Category Archives: Family Fun

Winter Road Trips and Scenic Drives in Western Montana

Road trips are often equated with summertime, or at least with the warmer months (and by warmer we mean no threat of snowy road conditions). But here’s the thing: we recreate outdoors all year here in Western Montana, so we’re always on the road driving from one ski hill, Nordic paradise or snowmobile trail to another, and we’re here to tell you this—the winter panoramas from the pavement here are pretty magical, and the stops along the way are, too. 

Winter views in Western Montana, like East Glacier’s Dancing Lady Mountain, will not disappoint. Photo: Tracey Vivar

A winter road trip in Glacier Country is always good for a snow-season refresh, whether you get out for a few hours or a whole day, or you turn your travels into an overnight adventure. Never-ending bluebird skies against pure white snow sparkling in the sunshine? Yes please.

Here are a few of our favorite winter drives in Western Montana:

RAVALLI TO ST. REGIS – TOUR 200 + ST. REGIS/PARADISE SCENIC BYWAY
53 Miles
Just outside of Ravalli, head west on Highway 200 traveling along with the Flathead River as it snakes through scenic valley vistas. You’ll pass through the small towns of Dixon—famous for their mouthwatering Dixon Melons—and Perma. As this two-lane highway winds down the valley, the mountains continue to get more and more grand. Head south on Highway 135, following the Clark Fork River down the St. Regis/Paradise Scenic Byway. Stop for a soak at Quinn’s Hot Springs Resort or a meal at their historic Harwood House Restaurant. Continue south down this picturesque mountain highway until you reach St. Regis. Stop at the St. Regis Travel Center for gas and a huckleberry shake, and don’t miss the free live trout aquarium!

Highway 135 follows alongside the Clark Fork River, making for a gorgeous and fun drive. Photo: Jerrie Bullock

MISSOULA TO SULA HIGHWAY 93
82 Miles
This four-lane highway takes you straight through the always-gorgeous Bitterroot Valley. From Missoula, drive south towards Lolo, admiring the many towering peaks of this picturesque range, like Lolo and St. Mary. Make an appointment with the Holt Heritage Museum for a history lesson on cowboy culture, American Indians and the Lewis and Clark Expedition. From Lolo, head to Florence and on through Stevensville, Victor and finally to Hamilton. Continue south on 93 until you see the right-hand turn for Lake Como Road. Follow that until you reach the Lake Como Group Picnic Site. Check the Bitterroot National Forest website for trail information, or just enjoy the views of Lake Como underneath Western Montana’s El Capitan and West Como Peak.

Jump back on Highway 93 towards the quaint, Old West town of Darby, where you can fuel up on food and gas, or extend your trip with a stay at Alta Ranch—a great place for cross-country skiing. Highway 93 takes you past Lost Trail Powder Mountain and Chief Joseph Pass for more cross-country-country skiing, snowshoeing or winter hiking.

HIGHWAY 12 SCENIC DRIVE
70 Miles
Highway 12 into Idaho is one spectacular drive, especially in the winter. This two-lane highway weaves through the lush Lolo National Forest. Check out Travelers’ Rest State Park for a little Lewis and Clark history. Highway 12 follows West Fork Lolo Creek, and with the density of the trees and slope of the surrounding mountains, this beautiful drive makes you feel far away from it all. Take a much-deserved stop Lolo Hot Springs for a mineral soak, a warm meal or place to rest your head. Lolo Hot Springs is close to easy snowshoe and cross-country trails (Lolo Pass). Head back towards Lolo to enjoy a different view, but take it easy on this winding mountain road. When you’re back in Lolo, treat yourself to a steak dinner.

WHITEFISH TO WEST GLACIER
26 Miles
Thousands travel this route throughout the summer months, but as a winter drive, it’s just as stunning. Begin in Whitefish with views of a winter Whitefish Lake, or take a fat-bike ride around Beaver Lake with Whitefish Bike Retreat. Outside of Whitefish, head south on Highway 93 to Highway 40 toward Columbia Falls. Highway 40 becomes Highway 2 as you drive into the mouth of this breathtaking canyon. Covered in ice and snow, the Flathead River is truly stunning. Stop in Hungry Horse at the Huckleberry Patch for a slice of homemade Montana pie or fudge. Continue on Highway 2, making a stop at Glacier Distilling Company in Coram (be sure to designate your driver). Highway 2 passes through West Glacier, with access to Glacier National Park. For winter access to Lake McDonald, head north to Apgar Village. The Apgar Visitor Center has weekend hours throughout the winter months. Make sure to check their hours online.

Fat bikes are one cool way to sightsee around Glacier Country. Photo: Adam Caira

The National Park Service also offers weekend ranger-guided snowshoe park tours January through March. Make sure to check the Going-to-the-Sun Road status to see how far into the park the road is open.

Lake McDonald’s keeps its stunning allure all year long.

POLSON TO POLSON: FLATHEAD LAKE LOOP
87.5 Miles
See Flathead Lake from all sides. From Polson, head northwest on Highway 93. Stop by the Kwataqnuk Resort & Casino for a little extra fun. Stay on 93 towards Big Arm and Flathead State Park. Wraps around the “big arm” of the lake through Elmo, Dayton, and Rollins. Lakeside Motel & Resort offers relaxing and scenic lakeside lodging, plus delicious food. From Lakeside, continue north to Somers and then take a left on Highway 82, which will take you past Kalispell Bay and over the Flathead River, then turn onto Highway 35 heading south.

