Spring is a time of renewal—a time to refresh, restore and rediscover. The thing about exploring Western Montana this time of year is that spring is our largely undiscovered season. As the region emerges from winter, hiking and biking trails are clearing, and the landscape comes alive with wildflowers, wildlife and rushing rapids and waterfalls. Here’s where to find the magic of spring in Glacier Country, where songbirds and blue skies are waiting.
Follow in the footsteps of Lewis and Clark at Travelers’ Rest State Park in Lolo, where you’ll find the only archaeologically verified campsite of the Corps of Discovery Expedition. From birding and biking to history and hiking, this is one springtime activity the whole family will enjoy. Stop in at the visitor center and museum for a fascinating look at Lewis & Clark Expedition replicas, Salish culture, American Indian handcrafts, a frontier Main Street, and more.
Birders also enjoy the Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge in Stevensville. A 30-minute drive south of Missoula and a few minutes from Stevensville, the Lee Metcalf is a 2,800-acre refuge that’s home to a variety of wildlife and birds. The refuge has an extensive trail system for nature walks, but you can also drive Wildfowl Lane 3 miles through the southern half of the refuge. Enjoy gorgeous views of the Bitterroot Mountains. Added bonus this time of year: fawns!
Hiking in the Bitterroots is another springtime favorite. Easily accessible from Stevensville, trek the Kootenai Creek Trail along a gorgeous creek made even more scenic by high water flows, thanks to springtime runoff. The trail is 19.4 miles out and back, but most people turn around after two miles or so. Or, set your sites on a waterfall! Sweathouse Falls is especially scenic in the springtime. Near Victor, this beautiful trail is 5.1 miles out and back. You’re likely to still see some snow on these trails in the springtime, so plan ahead!
Bike all or part of the Bitterroot Trail, a flat, family-friendly paved trail that parallels U.S. Highway 93 and connects the entire valley from Lolo to Hamilton (though the trail actually begins in Missoula). This is a great way to tour this gorgeous valley from end to end.
Have you heard of our famously delicious Flathead cherries? Cherry orchards line Flathead Lake, and when the trees are in full bloom—early to mid-May—it’s an extra special time to circle the lake. We recommend a drive on State Highway 35 from Polson to Bigfork for the best orchard views.
At the base of the Mission Mountains in Moiese, the National Bison Range offers breathtaking views and wildlife watching a la baby bison! Travel along the West Loop in early spring. Red Sleep Drive (the 19-mile-long one-way drive that winds through the range) opens in early May. Photo Op: Spring is the time to capture a photo of bison against the backdrop of the snowcapped Mission Mountains.
Stay in Polson at the Red Lion Ridgewater Inn & Suites or camp at one of the five state parks around Flathead Lake. Campgrounds open in April, but please plan ahead as some amenities may not be available due to the pandemic.
Seeley Swan Corridor
Bigfork is a bucket-list must. Located on the bay of Flathead Lake, this storybook village has fun shops and galleries, and easy access to hiking trails and water fun. Stoll the adorable downtown and check out the multiple art galleries, like Riecke’s Bayside Gallery, and the restaurants that call this quaint town home. We recommend dinner and drinks at Bonfire. If you’re looking to land a fish, book a trip with Bagley Guide Service. Fishing trips on Flathead Lake with Bagley begin in March, and their heated boats keep everyone warm. Or, contact Base Camp Bigfork for kayak and stand-up paddleboard rentals and tours as well as mountain bike rentals.
From Bigfork, drive south on U.S. Highway 89 to Holland Lake Lodge and hike to Holland Lake Falls. This 3.3-mile out-and-back trail offers jaw-dropping views of Holland Lake and the falls are stunning, especially in spring when they’re gushing! Again, plan ahead for snow on the trails.
Blackfoot Corridor + Missoula
What’s a getaway in Montana without fly-fishing a blue-ribbon trout stream? That’s where Rock Creek comes in. This little gem is Montana fly-fishing at its finest, where anglers flock to reel in cutthroat, rainbow, bull and brown trout, as well as whitefish. Though it’s famous for its salmon fly hatch at the end of May into June, the second week of March offers phenomenal dry-fly fishing when the stoneflies and mayflies hatch. Once spring runoff is over, usually by late May, fish the Blackfoot River, made famous by Norman Maclean’s A River Runs Through It.
Live it up luxury style at the green o, or stay in Missoula, Western Montana’s arts and culture hot spot. With the Clark Fork River flowing through the heart of downtown, spring takes off early in Missoula. It’s the easy accessibility to the outdoors that makes Missoula a standout destination. In late May, hike Waterworks Hill to look for Montana’s state flower—the Bitterroot—and Missoula phlox flowers growing alongside the trail.
Another favorite spring pastime in Western Montana is golf, and Missoula boasts seven courses. Pack your clubs and tee up just as the landscape begins to green up.
Overnight at Gibson Mansion Bed & Breakfast (Hot Tip: The scones are insanely delicious), Residence Inn by Marriott Missoula Downtown, the brand new AC Hotel Missoula Downtown or Holiday Inn Missoula Downtown.
Glacier National Park
The park is open year-round, but spring is one of the quietest and loveliest times to visit the Crown of the Continent. There are plenty of opportunities to play in Glacier National Park this time of year.
Biking the iconic Going-to-the-Sun Road tops the list. Bicyclists are drawn to this famously scenic road in the springtime as they’ve got early access before it opens to vehicular traffic. Rent an eBike from Glacier Guides for a fun alternative to traditional pedaling. Biking Camas Road is also popular this time of year, and families are drawn to the Apgar Bike Path.
You can also hike the Going-to-the-Sun Road, and many other places in the park. Stick to lower elevations and around the edges of the park, which are usually clear of snowpack by the end of April, but plan ahead for snow and mud. Popular spring hikes include the Apgar Lookout, Lake McDonald’s West Shore, Fish Creek Trail, Trail of the Cedars, Johns Lake Loop, McDonald Creek, Beaver Pond Loop from the historic ranger station, St. Mary-Virginia Falls and the Red Eagle Trail.
For a springtime adrenaline rush, book a guided whitewater rafting adventure on the “Wild & Scenic” Middle Fork of the Flathead River with Glacier Raft Company. Runoff is raging in the springtime and these expert guides are ready to show you the rapids.
Beyond Glacier National Park
Just outside the park is just as lovely this time of year. The world-famous Polebridge Mercantile opens in April, and if you haven’t tasted one of their huckleberry bearclaws you haven’t had the full Glacier experience. The North Fork area around the mercantile is also a peaceful and pretty place to explore in the springtime.
Please note: Social distancing is required to help reduce the spread of COVID-19. Thankfully, we’ve got plenty of space for social distancing activities and recreation in Western Montana. It’s vital, however, to maintain a 6-foot distance from others, even outdoors. Please be mindful of our communities and small businesses, which have had to adapt to the change and may face limitations this year—always call ahead. We’re all in this together. Take the Tourism Pledge to travel responsibly in Glacier Country.
March 1, 2021
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