Category Archives: Water Fun

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.

12 Hidden-Treasure State Parks + Camping Sites in Western Montana

Part of what makes Western Montana’s great outdoors so great is the abundance of explore-worthy, off-the-beaten-path public lands. Admittedly, we’re a little obsessed with visiting the lesser-known gems of Glacier Country, where crowds are light or non-existent and the adventure is always one of discovery.

Montana State Parks

Montana’s state parks are preserved for their natural beauty and amazing recreation opportunities. These heavenly places are some of the greatest natural and cultural treasures around. Here, we’ve listed a few that aren’t usually overcrowded and offer unforgettable authentic Montana experiences. State park campsites can be reserved, and you’ll also find ample water recreation activities like fishing, swimming and boating, plus RV access, picnic areas and latrines.

Lake Mary Ronan State Park

Known for epic fishing, Lake Mary Ronan State Park—just 7 miles west of Flathead Lake—also offers numerous hiking trails and individual campsites among lush forestland, perfect for spotting wildlife and wildflowers. For season and hours, plus amenities, activities and contact information, click here.

Lake Mary Ronan State Park is quaint and quiet, but offers plenty of recreational activities and beautiful views. Photo: Pat Doyle

Thompson Chain of Lakes + Logan State Park

How does shoreline access to 18 sparkling glacial lakes within a 20-mile stretch sound? Thompson Chain of Lakes offers 3,000 acres of excellent fishing, boating, camping, birding and hiking. Logan State Park, located on Middle Thompson Lake, is a heavily forested family-fun hot spot. For season and hours, plus amenities, activities and contact information, click here.

Thompson Falls State Park

Relax in the quiet Clark Fork Valley among old-growth pine, and explore the Thompson Falls Trail along the scenic Clark Fork River. The park also features a family fishing pond, camping and bird-watching. For season and hours, plus amenities, activities and contact information, click here.

Whether you’re camping, fishing or simply enjoying the scenery, Thompson Falls State Park is the perfect place to be. Photo: Andy Austin

Camping at Fish Access Sites

Here’s a fun little secret: many Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks fishing access sites offer camping. Sites can’t be reserved in advance, however, so make sure you have a backup plan. Check links below for individual site amenities, but note that these are all dry camping spots with no electric/water/sewer services available. Most sites also include boat launches, and all include opportunities to recreate.

Harpers Lake
Camp along the beautiful Clearwater River at Harpers Lake or neighboring Blanchard Lake. Sites are close to the road, offering easy access.
14 campsites + gravel boat launch
31 miles east of Bonner on Highway 200, turn north on Highway 83 for 2 miles

Fishing access sites are a great camping option throughout Western Montana. Photo: Montana Office of Tourism and Business Development

Island Lake
One of Montana’s newly developed fishing access sites, Island Lake has enhanced the fishing opportunities between Libby and Kalispell and the small number of campsites means solitude under a starry night sky.
3 campsites + boat launch
46 miles west of Kalispell

Upsata Lake
Enjoy stunning views of the entrance to Montana’s Bob Marshall Wilderness as well as lush, rolling prairie land.
6 campsites + gravel boat launch
37 miles east of Bonner on Highway 200 to milepost 38, then 4 miles north on Woodworth Road

Blackfoot River Corridor

Made famous by Norman Maclean’s “A River Runs Through It,” the Blackfoot River is one of Montana’s most popular, and the 26-mile Blackfoot River Corridor offers some of the best trout fishing in the state. This favorite of floaters ranges from slow-moving to whitewater, and the corridor’s numerous fishing access sites offer a diversity of camping options in the heart of one of Montana’s most treasured areas. Added bonus: the Blackfoot River Corridor Scenic Drive.

The Blackfoot River is a Glacier Country gem. Photo: Montana Office of Tourism and Business Development

Russell Gates
Russell Gates—a popular rafting put-in and take-out—lays on the charm with a fantastic view, plenty of shade trees, wide-river fishing and lots of deer.
12 campsites + gravel boat launch
River right, mile 40, 34 miles east of Bonner on Highway 200

Ninemile Prairie
Solitude abounds at Ninemile Prairie, with only a few campsites.
3 campsites
River right, mile 25, 25.5 miles east of Bonner on Highway 200, turn west (just before mile marker 27) on Ninemile Prairie Road for 4.2 miles

