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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.

Big Fun at Small-Town Ski Hills in Western Montana

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Luxurious Girls Getaway in Glacier Country

There are few things better than taking a trip with friends and discovering the beauty of a new place together. Whether you’re looking for a relaxing spa retreat, a rustic adventure in the woods or a bluebird day on the slopes, Western Montana has something for you. Our charming small towns, luxury guest ranches and limitless adventures are ready to make your time together memorable. Come reconnect with friends in one of the most gorgeous places in the world.

We love Snow Bear’s “treehouse” chalets. Photo: Trevon Baker

EXPLORING WESTERN MONTANA’S SMALL TOWNS

Whitefish: The quintessential mountain town of Whitefish, located in Glacier National Park’s backyard, is a popular destination that’s getaway worthy any time of year. This resort town has delectable food, fine craft beer, quaint shops and funky boutiques. Find downhill skiing at nearby Whitefish Mountain Resort; during the summertime the resort offers mountain biking, zip line tours and scenic lift rides. If you are looking to hit the slopes in under a minute, stay at Snow Bear Chalets for an unforgettable trip. These luxury “treehouse” chalet rentals come with jaw-dropping views and beautiful fireplaces. Minutes from downtown, The Lodge at Whitefish Lake is Montana’s only four-diamond resort. Sit in the lakefront hot tub or pamper yourself with a relaxing facial and body scrub at the full-service day spa.

Bigfork is seriously charming. See it for yourself.

Bigfork: The storybook village of Bigfork lays on the charm. Spending a weekend here is what Hallmark movies are made of. Fill your weekend shopping at the eclectic shops and boutiques along Electric Avenue. Set aside time to enjoy live theater, fabulous food and art galleries featuring Western Montana artists. In addition to exploring all of the indoor fun, outdoor recreation abounds here during the warmer seasons. Situated on Flathead Lake, water play options are in abundance. Bridge Street Cottages offers luxurious cabins along the Swan River, or, for something more spacious, choose between a two- or three-bedroom condo at Marina Cay Resort where you can enjoy a waterfront cocktail at the Tiki bar.

Triple Creek knows fine dining, so treat yourself to a world-class dinner. Photo: Triple Creek

UNFORGETTABLE GUEST RANCH EXPERIENCES

Indulge your senses at Darby’s award-winning, adults-only retreat, Triple Creek Ranch. Immerse yourself in gourmet food and premium wines. The exquisite dining experiences will delight your palate and a seven-course Chef’s Table tasting dinner will be the highlight of your trip. Each course is presented by the chef who shares the inspiration behind the dish. Work up your appetite during the day with dog sledding in the winter or horseback rides in the warmer seasons. After dinner, soak in a private hot tub and enjoy breathtaking views of the West Fork Valley.

With thousands of acres to explore, riding on horseback is a classic way to see the countryside.

Find your inner cowgirl at The Resort at Paws Up in Greenough during their annual Cowgirl Spring Roundup April 25 – 28, 2019. Bring your friends or meet new ones—you’ll be surprised by how quickly friendships form here. The weekend will feature Cowgirl Hall of Fame honorees who will lead trail rides and cattle drives, and share their stories around roaring campfires. Cowgirls still expect the best; your days will be enhanced by luxurious accommodations and exceptional cuisine.

Reach a new level of tranquility in Western Montana. Photo: The Ranch at Rock Creek

The Ranch at Rock Creek near Philipsburg is the world’s only Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star Guest Ranch. Now through March 31, 2019, they offer an exclusive après ski and spa package—need we say more? Enjoy unlimited downhill skiing at nearby Discovery Ski Area then cap off the day with a relaxing blend of reflexology and massage. Take a recovery day and explore the historic town of Philipsburg with stops at the Philipsburg Brewing Company and The Sweet Palace candy emporium.

Golf courses here are paired with mountain views and breathtaking skies. Photo: Wilderness Club

AN ADVENTUROUS GETAWAY

If you’re planning a trip during our warmer seasons, golfing in Western Montana is a must. From championship courses to public and semi-private, there’s no better place to tee up. Our vistas are stunning, and every hole offers a scenic swing. Dynamic fairways and awe-inspiring views are found at courses throughout the region. One of our favorites—the Wilderness Club—was ranked No. 1 golf course in Montana by Golfweek. They offer exceptional resort lodging with all the comforts you’d expect.

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.