Bigfork is a real charmer. Determine your designated driver and stop by Flathead Lake Brewing Company, or check out The Barn Antiques, Consignment & Gifts. Afterwards, travel on to the stellar winter lake views at Wayfarers/Flathead Lake State Park. We recommend taking it easy on this two-lane highway, for safety reasons and because the winter views of Flathead Lake are incredible. Continue on past Woods Bay towards Finley Point, where we recommend sitting down for dinner at Finley Point Grill.

ESSEX TO ST. MARY
72 Miles
Taking the route from Essex to St. Mary is a unique way to see a very wintry Glacier Country. In Essex, start by cross-country skiing or snowshoeing from the Izaak Walton Inn. If you’re looking for a place to spend the night, rent one of their cabins or iconic renovated cabooses. From Essex, head east on Highway 2. This two-lane highway winds through the mountains, including Mt. Furlong, Snowslip Mountain and Calf Robe Mountain. Wintertime in East Glacier is quiet, but you’ll enjoy the view of Glacier National Park’s peaks where they meet the plains of Eastern Montana. Take the more frequently traveled Highway 2 east towards Browning or the less-traveled Highway 49 north towards Lower Two Medicine Lake, which eventually meets Highway 89. In Browning, check out Faught’s Blackfeet Trading Post or the Museum of the Plains Indian for fascinating American Indian history. Beyond Browning, jump on Highway 89 heading west, passing through the small towns of Star and Kiowa. Continue north until you reach the junction back into the park to see Saint Mary Lake or Lower St. Mary Lake. Travel into Glacier National Park on the east side is a bit more limited than the west, but always know what’s open by checking road conditions online.

Look to the north on Highway 2 for a view of Calf Robe Mountain. Photo: Tracey Vivar

WINTER DRIVING SAFETY TIPS

  • Check out Montana Department of Transportation’s Travel Map for up-to-date road conditions.
  • Travel with sleeping bags, blankets, extra water and food, extra warm clothes, and look ahead for where cell service may be spotty or nonexistent.  
  • Make sure your vehicle is well-maintained: working headlights and tail lights, coolant, windshield wipers, tire pressure, etc.
  • Take it slow! Road conditions may change quickly.
  • Keep an eye out for wildlife.
  • Assign a designated driver if consuming alcohol.
  • Refuel when you can—in some areas, gas stations can be few and far between.
  • Always check business hours before stopping, in case there are weather-related closings or changes.    

We love our wildlife, so please watch carefully for bighorn sheep or other animals while driving. Photo: Jerrie Bullock

Winter Family Fun in Western Montana: Getaway to Glacier Together

Winter’s the time of year when it’s pretty easy to get a little stir crazy. But in Western Montana’s Glacier Country, it’s the season of snowy splendor, and we’ve got the best cure for cabin fever: literally get your family to a cabin—preferably a slopeside one—and embrace all that winter in Western Montana has to offer. If a cabin is not for you, we have plenty of lodges, resorts, ski chalets and vacation homes too for the whole family. Our lodging is exceptionally cozy, and our hospitality is always warm.

Glacier Country gives family time a whole new meaning.

We play all year here, but winter is one of our best seasons for adventure. Exploration is exponential this time of year, and we promise your family will love spending time under the big sky. There’s no better place to rekindle and beat winter boredom. Snow-season activities abound in Western Montana and most are family friendly—just like our charming mountain towns. So pack up your favorite people and head on over to our little slice of winter heaven.

SKI + BOARD
Trade in all your screens for skis and plug into our powder paradise of family-friendly resorts. Western Montana makes your family ski vacation a memorable alpine adventure with six downhill ski areas. Get the entire family on the slopes with affordable lift tickets, no crowds or lift lines, plus ski school and rentals.

You know it was a good day of skiing at Lost Trail Powder Mountain with a smile like this.

The Kids Center at Whitefish Mountain Resort provides childcare for the littles who aren’t skiing yet and early ski and board programs for those just starting out.

Located on the Montana/Idaho border is Lookout Pass. Their famous free ski school (restrictions apply; see their website for details) plus their affordable lift tickets (free for children 6 and under) make for an unforgettable experience.

Visiting Missoula for the holidays? Snowbowl has a three-day ski school between Christmas and the new year. Plus, their pizza is so good, locals drive up to “The Bowl” just for that. (Parents take note: Snowbowl is also known for its bloody marys.)

SLEIGH RIDES
Experience the magic of our enchanting winter wonderland by dashing through the snow in a horse-drawn sleigh—complete with hot cocoa and jingle bells, of course. Sleigh rides in Glacier Country offer snowy vistas by day and starry skies by night.

It’s pure enchantment when you see Western Montana by horse-drawn-sleigh. Photo: Cripple Creek Ranch

HOCKEY + ICE SKATING
Pass the puck at a pickup game of hockey at Missoula’s indoor ice rink, enjoy open skate at Kalispell’s newly renovated outdoor rink, Woodlandland Ice Center, or try the outdoor rink in Missoula’s Rattlesnake Valley. Headed to the Bitterroot Valley? Florence has a new outdoor rink as well, plus there’s an old-fashioned candy store further on down “The Root” in Darby.