Corrick’s River Bend
Sleep out under our signature sky among majestic ponderosa pines at this scenic river spot.
12 campsites + boat launch
River right, mile 23, 25.5 miles east of Bonner on Highway 200, then 6 miles west on Ninemile Prairie Road 

Thibodeau
Find fun tubing down Thibodeau Falls ending at this popular campsite, and by night experience the peaceful sound of the river flowing.
6 campsites + potable water
River left, mile 18, 10.3 miles east of Bonner on Highway 200, turn north of Johnsrud Park Road for 5.5 miles

Main Blackfoot River

There’s even more solitude to be found the higher you go on the Blackfoot. Up the river from Russell Gates, you’ll find the following Western Montana gems:

Harry Morgan
This popular launch point makes for a great rustic overnight camping experience on the edge of crystal-clear Blackfoot waters.
4 campsites + gravel boat launch
River right, mile 2, 3.5 miles south of Ovando on the Ovando-Helmville Road

River Junction
Set up camp at River Junction for access to one very spectacular stretch of the famous Blackfoot River.
6 campsites + primitive boat launch
River right, mile 52, 38 miles east of Bonner on Highway 200, turn southeast on an unmarked county road (FAS sign at the junction) for 9 rough miles, follow the signs

Blackfoot River Float-In Campsites

Turn your float-fishing trip into an overnight adventure. The float-in campsite program on the Blackfoot lets you float right into your rustic overnight accommodations. Float-in sites are River Junction, Clearwater, Corrick’s River Bend and Ninemile Prairie. A special permit is required. Click here for more information.

Pro-tip: Always be sure to be up to date on all closures and restrictions before heading into any of these state parks or campsites.

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.
Map it

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.
Map it

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.
Map it

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.
Map it

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.
Map it

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.
Map it

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.

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!

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!

Big Water Boasts Big Adventure

One of Glacier Country’s greatest assets is our rivers. Just the mere mention of Western Montana conjures visions of sparkling waterways winding through some of the country’s most scenic landscapes. Our rivers are wild and free, and they all offer diverse adventures, from fly-fishing to scenic multiday float trips to adrenaline-pumping whitewater excursions. A Western Montana vacation isn’t complete without a day (or more) on the water. 

Whitewater rafting is one of the best ways to cool off on a hot summer day in Western Montana. Photo: Donnie Sexton

As winter turns into spring, snowmelt means our rivers begin rolling at peak volume and vacationers and locals alike flock to Glacier Country for whitewater rafting adventures or lazy, scenic floats (later in the summer).

BITTERROOT RIVER

The Bitterroot River—one of Montana’s more scenic waterways—offers a peaceful float down the panoramic Bitterroot Valley, with views of the Bitterroot and Sapphire mountains. Flow is slow to moderate, which makes for a gentle, pleasant trip, ample wildlife viewing and plenty of fishing. Don’t forget your camera on this picturesque float!

CLARK FORK RIVER’S ALBERTON GORGE 

The Clark Fork River’s Alberton Gorge is a popular rafting destination and serves as a whitewater headquarters in this part of the region. The 16-mile Class III rose-colored canyon stretch is perfect for beginners and families looking to get their feet wet (literally) on a hot summer day. The Gorge is close to Alberton, Superior and Missoula, offering paddlers and rafters adventure on and off the water.

KOOTENAI RIVER

It’s been said that the Kootenai River is as close to the Zambezi as you’re going to get in Montana. This remote northwest corner of Big Sky Country is worth the drive and offers Class I scenic floats on the upper and lower Kootenai River, but adrenaline seekers can navigate the middle Kootenai River for Class IV+ whitewater and a view of the rowdy Kootenai Falls—some of Montana’s biggest water. 

FLATHEAD RIVER

Looking toward Glacier National Park, the Middle Fork of the Flathead is a designated Wild and Scenic River, and all of the West Glacier rafting companies run the whitewater stretch as well as scenic floats on the lower parts of the Middle Fork and the North Fork of the Flathead (also a Wild and Scenic River). The North and Middle forks comprise Glacier’s western borders and offer breathtaking views into Glacier National Park. Whitewater difficulty varies with flow levels, the scenery is unimaginable and the water is an unforgettable crystal-clear aqua. This is definitely one of the most gorgeous parts of the state—and the country for that matter—to be on the water. In fact, Glacier Guides and Montana Raft is offering a half-day whitewater rafting or scenic float trip for two. (Make your way to the end of this blog post for more information.)

