Tag Archives: Festivals and Events

STAY AND PLAY IN WESTERN MONTANA’S BITTERROOT VALLEY

As the Tourism Sales Manager for Western Montana’s Glacier Country, I am often asked about our hidden gems or the undiscovered places in the region. Without hesitation, I think of one of my favorite places, the Bitterroot Valley. If your clients are looking for that perfect balance of outdoor recreation, culture and history—not to mention some of the most charming lodging options in Montana—then I suggest an itinerary that includes some time for them to stay and play in Montana’s Bitterroot Valley.

Sunset over the Bitterroot Mountains.

Sunset over the Bitterroot Mountains.

The Bitterroot River flows through the valley.

The Bitterroot River flows through the valley.

Located just south of Missoula on Highway 93 is Lolo, home to Travelers’ Rest State Park—the campsite where Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery rested and prepared for their journey to and from the Pacific Ocean over 200 years ago. It is home to the only archaeologically verified campsite of their journey and was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1960. Recreational options abound including biking, running or walking the Bitterroot Trail—a 50-mile-long paved path that runs from Missoula to Hamilton and is a fun way to see the valley. Just a short drive east outside of Lolo on Highway 12 is The Lodge at Lolo Hot Springs. Rejuvenate in the mineral hot springs after a day spent hiking or biking in the region.

Interpretive talks. Photo: Travelers’ Rest State Park

Interpretive talks. Photo: Travelers’ Rest State Park

A little farther south on Highway 93 is the town of Florence. Travel east on the East Side Highway with a stop at the Lee Metcalf Wildlife Refuge. A naturalist’s paradise, look for tundra swans, woodpeckers, bald eagles and white-tailed deer from the comfort of your vehicle or walk the 2.5-miles of nature trails near the Bitterroot River.

Birding at Lee Metcalf Wildlife Refuge.

Birding at Lee Metcalf Wildlife Refuge.

Continue south on the East Side Highway and you’ll come to the community of Stevensville. Take a quick detour for a little history at Fort Owen State Park—one of the most important commercial centers in the northwest for many years in the mid-1800s. Stevensville is home to the historic St. Mary’s Mission—the first permanent pioneer settlement in Montana. Walk through history and see first-hand the fascinating chapter of Montana’s beginning.

For overnight stays, try the The Stevensville Hotel or Bitterroot River Bed & Breakfast. Built in 1910 and located one block from Main Street, The Stevensville Hotel is an award-winning property that’s on the National Historic Register. Meanwhile, the charming Bitterroot River Bed & Breakfast sits along the Bitterroot River and offers four beautifully appointed rooms and a scrumptious breakfast.

St. Mary’s Mission in Stevensville. Photo: St. Mary’s Mission

St. Mary’s Mission in Stevensville. Photo: St. Mary’s Mission

A little further south just outside of Hamilton is the Daly Mansion. The summer home of Copper Baron and millionaire Marcus Daly, his wife Margaret and their four children has evolved from a two-story farmhouse into a 24,000-square-foot mansion with 25 bedrooms and 15 bathrooms on 50 stunning acres in the heart of the Bitterroot Valley.

Hamilton—the largest town in the Bitterroot Valley—is home to a buzzing art scene with many galleries and shops full of work from local artisans. Depending on the time of year, catch live art with the Bitterroot Performing Arts Series, a Montana A Cappella Society Concert or the Hamilton Players live theater. Other great activities include sapphire mining for that perfect gem at Sapphire Studios in Hamilton, fly-fishing on one of Western Montana’s most pristine rivers—the Bitterroot River—or hiking the popular Blodgett Canyon Overlook Trail for stunning views into the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness.

Lodging in Hamilton is comfortable and cozy at the Bitterroot River Inn & Conference Center or Hamilton’s TownHouse Inn.

 Once the summer home of Marcus Daly, now the Daly Mansion Museum.

Once the summer home of Marcus Daly, now the Daly Mansion Museum.

Impressive views from Blodgett Canyon Overlook.

Impressive views from Blodgett Canyon Overlook.

For travelers looking to explore a western town, travel a bit farther south through Montana’s Bitterroot Valley on Highway 93 to the charming town of Darby. Darby’s wood façade buildings provide a real western feel as you stroll through downtown and their signature event—Darby Logger Days—pays tribute to the town’s logging roots. Recommended stops include the Darby Pioneer Memorial Museum or make the short drive north and west to Lake Como for a plethora of recreational options that include water sport activities, hiking or mountain biking around the lake on well-maintained trails. Take a drive along the West Fork of the Bitterroot River for great fishing and a visit to Painted Rocks State Park where green, yellow and orange lichen cover the rock walls and granite cliffs. For some of the best winter skiing in Western Montana, visit Lost Trail Powder Mountain at the top of Lost Trail Pass on the border of Montana and Idaho.

The lodging options in Darby range from quaint to luxury: in town lodging includes Travellers Rest Cabins and RV Park, while additional properties in picturesque settings and a little father out of town include Alta Ranch and Rye Creek Lodge. For those clients looking for a luxury guest ranch, enjoy the rustic elegance—and amazing culinary offerings—at the all-inclusive Triple Creek Ranch.

A beautiful day at Lake Como.

A beautiful day at Lake Como.

