford and Third streets (downtown)
More info

LIBBY FARMERS MARKET
Thursdays 4 p.m. – 7 p.m.
Libby Chamber Parking Lot
905 W. Ninth St.
More info

KALISPELL FARMERS MARKET
Saturdays 9 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.
Flathead Valley Community College
777 Grandview Drive
More info 

MISSOULA FARMERS MARKET
Tuesdays 5:30 p.m. – 7 p.m. + Saturdays 8 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.
Circle Square, north end of Higgins Ave.
More info

MISSOULA PEOPLES MARKET
Saturdays 9 a.m. – 1 p.m.
East Pine Street (downtown)
More info

MISSOULA CLARK FORK MARKET
Saturdays 8 a.m. – 1 p.m.
Riverside Parking Lot, under the Higgins Bridge
More info

Local bakery treats and food trucks complete the Western Montana Farmers Market experience.

MISSOULA TARGET RANGE FARMERS MARKET
Sunday’s 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.
4095 South Avenue West
More info

PLAINS-PARADISE FARMERS MARKET
Fridays 9 a.m. – 2 p.m.
Sanders County Fairgrounds
More info

POLSON FARMERS MARKET
Fridays 9 a.m. – 1 p.m.
Third Ave. W.
More info

SEELEY LAKE FARMERS MARKET
Sundays 10 a.m. – 1 p.m.
Littlebird’s Market Lawn, Larch Lane
More info

STEVENSVILLE HARVEST VALLEY FARMERS MARKET
Saturdays 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.
Main and Third W. streets, next to Valley Drug
More info

SUPERIOR FARMERS MARKET
Saturdays 9 a.m. – 12 p.m.
100 River St.

TROY FARMERS MARKET
Fridays 3:30 p.m. – 6:30 p.m.
Troy Museum Grounds
700 E. Missoula Ave.
More info

WEST GLACIER FARMERS MARKET
Fridays 3 p.m. – 6 p.m.
West Glacier Entrance
765 Belton Stage Road
More info

WHITEFISH DOWNTOWN FARMERS MARKET
Tuesdays 5 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.
At the North end of Central Ave.
More info

Farmers Markets are abundant in Western Montana, see (and taste!) for yourself. Photo: Lisa Jones/Explore Whitefish

Picture Perfect Spring Road Trip: Charlo + Ninepipe National Wildlife Refuge

There are few things better than hitting the open road with friends and discovering the beauty of a place from behind the wheel of your vehicle. One of the best places to explore by car: Western Montana’s Glacier Country. Our wide-open spaces, charming small towns, jaw-dropping landscapes and well-maintained highway system make for the perfect place to hit the open road.

The weather has been warming up, so, naturally, we found it necessary to take a road trip to the Ninepipe National Wildlife Refuge. We kicked off our travels in Missoula and took the scenic route through Moiese. That was the right choice—it offered up some beautiful scenery! Here are some of our favorite shots from one perfect afternoon.

A big blue sky and puffy white clouds offered a picture-perfect day.

Driving to the Ninepipe National Wildlife Refuge, we took a must-stop in Moiese at the National Bison Range.

We stopped in Charlo for lunch at this little gem. The food was delicious!

We made it!

We were greeted with spectacular views of the refuge and the Mission Mountains.

Excuse us while we swoon over this view.

This 4,027-acre refuge, open year-round, offers amazing opportunities for hiking, birding and wildlife viewing.

On our way home, we stopped at Great Gray Gifts. This place has some of the best Made-in-Montana gifts around.

And…the tastiest huckleberry milkshakes!

For more daily doses of Western Montana, be sure to follow us on instagram (GlacierMT) and twitter (GlacierMT).

Happy Adventuring!

 

Wildlife and Water Safety in Western Montana

Montana: wild, magical and unapologetically undiscovered. This beautiful state is home to wide-open spaces, national parks, rugged backcountry terrain, glacial rivers, wildlife refuges and wilderness areas.

From massive bison in the National Bison Range to grizzly and black bears in Glacier National Park, Montana is home to a variety of wildlife. In order to help all of us have positive encounters with Montana’s wildlife and wild landscape, we’ve rounded up a few tips and guidelines to keep in mind when exploring the great outdoors.

Wildlife is wild. While bison may seem like gentle giants and bears may look a little playful and cuddly, just remember this: it’s not the case! Do not approach wild animals, or try to pet or touch them. Keep this in mind not just in Glacier National Park, but in our refuge systems as well, and always follow the rules of the area you are visiting. For instance, when traveling along designated roads at the National Bison Range, you are not permitted to exit your vehicle. These rules are in place not just to keep visitors safe, but also for the safety of wildlife.

Follow the recommended wildlife viewing guidelines. Let’s be honest, we’ve ALL been tempted to get just a little bit closer to snag that perfect photo. And while moving in 10 feet closer may help you land that perfectly framed Instagram photo, just don’t do it. Park regulations state that all visitors should stay at least 100 yards (the length of a football field) away from bears and at least 25 yards away from other large animals, including bison, elk, bighorn sheep, deer, moose and coyotes.