The West Fork of the Flathead River runs through West Glacier. Stop on Belton Bridge to catch a glimpse of one of the more peaceful portions of the river. Photo: Emily Hall

GO WITH A GUIDE:

Guided rafting trips are always your best bet and the safest way to exploreWestern Montana’s rivers. If you’re new to rafting, but you’re ready for the adrenaline rush, go with one of Glacier Country’s many experienced rafting companies. Western Montana outfitters and guides customize floats to your comfort level, whether you’re looking for the thrill of our biggest runs, a scenic raft trip or a family float.

Western Montana river guides focus on quality of experience with half and full-day interpretive trips and multiday floats. All of our guides are Montana lovers. They’re enthusiastic, highly trained, professional, friendly and as knowledgeable about the area as they are about how to keep you entertained (not that the scenery alone isn’t capable of that). Some of our guides have happily been at this for over 30 years!

Sometimes one day on the river just isn’t enough. Multiday rafting experiences are offered for those who long to sleep under the star-studded big sky and enjoy steaming, organic coffee riverside in the cool quiet of a Montana morning. If you’re not up for experiencing Montana’s backcountry by foot, overnight rafting is the way to go. Guides do all of the work, from setting up tents to cooking delicious, locally sourced meals, while you sit back and enjoy Montana by boat.  

When you’ve reached the river takeout, end your rafting trip on the best note possible by heading to the nearest watering hole for a local Montana brew and a chat with the locals, who, chances are, also spent the day on the water.

A group of Western Montana adventurer’s make their way through the raging waters of the Flathead River.

RULES OF THE RAFT:

Water is wild and safety is a priority. First and foremost, go with a guide! You’re in good hands with licensed, professional Western Montana river guides, who basically live on the water. It’s important to listen to their instructions…they know what they’re talking about. And, as always, wear a personal flotation device (PFD). Also be sure to wear the right clothing (including a hat) and sunscreen for a hot, sunny day on the water. Bring your camera, and, if you’re getting into whitewater, be prepared to get splashed.

Guide companies rarely ride just one river. To help you sort through your options, here’s a list of some of our region’s finest guides and outfitters, all of whom have made their life’s work out of ensuring your river adventure is second to none.

 


 

Glacier Guides and Montana Raft have been riding Montana’s wild and scenic rivers for 30 years.

RAFTING GIVEAWAY: Glacier Guides and Montana Raft is giving away a Half-Day Whitewater Rafting or Scenic Float Trip for Two, plus, they’ll help outfit you for a day on the river with GGMR Nalgene water bottles, Chums sun/eyeglass retainers, sunscreen, lip balm and GGMR hats!

This contest has closed. Visit glaciermt.com for more giveaway opportunities.

Best Day Hikes in Western Montana: Part I

Western Montana’s Glacier Country covers the northwest corner of Montana, stretching from the Canadian border all the way down through the Bitterroot Valley. It’s a big region, with a lot to explore. We started this blog post hoping to share our top 10 favorite hikes, and we quickly realized it was just too much for one post…so, we’re splitting it up. Part One covers the more southern portion of Glacier Country including the Seeley-Swan Valley and the Bitterroot Valley. Next week we’re sharing the northern-most parts of Western Montana including the Flathead National Forest, Glacier National Park, Tobacco Valley and more.

One of the easiest ways to explore our little slice of heaven is to set out by foot. Here are a handful of trail tips for the aspiring Western Montana hiker:

Tips for the Trail:

  1. It’s always a good idea to wear layers and comfortable hiking shoes or boots. It gets a little cold around here (in case the name “Glacier Country” didn’t tip you off), though temperatures still reach into the 80s and 90s during summer. Wear broken-in hiking footwear so uncomfortable feet don’t distract you from our breathtaking views.
  2. Be bear aware! Make noise and carry bear spray. You’re in bear country, and no matter how wild you think you might be, we can assure you the wildlife have you beat. (It’s also never a good idea to try to feed the wildlife).
  3. Make room in your pack for water, snacks and a camera. It’s good to stay hydrated, and good to have a camera ready to capture your Montana moments.
  4. Always stay on the trail. Wandering Montana’s splendor is easy to do, but it’s important not to lose your way. We promise you won’t miss out on anything.
  5. Ask the locals. Montana is full of secrets and who better to ask than a Montanan?

Now that you’re all set for a hike, let us help you find one. Below is a list of our top 10 spots and how to find them.

Morrell Falls

The hike on Morrell Falls National Recreation Trail leads to Morrell Lake and the stunning Morrell Falls at the base of the Swan Mountain Range.