Slay the Snow: Sled Epic Terrain in Western Montana

It’s no secret that Montana is a pretty big place with plenty of room to roam. We like to take advantage of all that gorgeous open space and cover as much ground as we can, especially in winter when we can power up our sleds and snowmobile miles and miles of bragworthy winter-wonderland terrain.

Unleash your inner powder hound on Glacier Country’s outstanding terrain. Photo: Warren Miller Entertainment

4,000 miles of scenic groomed trails crisscross Montana, and untouched backcountry powder playgrounds are too many to count. You’ll find world-class snowmobiling under our famously big blue skies, with some of the best riding in the state right here in Western Montana’s Glacier Country. Mesmerizing woodland landscapes are interwoven with premier mountain towns, where charm and hospitality are in abundance, and an obsession with snow is palpable. More than 300 inches of powder falls annually around these parts, and you’ve got easy access to trails and open space.

Though snowmobiling within Glacier National Park is prohibited, the beauty and sheer wild wonder of the park can be viewed for miles beyond, and the charming small towns just outside the park are open year-round and always at the ready to host winter outdoor lovers with warm lodging and inviting amenities. Test your mettle in Montana’s rugged and remote Marias Pass Trail Complex, or head beyond the park’s surrounding towns, where there’s much more riding to be had.

Be the first to traverse snow-laden backcountry playgrounds. Photo: Montana Office of Tourism and Business Development

Discover the recreation wonderland of Western Montana’s Flathead Valley, explore extensive family-friendly trails in the Haugan area, crush a ride in scenic Kootenai Country, slay the Skalkaho Pass in the beautiful Bitterroot Valley, or fan out from a Missoula basecamp and explore Lolo Pass or the Garnet Ghost Town trail system. There’s brand new terrain to be explored in Glacier Country, too. In the summer of 2017 two wildland fires burned areas in Seeley Lake, Ovando and Libby, making way for new riding terrain. Come Sled the Burn.

Sledders wind their way through mountains tinted by alpenglow.

Snowmobiling in Western Montana’s Glacier Country is matched only by that of snowmobiling in Yellowstone Country Montana. The sledding opportunities in these regions are renowned, and the season here is quite long. For a park-to-park adventure, take a Glaciers to Geysers sled tour. Find itineraries, trails, resources and snowmobile club information all on our new and very helpful glacierstogeysers.com website.

Part of the beauty of a “sledventure” in Glacier Country is the post-sled revelry. Did you know Montana ranks 4th in the nation for breweries per capita? Countless breweries and distilleries dot the region. When it’s time to power down, pull up a barstool for a finely crafted beer or a whiskey made from glacial waters and locally-sourced ingredients. You’ll find yourself in the midst of a community of fellow sled heads, all with a tale to tell of a killer day in unfathomably deep, fresh powder. Our downtown regions focus on authentic experiences, where food and drinks are a priority, lodging is exceptional, and there are plenty of places to fuel up on caffeine before a day of snow play.

Snowmobiling leads to unbelievable snowscapes and lasting friendships. Photo: Lincoln County SnoKat Club

Beginners to expert sled heads will all find their place here, and there are plenty of guides and outfitters available to help you out. Plus, local snowmobile clubs are always at the ready to hook you up with trail details.

For groomed trail information as well as information on passes and permits, visit Glacier Country Tourism and Glaciers to Geysers. As always, sled safe and check avalanche reports before you power up.

Order your free Montana Snowmobiling Guide and trail map.

 

Celebrate the Season of Giving With Montana-Made Gifts

Here in Western Montana’s Glacier Country, we love the holidays and all the magical experiences they bring, like corn mazes, craft fairs and sleigh rides, to name a few. Although we would like to spend all our time outdoors frolicking in the snow or bundled up by the fireplace with hot cocoa, we also know that with the holidays—no matter what holiday you celebrate—comes gift giving. In Western Montana we really know how to deck the halls and celebrate the season of giving with all things merry and bright.

Deck the halls! Whitefish, Montana showing off its western holiday spirit. Photo: Brian Schott

MONTHLY SUBSCRIPTIONS

We love huckleberries, and that’s the truth. It’s also true that you can find huckleberries in just about any form here; for an extra decadent taste of this coveted wild fruit, we recommend huckleberry fudge. The Sweets Barn in Lolo offers an ongoing taste of Montana with their Fudge Hog Club. This gift will keep on giving month after month with a new flavor of scratch-made buttercream fudge. The Last Best Box is another subscription chock-full of Montana goodies from artists, artisans and local businesses. Their October box featured Evening Chai tea from Lake Missoula Tea Company (a local favorite).

