Tag Archives: Mission Valley

9 Must-See Attractions in Montana’s Mission Valley

Montana has some big names and well-known places (I’m talking about you Glacier National Park), but the truth of the matter is this: some of the coolest places are located off the beaten path and come in the form of small towns, destinations at the end of gravel roads, local shops and colorful characters. Keeping this in mind, last week I set out to explore one of Western Montana’s most-underrated places: the Mission Valley. And you guys, it was a perfect fall day that had picture-perfect views around every corner.

Hello Mission Mountains.

Hello Mission Mountains.

But, as it goes with many off-the-beaten-path places, it can be hard to know where to start or what to see when you’re adventuring around a new destination.

To make it easier, I rounded up 9 must-see attractions in Montana’s Mission Valley. 

1. The Mission Mountains from Ravalli Hill. Hands down, this is one of the best views in Montana and it’s not really off the beaten path, as it’s right on Highway 93. But here’s the thing: this view is best soaked in by pulling off the highway into the scenic overlook and spending at least a few minutes looking at one of the wildest mountain ranges in the West.
Insider tip: this is also one of the best places to catch sunrise.

My favorite view in the Mission Valley.

My favorite view in the Mission Valley.

2. McDonald Lake. I found out about McDonald Lake from one of my favorite places: instagram. Several locals were posting photos from this lake, located a short drive back in the Mission Mountains, to their instagram feeds and I knew it was a place I needed to visit. It’s a gorgeous destination to take a hike, have a picnic, cast a fishing line or simply sit and relax.
One thing to note: the lake is on tribal land, so you do need to purchase a recreation permit from the Confederated Salish & Kootenai Tribes.

McDonald Lake last spring.

McDonald Lake last spring.

3. The National Bison Range. It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of the National Bison Range (you can read more about my day trip to the range here), but regardless this is one of the best places to visit in the Mission Valley, especially for wildlife watching and photography.

This pile of antlers welcomes visitors to the National Bison Range.

This pile of antlers welcomes visitors to the National Bison Range.

4. Great Gray Gifts and Ninepipes Lodge. Located just off Highway 93, Great Gray Gifts is brand new to the Mission Valley (they opened in May 2016). Owned by the adorable husband-and-wife team from Ninepipes Lodge, the merchandise at Gray Gray Gifts is all hand-selected and and includes many made in Montana products. Next door, you’ll find Ninepipes Lodge and Allentown Restaurant. If you’re looking to stay and play in the Mission Valley, the lodge is a great home base.

Oh hey, Great Gray Gifts.

Oh hey, Great Gray Gifts. Photo: @greatgraygifts instagram

The view from the patio at Ninepipes Lodge.

The view from the patio at Ninepipes Lodge.

5. Ninepipes Museum of Early Montana. Located next door to Ninepipes Lodge is one of the most interesting museums in Montana—Ninepipes Museum of Early Montana. Operated by one of the valley’s most well-known families, the Cheffs, the museum has a well-curated collection of hundreds of Western Plains Indian artifacts, as well as exhibits on early settlers, the fur trade and cowboy way of life.
Insider tip: take the guided tour, if possible.

Handcrafted moccasins at the museum.

Handcrafted moccasins at the museum.

6. Mission Mountain Golf Course. If you like golf (or you’re really good at driving the golf cart like me), this course in Ronan has one of the most stunning backdrops in Western Montana.

Playing 18 holes with this backdrop? Yes please.

Playing 18 holes with this backdrop? Yes please.

7. Stella’s Deli & Bakery. Fun fact: I get really sick of eating sandwiches (except peanut butter and jelly – those never get old). But I’m 100 percent confident that I’ll never tire of the sandwiches at Stella’s Deli & Bakery in Ronan. I’m not sure if it’s the homemade buns they serve them on, but this is THE place to stop for lunch in Ronan.

I'll take seven cinnamon rolls please.

I’ll take seven cinnamon rolls and two turkey sandwiches, please.

8. Muley Bluz-Cowboy Toys. It’s no secret that I love cowboys and authentic western offerings, so believe me when I tell you that I’m obsessed with Muley Bluz. Located on Main Street in Ronan, I randomly stumbled into this shop last week and had a great 45 minutes of trying on chaps (also called chinks, depending on who you’re talking to), sitting in saddles and talking the owner’s ear off. Long story short: don’t visit the Mission Valley without stopping into Muley Bluz.

Not kidding: the saddle in the very front is the MOST comfortable saddle I've ever say my booty on.

