Everyone needs to go to Glacier National Park…like 3 million individuals a 12 months. But what many park-goers don’t understand is that almost all of Western Montana was carved by the identical glacial exercise, providing so many different gorgeous mountains, lakes, rivers, and forests—with a fraction of the vacationers. To assist extra individuals discover the lesser-known gems and hold them pristine, we took our expertise as off-grid RVers with a inexperienced coronary heart, and partnered with Glacier Country Tourism for a #RecreateResponsibly highway journey. Over the course of 12 days, we traveled from the Bitterroot Mountains to the far north of Kootenai Country, by way of three nationwide forests, dynamic Native American territories, charming small cities, the largest freshwater lake within the West, and a ton extra in between. Here are a few of our favourite Western Montana highway journey locations and the methods you may go away these locations higher than you discovered them.
Biking the Route of the Hiawatha
Spanning the Idaho and Montana border, the Route of the Hiawatha is likely one of the crown jewels of the US’s rails-to-trails system. When constructing the railroad line from Chicago to Tacoma within the early Twentieth-century, the crew reached the Bitterroot Mountains and it was the hardest terrain they’d encountered. To create this 15-mile stretch, they bore 10 tunnels (some over a mile lengthy) and constructed 7 trestle bridges towering over the forest. And all that arduous work continues to be paying off with this unbelievable bike path. To get equipped, we went to Lookout Pass Resort for bike leases and a rack, then drove to the Montana aspect to start out the journey. With a delicate downhill pitch and huge filth path, it’s all about having fun with the sweeping mountain views and engineering marvels lining the best way. To make it even simpler for all ages, Lookout Pass provides a shuttle with a information to entertain you all the best way again to the car parking zone. Call us slackers, however the return shuttle allowed us to take our candy time for numerous photograph stops, studying the handfuls of interpretive indicators, having fun with a picnic, and mountain climbing up a waterfall. Watch this video from our ride.
#RecreateResponsibly Tip: Plan Ahead. Bring a raincoat and headlamp to be prepared for the tunnels.
Catching a County Fair
From summer season to fall, there are festivals throughout Montana and we have been in simply in time for one of many largest occasions in Ravalli County. Amusement rides, cornhole tournaments, bake-offs, livestock demonstrations, classic automotive exhibits, and a full-blown rodeo…this was a cultural affair decked in cowboy boots. And we could also be metropolis people, however we obtained in with the perfect of them, chowing down on huckleberry pie and cheering on the wagon races. In addition to the rodeo clown, who was our favourite character on the truthful? Smokey Bear. He was representing on the Bitterroot National Forest sales space, providing data on tenting and hearth security for locals and guests alike. Thanks, Smokey!
#RecreateResponsibly Tip: Know Before You Go. Wildfire season is a really actual factor within the West, examine MTFireInfo.org for the newest hearth standing and restrictions.
Swinging the cultural pendulum, we went from a county truthful to an indie rock live performance at Montana’s premier music venue. The state-of-the-art Kettlehouse Amphitheater is tucked in a notch of the mountains on the foot of the Blackfoot River (yea, the one Brad Pitt was fishing in A River Runs Through It), incomes it a spot in as one in every of Top 10 Amphitheaters within the World, in accordance with Pollstar. Adding to the cool issue, it’s adjoining to the Kettlehouse Brewery, and recent craft beer is delivered proper to your live performance seat. We noticed Death Cab for Cutie and so they have been superior, although it barely issues what band is on the town…the venue is so extraordinary, you’re gonna have a fantastic night time.
#RecreateResponsibly Tip: Always Recycle. We love that Kettlehouse Amphitheater was all about minimizing waste with recycling, compost, and cardboard water bottles, although touring in rural areas could make it trickier to maintain up these good habits. If you don’t see recycling straight away, stash it in your trunk till you see that service—you’ll discover it will definitely!
Garnet Ghost Town
Being the Treasure State, Montana has outdated mining cities all all through the mountains, with the best-preserved being Garnet. Taking a flip off the properly paved Route 200 and onto the rugged Garnet Range Backcountry Byway, we wound by way of the mountains for 11 miles. Following a brief mountain climbing path right into a valley, we obtained a view over this 130-year-old time capsule. Not your common ramshackle mining city, Garnet had 4 motels, three livery stables, two barbershops, a union corridor, college, sweet store, physician’s workplace, and 13 saloons. Eventually, a gold shortage and the 1913 hearth drove the city into ghost standing, however when prohibition and the despair period hit, their hidden saloons and gold claims obtained a second wind. We beloved wandering by way of the outdated buildings, many with their authentic fixtures and relics, and up the hill to the Nineties miners’ cabins. Take a half-hour hike alongside the Sierra Mine Loop Trail and also you’ll discover outdated gold claims tucked within the pines.
#RecreateResponsibly Tip: Take solely pictures. Like any historic web site, you could come throughout little artifacts as you wander about city; go away them behind and assist hold the story of Garnet in context.