The Last Best Box is an amazing gift to give. Photo: Last Best Box

CABIN ESSENTIALS

You would be hard pressed to find a more authentic Montana gift than these hand-drawn, hand-lettered maps by Xplorer Maps. Choose from a map of Montana, Flathead Lake or Glacier National Park. Their masterful Old-World style maps offer vibrant images of the landscape, flora and wildlife—making them a unique and unforgettable gift. Get snug fireside with a Camp Blanket from Dig + Co. This blanket is made of high-quality flannel sourced from Missoula—the ultimate get-your-cozy-on gift.

These maps will add a vibrant splash of Montana to any décor. Photo: Xplorer Maps

BATH AND BODY

Bath and body gifts are always on trend, but DAYSPA Body Basics keeps it fresh with their own line of handcrafted natural products. Online and gift options include those for men, pregnancy, babies, cold season and more. The organic sugar body scrub comes in scents like Cowboy Coffee, Coconut Cake and Lavender Mint. Pamper your man with the Activated Charcoal Shave Cream paired with the Organic Aloe After Shave Balm.

So many different and amazing choices, we can’t make up our minds! Photo: DAYSPA Body Basics

JEWELRY

Montana-made jewelry is a timeless gift, and a favorite for any occasion. Always There Designs offers fun and casual hand-stamped metalwork necklaces, earrings and bracelets. They feature designs in the shape of Montana and mantras like “be brave” or “fearless.” For a bolder look, Wild Mountain Ink makes porcelain jewelry adorned with hand-drawn designs. All of their products are one of a kind and depict Montana’s vast and beautiful landscape.

So many beautiful pieces to choose from, but this is one of our favorites. Photo: Wild Mountain Ink

HOLIDAY ODDS AND ENDS

Western Montana is known for bison, and we are lucky enough to have bison ranches galore. One ranch, located on the Flathead Indian Reservation, makes one of our favorite treats, Roam Free bison bites. You can’t beat the taste of this grass-fed and sustainably raised bison. Another item high on our list of things we love is coffee. Online at Montana Coffee Traders find savory flavors like Montana Blend and Trailblazer. From dark to light roasts, plus organic and espresso options, they have it all—the perfect gift for any coffee lover.

Roam Free wood-fired pizza bison bites are drool-worthy. Photo: Roam Free

GLACIER COUNTRY STORES AND SHOPS

Capture the magic of the season by shopping at one of many picturesque small-town shops in Western Montana. We don’t like to pick favorites, but here are a few unique shops that feature Montana-made products: Sage & Cedar in Whitefish and Kalispell, Great Gray Gifts in Charlo, The Green Light in Missoula, St. Regis Travel Center in St. Regis and Grizzly Claw Trading Company in Seeley.

Come See St. Regis: A Small-Town Gem in Western Montana

The charming crossroads community of St. Regis is a road-trip must-stop. Travelers on the Interstate Highway 90 corridor between Missoula, Montana and Coeur d’Alene, Idaho never miss the chance to pull over and stretch their legs in this treasured town nestled at the confluence of the Bitterroot, Coeur d’Alene and Cabinet Mountain ranges.

St. Regis is a convenient stop on I-90. Pull in for a small-town Montana experience! Photo: St. Regis Travel Center

The family-owned St. Regis Travel Center is known far and wide as a place to stop and stay a little while. It’s more than just a convenient spot to fill your gas tank. Fuel up on great food and famous huckleberry milkshakes at Huck’s Grill, plus Dolly V’s ice cream, fudge and espresso. There’s a live trout aquarium, too and Montana’s largest gift shop, where you’ll find souvenirs in abundance and free popcorn to boot.

Enjoy a sweet treat at Dolly V’s Ice Cream + Espresso inside St. Regis Travel Center. Photo: St. Regis Travel Center

Head off the interstate and onto the St. Regis-Paradise Scenic Byway—state Route 135—winding 22 miles through gorgeous national forest land including rolling flats and steep canyon walls. This route is part of the Clark Fork Scenic Drive through the Coeur d’Alene Mountains, beginning in Alberton and hooking up with Montana’s Tour 200 scenic route. Stop along the way for fishing, hiking, camping and wildlife viewing, or a soak in the healing mineral waters of Quinn’s Hot Springs Resort.