SLEDDING
This quintessential winter pastime is one of the easiest ways to play in the Montana powder and always affords plenty of laughs. Enjoy the crisp mountain air and breathtaking scenery. Sledding is a pretty great way to make magical winter memories. Grab a sled, tube or toboggan and head for the hills. You’ll find popular sledding spots all across the region, and many of our resorts offer sledding and tobogganing activities. If you’re in the Flathead Valley, check out the sledding hills at Polson’s Riverside Park, and then take a scenic wintry drive up Flathead Lake to explore the storied town of Bigfork.

There’s nothing quite as classic than sledding with family on Montana winter’s day.

GOOD EATS FOR EVERYONE
After a long day playing together, food is essential. In Glacier Country, it’s also very yummy. Grab a meal at one of our many kid-friendly restaurants. Check out the kids’ menu at The Montana Club in Kalispell and Missoula, or dine at one of our family-friendly breweries and then cozy up fireside and reminisce of the day’s adventures. Pro-Parent Tip: Missoula’s Northside KettleHouse Brewery has toys and games for the kiddos.

Enjoy KettleHouse’s amazing beer at their family-friendly Missoula brewery.

GO WITH A GUIDE
We realize (all too well) that getting everyone out of the house can be a bit chaotic. Take a travel tip from us and make your trip as relaxing as possible. Western Montana guides and outfitters are here to help you have a memorable, authentic and safe experience, no matter your adventure preference. Snowshoe tour through Glacier National Park, anyone? Glacier Adventure Guides offers tours for the whole family.

Guided trips offer a fun and unique experience for everyone in the family. Photo: Devin Schmit

Psst…if you’re planning a family reunion, think about renting a block of condos next to Whitefish Mountain Resort and gather in a Glacier Country winter. There’s something for everyone here.

 

 

 

Meet Glacier Country’s Best-Kept Secret: Winter in Libby

Winter is typically known as the season of hibernation and all things cozy, though cabin fever often finds a way of sneaking in. Here in Glacier Country, we’ve got just the cure for that: the little town of Libby, Montana boasts big adventures.

Libby sits humbly in the scenic northwest corner of Big Sky Country, surrounded by national forestland “where the Cabinet Mountains meet the Kootenai River.” This unassumingly awesome small town does winter the way winter should be done. The terrain is vast, the powder is the epitome of perfection and the hospitality is authentic.

Small but mighty, Turner Mountain Ski Resorts offers great snow and big views. Photo: Bruce Zwang

Slay the snow downhill at Turner Mountain, with some of the best lift-assisted skiing in the U.S., according to SKI magazine. This tucked-away treasure delivers sought-after skiing and snowboarding on 25 named runs with a vertical drop of 2,110 feet, affordable lift tickets, no crowds and priceless adventure. Added bonus: The views are real jaw droppers. Turner is open Friday through Sunday. Don’t miss Turner Mountain Fun Day annually in February.

Nordic skiers find their paradise in Libby, too. Make a day of it on a groomed trail with lunch at a picnic shelter, and warm up later by a trailside fire ring, or soak up the solitude and serenity of open-ridge backcountry trails against the beauty of the Yaak and Kootenai.

Where the terrain and powder are seemingly endless, this is one epic place. Photo: Lincoln County SnoKat Club

For power-hungry powder seekers, hundreds of miles of groomed snowmobile trails crisscross the region, where stunning views are a dime a dozen. Warming huts and Forest Service lookouts dot the terrain. Around these parts, snowmobilers will find plenty to do and see while winter is in Montana. 

When it’s time to get back to the warm and cozy, Libby provides. This little community bustles year-round with hometown charm, lodging, dining and amenities.

INSIDER TIPS

Play + Stay: Venture Inn and Restaurant
“Libby’s finest,” the Venture Inn offers the relaxing stay you need after a day in the snow. Cozy accommodations are their specialty, and the inn’s restaurant serves up delicious home-style comfort food all year long for hungry travelers. Bringing your powderhound along for the adventure? The Venture Inn has pet-friendly rooms, too.

Fill up and warm up at AuntT’s with meals like this Loaded Baked Potato soup. Photo: AuntT’s Coffee Corner

Caffeine for the Soul: AuntT’s Coffee Corner
Look. We know. The day begins after coffee. AuntT knows it too. That’s why she created Libby’s destination espresso bar with all of us in mind. And, since breakfast is the most important meal of the day, she makes that, too. See you at AuntT’s for a hot cup of joe and a delicious breakfast sammy.

Montana does craft beer very well and Cabinet Mountain Brewing Company is no exception.

Pull up a Barstool…er, a Couch: Cabinet Mountain Brewing Company
Dubbed “Libby’s Living Room,” Cabinet Mountain Brewing has become the city’s community gathering place. Montana’s only women-owned brewery, CMBC handcrafts mighty excellent ales and sodas, serves up delicious food made to pair well with their brews, and offers live music every week. If you find yourself in Libby on a Tuesday evening, it’s Taproom Trivia night at CMBC, so grab an award-winning Yaak Attack IPA and put on your game face.

LEAVE IT TO LIBBY:
Friends…Libby has a Polar Bear Club, and it’s a sight to behold. Every Sunday from the last one in October through the first one in April, this local club of Libby’s courageous—along with its unofficial leader, Polar Bear Rick—meets at 2 p.m. at the Farm-to-Market bridge over Libby Creek. Feeling bold? Take the plunge and you’ll be honored with a certificate for your bravery.

Libby just can’t help itself: it’s a true winter wonderland. Grab a pair of snowshoes and trek to Kootenai Falls for epic views of Mother Nature’s ice sculptures, or head to Ross Creek and experience a real-life snow-globe of giant western red cedars.  

