Category Archives: Hot Springs

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

Scenic Drives + Small-Town Discovery: Meet Thompson Falls + Tour 200

Thompson Falls is stunning in every season. Photo: Kate Baxter

First things first: Let’s talk 200. Discovery is inevitable on this road less traveled. State Highway 200 offers access to a slice of Montana that may not be on your radar, but should be. This treasure trove of outdoor recreation in the northwest part of the state is also chock-full of small-town surprises for those who like to wander off the beaten path.

The section of Highway 200 from Dixon to Heron is so scenic it’s been designated “Montana Tour 200.” It humbly winds its way through the Cabinet and Coeur d’Alene mountain ranges, with diverse side trips, scenic drives and backroad adventures offered all along the route. Recreation and solitude abound here, and so does authentic western hospitality. Folks are friendly and the lodging is cozy.

Where to stop…

Milepost 50 is where it’s at. Touted as a town “where the weather is always better than the forecast,” Thompson Falls boasts the warmest climate in the state. But that’s not all that makes it a year-round outdoor recreation hotspot. Nestled between the Lolo and Kootenai national forests, public lands are plenty, and “getting away from it all” is easy as pie. (We’ll talk more about pie in a sec.)

Hunting for solitude along a trail near Thompson Falls. Photo: Thompson Falls Main Street

Finding solitude here is pretty simple. Thousands of miles of trails offer adventure in every direction. Fall and winter are especially good for hunting and fishing—Outdoor Life magazine listed Thompson Falls #16 of the 35 best hunting and fishing towns in the country. It’s also a haven for hikers that’s exceptionally beautiful in the golden hues of autumn, and winter offers a snow-globe setting that’s simply magical by snowshoe. Pro tip: Quinn’s Hot Springs is right down the road in Paradise, and a post-adventure soak in Paradise sounds pretty heavenly, if you ask us.

Steam rises from the pools at Quinn’s Hot Springs Resort in Paradise, Montana.

Speaking of winter, one of our favorite winter activities is snowmobiling, and the Thompson Falls area offers a motorized mecca for powder hounds. There are plenty of winter recreation opportunities including snowshoeing and sledding, but make sure to bring your own gear with you when you come.

Snowshoeing with the best kind of companion. Photo: Thompson Falls Main Street

In short, Thompson Falls is pretty awesome and totally unassuming. It’s also so friendly it’ll knock your socks right off and then offer you a nice spot to put your feet up by a warm fireplace. Actually, you’ll find that’s pretty common in Western Montana’s Glacier Country. Come Tour 200 and see for yourself.

THOMPSON TIPS:

Christmas on Main Street
Get festive in the Falls the first full weekend in December. Shop Main Street’s BUY LOCAL! event with fun activities, including the Main Street Scavenger Hunt, topped off with an evening parade for the whole family. The weekend also includes a musical at the local theater, a gingerbread competition at the Old Jail Museum and a Christmas Craft Show.

Island Park
There’s a little island on the Clark Fork River, and that little island has a park on it where you can view the Thompson Falls dam, a fish ladder, the Clark Fork River and valley, powerhouses, two bridges (including the newly renovated Historic High Bridge) and an old substation. Take a stroll down one of many trails and enjoy a picnic lunch with an incredible view.

Built in 1915, the Thompson Falls Dam can be found on the Clark Fork River.

Minnie’s Montana Café
This mom-and-pop must-stop is a local favorite for homestyle cooking and comfort food, and, of course, that pie we mentioned earlier. The pie so good here you’ll be wondering if your grandmother is hiding in Minnie’s kitchen.

You must try Minnies Montana Cafe on Main Street.

Little Bear Ice Cream
Ice Cream in the winter? Yes please. Even after pie? Absolutely. When it’s some of the best ice cream in the state, you’ll be in the mood for Little Bear any time of year.

Save room for dessert at Little Bear.

See you on 200.

The Road to Paradise, Montana

I’m not one to play favorites, but there is a place in Montana that I’m totally in love with. It’s like my own little piece of heaven under the state’s big blue sky. Its name: Paradise. As in, that’s literally the name of the actual place. Kind of perfect, right?

Oh hey, Paradise.

Oh hey, Paradise.

In the past, I’ve been pretty vocal about some of my favorite places in Montana and to be honest, that list seems to go on and on and on. But this place is something really special. As some of you know, I grew up in the countryside of Montana along the Rocky Mountain Front in a small (as in my graduating class had 12 people in it) town. And I think the reason that I love Paradise and the area around it is that it reminds me of real, true, small-town Montana. A few days ago, I had the need to head out that way for work, specifically to Quinn’s Hot Springs Resort (which is one of my top places to visit…read more about it here).