The views from St. Regis reveal Western Montana at its finest. Photo: Trail Rail Run

Recreation abounds in the St. Regis area. In addition to St. Regis Community Park’s half-mile interpretive nature trail, playground and pond—perfect for a pit stop picnic—authentic outdoor adventure is all around. Fly-fish the Clark Fork River, ski Lookout Pass (about 30 minutes west of St. Regis) and discover plenty of places to hike and bike in Lolo National Forest.

Don’t look down! Bicyclists cross one of seven repurposed railroad trestles on the Route of the Hiawatha

The Route of the Hiawatha provides pedaling fun the whole family will enjoy. This 15-mile Rails-to-Trails adventure, not far from St. Regis, traverses 10 tunnels and seven high trestles along breathtaking stretches of scenic Montana landscapes, and a shuttle is offered for those who prefer to skip the up-hill trek. Mountain bikers can find 18 miles of epic single-track on one of the best trails in all of Glacier Country—the Clark Fork River Trail (also a great hiking spot—try the Cascade Falls spur trail). This smooth ride follows the river through pristine, lush forestland, and the trailhead is not far from Quinn’s.

Head for the hills and a little history on the Crystal Lake Trail. This 3.8-mile uphill hike can be moderate to difficult at times, but worth experiencing the sparkling Crystal Lake 1.5 miles from the trailhead. Stop along the way for berry picking, fishing and viewing the remnants of a historic abandoned mining town and Deer Creek Mining Company, including the ruins of several cabins and a sunken mine shaft.

Swing your golf clubs against the backdrop of the Bitterroot Range at the beautiful, family-friendly Trestle Creek Golf Course. Tee times are usually available on short notice and golf clubs can be rented on-site—perfect when you feel like a spontaneous stop for some time on the green.

The St. Regis River flows east to meet the Clark Fork in the city of St. Regis. Photo: Trail Rail Run

St. Regis hosts the largest flea market in Montana every Memorial Day weekend at Community Park. For three days from dawn to dusk, vendors peddle their wares. Find a true Montana treasure to take home with you, plus breakfast, lunch and snacks.

This tightly knit community charms with events like an annual Easter egg hunt, scarecrow contest, Christmas lighting, Trail Rail Run, Fourth of July parade and fireworks. Come on over and see St. Regis for yourself.

On the Trail of Art and Culture in Western Montana’s Glacier Country

Montana’s main draw is its natural beauty and world-class outdoor recreation, so it can be a quite a pleasant surprise to find out the state’s rugged exterior belies a highly developed artistic sensibility. Many of Western Montana’s communities boast big-city-worthy galleries and artists with talent galore. Local art makes a lovely souvenir, so take some time to browse and shop.

The cultural experience doesn’t end there. Western Montana has a fascinating backstory, filled with tales of American Indians, adventurers, “black robes,” ranchers, homesteaders and soldiers. Uncover intriguing details about Montana’s history by exploring the state’s many museums.

Here’s a sampling of communities that can add a splash of culture to your Montana travels.

A tour of the Daly Mansion includes the family’s showy music room.

HAMILTON

Although you don’t really need an excuse to visit the charming small towns nestled at the base of the Bitterroot Mountains, the Daly Mansion—the 24,000 square foot home of copper baron Marcus Daly—may motivate you to visit Hamilton. A fascinating tour details Daly’s rise from penniless immigrant to captain of industry and shows off his extravagant digs.

Now that your interest in history is piqued, stop at the Ravalli County Museum and Historical Society to further delve into the Bitterroot Valley’s past.

STEVENSVILLE

Stevensville is honored to be Montana’s oldest existing settlement. The humble but pivotal St. Mary’s Mission figures prominently in its history. Tour the mission complex and its grounds to learn about the history of the Salish Indians and the Christian missionaries known to the Salish as the “Black Robes.”

Combine that with a visit to the Stevensville Historical Museum to complete the picture of life in mid-1800s “Stevi,” as the town is commonly referred to these days.

LOLO

Just up the road in Lolo lies one of Montana’s most renowned historical sites, Travelers’ Rest. This Corps of Discovery landmark can brag that it’s the only known campsite where archaeological evidence of early explorers has been found. Now a state park, visitors can walk along Lolo Creek in the footsteps of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark. A visitor’s center and museum will fill you in on the historical details of their adventure.