Not kidding: the saddle in the very front is the MOST comfortable saddle I’ve ever sat my booty on.

9. The People’s Center. If you asked me what my favorite museum is in Montana, The People’s Center in Pablo would be among my top choices. The museum shares the history and culture of the Salish, Pend d’Oreille and Kootenai tribes and has artifacts and exhibits on display. But if you want to really learn about the history of Montana’s first nation, take the guided tour. The center’s tour guides will share incredible insights into the tribal histories, traditions and more and, to be totally truthful, it’s one of the best guided tours I’ve ever taken.

The People's Center at night.

The People’s Center at night.

Happy adventuring!

xo,
TT

Hidden in Plain Sight: Montana’s National Bison Range

Truth time: some of Montana’s most incredible places are hidden in plain sight. One such example is the National Bison Range.

The National Bison Range is located in Moiese, Montana on a small mountain that's connected to the Mission Mountains by a spur.

The National Bison Range is located in Moiese, Montana on a small mountain that’s connected to the Mission Mountains by a spur.

This pile of elk antlers, collected on the range, welcome visitors to the range and its visitor center.

This pile of elk antlers, collected on the range, welcome visitors to the range and its visitor center.

Located just off Highway 93 north of Ravalli, the National Bison Range has 18,500 acres of terrain that’s home to an estimated 350 herd of bison, as well as antelope, bighorn sheep, elk, deer, coyote and black bear. It’s also home to three scenic drives: Red Sleep Mountain Drive, Prairie Drive and West Loop. Since snowfall will soon close Red Sleep Mountain Drive, a gorgeous 19-mile-long one-way road (and one of my favorite drives in Western Montana) that takes visitors through the heart of the range, I grabbed a pal and we headed to the National Bison Range to make the drive before winter arrives.

And while we could definitely tell that fall has officially arrived in Montana, it was such a beautiful day.

Take a look…

Welcome to the National Bison Range!

Welcome to the National Bison Range!

The start of the drives: to the right is Red Sleep; to the left is West Loop.

The start of the drives: to the right is Red Sleep; to the left is West Loop.

This guy slowly made his way along the road.

This guy slowly made his way along the road.

After chowing on some grass, he started making his climb up the mountain.

After chowing on some grass, he started making his climb up the mountain.

The view from the backside of the range on Red Sleep Drive.

The view from the backside of the range on Red Sleep Drive.

Early fall brings incredible weather patterns to Montana, resulting in skies like this.

Early fall brings incredible weather patterns to Montana, resulting in this sky.

This bison was taking a nap. I think.

This bison was taking a nap (I think).

We saw several bighorn sheep along the drive's route.

We saw several bighorn sheep along the drive’s route.

Driving through history and the highest water mark of Lake Missoula, a massive prehistoric lake that covered this area 15,000 years ago.

Driving through history and the highest water mark of Lake Missoula, a massive prehistoric lake that covered this area 15,000 years ago.

This buck's antlers were velvety gorgeous.

This buck’s antlers were velvety gorgeous. He also did a great job blending into the landscape.

Some antelope, trying to blend in. They stood there motionless.

Some antelope, trying to blend in. They stood there totally motionless.

After seeing a handful of bison along Red Sleep Drive, we saw this massive herd as we were getting ready to leave.

After seeing a handful of bison along Red Sleep Drive, we saw this massive herd as we were getting ready to leave.

A few things to keep in mind when visiting the National Bison Range: 
-The bison range is open year-round and each season offers a chance to view wildlife.
-There are three drives on the range: Red Sleep Mountain Drive (open mid-May to early October), West Loop and Prairie Drive. Both West Loop and Prairie drive are open year-round. Learn more about all three drives here.
-Vehicles over 30 feet long are not allowed on Red Sleep Mountain Drive.
-The National Bison Range is an ideal location for viewing wildlife and remember that they are most active at dusk and dawn. The NBR has helpful hints for how and where to photograph wildlife on the range here.
-When visiting the range, take time to explore its nearby communities including Moiese, Ravalli, St. Ignatius and Charlo.
-If you’re looking to overnight near the National Bison Range (allowing for easy access to early morning views and prime wildlife-watching), check out Ninepipes Lodge near Charlo.
-Front gate hours are 6:30 a.m. – 8:30 p.m.
-Cost to visit the range is $5 vehicle.

And if you need a personal guide on your visit to the National Bison Range? Call us (or actually tweet us at @GlacierMT)!

xo,
TT