Seeley Lake & The Clearwater Canoe Trail
Between the Bob Marshall Wilderness and the Mission Mountains lies the Seeley-Swan Valley Chain of Lakes and the ever-popular Clearwater River Canoe Trail. We rented SUP boards from Tamaracks Resort and so they dropped us off on the put-in. Paddling this 3.5-mile meandering waterway by way of the willow marsh with mountain views on all sides was superb. When we reached the river’s finish, we have been greeted with a floating backyard of lily pads and a seaside to benefit from the expansive Seeley Lake. Conveniently, there’s a half-hour mountain climbing path to attach again to the put-in spot; in the event you rented from Tamaracks, simply hold paddling for 20 minutes to achieve their lakefront property. FYI, this historic resort is a charmer with nice cabins and campsites if you wish to keep awhile and take in the lake life. Another nice lodging and eating possibility is Double Arrow Lodge. We went for dinner at their Thirties log-cabin restaurant and indulged in truffle root vegetable risotto and Grand Marnier chocolate mousse cake. We earned it with that paddling journey, proper?
Hiking Holland Lake & Falls
On the northside of Seeley-Swan Valley is one in every of our favourite hikes in Montana: Holland Falls Nature Trail. With only a fast stroll by way of the tamarack and alpine forest, you attain the turquoise Holland Lake surrounded by sheer peaks. It was so beautiful we may have known as it there, however following the shoreline, the views saved getting higher as we steadily climbed to the 40-foot waterfall. If you’re up for a little bit of rock scrambling (not really useful for youths), a steep path will deliver you from the underside of the falls to a wide ranging view over the lake.
#RecreateResponsibly Tip: Brush it Off. At the beginning of this trailhead, the forest service gives a boot brush. Wipe off your sneakers earlier than and after the hike to forestall the seeds and spores of invasive species from spreading. While not each path provides this, it’s nonetheless a fantastic follow to brush off or clap your sneakers collectively when coming into and departing new wilderness areas.
Did you understand Montana’s Flathead Lake is the most important freshwater lake west of the Mississippi? The 185 miles of shoreline are dotted with cute cities, orchards, state parks, and fatherland. We drove the complete circumference going counterclockwise, ranging from Big Fork. This city was lovable, with a fantastic little theater, artwork galleries, ice cream retailers, and bars the place you may hitch up your horse. Driving down the east aspect of the lake, the slopes have been coated with fruit bushes. We stopped at Bowman Orchards, a century-old and fifth-generation household farm, with a specialty in Rainier and Lapin cherries. The entire household, from the youngsters to the grandparents, was at work wrapping up a fantastic season. If you’re an RVer and a Harvest Host Member, each Bowman Orchards and East Shore Smokehouse (a enjoyable restaurant with an enormous grassy discipline) will allow you to keep the night time in alternate for getting a few of their goodies. Win, win!
Flathead’s Wild Horse Island & Camp Kapapa
Cruising up the westside of the lake, we had our eyes set on Flathead’s largest isle, Wild Horse. This 2,160-acre mountainous expanse is the place the Kootenai individuals traditionally hid their horses from warring tribes and the place their equine ancestors nonetheless roam free. Only accessible by boat, this state park known as for a kayak and mountain climbing journey! We set off from the city of Dayton and after a scenic hour paddle, we reached Skeeko Bay and its intensive community of trails. We hiked up the mountain, conserving an eye fixed out for his or her resident wild horses, bighorn sheep, mule deer, and relics from the early Twentieth-century settlers. We reached the height for panoramic views of the encompassing islands, mountains, and lake, then meandered our method right down to Eagle Cove to complete out this unbelievable mountain climbing loop. After an enormous day of outside journey, we wished to deal with ourselves to an evening at Camp Kapapa, a model new glamping camp on the Flathead Reservation. This property has been in Keya Birdsbill’s household for generations and it was all the time her grandmother’s dream to share the land in its pure state and with its Kootenai traditions. This summer season Keya and her husband Louie opened Camp Kapapa (which suggests “grandparent” within the Kootenai language) in her honor. Right alongside the shore, they’ve teepees, a wall tent, deluxe tent websites, and a one-of-kind teepee cabin, every adorned with tribal motifs and views to the lake. We completely fell in love with this glamping camp; to see and browse extra about it, try our Camp Kapapa Instagram gallery.
#RecreateResponsibly Tip: Respect Wildlife. Whether on Wild Horse Island or in Glacier National Park, Montana is chock stuffed with wildlife. As tempting as it’s to get shut for a very good photograph, hold your distance and don’t disturb them. Be notably aware of bears and follow these safety tips.
The Northwest Corridor: Eureka
Heading into the Northwest Corridor in direction of the Canadian border, the wilderness will get wilder and the small cities get smaller. Steamboats and railways have been the one strategy to get into the glacial and gold-rich hills of Tobacco River Valley till the early 1900s and it nonetheless feels simply as distant. For a glance into the previous, we went to Eureka’s Tobacco Valley Historical Village to discover its assortment of hand-hewn buildings, from outdated cabins to church buildings to schoolhouses. Though exploring the principle avenue of modern-day Eureka was a complete lot extra up to date than we’d have imagined, with cool boutiques, espresso retailers, movie show, and even a world-fusion, vegan-friendly cafe. Adding to the surprising, Montana’s #1 golf course, The Wilderness Club, is on this city!