15 Holiday Events in Western Montana: A Big Sky Country Christmas

We always talk about how much we love winter, and it’s the truth. It’s also true that we love the festive holiday frolic the season brings. In Western Montana’s Glacier Country, we really know how to deck the halls and celebrate the season of giving with all things merry and bright.

So without further ado, here’s a look at Western Montana’s must-see happenings this holiday season.

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

Santa at Missoula’s Southgate Mall + Holiday Performances
Capture the magic of the season at Southgate Mall, the region’s largest shopping center, with a Santa visit and photos, as well as a gingerbread house contest display and holiday performances. For a complete rundown of holiday happenings at the mall, visit shopsouthgate.com. New this year: Holiday Hustle for Him on Wednesday, December 20 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Christmas at Kalispell’s Conrad Mansion Museum
November 24 – December 31
The home of one of Kalispell’s founders, Charles Conrad, gets completely decked out in seasonal splendor, and the mansion offers tours Fridays and Saturdays during the holiday season at 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m

Old-Fashioned Forest Service Christmas at the National Museum of Forest Service History, Missoula
November 25, 1 p.m. – 4 p.m.
Join Santa Claus and his pack mule team, plus Smokey Bear and Woodsy Owl, for Christmas stories and songs around the campfire, a candy cane hunt, holiday shopping at the Bungalow Ranger Station, plus Bill Moore’s book, “The Lochsa Story,” his documentary, “Bud’s Place,” and a book signing with author Vicky MacLean.

Carriage Rides in Downtown Missoula
Saturdays and Sundays November 25 – December 17, 11 a.m. – 4 p.m.
Take a break from the holiday hustle for a festive horse-drawn carriage ride in downtown Missoula. The Resort at Paws Up brings two of their beloved horses to town for free carriage rides. Make your way to Missoula’s East Pine Street and hop in.

Enjoy a festive carriage ride through downtown Missoula. Photo: Taylar Robbins

Polson Parade of Lights
December 1, 6 p.m.
Get festive in the Flathead Valley and celebrate the beginning of the Christmas season with Santa, a bonfire, food vendors and a parade. Downtown Polson shops stay open late so you can start checking names off your gift list.

Lantern Tours at the Historical Museum at Fort Missoula
December 1 – 3, 5:30 p.m.- 7:00 p.m.
The Historical Museum at Fort Missoula offers guided lantern tours providing a look into past winters (complete with plenty of Christmas moments) and ends with cocoa and cookies. Book early! Call 406.728.3476 (extension 1) to purchase tickets.

Whitefish Christmas Stroll
December 8, 5:30 p.m. – 9 p.m.
The quintessential mountain resort town of Whitefish decks its halls and kicks off the holiday season with a downtown Christmas Stroll featuring concerts, a tree-lighting ceremony, Santa, and wagon rides from Bar W Guest Ranch.

A Christmas carol before your eyes—chestnuts roasting on an open fire in Whitefish, Montana  Photo: Peter Siudara

Christmas Light Trolley Tours in Kalispell
December 8 – 31
Hop aboard a cozy trolley and set out to view the holiday lights in Kalispell with Montana Trolley Co. Click here for specific times and additional info.

Christmas in Bigfork
Located on the bay of Flathead Lake, the quaint (and beyond adorable) community of Bigfork goes all out for Christmas. Two days to note: Saturday, December 9 and Saturday, December 16. On those days, Santa comes to Bigfork, along with carolers and free live music dowtown, and the Bigfork Playhouse Children’s Theatre presents “White Christmas.”

Not many places celebrate Christmas quite like Bigfork, Montana. Photo: Bigfork Chamber of Commerce

Dolce Canto’s Light, Beauty, Peace at the Historic St. Ignatius Mission
December 10, 7 p.m.
One of the most beautiful churches in the state, the St. Ignatius Mission hosts Missoula’s a cappella (though sometimes accompanied) choir, Dolce Canto, for a holiday concert encouraging listeners to meditate on the notion of hope this holiday season.

Handel’s Messiah with Glacier Symphony + Chorale
December 15 – 17, 7:30 p.m.
A popular holiday tradition, the Glacier Symphony and Chorale performs Handel’s Messiah in Bigfork, Whitefish and Kalispell.

The Nutcracker in Missoula
December 15 – 17
A beloved holiday tradition, Montana’s Garden City Ballet performs “The Nutcracker.” Check specific times here for this treasured Missoula community event.

The grace and tradition of Missoula’s Nutcracker performance will be the highlight of your holiday season. Photo Neil Chaput de Saintonge

Community Christmas Party
December 16, 11 a.m. – 3 p.m.
Hamilton’s historic Daly Mansion hosts a Community Christmas Party complete with a visit from Santa and activities for the whole family.

Yuletide Affair 14 at Alpine Theatre Project
December 21-23, 7 p.m.
This sellout show stages once again at the Whitefish Performing Arts Center with a mix of holiday music, Broadway-caliber performances and hilarious satire. You can snag tickets here.

Whitefish’s Yuletide Affair is the perfect combination of comedy and winter cheer. Photo: Brenda Ahearn

Christmas Eve Torchlight Parade at Whitefish Mountain Resort
December 24
A Christmas Eve tradition, Santa visits the slopes of Whitefish Mountain Resort, leads a torchlight parade on snow-covered Big Mountain, and gives out gifts at Ed & Mully’s after the parade (so hopefully you’ve been good this year).