The nearby Holt Heritage Museum focuses on those perennial favorites of the Old West: cowboys and Indians. The museum is open by appointment only, so give the Holts—a longtime Montana rodeo family—a call, and feast your eyes on their western treasures.

MISSOULA

One of the first things you’ll notice upon entering Missoula is the abundance of public art. Over 50 traffic signal boxes have been painted by local artists, so you can see a work of art at almost every intersection. Pick up a free Missoula Public Art Guide at the Missoula Art Museum to discover more of the Garden City’s creative side, from murals to large-scale sculptures.

There’s almost always something new on exhibit at the Missoula Art Museum. Photo: Taylar Robbins

Of course, there’s plenty of opportunity to see art on display in a curated environment as well, starting with the aforementioned Missoula Art Museum, which offers free admission. The always thought-provoking exhibits at this contemporary art museum are just as likely to feature internationally renowned masters as they are regional artists. After you’re done browsing, be sure to check out the rotating exhibit of sculptures in the adjacent Art Park.

A stroll through downtown Missoula will yield galleries galore, including Radius Gallery, which frequently offers exhibits, artist talks and other events. The best time to gallery-hop is on the first Friday of every month from 5 – 8 p.m., when practically every downtown business hosts an art exhibit and lays out a spread of hors d’oeuvres and drinks.

Radius Gallery offers a feast for the eyes. Photo: Radius Gallery

Missoula’s history comes to life at the Historical Museum at Fort Missoula. Learn about Fort Missoula’s role in the Indian Wars, the African-American 25th Infantry Bicycle Corps, and the World War II internment camp that held Italian and Japanese nationals. Wander the grounds to view over 20 historic buildings and structures, including a train engine, tipi burner and fire tower (you can get a pretty nice view of Missoula from up there, too).

THOMPSON FALLS

Continue your journey into Montana history at Thompson Falls’ intriguing Old Jail Museum. Inside this 100-year-old former jail, learn about the exploits of the town’s namesake—Canadian explorer and fur trapper David Thompson—the horror of the devastating forest fires of 1910, and the work of the Civilian Conservation Corps.

CHARLO

Views of the Mission Mountains will leave you awestruck as you drive north along Interstate Highway 93. Pull over and gape from the Ninepipes Museum in Charlo, where the history of the Flathead Reservation is on display. The indoor exhibits and museum grounds are complemented by a handicapped-accessible nature trail.

POLSON

Just before you reach the shores of Flathead Lake, swing by the Miracle of America Museum in Polson. Anyone into Americana will get a charge out of the immense quantity of nostalgia-inducing items on display there. Another must-stop, the Polson Flathead Historical Museum offers educational exhibits of the pioneer days, homesteaders and the Native Americans who inhabited the region, plus, it’s the home of the famous Flathead Lake Monster!

BIGFORK

Driving up the east side of the lake will bring you to Bigfork, a storybook town excelling in charm. The gallery-rich environment will have art enthusiasts in a daze. ARTFusion, Bjorge Gallery, Brett Thuma Gallery, Electric Buffalo Gallery, Eric Thorsen Sculpture Gallery and Riecke’s Bayside Gallery are all Electric Avenue must-sees.

A century-old schoolhouse continues to educate those who walk through its doors. Photo: Kelly Nelson

KALISPELL

Get a lesson in history at Kalispell’s Museum at Central School. This restored 1894 schoolhouse is packed with the compelling artifacts and records of Northwest Montana and the Flathead Valley. For another close look at the city’s past, tour the Conrad Mansion Museum, once home to the founder of Kalispell, Charles E. Conrad.

Headed to or coming from Glacier National Park? Visit the Hockaday Museum of Art to see the popular permanent exhibition “Crown of the Continent,” which features works celebrating the grandeur of the park.

WHITEFISH

Whitefish is definitely in the running for having the most galleries per capita of any Montana town. A whopping 13 galleries participate in the seasonal First Thursday Gallery Nights. One mainstay of the art scene, The Purple Pomegranate, tempts shoppers with functional and decorative art from over 150 artists and craftspeople.

Stunning American Indian headdresses and clothing impress visitors at the Museum of the Plains Indian

BROWNING

Travelers are drawn to Montana’s rich American Indian culture, and one of the best places to experience it is at the Museum of the Plains Indian on the Blackfeet Reservation in Browning. Clothing, weapons and many other artifacts from regional tribes wow visitors with their beauty and functionality. Special exhibits often feature contemporary American Indian artists.