Singing cowboy at Triple Creek Ranch. Photo: Triple Creek Ranch

Singing cowboy at Triple Creek Ranch. Photo: Triple Creek Ranch

Bitterroot Valley Chamber of Commerce has more information on staying and playing in Western Montana’s Bitterroot Valley. If you need help planning an itinerary, visit our tour operator page here, or drop me a line here. I am always here to help.

DP

TOP 3 REASONS TO VISIT WESTERN MONTANA’S GLACIER COUNTRY IN THE FALL

As the Tourism Sales Manager for Glacier Country Tourism I am often asked by tour operators and travel agents who specialize in domestic group travel or individual fly/drive tours, when the best time is to visit Western Montana’s Glacier Country.  Without hesitation, I answer fall.

While every season in Montana is notable and offers its own distinct group offerings, there’s something special about fall in Glacier Country, especially when it comes to creating a memorable visit for your clients. To help plan the perfect fall itinerary, here are my top 3 reasons to visit Western Montana in autumn.

1) Glacier National Park
As one of Montana’s top attractions, Glacier National Park offers stunning scenery year-round, with fall colors adding an additional “wow” factor.

More benefits to a fall visit: the park is less crowded than the peak summer months of July and August and the average temperatures are comfortable with daytime highs in the low 70s F (21 C). Plus, many of the activities that are available during the summer months are still offered in the fall, including interpretive tours with Sun Tours and the iconic red bus tours provided by Glacier National Park Lodges. Both companies take visitors over the Going-to-the-Sun Road until mid-October.

Glacier National Park remains open year-round (even after the closing of the Going-to-the-Sun Road in October) and welcomes visitors to explore the flora and fauna and see local wildlife. Look for deer, elk, moose, mountain goat and bighorn sheep as well as black and grizzly bears.

Check out additional suggestions for fall activities in Glacier National Park here.

Beautiful fall colors along the Going-to-the-Sun Road.

Beautiful fall colors along the Going-to-the-Sun Road.

Fun fall day on a red bus tour.

Fun fall day on a red bus tour.

Mountain goats like the people trails too.

Mountain goats like the people trails too.

2) Spectacular Fall Colors
With wide open spaces, minimal traffic and well-maintained highways in Montana, taking a fall drive is a must. If your tour is part of a larger regional itinerary and you have the chance to get off the main interstates and take the road less traveled along our scenic highways, do it.

Sitting at 96 miles long, the Bitterroot Valley is framed by the Bitterroot Mountains to the west and the Sapphire Mountains to the east, with beautiful fall foliage in every direction. As you cruise along Highway 93, stop in and visit the charming Montana towns of Darby, Hamilton, Victor and Stevensville. Stroll through their main streets and experience western hospitality as you browse through boutique stores and art galleries. Afterwards, please your palate with a stop at one of the  local restaurants or breweries.

A bird’s-eye view of the Bitterroot Valley from the Sapphire Mountain Range.

A bird’s-eye view of the Bitterroot Valley from the Sapphire Mountain Range.

Stop at the Daly Mansion in Hamilton for this stunning fall foliage scene. Photo by Donnie Sexton

Stop at the Daly Mansion in Hamilton for this stunning fall foliage scene. Photo by Donnie Sexton

The far northwest corner of Montana is a bit off-the-beaten-path but with its expanse of old growth forests and wilderness is a showstopper when it comes to fall foliage. The spectacular hues of the western larch—also known as the tamarack—are stunning. Take Highway 37 along Lake Koocanusa with a stop at the Libby Dam Visitor Center and experience the power and beauty of the Kootenai River. Another spectacular drive is Highway 2 between Libby and Troy. Be sure to stop to see Kootenai Falls and the swinging bridge. Also of note: this is where the movie The River Wild was filmed with Meryl Streep and Kevin Bacon.

Meet up with the locals in Libby, Troy and Yaak for a taste of small town Montana. Here are additional scenic fall drives that might be incorporated into your Western Montana itinerary.

Golden hue of the tamarack trees.

Golden hue of the tamarack trees.

3) Notable Fall Events
Events are often the best way for group tours and international visitors to get to know the flavor of the place they are visiting. There is no shortage of fall events to choose from in Glacier Country. A few to note: Montana Dragon Boat Festival, Great Northwest Oktoberfest, McIntosh Apple Days and Seeley Lake Tamarack Festival & Brewfest.

Held on the shores of Flathead Lake, the Montana Dragon Boat Festival takes place every September. In addition to teams racing on the water, this event is fun for spectators and includes live music, children’s activities and made in Montana vendors.

Montana Dragon Boat Festival on Flathead Lake.

Montana Dragon Boat Festival on Flathead Lake.

Great Northwest Oktoberfest runs over two weekends in Whitefish—the last weekend in September and first weekend in October. This festival is all about fun and includes traditional food, music and quirky competitions like keg hurling, log sawing and stein holding.

A few hours south of Whitefish, McIntosh Apple Days take place in Hamilton in October. This festival is all about apples, with highlights including live entertainment and a giant bake sale that features homemade apple pies, caramel apples and apple butter.

McIntosh Apples make the best pies.

McIntosh Apples make the best pies.

Last but not least is the Seeley Lake Tamarack Festival & Brewfest. This event celebrates fall and the beauty of the turning colors of the tamarack trees.

For additional itinerary suggestions, visit our tour operators website or feel free to drop me a line. I’m happy to help plan your next fall itinerary in Western Montana’s Glacier Country.

DP