Category Archives: Tour 200

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.

A Montana Road Trip: Highway 200

Earlier this week, I decided it was time for another adventure. One that would lead to one of Western Montana’s quietest areas: Highway 200. (I’ve shared my love for this region before….read more about it here). For this particular trip, I grabbed one of my favorite road trip buddies and we headed out to explore as much as we could in one day.

And explore we did. We made various stops along the way, including Paradise, Plains, Thompson Falls and Trout Creek.

One of the river put-ins on the Clark Fork River between Dixon and Paradise.

One of the river put-ins on the Clark Fork River between Dixon and Paradise.

The Clark Fork River winds through the aptly named community of Paradise.

The Clark Fork River winds along the aptly named community of Paradise and flows through Plains.

One of the major items on our list: Heather’s Country Cafe. It was recently featured on an episode of Restaurant Impossible on Food Network and since the episode aired, we’ve been jonesing to check it out.

A peek inside Heather's Country Kitchen in Plains.

A peek inside Heather’s Country Kitchen in Plains.

After filling our tummies, we drove to Thompson Falls for a bit of shopping in its cute downtown. Along the way, we saw a herd of bighorn sheep grazing in the fields west of Koo-Koo-Sint Bighorn Sheep Viewing Area.

The Koo-Koo-Sint Bighorn Sheep Viewing Area is about six miles east of Thompson Falls.

The Koo-Koo-Sint Bighorn Sheep Viewing Area is about six miles east of Thompson Falls.

I couldn't resist picking up this locally made bracelet at the Sunflower Gallery in Thompson Falls. The shop has 16 local artists who display their work at the gallery.

I couldn’t resist picking up this locally made bracelet at the Sunflower Gallery in Thompson Falls. The shop has 16 local artists who display their work at the gallery.

Taking in the view in Thompson Falls.

Taking in the view in Thompson Falls.

We also ventured to the Old Jail Museum and were lucky enough to have a sneak peek. The museum officially opens for the season on Memorial Day.

We also ventured to the Old Jail Museum and were lucky enough to have a sneak peek. The museum officially opens for the season on Memorial Day.

After a walk around Thompson Falls, we headed to Trout Creek — one of my favorite small towns in the region.

A mix of spring and winter at Noxon Rapids Reservoir.

A mix of spring and winter at Noxon Rapids Reservoir.

Needless to say, it was a good day.

xo,
TT

Summer In Montana: Bring Your Party Pants

Montana is epic in the summer.

In my mind, it really doesn’t get better than this…there’s something about summer that makes me come alive. (In the interest of full disclosure, winter, spring and fall are all beautiful times of year to play in Big Sky Country).

Maybe it’s the 14+ hours of daylight, the smell of fresh cut grass, flowers blooming everywhere, kids riding their bikes down quiet streets, people cooling off after a hot day with a soak in the river, the freedom of eating ice cream every day (just because) or the simple beauty of it all.

Hello old friend.

Whatever it is, I’m hooked.

While we have great events year-round (I’m talking about you Whitefish Winter Carnival, Travelers’ Rest Winter Storytelling Series and Seeley Lake Winterfest), in the summertime each community rolls out the red carpet and celebrates traditions, events, activities and festivals that make their town so special. And this summer is no different, with the main events heartily underway.

And as I like to think of myself as your host, it’s my responsibility to tell you about some of the stellar upcoming events that will be rocking under Montana’s big blue sky in the coming weeks.

North American Indian Days, 7/12 – 7/15
Happening now on the Blackfeet Nation, this is one of the largest gatherings of United States and Canadian Indian Tribes. It also features a parade, Pow Wow, rodeo, traditional games and food.

A Blackfeet dancer.

Montana Baroque Music Festival, 7/17 – 7/19
Located in the aptly named community of Paradise, the festival features some of the finest baroque music by world-class musicians.

Rods & Classics Show & Shine, 7/21
Held each year in Thompson Falls, this car show features a beautiful collection of classic cars on a grassy field near the Clark Fork River.