Continue your exploration of American Indian art at Lodgepole Gallery & Tipi Village, which showcases the work of several Blackfeet artists, including the gallery’s talented owner, Darrell Norman.

CUT BANK

Just east of the reservation, pull into Cut Bank, where an oil derrick, a 1917 schoolhouse and a Burlington Northern caboose are just a few of the curiosities that adorn the 14-acre grounds of the Glacier County Historical Museum and Archive. On summer weekends, costumed interpreters act out the lives of early homesteaders at a replica homestead cabin and farm.

Hours and prices vary, and some museums are open seasonally. Check the links above for more information about visiting museums and galleries in Western Montana’s Glacier Country.

An oil derrick stands sentinel at the Glacier County Historical Museum. Photo: Racene Friede

Lovely Lakeside: Exploring Small-Town Charm on Flathead Lake

The shores of Flathead Lake—the largest freshwater lake in the West—boast some pretty spectacular communities, and the lovely little town of Lakeside is no exception. Hugging the western shore of the lake’s northern tip, ease of access to the water is a highlight, but this popular summertime destination happens to be a Glacier Country getaway worth getting away to any time of year.

Fall is the perfect time to plan for next summer’s visit to Lakeside.

With a name like Lakeside, expectations are high and this little town lives up to them. Lake life, winter recreation and small-town charm an hour from Glacier National Park? We’re always up for that.

There are endless ways to explore Flathead Lake, but a Far West Boat Tour is a must. Board this historic Montana cruise ship for a fun, educational and awe-inspiring cruise or private charter seasonally from Lakeside.

Enjoy the water and the serene lakeside landscape at West Shore / Flathead Lake State Park. Sheltered by lush forestland, West Shore offers glacially-carved rock outcroppings and spectacular lake views of the Mission and Swan Mountain ranges. Fishing—especially along the rocky shoreline—and boating are popular here, and there’s a 31-site RV-accessible campground in the park.

West Shore State Park in Lakeside offers recreational opportunities galore on Flathead Lake.

Lakeside’s Volunteer Park offers a beach hangout and pier access, swim docks, a boat dock, canoe and bicycle racks and pavilions available for rent.

The town of Lakeside itself is quaint and picturesque. Stroll through locally owned shops and eateries while taking in views of the Swan Mountains. Serving up one of the best breakfasts in Lakeside, head to The Homestead Café for huckleberry pancakes.

An antique store filled with western collectibles adds to Lakeside’s small-town charm.

Montana ranks #4 in the nation for craft breweries per capita, and Lakeside is proud to be the home of Tamarack Brewing Company. A post-adventure, artisan beer is a Montana must, and their chicken wings are famous.

Savor the flavor of Montana at Beargrass Bistro, offering easygoing upscale dining—including a kids’ menu—as well as wine, beer and cocktails. This Lakeside gem prepares seasonally inspired dishes using locally and regionally sourced ingredients.

Toast to Lakeside at the Beargrass Bistro.

Western Montana is known for world-class winter recreation and Lakeside is a pretty exceptional ski destination for snow enthusiasts. Boasting panoramic views of Flathead Lake, the Mission Mountains and Glacier National Park, Blacktail Mountain Ski Area is just 30 minutes from town and the surrounding Blacktail Mountain Nordic Trails are perfect for scenic hiking and cross-country skiing.

Gorgeous fall colors will give way to wintry white on the road to Blacktail Mountain Ski Resort. Hello, ski season!

Lodging in Lakeside is always warm and friendly, representing that western hospitality we’re known for here in Glacier Country. Stay at one of the condos or cabins at Edgewater RV Resort & Motel, or choose from a number of cozy spots from which you can explore Lakeside, Montana.

A dusting of snow in early fall reveals spectacular views of Flathead Lake and the Mission and Swan mountains.

 

 

 

 

 

Glacier by Train: See the Park by Amtrak from Cut Bank to Whitefish

Exploring Glacier Country on Amtrak’s Empire Builder is a fun and memorable way for travelers of all ages to see Glacier National Park and experience Western Montana’s small-town charm. A mid-to-late autumn round-trip journey from Cut Bank to Whitefish offers the opportunity to see Western Montana and Glacier National Park draped in fall colors lightly dusted with fresh snow—a uniquely beautiful blending of seasons.