You can also check out a full listing of holiday events at glaciermt.com/events.php.

May your days be merry and bright! (If you’re in Montana, all of your Christmases will probably be white, too. We just can’t help ourselves.)

 

 

 

Biking Montana’s Bitterroot Trail: Missoula to Hamilton

Biking on the Bitterroot Trail. PHOTO: Saara Snow

Three decades of hard work and dedication went into the completion of the 50-mile paved trail that connects Western Montana’s cultural hub—Missoula—with the gorgeous Bitterroot Valley, known fondly around here as “the Root.” The trail, stretching all the way to Hamilton, is lined with small towns, scenic bends, recreation hot spots, and a whole lot of beauty and charm.

Paralleling the rugged Bitterroot Mountains to the west and the rolling Sapphire Mountains to the east, the trail allows bicyclists to weave their way through one of the most picturesque parts of our region, which is especially vibrant in the fall. The Bitterroot is also an angler’s paradise, and autumn in Montana  offers quieter waters with heavenly golden views.

Fall foliage colors the Bitterroot landscape. PHOTO: Donnie Sexton

START PEDALING: Missoula

Fuel up in this hip little mountain town with coffee shops galore. Pack some snacks and hit the trail from the central part of town. Missoula also makes a great base camp for Glacier Country exploration.

If you prefer to hit the path and go the distance without many stops, go for it; road bikes cruise the route frequently. It will not disappoint. If you’re up for it, venture off the path onto scenic backroads from Victor to Hamilton, or climb Skalkaho Pass and Sleeping Child Road.

If you’re like us and you’re looking for a slower-paced pedal with side adventures aplenty, there’s much to see and do in the valley. Recreation opportunities abound in the Bitterroot National Forest, the Bitterroot River beckons, and the quaint towns along the trail offer a place to rest, recharge and experience the western hospitality we’re known for.

Stops along the way…

Recreation areas, parks, mountain biking and hiking trails, and fishing spots dot the route, and various campgrounds provide drinking water, bathroom facilities and overnight sites, if you’re interested in making a stay of it.

The small towns that make up the Bitterroot Valley offer adventure in abundance, plus unique local eateries, breweries and watering holes to fill your belly and quench your thirst.

Fueling up at Morningstar Caffeine and Cuisine in Stevensville. PHOTO: Saara Snow

Lolo: Visit Travelers’ Rest State Park and Holt Heritage Museum (open by appointment only). Need a chocolate boost for the ride? Stop in at The Sweets Barn for just that.

Florence: Veer off the trail southeast of Florence for mountain biking at Threemile Wildlife Management Area, or head to Chief Looking Glass Campground for blue-ribbon trout-stream fishing access on the Bitterroot River.

Stevensville: Find yourself in Montana’s first settlement. Check out St. Mary’s Mission for a history lesson or the Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge—a birder’s paradise. For a bite to eat, downtown Stevensville packs a lot of punch for its size.

Biking near Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge.

Victor: Visit the Victor Heritage Museum, and also find easy access to the Bitterroot National Forest. Visiting in October? Victor’s Field of Screams is exactly the haunted adventure it sounds like it is.

FINISH UP: Hamilton

At the southern end of the trail, Hamilton is the Bitterroot’s largest small town. Tour the historic Daly Mansion or recreate in nearby Blodgett Canyon. After 50+ miles of pedaling, you might need a drink, and you’ve undoubtedly worked up a Montana sized appetite…so go ahead and make your way to Moose Creak Barbecue, or pull up a barstool at one of the town’s beloved breweries—Higherground Brewing Co. or BitterRoot Brewery, both of which serve delicious food, too.

Hamilton’s Daly Mansion. PHOTO: Destination Missoula

Biking the Bitterroot Trail is a pretty unique way to tour this storied and scenic valley and create your own adventure in Western Montana’s Glacier Country. Grab a bike, and we’ll see you in the Root!

Fall Family Fun: Montana’s Harvest Traditions + Halloween Happenings

Pumpkin patch in Missoula. PHOTO: Destination Missoula

Western Montana’s golden fall foliage set against our signature big blue sky is enough to make autumn a lovely time to visit Glacier Country. Add to that our strong heritage of local harvest traditions and Halloween happenings, and the season becomes downright fun. Family activities abound this time of year, and we’re here to give you an insider’s guide to some of our best—and spookiest—festivities. So grab that pumpkin spice latte you’ve been waiting all year for (and perhaps a handful of candy corn) and give in to your craving for all things autumn. Oh, and don’t forget your costume.

Family Fall Fest: Missoula

October 21, 2017, 1 – 4 p.m.

Fall frolic happens at the Fort. Fort Missoula Regional Park, that is. The Fort’s classic Family Fall Fest has everything you’d expect—a costume parade, apple cider pressed on site, hayrides, pumpkin and face painting, games, sack races, and…a giant pile of leaves. Jump into fall in Montana at this fun family festival. Plus, it’s free. (A suggested $1 donation supports the Fort’s scholarship fund.)

Haunted Hayrides: Hamilton

October 27 – 28, 2017, 7 – 10 p.m.

What’s fall without a hayride and Halloween without haunting? Head to the historic Daly Mansion in Hamilton for both of these things—haunted hayrides. Ghouls, ghosts and goblins wander the mansion grounds. Witness a zombie wedding, scary clowns and a hillbilly village. Bonus: The Bitterroot Valley is absolutely stunning this time of year, so add a leaf-peeping scenic drive onto either end of your hayride, whether you stick to Highway 93 or turn off into one of the Bitterroot’s scenic canyons to pull over and take a golden fall hike (costumes optional, hiking shoes recommended).