Tobacco River & Campground Cleanup
Just six miles west of Eureka within the Kootenai National Forest, there may be the unimaginable (and free!) Tobacco River Campground. We noticed a fire-ring proper alongside the water and rapidly arrange camp to benefit from the final moments of sundown, watch the ospreys fish, and prepare dinner dinner over the hearth. (Watch our fire safety TikTok). In the morning, the wildlife watching continued like an episode out of the Discovery Channel. Gliding herons, dive-bombing eagles, wave-riding geese, and spawning Kokanee salmon have been all placing on a tremendous present. As we have been breaking down camp, we noticed two Forest Service volunteers making the rounds with their trash baggage so requested if we may be part of their clean-up. They have been so grateful for the assistance, that they turned it right into a nature stroll, instructing us in regards to the native edible berries, medicinal crops, invasive species, and animal tracks…then gifted us a selfmade jar of huckleberry jam!
#RecreateResponsibly Tip: Leave it Better Than You Found It. Whenever you’re at a campsite or on the path, do your half to maintain it clear. We prefer to hike with a trash bag and pinchers so we by no means must suppose twice about choosing issues up.
Libby & The Chainsaw Carving Championships
Taking the Koocanusa Scenic Byway alongside its namesake lake and into the Cabinet Mountains, we reached the spunky little metropolis of Libby. As a former asbestos mining city, it had a foul wrap for some time, however Libby is reinventing itself as an journey and cultural capital of the Northwest Corridor. It often hosts occasions just like the Riverfront Blues Festival, Libby Logger Days, The Irish Fair, and the unbelievable Kootenai Country International Chainsaw Carving Championship. We had the nice fortune of seeing the “Clash of the Carvers” and watch twenty of the world’s greatest, from Zimbabwe, Mongolia, Russia, Canada, USA, and extra, face-off. They get an eight-foot log and 4 days to show it right into a masterpiece, plus the added problem of day by day 90-minute fast carves for the continuing public sale. Even in someday of strolling across the open-air workshops, we have been amazed at how a lot the paintings advanced. From sawing to chiseling, sanding, torching, and marking, these works have been rapidly refined to perfection. The night time earlier than the finals, the city went wild and we went with them. Alongside our new Montana buddy and former carver, Gary, we bar hopped from the Cabinet Mountain Brewery (aka The Living Room of Libby) to the Mint, the place beers are nonetheless saved chilly in picket ice chests. The subsequent day all of the masterworks have been lined up and auctioned off in a storm of bidders, driving costs upwards of $10,000. Watch the video above to see the sawdust fly and the great instances rip.
Kootenai Falls & Swinging Bridge
Seven miles west of Libby, when the cliffs alongside the freeway flip right into a rainbow of colours and the river rages, you’ve reached Kootenai Falls. This cascade is likely one of the largest free-flowing waterfalls within the northwest, nevertheless it’s not the peak or width that makes your jaw drop, it’s all the things else. 1.5 billion-year-old rocks create a staircase for these falls to swiftly and gracefully step down the Kootenai River, then swoop round islands and down a craggy slim canyon. We walked the quick nature path to the water and thought the primary lookout was the view of views, however new waterfalls and islands saved showing all the best way to the principle cascade. No crowding onto a viewing platform, you may stroll proper as much as the falls, sit on the edge and really feel the complete rush. Head downstream and also you’ll attain the swinging bridge for one final take a look at arguably one of many prettiest waterfalls within the States.
Ross Creek Cedars & Giving Back
On our final day in Western Montana, we obtained up early to discover Ross Creek Cedars Scenic Area. Apparently, we obtained there even earlier than the rangers, as a result of there was an enormous fallen tree blocking the highway. Did we flip round? Heck no, Buddy comes packing with 102 horsepower, a hatchet, and twine! We knew you wouldn’t imagine our 1985 camper may haul 4,000+ kilos of timber, so Anne shot this video of Buddy’s glory moment. We cleared the highway for all and pressed on to the traditional grove of 1,000-year-old bushes. Strolling the mile-long loop, we craned our necks to lookup on the lush cover 175 ft above us. On our method out we seen a field that mentioned that this grove is maintained by the Three Rivers Ranger District, with the assistance of customer donations. Having simply hiked, paddled, and camped in so many unimaginable public lands round Montana, we have been moved to slide in a $100 invoice.
#RecreateResponsibly Tip: Pitch In. It takes greater than authorities workers to maintain public lands thriving. Donate, volunteer, and advocate for the outside each time you may.
The rugged great thing about Western Montana is what attracts hundreds of thousands of individuals right here. We hope you go to, take an epic highway journey, and grow to be a steward for its wild locations.
A giant thanks to Glacier Country Montana for inviting us to share the #RecreateResponsibly message with vacationers and for sponsoring our Western Montana highway journey. As a thanks to the area and to maintain up our “Bloggers Give Back” dedication, we’re donating $325 of our earnings to the next non-profits: Clark Fork Coalition, The Ross Creek Cedars, and RecreateResponsibly.org.