DIRECTIONS: From the town of Seeley Lake, travel half a mile north on Highway 83. Turn right on Morrell Creek Road, which becomes Forest Service Road #477/Cottonwood Lakes Road and travel just over 1 mile. Turn left on West Morrell Road #4353 and travel about 6 miles. Turn right on Pyramid Pass Road #4381 and travel a quarter-mile. Then turn left on Morrell Falls Road #4364. Continue for 1 mile to the Morrell Falls Trailhead and parking area.

ROUND-TRIP: 2.7 miles
BONUS: Dog-friendly

Turquoise Lake

DIRECTIONS: Flathead National Forest is home to so many natural wonders it can be a little overwhelming when you’re trying to plan a hike. Allow us to help, beginning with Turquoise Lake. In the Swan Valley, head south on Highway 83. Just past mile marker 38 south of Condon, turn right onto Kraft Creek Road. Drive 11.5 miles in to Glacier Creek trail #690. Follow #690 3 miles to Turquoise Lake trail #708. From there, you’re only 3 more miles to the beautiful turquoise waters of this pristine glacial lake.

ROUND-TRIP: 12.2 miles
PERMIT: Turquoise Lake is on tribal lands. Be sure to stop by any local grocer or outfitter to pick up your Tribal Conservation Permit.
HIGHLIGHTS: If you have extra time, hike down to Lace Lake for cliff jumping.

Three Lakes Peak

DIRECTIONS: Take Exit 82 on Interstate 90 east of Missoula and make your way west on Highway 10 until you reach Remount Road. Turn north onto Remount Road and drive 2.5 miles before turning west onto Ninemile Road. Continue for about 12 miles, then turn right onto Foothills Road #5498. Drive 5 miles to reach Burnt Fork Trail #418. This trail is easily navigated with posted signs.

ROUND-TRIP: 3.2 miles
PERMIT: Three Lakes Peak is on tribal lands. Be sure to stop in Missoula at Bob Ward and Sons, Cabela’s , MT Fish, Wildlife & Parks – Region 2 or Wholesale Sports to pick up your Tribal Conservation Permit.

Blodgett Canyon

Blodgett Canyon is known for its incredible overlook and relatively easy hike to the summit. If you’re feeling particularly adventurous you can venture into the valley for breathtaking views like this one.
Photo courtesy of Hunter Day Photography (hunterday.photo/montana)

DIRECTIONS: From Hamilton, take Main Street west into the foothills of the Bitterroot Mountains, following signs on Forest Service road 735 to the Blodgett Trailhead and overlook. The trailhead is to the right of the parking area.

ROUND-TRIP: 3 miles
HIGHLIGHTS: Several benches are placed along the hike up. Stop and take in the incredible views, but keep going—you’re in for a treat at the top!

Lake Como

Lake Como is easily accessible in any season. Photo: instagram.com/scottwilsonphotography

DIRECTIONS: Access Lake Como Road from Hamilton, Montana. Take the road around the south side of Lake Como to find Little Rock Creek Trailhead.

ROUND-TRIP: 9 miles
HIGHLIGHTS: This is a lovely overnight camping spot.

Mount Sentinel

Mount Sentinel’s colors change with the seasons, making it a fresh new hike every few weeks. Visit in April and May to catch the mountain covered in green and peek at the wildflowers sprinkled throughout the hike.

DIRECTIONS: Hike “the M” for a breathtaking view of the Missoula Valley. The trail starts at the eastern edge of The University of Montana campus. This steep, zigzag path includes 11 switchbacks and gains 620 feet of elevation in under a mile.

ROUND-TRIP: 1.75 miles
HIGHLIGHTS: The trail is named for the large whitewashed rock “M” placed on the mountainside in 1908.

Kootenai Creek

DIRECTIONS: From the Stevensville junction on Highway 93, travel north 1 mile. Turn west on Kootenai Creek Road and continue two miles to the trailhead.

ROUND-TRIP: Up to 18 miles…choose your adventure.
HIGHLIGHTS: Find great rock climbing about half a mile in. If you want to venture farther in, the Kootenai lakes can be found at mile 9.

Must-Stop Family Road-Trip Attractions

There’s nothing quite like loading up the family and embarking on an epic road trip to make some everlasting memories and there’s no place to make those memories better than Montana. From the Bitterroot Valley to Glacier National Park, Western Montana has enough scenic byways for a lifetime of cruising. We love road trips and camping so we partnered with Bretz RV & Marine to bring you a spring camping gear giveaway. Enter to win, load up your RV, chart a route through our charming small towns and make it a point to pull over and check out these fun and unique roadside attractions.