Hamilton’s Daly Mansion. PHOTO: Destination Missoula

Field of Screams: Victor

Open through October 31 (see website for days/times)

Hailed as “Western Montana’s #1 Haunted Attraction” Victor’s Field of Screams is exactly what it sounds like it is. Daytime fun turns into nighttime terror. Bring your little goblins by during the daylight hours for wagon rides, a hay bale tower and cornfield fun without the spooks. But when the sun goes down the zombies come out, and it’s time for the big kids to play. Field of Screams is not for the faint of heart. Thrills and chills abound.

Sweet Pickin’s Pumpkin Patch: Kalispell

Open through October 31, 2017, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.

Picking out a pumpkin is part of the magic of the season, and building a day of autumn adventure around it makes it all the more special. Head to the breathtaking (especially this time of year) Flathead Valley and make fall farm memories at the family-run Sweet Pickin’s Pumpkin Patch, with activities like a giant jumping pillow and a huge construction site sand box, plus tractor tours, farm animals and train rides. Jump in the corn kernel shed, hang out by the plum trees, and savor the season with caramel apples, kettle corn and hot chocolate. Oh, and don’t forget to pick out a pumpkin!

Sweet Pickin’s Pumpkin Patch. PHOTO: Sweet Pickin’s

Festival of the Dead

November 2, 2017, 6 – 8:30 p.m.

Inspired by the traditions of the Mexican holiday El Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), Missoula’s unique and popular annual Festival of the Dead is a multicultural family-friendly event celebrating life and death through community arts. The festival culminates with a procession, which begins at the north end of downtown Missoula’s Higgins Avenue and processes to Caras Park, with post-procession performances by the University of Montana’s African Dance Class and Unity Dance and Drum.

Harvest Wrap-Up: Glacier Country’s rich autumn traditions are the perfect way to take in fall in Montana. Do note: It’s the season of favorite flannels and cozy sweaters, but be prepared for any kind of weather this time of year.

For more fall fun, visit our Fall in Montana page, where we’ve compiled a list of autumn activity ideas and events in our little corner of Big Sky Country. Be in the know about all the finest fall happenings, and also learn where to hike, bike, float, fish, golf and camp—all the obvious things we love about Montana—among the vibrant fall colors. We’ll also help you find the best local spots to kick back and relax with some of Montana’s favorite fall flavors (think pumpkin ice cream) and tastiest seasonal brews. There’s something for every member of the family to enjoy in a Montana autumn, plus shoulder-season pricing.

Big Sky Beats: Music Festivals and Concerts in Western Montana

Western Montana’s jaw-dropping natural beauty and wide open spaces are perfect for nurturing the imagination. That means there’s no shortage of creative genius in our roots. Artists are drawn here from all over the world. Our communities are alive with arts and culture, and our festivities are often centered around one of our favorite things—music, which we take pretty seriously around these parts.

Glacier Country offers the perfect combination of diverse venues, small-town charm and breathtaking scenery, so it’s no surprise that there’s always some form of musical entertainment to take in. From seasonal symphonies to outdoor concerts and festivals featuring local and national acts to local bands in favorite bars, music echoes in these mountains any chance it gets…which is pretty often. Well, all the time, actually.

We host some of the best music festivals west of the Continental Divide, in unique indoor and outdoor settings big and small. Plan your late summer or early fall visit around one of the events below, put on your dancing shoes, and come hear what’s playing under the big sky.

One of Western Montana’s newest concert locales is now open and offering a rare treat for music lovers in the 4000-capacity open-air venue right on the edge of the Blackfoot River adjacent to Kettlehouse Brewery.

Travelers’ Rest Festival

August 12 – 13, 2017
For over a decade, Big Sky Brewing Company has hosted concerts on their scenic Missoula grounds, and they’ve recently (earlier this year!) unveiled a brand new state-of-the-art amphitheater, designed with larger productions in mind. The August 2017 Travelers’ Rest Festival (presented by The Decemberists) brings stellar artists and fresh mini donuts. What’s not to love?

Festival Amadeus

August 8 – 13, 2017
Mozart in the mountains? We’re all about that. Seven days of classical music against the backdrop of Glacier National Park sounds like a pretty good time to us. The Glacier Symphony and Chorale is an established cultural treasure and Festival Amadeus offers an engaging lineup of highly acclaimed musicians in Whitefish.

A road trip to an event on Flathead Lake is always filled with incredible views.

Flathead Lake Blues Festival

August 18 – 19, 2017
Enjoy the deep south in the wild West with blues under the big sky. The Flathead Lake Blues Festival in Polson showcases musicians from all over Western Montana, situated right on the shores of stunning Flathead Lake. This year’s festival features Ladies of the Blues and several International Blues Challenge competitors.

Bitterroot Celtic Games and Gathering

August 19 – 20, 2017
Listening to bagpipes in Montana’s beautiful Bitterroot Valley is one way to enjoy a summer visit to Glacier Country. Come to Hamilton’s historic Daly Mansion for pipes, drums and Irish step dancing—and a “Shamrock vs. Thistle” Irish whisky and scotch comparison, of course.

