A Tour of Western Montana 5

Trips that will transport you worlds away from Missoula

Life can be busy and Montana is vast, but 
 neither obstacle should make a vacation impossible, especially when there are several mini-trips around Missoula that offer a wonderful chance to get away without eating up a huge chunk of time (or dime).

Wildlife Watching in the East

The east side of Glacier National Park is often overlooked in favor of the more accessible west side, but this enormous and sparsely inhabited area stands as the best place in Montana to see beasts such as grizzlies and black bears, moose, and mountain goats. My advice: Skirt along the bottom of the park on Highway 2, which lacks the infuriating traffic of Going-to-the-Sun Road, for a picturesque drive alongside the Flathead River and over wind-swept Marias Pass.

The perfect weekend consists of spending your first night in the town of East Glacier at the mom-and-pop Mountain Pine Motel followed by a plate piled high with huckleberry pancakes at Luna’s to fuel a day of exploring. End the weekend with a night at the Many Glacier complex. The simple act of setting up a chair and raising a pair of binoculars will give you the perfect opportunity to see monster grizzly bears munching berries along avalanche chutes and snowy mountain goats gracefully picking their way along rock ledges.

Tour the ‘Root

A drive into Missoula’s backyard will lead to the Bitterroot Valley where an abundance of year-round family activities, outdoor opportunities and unique shopping can be found. What makes this tour ideal is that you can tailor it as a long day trip or a short weekend, depending on your time constraints.

Focus on the small towns dotting the highway on the drive down, and then explore the many natural areas on the way back. Tours of the historic St. Mary’s Mission—famous for “Where Montana Began”—are found in Stevensville. Outside of Victor, in an unassuming storefront, is Montana’s only meadery, Hidden Legend. Pick up a bottle, or two, of this delectable concoction made with local honey to take home as a souvenir. On the drive up explore the deep and colorful canyons found approximately every 15 miles along the Bitterroot Mountains and stop by Lee Metcalf Wildlife Refuge to look for majestic trumpeter swans.

Hamilton is the perfect little town to turn around at or stop for the night. Several hotels are within walking distance of eclectic restaurants like Spice of Life and galleries full of local art such as Art Focus.

Luxury in Whitefish

Sometimes you just need to be pampered, and that’s the moment when Whitefish comes to mind. A short three-hour drive will put you in the realm of spas, cozy inns and fabulous restaurants, all with the striking backdrop of Whitefish Mountain. Packed in the ski season, Whitefish clears out in the summer making this the best time to find deals and little to no wait for a dinner reservation.

Get your adrenaline rush at Whitefish Mountain’s Aerial Adventure Park as you zip-line hundreds of feet over treetops and shoot down the alpine slide. Whitefish Trail consists of more than 36 miles of paths looping around town and is a low-key alternative to experience the outdoors.

Your tired muscles need a rest after all that work. End the day with a spa treatment at Remedies Day Spa. Indulge in a heaping plate of bison enchiladas at Pescado Blanco and follow it up with a soak under the stars in the hot tub at Hidden Moose Lodge.

Step Back in Time: From Three Forks to Virginia City

Our state is rich with history and some of the biggest wealth can be found in these two towns. Lewis and Clark were on their vacation of a lifetime in 1805 when they stopped in the vicinity of Missouri Headwaters State Park outside of Three Forks. Here the Jefferson, Madison and Gallatin rivers combine into the mighty Missouri. Explore this uncrowded natural area and then stay the night at the historic Sacajawea Hotel. Built in 1910, this beautiful building and surrounding grounds have passed through numerous owners but was recently lovingly restored by the Folkvord family, owners of Wheat Montana.

Travel 60 miles south and 60 years after Lewis and Clark to the original capital of the Montana Territory, Virginia City. Gold was found in surrounding parts in 1863 and the inevitable rush of miners formed this raucous hard-partying town. A walking tour will educate you on how these early settlers spent their days between schools, saloons, and churches. Your evenings will be spent booing the villain during a melodrama put on by the Virginia City Players.