A Hefty Hereford

Stoney’s Bull sits at Clearwater Junction and greets travelers along Highways 200 and 93.

Along Highway 200 at Clearwater Junction, you’ll find a 15-foot-high, 18-foot-long Hereford steer.

50,000 Silver $ Bar

50,000 Silver $ Bar

Stop in St. Regis to visit the infamous 50,000 Silver $ Bar, stay for the burgers, shakes and souvenirs.

Stay: Salmon Lake State Park, Clearwater Junction, Big Larch Campground

Flathead Cherries

Flathead Cherries

At 3,000 feet above sea level, Flathead Lake has the perfect growing climate for cherries. Make your way around the largest freshwater lake west of the Mississippi to see the orchards, and be sure to stop at a roadside stand for a taste of this prized fruit.

Stay: Campground St. Regis, Nugget RV Park

Amazing Fun Center

The Amazing Fun Center in Coram, MT

When you’re done exploring Glacier National Park take the kids to the Amazing Fun Center in West Glacier. With a 1.5-mile maze, go karts, bumper boats and mini golf, you won’t leave without being at least a little a-MAZE-d.

Stay: Flathead Lake KOA in Polson, Polson Motorcoach & RV Resort, Edgewater R.V. Resort & Motel in LakesideDiamond S RV Park in Ronan

Seeley Lake

A family docks their boat as the sun sets over Seeley Lake

With easy water access, a walk-up burger joint (Bay Burgers, right on the lake!) and ice cream shops (try a blue-goo swirl cone at The Ice Cream Place), your family will fall in love with this little lake town.

Stay: Seeley Lake Campground

Darby

What road trip is complete without a stop at an old-fashioned candy store? Darby, Montana’s Old West Candy Store is the perfect spot to satisfy your sweet tooth. Don’t miss out on the huckleberry options!

Stay: Travellers Rest Cabins and RV Park

Float the Clark Fork River and Ride the Carousel

A Carousel for Missoula

Stop in Missoula to ride one of the fastest carousels in the West. If you’re there on the weekend, be sure to check out one of several farmers markets on Higgins Avenue. Cool off with a scenic float down the Clark Fork River afterwards.

Stay: Jellystone RV Park, Cabins, Campground, Boat & RV Storage, Jim & Mary’s RV Park, Missoula KOA

A couple enjoys their RV stay in Glacier Country

We’ve partnered with Bretz RV & Marine of Missoula to help you on your journey to find these Western Montana roadside gems. Store gear, grill and lounge with this custom camping set perfect for your next adventure.

This contest has closed. Visit glaciermt.com for more giveaway opportunities.

Explore-Worthy Excursions in Western Montana

We all need a little adventure in our lives, and we all have different thoughts about what that means, so here are a handful of travel ideas to explore, depending on your “adventure type.”

The Bookish Explorer: Montana Valley Book Store

Montana Valley Book Store in Alberton, Montana

You know the type—they carry a novel in their bag everywhere they go and insist on stopping in a bookstore in every new town they visit. If this is you, we’ve found your heaven on earth in Alberton, Montana. The Montana Valley Book Store houses more than 100,000 unique and rare books at any given time. Their shelves are constantly rotating, waiting for the perfect book lover to walk in. Open year-round, the owner lives only five minutes away and will come unlock the store for whomever stops by.

Inside Montana Valley Book Store.

Pro tip: For lunch, stop at the Flyin’ R Café for a homemade patty melt on marbled rye. Write your name next to ours on the wall, snap a pic and use #GlacierMT to say hello!

Write your name on the wall at Flyin’ R Cafe’.

Patty Melt at Flyin’ R Cafe’ in Alberton, Montana.

The History Seeker: Garnet Ghost Town

Overlooking Garnet Ghost Town.

The most intact ghost town in Montana—Garnet—takes its name from the ruby-colored stone. The town itself hasn’t been inhabited since the late 1940s, though volunteers help visitors explore the buildings for anyone who hikes in during the summer. If you’re a cold-weather history seeker, click into your cross-country skis and glide into town. Be sure to peek in the windows of the hotel, general store, post office and saloon. Visit our ghost towns page to learn more about the old mining campsites on Garnet Range Road and how to get there.