The River City Roots Festival is fun-filled free community concert held in Downtown Missoula.
PHOTO: Athena Photography/Missoula Downtown Association

River City Roots Festival

August 25 – 26, 2017
For a true taste of the heart and soul of Missoula, plan your visit around its signature event, the River City Roots Festival. Recognized as the 2009 Montana Tourism Event of the Year, the Roots Fest is a free two-day festival offering exceptional music, local art and family fun. Dancing in the streets highly encouraged.

The Crown Guitar Workshop & Festival

August 27 – September 2, 2017
Billed as “summer’s best backyard party,” The Crown Guitar Workshop & Festival at Averill’s Flathead Lake Lodge in Bigfork draws guitar lovers from all over the world. Hear music legends perform in a small meadow venue and enjoy family-style meals in the log cabin Main Lodge.

 

Caras Park in Missoula has many outdoor music events throughout the spring, summer and fall.

Symphony in the Park

August 13, 2017
Grab a blanket, pack your picnic basket and head to Caras Park for this free, family-friendly downtown Missoula summertime tradition—an evening of pops favorites and classical music overlooking the Clark Fork River.

Happy Listening,
Glacier Country Tourism

Missoula Magic: A Weekend in a Western Montana Hot Spot

We’ve got a crush on Missoula. It’s the kind of place that will steal your heart and never let go. The allure of small-city charm surrounded by breathtaking wilderness has secured its position as one of our region’s cultural and recreation hot spots. If you’re looking for a place to feed your soul and your belly, spend a weekend in Missoula, but plan on being a little heartbroken when it’s time to leave. The list of things to do in the robust mountain town is long, so we took the guesswork out of planning the perfect Missoula weekend:

SATURDAY

The Missoula farmers markets are full of local favorites and seasonal surprises like morel mushrooms and fresh huckleberries.

Firsts things first: coffee. Start your Saturday off with a cup of Montana’s best at Black Coffee Roasting Co. (named the Best Coffee in Montana by Cosmopolitan and Mental Floss, 2017). Try the AM blend…it’s morning, after all.

A kayaker on Brennan’s Wave in downtown Missoula.

From there, stroll downtown to the Clark Fork Market (did we mention Missoula is kind of famous for its outdoor market scene?) and grab yourself a waffle sandwich. Trust us, you won’t be disappointed.

A Carousel for Missoula was hand-carved and painted by Missoula residents.

While you’re in Caras Park, take a spin on A Carousel for Missoula and then take a look out over the river’s edge at Brennan’s Wave and watch the surfers and kayakers play in this man-made whitewater playground.

From there, head up onto the Higgins Bridge and begin your exploration of downtown Missoula’s shops, galleries and eateries. Then for good measure (and because it’s delicious), grab some ice cream at Sweet Peaks or the Big Dipper.

When happy hour rolls around, stop in at the Top Hat or Finn & Porter for appetizers and drinks, and then spend a relaxing evening with an Eddy Out® Pale Ale or a Fresh Bongwater™ Hemp Pale Ale at Kettlehouse Brewing Co. When you work an appetite back up, head to the Wally & Buck food truck (recently setting up camp outside the southside location of Kettlehouse Brewing Co.) for a handcrafted, grass-fed burger from Missoula’s own Oxbow Cattle Company. Read more about Missoula breweries here.

Don’t be scared off by the line…It moves quickly!

If by this point you’re not quite ready for Saturday to be over, there’s a good chance you can catch a live show at the Top Hat, The Wilma or the Kettlehouse Amphitheater. Check out our events page to plan your next visit around a fantastic Glacier Country event.

When the day is done, enjoy some of Missoula’s warm western hospitality at any of its fine lodging options, and rest up for Day 2 of exploring the Garden City.

SUNDAY

Head downtown to devour a breakfast at the Catalyst Café & Espresso Bar. We promise it will be an incredibly delicious experience.

The Catalyst’s menu is full of locally sourced ingredients and excellent vegan and vegetarian options.

Now that you’re full and caffeinated, and since you’ve explored a bit of the town already, it’s time to play outside. Head to Missoula’s Snowbowl, where there’s plenty to do no matter the season. Hike, bike or zip line your way around the bowl and stay put for a lunch on the mountain…Snowbowl is famous for its Bloody Marys and wood-fired pizza.

When Snowbowl isn’t full of snow you can catch the chairlift and folf, bike or hike at the top of the mountain.

After a day spent playing under Missoula’s big blue sky, check out Western Montana’s premier shopping destination, Southgate Mall. Shop till you drop and then grab a bite at the mall’s Mustard Seed Asian Café, and take your server up on dessert—it’s well worth the calories.

From there, head back toward downtown and see a film at Missoula’s historic community theater The Roxy. Pssst…they serve organic popcorn, beer and wine.

As Sunday comes to a close and you reflect on your weekend in Missoula, you’ll likely find yourself thinking about when you can return again. After all, you’ve only experienced a fraction of the one-of-a-kind activities a weekend in Missoula offers. We have so many tips, tricks and favorites to share that can’t possibly be squeezed into two days. Visit our Missoula community page for lodging options and more activities.

In the mood for a hiking weekend instead? Missoula has several trails with beautiful views on the edge of town. Try Mount Sentinel (pictured), Peace Park or Blue Mountain to see Missoula from another perspective. Visit our hiking page for directions.

Oh Snap! A Montana Spring in Pictures

As you know, a picture is worth a thousand words, and when we get our fans and friends out there capturing Montana moments in Glacier Country, we’re left speechless. These snapshots of our corner of paradise speak for themselves. Do we actually get to live, work and play in this place? Yep, we sure do, and you’d be ahead to come experience the magic and wonder for yourself. There’s a reason why we call it heaven on earth. So, although we love telling you all about our stunning landscapes and unrivaled recreation opportunities, this time we’re going to just show you. (We’re still bragging, but with less words and more pictures.)