Wide windows make for incredible viewing of Glacier’s golden hues.

From Cut Bank, board the evening train for Whitefish. Conductors will assist riders with loading on. Coach seats are unassigned, but the train cars are spacious, so finding a spot shouldn’t be a problem. After your tickets are checked, we recommend making your way to one of several observation decks between the coach cars. These decks offer incredible views!

All aboard in the charming town of Cut Bank!

Trip-Tip: Book your tickets ahead of time at amtrak.com, where you can also find carry-on and checked-luggage rules.

Amtrak’s coach windows are wide, allowing for excellent sightseeing. Watch the sun set across the plains of the Blackfeet Nation, illuminating the scenic Rocky Mountain backdrop with the last light of day. Snacks and beverages are offered downstairs of the observation deck, or make a reservation for dinner in the restaurant car. The evening ride is quiet and smooth, and, after a three-hour journey, Whitefish—the quintessential mountain town—offers up warm hospitality and cozy accommodations.

See the sights from the comfort of Amtrak’s cozy cars.

The Whitefish train depot is located right downtown, so grab your bags and walk to any number of accommodations. We recommend maximizing your adventure with a finely-crafted local beer at the Great Northern Brewing Company and overnighting at The Firebrand Hotel, where we highly recommend making reservations well in advance.

Good morning, Whitefish. It’s lovely to be here.

Rise and shine to jaw-dropping mountain vistas, well worth the early wake-up. The Whitefish Depot’s alpine architectural style is quaint and cozy and the platform offers gorgeous views of the surrounding hills speckled with golden tamarack pine trees. Check a bag inside, or bring along your carry on. The morning ride through the park is absolutely stunning. From Whitefish, the train takes you west-to-east through Glacier National Park as you make your way back to Cut Bank.

Sit back, relax and take in the Glacial-carved landscape while enjoying a fresh, hot coffee.

The ride into Glacier National Park is very scenic and quite relaxing. See the glacial blue waters of the Flathead River among the orange and gold contrast of trees in their seasonal shade. Grab a cup of coffee or snack from the concessionary downstairs from the observation deck, or make a reservation for breakfast in the dining car. With views like this, you’ll be in awe from any part of the train.

Fall for miles and miles of autumn on an Amtrak adventure.

The vibrant colors and snowcapped peaks of a fall-kissed Glacier Country are always spectacular, but there is something about the view from a train window that makes for a magical experience. You get to cover some serious ground and view the vastness of the landscape, from deep river valleys and high mountain peaks to the beautiful wide-open plains of Browning and Cut Bank. This is one Glacier Country train tour everyone should travel.

Witness the beautiful blending of seasons in Glacier Country.

Reel Talk: Fall Fishing in Montana is Phenomenal

Autumn anglers, this one’s for you. Fall fishing is upon us in Western Montana’s Glacier Country, and we’re chomping at the bit. While fishing the pristine waters of Montana’s rivers, lakes and streams is phenomenal year-round, autumn offers an incredibly authentic angling experience: fewer folks on the water, quieter rivers, and—spoiler alert—October and November offer some of the year’s best trout fishing, and hardcore anglers know it. We may as well call it “trophy trout season.”

Casting for cutthroat trout on the Middle Fork of the Flathead River. Photo: Montana Office of Tourism and Business Development

RIVERS + FISHING ACCESS SITES

If casting a line in a river or stream meandering peacefully through fall’s golden landscape, breathing in the cool mountain air, and hearing the bugle of a bull elk sounds like paradise to you, then grab your waders and come on over to experience the solitude of the season. Good hatches are on tap and monster brown trout are spawning—we wait all year for fall lake runs.

Fish the magical blue-ribbon trout waters of the Blackfoot River, made famous by Norman Maclean’s “A River Runs Through It” and offering some of Montana’s best fishing. Get out your mahoganies, midges and blue-winged olives for fall fly-fishing here, as well as on the Clark Fork River where rainbows are on the rise and fall colors are in full effect. Or, find multiple fishing access site along the winding and scenic Bitterroot River, flowing through the beautiful Bitterroot Valley and ready for your mayflies, hoppers and worms.

For experienced anglers who know how to navigate big rivers and plan to fish with streamers up to five inches long, the Kootenai River below Libby Dam offers huge rainbow trout, a boat ramp and easily accessible shorelines.