Pro Tip: The Bureau of Land Management rents out two Garnet Ghost Town cabins in the winter.

The Backcountry Rambler: Holland Lake Waterfall

Stand-up paddleboarder enjoys an early spring day on Holland Lake.

Nestled in the Seeley-Swan Valley and good for an adventure in any season, Holland Falls is a three-mile round-trip trek up trail #42. To get there in winter, strap on your snowshoes, or hike up on a hot summer day to cool off in the mist of the massive falls. The trail ends just before the falls and overlooks Holland Lake. Then, head back down for a little water play in the lake. It’s is a popular spot for campers, canoers and stand-up paddleboarders.

Overlooking Holland Lake from Holland Falls.

The Pioneer: Martin City + Hungry Horse

Hungry Horse Reservoir.

There are three things you need to know about Martin City and Hungry Horse, Montana.

  1. In 2017 they held their 39th annual Cabin Fever Days and Barstool Ski Races.
  2. The towns were created after World War II during the construction of Hungry Horse Dam.
  3. They love your dam puns.

The Romantic: Fire Lookouts

Come on, we know you’ve dreamed about escaping to a cabin in the middle of nowhere, wistfully sipping coffee while you watch the sun rise over the Rocky Mountains. Well, here’s your chance, you romantic, you. The U.S. Forest Service rents fire lookouts and cabins throughout Montana on a first-come first-served basis. This off-the-beaten-path getaway can be yours for a small reservation fee. Western Montana houses eight of these 360-degree-view, picturesque lodging options. Reserve your spot at recreation.gov.

The Foraging Fiend: Huckleberries

Huckleberries.

This finicky native shrub only grows in high elevations, making Montana’s mountains a perfect home for its tasty berries. Huckleberries look like small blueberries and taste like a cross between a blueberry and blackberry. While you can find huckleberry syrup and jam at many Western Montana stores and farmers markets, the true forager will take to the hills looking to find their own “purple gold.” Most Montanans won’t give just anyone their secret berry spot, but we can tell you that the state’s legislature coined Trout Creek the “Huckleberry Capital of Montana.” Plan to visit in August for the Huckleberry Festival, and they just might share their secrets.

Pro Tip: If you decide to forage for huckleberries, be sure to make some noise and carry bear spray. Montana is bear country, and huckleberries are bear food.

Kayaker paddles through Holland Lake on a peaceful fall morning.

What’s your adventure type? Tell us by tweeting or gramming @glaciermt or #glaciermt.

Save

Save

Save

I’m in Love with a Montana State Park

Listen you guys, I have to come clean with you. I’m in love…with a Montana State Park. While I know it may be silly to love something like a state park, I literally cannot help myself.

You see, in honor of the Fourth of July, we decided it was imperative to get out of town and escape to a heavenly place called “the lake.” While there are many lakes to choose from throughout Western Montana’s Glacier Country, we settled on one fairly close to home and headed for Placid Lake State Park in Montana’s Seeley Valley. And it’s there that I fell in love. While Montana is home to 54 state parks (with each being lovely in its own right), I fell hard for Placid Lake.

Sunset at Placid Lake.

How can you not fall in love with a state park that has a sunset like this? 


Why?

Well I’ll tell ya.

-It’s literally 45 minutes from Placid Lake to my front door.
-The staff was SO nice. And not in a “we-better-be-nice-because-it’s-our-job” kind of a way. No way, folks. It was a “we-are-genuinely-nice-and-want-you-to-enjoy-this-beautiful-place” kind of niceness.
-They have three different loops for camping and while our park host thought we got a “bad spot” and felt a little sorry for us, we loved it! The lesson: there are no “bad camping spots” at Placid Lake.
-If you’re not into tent camping, not a worry. There are RV hookups and electricity at some of the sites.
-Placid Lake State Park has a boat launch, boat slips and boat trailer parking. Love.

Placid Lake is the perfect lake for tubing with your baby sister.

Placid Lake is the perfect lake for tubing with your baby sister.

-They have bathrooms with showers. $1 for three minutes? Don’t mind if I do.
-Placid Lake State Park is about a 10 minute drive to Seeley Lake, so if you run out of supplies it’s super easy to pop into town and pick more up.

Hauling tubes, Montana style.

Hauling tubes, Montana style.

Placid Lake, you have won my heart. Let’s stay in love forever, okay?

xo,
TT

PS: If you’re interesting in camping at Placid Lake State Park, you can reserve sites nine months in advance online.