Warning: daydreaming for an unspecified amount of time is sure to ensue after you make your way through this post.

Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park.

Photo: Quinton Tolman (instagram.com/quintontolman)

Wildflowers in Glacier National Park.

Photo: Matthew Mason (instagram.com/mason.art.globe)

Waterworks Hill in Missoula, Montana.

Photo: Sara Schroeder (instagram.com/saraoutside)

Blodgett Canyon near Hamilton, Montana.

Photo: Hunter Day Photo (hunterday.photo/montana)

Horses at Bar W Guest Ranch.

Along the Bull River.

Photo: Glacier Country Tourism

Lake McDonald in Glacier National Park.

The forest near Bowman Lake in Glacier National Park.

Photo: Glacier Country Tourism

A mountain goat at Grinnell Glacier in Glacier National Park.

Photo: Kent Johns (instagram.com/kent_johns)

A wedding in Glacier National Park

Photo: Emil Rajkowski (instagram.com/raj_photo)

Aurora Borealis over the North Fork of the Flathead River.

David Marx Photo (instagram.com/davidmarxphoto)

A peaceful view of Flathead Lake.

Photo: Glacier Country Tourism

A kayaker rides Brennans Wave on the Clark Fork River in Missoula.

Photo: Glacier Country Tourism

How’s that for inspiring? There’s more where these came from. Follow us on Facebook and Instagram for your daily dose of Western Montana beauty.

Want to share your incredible travels in Western Montana? Use #GlacierMT on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram for a chance to be featured.

The Brag-Worthy Beauty of Montana’s Wildflowers

Here’s a little something you may not know about us. In Western Montana, one of our best features is the wonder of our wildflower blooms. Just when you thought we couldn’t be any more jaw-dropping, these miniature miracles of nature brave cold nights and dramatic spring weather to sprout their way up into Montana’s landscape in a striking display of beauty. During our heavenly warm season, our mountain woodlands, prairie grasslands, foothills and alpine meadows are sprinkled with the splendor of nature’s loveliest and most colorful artwork. Montana’s rich flora thrives in several different ecosystems, drawing wildflower aficionados, visitors and locals alike on a quest for the carpet of color or the elusive stem hidden high on an alpine ridgeline.

Beargrass blooms in Glacier National Park.

BEARGRASS

Beargrass is a celebrity around these parts. The impressively high (5 to 8 feet) stalks of dense white clusters blanket the subalpine landscapes of Glacier National Park and draw visitors in for a glimpse. Contrary to what the name might suggest, bears do not eat this plant!

WHERE + WHEN:

Beargrass can be found throughout Western Montana, but it’s especially coveted in Glacier National Park. It blooms in late May in the lower country and can be found in the high country into August. Though it’s a perennial and therefore blooms every year, mass blooms occur every five to 10 years, when the climate is just right.

Indian paintbrush colors a Montana meadow.

INDIAN PAINTBRUSH

Indian Paintbrush (or prairie fire) is aptly named, having a vibrant paintbrush-like appearance and contrasting the glacial-carved terrain with rich scarlet hues. Glacier National Park boasts three red and four yellow species of paintbrush, which grow between 4 and 16 inches in height.

WHERE + WHEN:

During July and August, Montana’s alpine and subalpine meadows and mountain slopes are a canvas of Indian paintbrush. You’re certain to find them on the banks of the West Fork of the Bitterroot River in the Bitterroot National Forest.

Arrowleaf balsamroot blankets a hillside overlooking the Mission Mountains.
Photo courtesy of Randi de Santa Anna

ARROWLEAF BALSAMROOT

These easily recognized yellow flowers define our spring landscape and transform our hillsides into a golden-yellow. Part of the sunflower family, these plants grow in clumps 2 – 3 feet tall. Tribal nations once relied on Arrowleaf Balsamroot for food and medicinal purpose, and although these plants are still used for food today, they’re mostly eaten by our wildlife.

WHERE + WHEN:

These plants are common in low-elevation grasslands, on open slopes and ridges and in open ponderosa pine woodlands. They are often found in the company of sagebrush. Take a hike up Missoula’s Mt. Jumbo in early May to immerse yourself in the sea of yellow.

A yellowbell welcomes spring in the Seeley Swan Valley.
Photo courtesy of Randi de Santa Anna

YELLOWBELLS

These tiny treasures are beloved because their arrival means spring is upon us. They’re one of the first of Montana’s wildflowers to bloom and can even be found humbly poking up near lingering snow. Don’t miss the distinct reddish-purple ring around the base of the yellow flower.

WHERE + WHEN:

These bashful bells keep their heads down in grasslands and dry sagebrush prairies as well as ponderosa pine forests, blooming through early May.

Fireweed strikes a colorful pose on a Glacier National Park hillside.
Photo courtesy of Donnie Sexton

FIREWEED

A favorite among bees and delicious in jam and tea, Fireweed is a striking pinkish-purple 4 to 9-foot cone-like shoot against the stunning Montana landscape. They flourish in avalanche sites and burn areas, where they’re usually the first plant to emerge after a fire—hence the name.

WHERE + WHEN:

From June through September, you’ll find fireweed in open meadows, along stream banks or in open forest areas after wildfires.