A summer scene in downtown Thompson Falls.

Daly Days, 7/27 – 7/28
This event celebrates Marcus Daly and the heritage of Hamilton, located in Montana’s Bitterroot Valley. The celebration includes reenactments at The Daly Mansion, mansion tours, a parade and street dance.

Hamilton’s Daly Mansion.

Lewis & Clark Festival, 7/27 – 7/28
Held each year in Cut Bank, this festival honors the journey of Lewis & Clark as they made their way through the rugged land of Montana on their way to the Pacific Coast. It includes free concerts, a parade, site tours and a horseshoe competition.

Western Montana Fair and Rodeo, 8/7 – 8/12
A true celebration of summer, the fair features a rodeo, games, rides and exhibits for the whole family.

For more events, visit glaciermt.com.

Happy summer,
TT

PS: Travel deals are available throughout the region for the summer months. Check out the latest deals and coupons.

Bunking with Fairies, Hobbits and Trolls (Oh my!)

Nestled down a quiet dirt road in a beautiful river valley off of Montana’s Highway 200 is a magical place called the Hobbit House of Montana. It’s a place where imagination runs wild and free as a bubbling stream tumbles gently down the mountainside. And if you listen closely, you can hear the giggles of the fairies that call this place home. After all, this is a destination that was built around make-believe, imagination and fantasy. And I must say…I loved it.

While en route to the Hobbit House, I let myself imagine what it would be like once I arrived. Sure, I’d visited their website and knew their general location, but I wasn’t sure just how this place would transform fantasy into reality. But did it ever.

After meeting up with the keepers of the Hobbit House, a girlfriend and I embarked on a tour of the well-kept grounds (hobbits and fairies are very tidy). And along our walk, this is what we saw…

Luckily, I was there on party business.

We stumbled upon this quaint fairy home, complete with freshly hung laundry...

...so we paid them a visit.

This is where the trolls (big, ugly ones) live.

The trolliest of the trolls captured Connie...she's smiling because I had JUST finished negotiating her release.

Obviously, I made myself right at home.

My precious.

The Hobbit House, where I laid my hobbit-loving head for the evening.

And after my stay there, I can tell you this: it is a truly magical place.

All fantasy aside, one of the things that impressed me the most was the hospitality and warm welcome that instantly enveloped me upon arriving at this magical oasis in the mountains of Western Montana. The keepers of the Hobbit House, Chris and Steve, left no stone unturned. From sparkling juice in the fridge to specialty made hobbit cookies and “the ring” hanging from the rafters, their attention to detail was a large part of what made my stay there so wonderful.

And now? Well, it’s back to reality. But you better believe that I’ll be making repeat visits to the place where my imagination can run wild and I can delight in the magic of make-believe.

Happy daydreaming,
TT

Touring Montana’s Highway 200

Last week, I took a little overnight trip along Highway 200 in Western Montana. And as I traveled farther north and west away from my home in the “city,” I cruised through the area’s small communities, past fields filled with horses and cattle and some strikingly beautiful scenery.

And I started feeling something. As I continued to drive and soak up my surroundings, I realized what it was…I felt at home.

There’s something about this corner of Western Montana (located about equal distances from Kalispell and Missoula) that is innately special. And while I can’t pinpoint one single thing that makes it that way, I can say this…it delivered exactly what I was looking for at that moment in time.

Cruising Highway 200.

The color of the Flathead River at the Kookoosint Fishing Access Site was stunning.

Hello cutest welcome sign ever.

The Old Jail Museum in Thompson Falls.

When traveling through Tour 200, keep your eyes peeled for bighorn sheep.

Happiness.

I literally cannot wait to go back.
TT

PS: If you’re heading through the Tour 200 area, be sure to stop at Linda’s Montana Gifts & Gallery in Thompson Falls, Sunflower Gallery (it’s an artist co-op with locally crafted Made in Montana furniture, jewelry, photograph and artwork) in Thompson Falls and Auntie Pamela’s Antiques & More in Trout Creek.