A black bear in Western Montana. Photo courtesy: tonybynum.com

Don’t trap them. Videos have been published showing bears and other wildlife pinned on bridges or feeling trapped on trails. If an animal feels trapped, it will become agitated. Try not to put yourself in a situation where you are more focused on taking photos or videos than you are on safety, and recognize when a situation can be handled more cautiously.

Let bears know you’re nearby. When hiking, be sure to hike with a buddy, stay on trails and make noise. Feel free to bust out show tunes or just say “hey bear” loudly as you make your way along the trail. Trust us when we tell you that bears don’t want to see you on the trail just as much as you don’t want to see them there.

Always give bears plenty of room and never approach. Photos: GlacierNPS Flickr (Tim Rains)

Water safety should be a priority. Did you know that water is the number one cause of fatalities in Glacier National Park? Swift, cold glacial streams and rivers, moss-covered rocks and slippery logs all present dangers. Rapid, frigid streams and deep glacial lakes are absolutely stunning, but need to be recognized as a possible threat. Avoid wading in or fording swift streams. Also be aware of signs of hypothermia when cautiously wading through calm streams, hiking trails or swimming in lakes.

Be sure to be safe around beautiful icy blue glacial water.

Stay safe, and happy exploring!

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!

Tee Up in Western Montana: Top Golf Courses in Glacier Country

In Glacier Country, springtime means swing time. As the snow melts and the greens emerge, we dust off our golf clubs and get ready to play a round (the first of many). From public to semi-private courses, there’s no better place to tee up when you’re looking for a scenic swing, a championship course, and affordability. Golfing is one of those activities that really allows you to take in your surroundings, and here in Western Montana, the vistas are stunning, and you’re bound to catch a glimpse of some wildlife on the sidelines.

Head to Glacier Country for a round (or many) of golf, and you won’t be disappointed. Photo: Wilderness Club

The Flathead Valley alone boasts 10 championship golf courses, all within a 45-minute drive of each other. This golfer’s haven—and exceptionally beautiful part of Montana—has been named one of “the world’s top 50 golf course destinations” by Golf Digest.

Our award-winning courses range from leisurely to challenging, so whether you’re serious about your swing or just out to have fun, there’s a course for you in Western Montana’s Glacier Country, and stay-and-play golf packages are always available. Here are six of our favorite places to sink one.

INDIAN SPRINGS RANCH
Eureka
It’s tee time in the Tobacco Valley at the unique, master-planned recreational community of Indian Springs Ranch. This laid-back links-style public course sits at the foot of the western edge of the Rocky Mountains and offers a challenging experience for all skill levels. The course is designed to blend seamlessly with its natural surroundings, allowing players to immerse themselves in the beauty of the landscape and have a fun, relaxing game.

Indian Springs Ranch in Eureka offers world-class golfing. Photo: Indian Spring Ranch

MEADOW LAKE GOLF RESORT
Columbia Falls
Mere minutes from Glacier National Park—think epic views of stunning peaks and sparkling lakes—this full-service resort and spa boasts an 18-hole, 4.5-star-rated championship golf course. This authentic “mountain golfing” experience offers the Flathead Valley’s most challenging layout. Come test your skills and soak up some of Western Montana’s finest hospitality.

CANYON RIVER GOLF CLUB
Missoula
This Schmidt Curley-designed course was rated No. 9 in the U.S. in 2007 by Golf Digest and No. 1 in Montana in 2008 by Golfweek. Canyon River Golf Club’s course meanders through towering pines and lush, native grasslands. Seven holes incorporate the riparian marshland and pristine mountain lakes on the property. Missoula is also a very explore-worthy small town with a lot of personality to boot.

Golf courses around here are paired with mountain views and blue skies. Photo: Canyon River Golf Club

WHITEFISH LAKE GOLF CLUB
Whitefish
Tree-lined fairways meet awe-inspiring lake views at the only 36-hole golf facility in the region, featuring all the amenities of a world-class resort course, all situated in one of Montana’s hippest towns—Whitefish. Beginners and experienced players alike will find plenty of choices and challenges on the beautiful, treed North and South courses. Tee-Tip: The greens are fast on this one!

DOUBLE ARROW GOLF RESORT
Seeley Lake
This true golfer’s paradise in the heart of the Rockies among towering ponderosa pine trees offers breathtaking views of the Swan and Mission mountains and a premier Montana golf resort getaway experience. The Double Arrow provides a full golf vacation package. Tee-Tip: the 15th hole on this championship course is their signature hole, with an elevated tee and island green.

Double Arrow is a must-stay place, complete it with some tee time.

WILDERNESS CLUB
Eureka
Designed by golf legend Nick Faldo, the Wilderness Club 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 USA by Golf Magazine. For a visually stunning and world-premier luxury golf experience, with all the comforts you’d expect, Wilderness Club delivers, whether you’re a low handicapper or a total beginner.

Visit the Wilderness Club for a seriously luxurious experience. Photo: Wilderness Club