The pools at Quinn's Hot Springs Resort.

The pools at Quinn’s Hot Springs Resort.

To make the most of my day, I traveled west on Interstate 90 before jumping onto the St. Regis-Paradise Scenic Byway and returning back to Missoula on Highway 200. During that particular day, Montana’s weather was dramatic (just how I like her) and included rain, a snowstorm and glimpses of beautiful blue sky.

In Montana, even the interstates are pretty.

In Montana, even the interstates are pretty.

Fresh snow dusted the trees in the Lolo National Forest.

Fresh snow dusted the trees in the Lolo National Forest.

One of the overlooks along the St. Regis-Paradise Scenic Byway.

One of the overlooks along the St. Regis-Paradise Scenic Byway.

The snowstorm had just rolled through along the Clark Fork River.

The snowstorm had just rolled through along the Clark Fork River.

The newest addition to Quinn's Hot Springs Resort: the Paradise Hall Event Center. PS: its meeting space has gorgeous views.

The newest addition to Quinn’s Hot Springs Resort: the Paradise Hall Event Center. PS: its meeting space has gorgeous views.

Our new tagline: "Montana looks fake but is totally real" (courtesy of my friend Angie) totally applies to this view.

The tagline “Montana looks fake but is totally real” (courtesy of my friend Angie) totally applies to this view.

The railroad line heading into Paradise.

The railroad line heading into Paradise.

Oh the stories this barn could tell.

Oh the stories this barn could tell.

Another reason to love this corridor along Highway 200: this sign.

Another reason to love this corridor along Highway 200: this sign.

This corner of Montana will always have a piece of my heart. Your turn: where’s your piece of paradise?

xo,
TT

Go Soak Yourself

Every once in a while, I want to say the above words to people. The reason? It’s mainly because I get a kick out of it. And occasionally, I even want to say those words to myself.

This week, I directed a stern “Go soak yourself” line toward…well, myself. (And my messy hair). The last several months have included one project after another, with large helpings of travel, general hecticness and holidays thrown into the mix. So, I realized how wise those words were, took my own advice and headed off to Quinn’s Hot Springs Resort for a proper soaking.

En route to Paradise. Montana was in fine form.

En route to Paradise. Montana was in fine form.

Located on Highway 135 between St. Regis and Paradise, Montana, Quinn’s sits on the banks of the Clark Fork River. And I must tell you, it is one of the loveliest locations in the entire state of Montana. With no street lights, no neighbors and no cell service (it does have Wi-Fi), Quinn’s gives you the opportunity to fully relax in the crisp mountain air of Western Montana.

Hello, Paradise.

Hello, Paradise.

Getting my bearings at Quinn's Hot Springs Resort.

Getting my bearings at Quinn’s Hot Springs Resort.

Around these parts, hot springs are revered. Called “big medicine” by the Pend d’Oreille Indians, people have traveled from near and far to soak in the healing waters found around the region. While there are several developed and natural hot springs pool found around Glacier Country, Quinn’s has on-site lodging–ranging from private cabins to lodge rooms–as well as meeting space, a bar, gift shop and restaurant.

A cozy cabin.

A cozy cabin.

The pools at Quinn's.

The pools at Quinn’s.

My tips:
-While you’re soaking in the pool, look up. You’ll be rewarded with an unrestricted view of the night sky.
-Bring a suit. 🙂
-Bring slippers, sandals and a robe for navigating from your room to the pools.
-Order dessert. My recommendations are the huckleberry ice cream and creme brulee.
-If you’re visiting during winter, pack your snowshoes and explore the nearby trails.

Happy soaking,
TT

Living on Montana Time

I like to go for drives. Sometimes there’s a specific destination in mind, while other times I’ll jump in the car and see where the road takes me, just for the fun of it.

Last week, I grabbed my partner in crime and we headed up Highway 12 toward Lolo Pass. The goal? To see what we could see. And we saw a lot.

Lolo Pass Visitor Center

Welcome to Montana.

A modern-day explorer with Lewis & Clark.

A bronze of Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce Tribe.

Snowmobilers at Lolo Pass. (I was REALLY tempted to jump on the back of one of their sleds).

Lolo Hot Springs. A winter soak, anyone?

One of the coolest bars in Montana: The Jack.

Here’s to many more adventures.

xoxo,
TT