Up north near Glacier National Park, the Middle Fork of the Flathead River provides a scenic 9-mile fall float from Moccasin Creek to West Glacier—which takes about four hours this time of year—in stunning emerald-colored waters full of cutthroat trout.

Multiple fishing access sites are available throughout the the state. Consult Montana’s Fishing Access Sites Field Guide for maps, species and land information.

Keeping it reel on the Bitterroot River. Photo: Shea Shaughnessy

LAKE FISHING IN MONTANA

Fishing in Montana usually conjures up images of casting a fly rod in an idyllic river setting, but Western Montana boasts some pretty phenomenal lake fishing. The deep, cold waters of Flathead Lake—the largest freshwater lake west of the Mississippi—offers cutthroat and lake trout as well as whitefish and yellow pike. The Mission Mountain scenery is incredible and western hospitality abounds in the surrounding communities. Seeley Lake is a year-round recreation destination, offering stunning views of the Swan and Mission ranges and excellent bass fishing.

Straddling the U.S.-Canada border in the northwest corner of the state, the 90-mile-long Lake Koocanusa reservoir has been known to produce 10-pound rainbow trout in the fall—one of our best-kept secrets. Lake Como, a few miles north of the quintessential Old West town of Darby, is quite a popular fishing spot in the warmer season. Fall provides an opportunity to fish this local’s favorite with a little more solitude—and bask in the beauty of autumn in the Bitterroot Valley while you’re at it.

Jigging is our preferred method for deep lake fishing, and heavily-weighted jigging spoons your best bet. If you’re stillwater savvy, you might consider lake fly-fishing. Some of the largest fish you’ll find by fly may actually come out of a lake. Make sure to use a special stillwater indicator.

Going on a fishing trip with a knowledgeable outfitter like Glacier Raft Co. can help ensure a great catch. Photo: Glacier Raft Co.

GLACIER COUNTRY FISHING GUIDES

World-class fly-fishing tends to attract world-class fishing guides, and Glacier Country is chock-full of experienced and friendly outfitters and guides with the local knowledge and inside scoop on fishing in Western Montana. They’re always ready and eager to take you out to their favorite fishing spot and help you land the big one. From finding the right fall fly, to steering you toward the best stream, to guiding you down the river on a daylong or overnight float trip, this is their life’s work, and they love every second of it—you will, too.

While wade-fishing is the most common way to fish Western Montana’s rivers and streams, float fishing is becoming increasingly popular, especially on larger rivers, and hiring a guide is your best bet for a successful float-fishing adventure.

Another reason to go with a guide? Western Montana boasts endless off-the-beaten path “secret spot” streams, trickling mountain creeks and hidden alpine lakes. The best way to find these local treasures is to go with a guide who’ll happily share their spot.

For more information on outfitters and guides, visit the Montana Outfitters and Guides Association at montanaoutfitters.org.

Western Montana is a fly-fishing mecca.

FALL FISHING TIPS + TRICKS IN WESTERN MONTANA

Fish the fall run. Stripping big streamers will bring in the biggest brown trout during their fall run mid-October through November or early December. Find a stretch of river downstream of the spawning run of a lake or larger river.

Head for the hatch. November’s baetis (blue-winged olive) hatch offers excellent fall dry-fly-fishing at a time when most of our rivers are experiencing low to no fishing pressure.

Be prepared for any kind of weather and dress accordingly. We can’t say it enough: Montana’s fall weather can have a flair for the dramatic. You could wake up to fresh snow and be fishing in a T-shirt by noon. Or vice versa. Check weather reports before you head out, and always be prepared. Base layers are essential this time of year, especially when wade fishing in a cold stream.

Permits, rules and regulations. A valid fishing license is required for all types of fishing on state waters. To fish in Montana, most anglers need two licenses: a conservation license and a fishing license. Visit Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks for state fishing regulations—including catch and release guidelines and daily possession limits.

Fishing on tribal lands. Western Montana is home to two Indian reservations—the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of the Flathead Reservation and the Blackfeet Tribe of the Blackfeet Reservation. Special rules and regulations apply when recreating on tribal lands. If you’re planning to fish Blackfeet Nation Indian Reservation land, visit Blackfeet Fish and Wildlife Department. For Flathead Reservation fishing regulations, visit the Natural Resources Department of the Confederated Salish & Kootenai Tribes.

For more information on autumn angling adventures in Western Montana, click here or contact Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks.