Tag Archives: Group Tours

Top 6 Best Fall Hikes in Western Montana’s Glacier Country

Autumn has arrived in Western Montana and one of our favorite things to do during this magical time is hike. Home to thousands of miles of hiking trails that take visitors through more scenic beauty than imaginable, Western Montana’s Glacier Country is prime hiking country. Our hiking trails range from easy day hikes to multi-day backcountry treks which allow visitors the experience to see untouched beauty, breathe in fresh mountain air and explore our stunning mountain lakes and waterfalls.

If you’re not sure where to start for finding some amazing, easy and stunning day hikes, don’t worry, we’ve compiled our top 6 best fall hikes. These hikes are sure to provide your clients with an unforgettable Montana moment.

Blodgett Canyon

Blodgett Canyon is known for its incredible overlook and relatively easy hike to the summit. Photo courtesy of Hunter Day Photography (hunterday.photo/montana)

This stunning hike is located in the Bitterroot Mountains and is only a total of 3 miles round-trip. The trailhead is to the right of the parking area and easily accessible. Several benches are placed along the hike up. Stop and take in the incredible views, but keep going—you’re in for a treat at the top!

Mount Sentinel

Hikers are able to hike the “M” trail and oversee all of Missoula.

Hike “the M” for a breathtaking view of the Missoula Valley. Named for the large whitewashed rock “M” placed on the mountainside in 1908, this trail starts at the eastern edge of The University of Montana campus. This steep, zigzag path includes 11 switchbacks-with gains 620 feet of elevation in under a mile- is a little difficult but the views make it all the worthwhile.

Morrell Falls

Morrell Falls National Recreation Trail leads to the stunning Morrell Falls.

If you’re looking for a quick hike to a stunning waterfall, than look no further than Morrell Falls. Located at the base of the Swan Mountain Range, Morrell Falls is a jaw dropping waterfall at the end of a great hike with amazing views. Be sure to bring your camera for this one, you’ll want to capture all of the beauty.

Ross Creek Cedars

You will stand in awe of these cedars. Photo courtesy of Donnie Sexton.

Located in the Kootenai National Forest is a grove of western red cedars. Stroll along the trail for a truly awe-inspiring experience. Walk among the over 400-year-old western red cedars and enjoy all of information along this interpretive walking tour.

Holland Falls Nature Trail

The view of Holland Falls will be sure to take your breath away.

This popular and breathtaking hike follows along the shoreline of Holland Lake and gradually climbs to the base of the falls. The trail starts at the end of the parking area and continues straight for 1.6 miles. It’s great for groups in the Glacier National Park area that are looking for an easy hike with unforgettable views.

Avalanche Lake

Avalanche Lake is at the end of the 2 mile hike and the view is absolute perfection.

The trailhead is located a few miles east of Lake McDonald Lodge along the Going-to-the-Sun Road. It is a serene and breathtaking trail that winds through lush forest, along a pristine stream and inland through a northwest rain forest to a stunning alpine lake boasting sheer cliffs and waterfalls.

 Pro tips:

  1. It’s always a good idea to wear layers and comfortable, broken-in hiking shoes or boots. The weather can be a little fickle in the fall, and can change quickly. It’s best to be prepared with a rain jacket, just in case.
  2. Be bear aware! Make noise and carry bear spray. You’re in bear country, and no matter how wild you think you might be, we can assure you the wildlife have you beat. (It’s also never a good idea to try to feed the wildlife).
  3. Make room in your pack for water, snacks and a camera. It’s good to stay hydrated, and good to have a camera ready to capture your Montana moments.
  4. Always stay on the trail. Wandering Montana’s splendor is easy to do, but it’s important not to lose your way. We promise you won’t miss out on anything.
  5. Ask the locals. Montana is full of secrets and who better to ask than a Montanan?

If hiking is something your clients love to do, then they are in for a treat in Western Montana. We hope they are ready for an unforgettable experience, we promise they won’t be disappointed.

Happy Trials!
NG

GUEST POST: 6 AUTHENTIC “WILD WEST” ADVENTURES WITH SWAN MOUNTAIN OUTFITTERS

There you go again, daydreaming about sending your clients on their next getaway to Western Montana’s Glacier Country. How about adding a bucket-list adventure to their itinerary in the great outdoors, plus a little pampering? Swan Mountain Outfitters serves up just that. We’re a full-service, year-round guided outdoor activity company offering a variety of must-try “Wild West” adventures. From one-hour family tours to guided five-day back-country wilderness trips, Swan Mountain Outfitters helps create the Montana experience of your dreams. Come unplug and unwind with us in the beautiful Montana landscape.

HORSEBACK TRIPS
Swan Mountain Outfitters is the largest horseback outfitter in the State of Montana, and we operate the only trail-ride service within Glacier National Park. Our guides and horses are trained to accommodate total beginners to expert riders. Plus, diverse trail-ride options appease the masses, making this a perfect activity for families.

Experience Montana from the saddle with one or two-hour trips, half-day or full-day adventures, Montana cowboy cookout/trail-ride combos or overnight horseback rides and Montana fishing excursions. Several trip options all allow you to see the Montana portrayed in the movies—panoramic vistas of grand mountain ranges and sparkling waters.

Guides and wranglers arrange all trip details and preparations. Trip Tip: If you really love the back-country and want to go the extra miles, check out our multi-day Bob Marshall Wilderness pack trips.

A guest enjoys the scenery from the saddle during a trail ride in Glacier National Park.

LLAMA TREKKING
Llama trekking is an all-around lovable affair and eco-therapy for the soul. Our llama treks enable guests to hike into the mountains or forest without having to carry gear, making hiking with kids and groups logistically easier and more enjoyable. Plus, llamas can travel to back-country places that our horses are not able to go.

These “camels of the clouds” trekking tours allow for a variety of time-frames within different trip options. You can choose a half-day or full-day trek, as well as multi-day backpacking trips to pristine alpine lakes. One of our favorite trip offerings is a three-hour evening “Wine and Cheese Llama Trek.”

Trekking with llamas is one of the most unique hiking trips you will ever take.

GLACIER MOPED RENTALS
Mopeds are just plain fun. Imagine cruising around in the open air, with all your senses engaged, while viewing the glacial creeks and towering peaks of Glacier National Park. Moped rentals are a big hit among adventure travelers who have done it all and want a new way to travel. If you’re independent by nature, you will revel in the freedom of a self-guided moped tour and are sure to return with tons of scenic photos from the beauty you’ll find along our tour routes.

Many of our guests take full-day moped trips around the park, while others might indulge in a quick two-hour spin around the area. Glacier Moped Rentals is the only rental option of its kind in the Glacier National Park area.

A new spin on a drive around Glacier National Park.

CROWN OF THE CONTINENT DISCOVERY CENTER
It’s the perfect pit-stop, and the local flair you’ll find here is worth it. The Crown of the Continent Discovery Center offers a variety of Montana made food, drinks, gifts and souvenirs, as well as kids’ activities and educational opportunities. Several maps and interactive displays are placed throughout the Made in Montana gift shop.

With ample parking for large vehicles, public restrooms, family activities and food and drink, all your basic road needs are met here and then some. Our in-house authentic Mexican restaurant receives rave reviews and our to-go lunches satiate the on-the-move traveler. The petting zoo offers more family fun, and an ice cream parlor boasts local favorites like Montana huckleberry. Chill on the covered porch with a Montana-made cocktail or a latte when you’re ready to kick back and relax.

Cool off in the bar with a Montana craft beer, a locally made ice cream or an iced latte.

MONTANA FISHING
At Swan Mountain Outfitters, we simply love fishing in Montana, and we know where the fish live. That’s why we’ve made fishing a big part of our life’s work.

Swan Mountain’s fishing spots get you into places few anglers know about, and we are the only outfitter permitted to guide in some trip locations. Enjoy more serenity and elbow-room on the water compared to other popular spots in the Flathead Valley, which might translate to more fish, and the ultimate authentic Montana fishing experience.

You have options, from all-day river float and fishing trips, to walk-and-wade and overnight guided horseback and fishing combination trips.

Montana is for fishing, plain and simple.

SWAN MOUNTAIN SNOWMOBILING
When winter approaches, we trade-in our trusty steeds for snow machines. Montana is known for its “cold smoke” powder, with record snowfall reaching over 400 inches at high elevations in 2017. Thus, we make the most of our winters by revving up the snowmobiles and teaching our guests how to have some winter fun, Montana style. The adrenaline rush keeps us going from December to April.

Permits in multiple areas throughout the Flathead Valley allow us to offer more groomed trail miles than any other snowmobile guide service in the region. Top-of-the line machines keep you riding in comfort and are easy to operate, even for total beginners. Our guides are entertaining and will teach you what you need to know to ride snowmobiles on our groomed trails.

So, you’re a winter lover, or you just want to find a way to make winter more fun.

Help make your client’s Montana dreams a reality in any season with a little help from Swan Mountain Outfitters.

See you on the trail,
Katie

The author, Katie LeBlanc

About the author: Katie LeBlanc pursues outdoor recreation as a daily lifestyle necessity, and has many stories from personal travel expeditions. As marketing coordinator for Swan Mountain Outfitters, Katie is joyfully employed by a company that shares her love and appreciation for travel adventure and recreation. She lives, works, and plays in one of the many paradise destinations of the world, Western Montana’s Glacier Country.

CANADIAN ROCKIES AND AMERICAN ROCKIES TWO NATION VACATION LOOP TOUR

This year, Montana’s Glacier Country would like to congratulate our neighbors to the north in Canada as they celebrate their 150th birthday. Parks Canada is inviting visitors and locals to celebrate with them by offering free admission to all of their national parks and historic sites with a Discovery Pass for 2017. We’ve put together a seven day loop tour that incorporates northwest Montana along with some of these historic and iconic sites in British Columbia and Alberta, Canada, making a great two nation vacation. Here are the highlights if you’d like to come along.

Day 1: NW Montana and Eureka
Fly into Glacier Park International (FCA) in Kalispell. Car rentals are available from the airport. Highway 93 passes through the charming town of Whitefish, where you can grab a quick bite at one of the local eateries on Central Ave. Next stop off Highway 93 is the quaint town of Eureka which sits on the banks of the Tobacco River. Eureka’s small-town hospitality is evident with the welcome signs and flag-lined streets. Stop in at the Tobacco Valley Historical Village—a collection of restored buildings from the 1880s to the early 1900s. Have a picnic at Riverside Park, which hosts a farmers market every Wednesday from 4 p.m. – 7 p.m. in the summer months.

Charming downtown Eureka.

Northwest Montana from The Wilderness Club in Eureka.

Day 2: British Columbia, Canada
After crossing the border into British Columbia stop in the town of Fort Steele Heritage Town. Fort Steele was an outpost for the North-West Mounted Police who came to bring law to the itinerant gold seekers from America’s wilder West. Here, over 60 buildings have been restored since the site was designated a Provincial Heritage Site in 1961. Visit the heritage tradesman and women who were essential to daily life including blacksmith, leather workers, dressmakers, tinsmiths and gold panners. See livestock demonstrations, including daily care and feeding of the Clydesdale’s that provided the horse-power back in the day.

Fort Steele Heritage Town.

Continue your travels north through the beautiful sprawling pasturelands of the valley with the jagged Canadian Rockies to the east eventually coming into Canal Flats. Be sure to stop at Canal Flats Overlook for a breathtaking view of the Kootenay River Valley and Columbia Lake. This lake is the originating source of the Columbia River, that eventually flows south through the Columbia River Gorge between Washington and Oregon and empties into the Pacific Ocean at Astoria, Oregon.

Stop in at one of British Columbia’s legendary attractions, Fairmont Hot Springs, Canada’s largest natural hot springs. There are accommodation options from RV to hotel lodging. Further on up the highway is the ultra-charming village of Radium Hot Springs that greets visitors with a welcome sign that reads “The Mountains Shall Bring Peace to the People.”

Overnight in Radium Hot Springs.

Day 3: Kootenay National Park/Banff National Park
The west gate of Kootenay National Park is located just outside of town. Sinclair Canyon serves as the entry into Kootenay National Park with striking cliffs of colored rocks on either side. Make sure you allow some time this morning to soak in the natural soothing waters of Radium Hot Springs while being surrounded by dramatic cliffs. And don’t worry if you forgot the towels or swimsuits, they are available for rent along with lockers.

Due to all of the wildlife, binoculars and cameras are highly recommended.

The hiking possibilities start immediately after your soak so take your lunch, bear spray, binoculars and enjoy your day in Kootenay National Park. Don’t forget to stop at the many viewpoints that overlook the Kootenay Valley or at the Continental Divide separating the Pacific and Atlantic watersheds. Leaving Kootenay National Park takes you straight into Banff National Park for an evening at Lake Louise.

Stop at overlooks for amazing views.

Overnight in Lake Louise.

Day 4: Lake Louise/Banff

Make this an early morning for the very best views of Lake Louise before the crowds begin to form (before 9 am or after 7 pm). The Victoria Glacier on Mount Victoria forms a dramatic backdrop at the head of Lake Louise for the most photographed location in the Canadian Rockies.

Magnificent Lake Louise.

Take the famed hike to Lake Agnes Tea House, open June 4 – October 10, located 3.5 km (2.1 miles) from the Lake Louise parking lot. The tea house—open since 1905—is set on the shores of Lake Agnes. Together with Mirror Lake and Lake Louise, these lakes are often called the “Lakes in the Clouds”. Choose from more than 100 varieties of teas, along with hearty homemade soup and sandwiches on freshly baked bread.

If not for an overnight, be sure to step into the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise to see the elegant yet relaxed atmosphere of the 552 room luxury resort. The 125-year-old resort also boasts the finest dining around. Choose from The Walliser Stube or fine dining at The Fairview or Lago Italian Kitchen, or enjoy the tradition of afternoon tea with views of Lake Louise.

Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise.

Leave enough time to visit the ultra-charming town of Banff. Walk along Banff Avenue and visit boutiques, galleries, museums and eateries along with chateau-style hotels and curio shops.

Strolling downtown Banff.

Overnight in Banff.

Day 5: Waterton Lakes National Park
Today is another recommended early start and a bit of a travel day as you make your way through Alberta on Highway A1 east towards Calgary the largest city in Alberta. Stop and see the cosmopolitan city. Memorial Drive along the Bow River offers views of metropolitan activities from bikers to runners and walkers.

Calgary is the largest city in Alberta.

As you head south look for the interpretive center, Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump World Heritage Site. This archaeological site built right into the cliffs preserves the remarkable history of the Plains People. Due to the native peoples understanding of the bison behavior and regional topography they hunted bison by stampeding them off cliffs.

The visitor center is set into the hillside at Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump.

Continue on to Waterton Lakes National Park and part of the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park where Montana’s Glacier National Park and Alberta’s Waterton Lakes National Park meet at the border between the United States and Canada. Designated the first International Peace Park in 1932 to commemorate the bonds of peace and friendship between the two nations.

Local residents of Waterton.

There is plenty of activity options in Waterton Lakes National Park but a “must do” is a cruise from Canada across the border into the United States on Waterton Shoreline Cruise Co. Listen to experienced local guides give informative and entertaining commentary for the 2-hour cruise. July through mid-September the boat will stop at Goat Haunt—the northern gateway to the wilderness of Glacier National Park.

Cruising Waterton Lake.

While there are options for your overnight stay, we recommend a room at a true historic icon, the Prince of Wales Hotel. As one of the most photographed hotels in the world, the Prince of Wales hotel sits on a bluff with stunning views of Waterton Lake, Waterton Lakes National Park and Glacier National Park.

The iconic Prince of Wales Hotel.

Overnight in Waterton.

Day 6: Glacier National Park (east side)
There are two border crossings into the U.S. from Waterton Lakes National Park. The most convenient is Chief Mountain border crossing on AB 6 crossing over onto Montana Highway 17. However, it is a seasonal crossing only open May 15 – September 30, from 9 AM – 6 PM. Dates and times may vary. Several miles east utilizing AB 2 and U.S. Highway 89 is the Piegan/Carway border crossing open daily, 7AM – 11PM year-round.

Just beyond Babb is the road to Many Glacier Hotel. Stop in to visit the historic lodge that just received a multi-million dollar renovation including a restored spiral staircase. This would be a good day to combine a boat tour on Swiftcurrent Lake and a day hike to Grinnell Glacier, catching another boat back after the hike.

Mount Grinnell at Swiftcurrent Lake across from Many Glacier Hotel.

Stop at the St. Mary Visitor Center to gather daily information on park activities, open trails, wildlife watch areas. The east side of the park offers wonderful day hiking opportunities and interpretive boat tours on Two Medicine Lake, St. Mary Lake and Swiftcurrent Lake with Glacier Park Boat Company.

If time allows take a trip into Browning, the largest city on the 1.5 million-acre Blackfeet Indian Reservation. Exhibits of cultural artifacts at the Museum of the Plains Indian are among the finest in the West. The Blackfeet Heritage Center and Art Gallery and the Lodgepole Gallery and Tipi Village feature traditional and contemporary arts and crafts.

Glacier National Park’s east side.

Travel the park’s southern boundary along Highway 2. Visit Essex, home to the historic Izaak Walton Inn that once housed workers for the Great Northern Railroad. Visit the small town of West Glacier before heading towards the west entrance of Glacier National Park.

Overnight at Izaak Walton Inn, Lake McDonald Lodge or Belton Chalet.

Day 7: Glacier National Park (west side)
You’d be hard pressed to find a more scenic drive in the lower continental United States than the Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park. A wilderness of lakes, towering peaks and remnants of glaciers is readily accessible. Hop aboard a red bus tour of the 50-mile-long Going-to-the-Sun Road. The red bus drivers, known as Jammers, are your tour guides and provide information about the park’s flora and fauna, history, geology and glaciology.  Another tour option is Sun Tours, which tells the perspective from the Blackfeet Indian and the emphasis Glacier National Park has had on Blackfeet Nation throughout the centuries. NOTE: The Going-to-the-Sun Road traverses a high mountain pass and due to weather is only open from the end of June to the middle of October (weather permitting). Driving the Going-to-the-Sun Road is restricted for private vehicles longer than 21 feet or wider than 8 feet.

Red bus tours in Glacier National Park.

If time allows take a scenic boat tour on Lake McDonald or a guided horseback trail ride with Swan Mountain Outfitters or hike the most popular trails on the west side, Trail of the Cedars and Avalanche Lake trail. Make a reservation at the historic Belton Chalet (built in 1910) for a gourmet dinner in the lovely dining room.

Overnight in West Glacier or Kalispell before departing your two nation vacation.

Find the full Two Nation Vacation itinerary here. For more information on where to stay throughout Western Montana, visit our tour operator website. If you need additional tour itinerary assistance, feel free to drop me a line; I’m always here to help.

DP

MONTANA’S BITTERROOT VALLEY IS THE PERFECT OUTDOOR PLAYGROUND

One of our hidden gems and relatively undiscovered destinations in Western Montana’s Glacier Country, is the beautiful Bitterroot Valley. A visit to this scenic valley will find the Sapphire Mountain range to the east and the Bitterroot Mountain range to the west with the Bitterroot River flowing through the middle of the 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.

The Bitterroot River flows through the valley.

Sunset over the Bitterroot Mountains.

Darby
For travelers looking to explore a truly western town, begin with the charming town of Darby. The towns wood-facade 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.

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

A beautiful day at Lake Como.

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. 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.

Just outside of Hamilton is the Daly Mansion. The former summer home turned museum 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.

Impressive views from Blodgett Canyon Overlook.

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

Stevensville
Following the East Side Highway north is 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.

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

Florence
A little farther north 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.

Lolo
Located on the north end of the Bitterroot Valley 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

The 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

5 UNEXPECTED SPRING EXPERIENCES IN WESTERN MONTANA’S BITTERROOT VALLEY

It’s that time of year we love: spring in Montana. One of our favorite seasons, spring offers FIT/Group clients an exceptional Western Montana experience. The days start to lengthen, the skies erupt with beautiful blue hues and visitation is lighter than in our busier summer months. Spring is one of the best, most underrated times to visit our region. To add to your spring itinerary, we’ve put together a list of a few of the best and most unexpected experiences to be had in our beautiful Bitterroot Valley.

Pedal the Valley: Bike the Bitterroot Trail

This paved 50-mile path connects Missoula and Hamilton, taking travelers through some of Western Montana’s most charming small towns and jaw-dropping scenery. Learn more about this historic trail at bitterroottrail.com.

Biking the scenic Bitterroot Trail. Photo: bitterroottrail.com

Sip Local Spirits: Visit a Brewery or Distillery

Within the last few years, the microbrew and distillery industries have exploded onto the scene in Montana. With more than 25 distilleries and breweries in Glacier Country, adding a brew or spirit tasting to your itinerary is simple and fun. The valley is home to some of those great breweries. Check out Lolo Peak Brewing Company in Lolo, Bandit Brewing Co. in Darby, Blacksmith Brewing Company and Wildwood Brewery in Stevensville, and Higherground Brewing and Bitterroot Brewing Company in Hamilton. Visit glaciermt.com/breweries.php to learn more.

Friends enjoy some brews at Blacksmith Brewing in Stevensville.

Birder’s Delight: Bird-Watching in the Bitterroot Valley

Spring is a fantastic time to check out migratory birds in our region, and Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge is just the place to do it. A 30-minute drive south of Missoula and a few minutes from Stevensville, Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge is a 2,800-acre refuge that’s home to a variety of wildlife and birds. Trails are easily accessible and the Bitterroot Mountain views offer a gorgeous backdrop. Visit glaciermt.com/wildlife-refuges.php to learn more about the refuges in Western Montana.

A group sees a baby bald eagle through the scope.

Local Flavor: Dining in Montana

When you think of Montana, you likely think of mountains and big blue skies, so it might be surprising to hear that our culinary scene is top-notch. The Bitterroot Valley is home to some of our delicious culinary offerings. We suggest heading to the Lolo Creek Steak House in Lolo or head farther south to Nap’s Grill or Red Rooster Artisan Bakery in Hamilton. Click here for more dining options, and let the mouthwatering commence.

The Bitterroot Valley is home to many delicious culinary offerings.

Market Season: Experience a Western Montana Farmers Market

If you find yourself in the Bitterroot Valley this spring and summer you must check out one of the many Farmers Markets in the area. These markets are great for a genuine Western Montana experience. You will find some amazing Montana-made goods, local produce, organic items, baked goods and fresh flowers, not to mention friendly locals and talented musicians. Check out the full list of community farmers markets in the Bitterroot Valley right here.

Hamilton’s Farmers Market is a must. Photo: asideofsweet.com

You can find more information on where to stay and play in the Bitterroot Valley here or if you are looking for more information about Western Montana, visit our tour operators website. If you need additional tour itinerary assistance, don’t hesitate to contact our Tourism Sales Manager, Debbie Picard.

Cheers!
NG

TOP 10 SPRING EXPERIENCES IN WESTERN MONTANA

Many of our visitors to Western Montana’s Glacier Country arrive in July and August, but I’d like to let you in on a little secret that you can share with your FIT/Group clients: spring is one of the best times to visit Montana. Baby animals emerge, dotting the pastures, and wildflowers pop up, blanketing the surrounding hillsides. The weather can have a flair for the dramatic, with bright blue skies one minute and snow the next, but that is what makes springtime in Montana uniquely pleasing. We’ve rounded up some of the top things to add to a spring itinerary under Western Montana’s big blue sky.

1) Golf
With the warming temperatures, many of the golf courses in Western Montana open by mid-April, welcoming players back to the greens. Some of our recommended courses include Buffalo Hill Golf Club in Kalispell, Canyon River Golf Club in Missoula and Whitefish Lake Golf Course in Whitefish.

Golf one of the many courses in Montana.

2) Tour the St. Mary’s Mission in Stevensville
Opening for the season in mid-April, the Historic St. Mary’s Mission in Stevensville marks an important place in Montana history as the first settlement. Be sure to take a guided tour of the complex and peruse the incredible American Indian photographs inside Chief Victor’s cabin.

The chapel at St. Mary’s Mission.

3) Soak in Natural Hot Springs
Spring is ideal for soaking in one of Montana’s many natural hot springs, and Western Montana has several sprinkled throughout the region. Try one of the hot springs in Lolo, Paradise or the aptly named town of Hot Springs.

Paradise found at Quinn’s Hot Springs.

4) Bike in Glacier National Park
Prior to the opening of the Going-to-the-Sun Road to vehicular traffic, it’s open to bikers and hikers. Biking in Glacier National Park is one of the most exhilarating things to do in Montana.
Side note: with the arrival of spring, wildlife are active in the park. Be sure to carry bear spray when hiking or biking in Glacier National Park.

Biking the Going-to-the-Sun Road.

5) Whitewater Raft the Middle Fork of the Flathead River
Many of Montana’s rafting companies start offering rafting trips in May and June when the spring runoff from the mountains is at its peak. If you’re looking for an adrenaline-pumping adventure, our outfitters and guides have you covered.

Adrenaline pumping whitewater adventures.

6) Fly-fish the Bitterroot, Blackfoot or Clark Fork rivers
This part of the country is well known for blue-ribbon trout streams and rivers. Enlist one of our expert fly-fishing guides to take you down one of those picturesque winding rivers in search of your next trophy catch.

In search of the elusive brown trout.

7) Visit Libby Dam and the Swinging Bridge over Kootenai Falls
Located in northwest Montana, Libby Dam holds back the waters of Lake Koocanusa (a lake that spans between the U.S. and Canada) and helps control flooding on the Columbia River. While in Northwest Montana, make it a point to take the short walk down from Highway 2, visiting the swinging bridge and capturing the view of the water tumbling over the falls.

Kootenai Falls near the swing bridge.

8) Go Birding at Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge
Enjoy watching the spring migration a few minutes from Stevensville at the Lee Metcalf Wildlife Refuge. This 2,800-acre refuge is home to a variety of wildlife and birds. The refuge also has accessible trails and offers gorgeous views of the Bitterroot Mountains.

A group sees a baby bald eagle through the scope.

9) Hike the “M” Trail Overlooking Missoula
One of the most popular hiking trails in Montana, this trail starts at the base of Mount Sentinel and works its way up to the M. A total length of .75 miles, the trail has 11 switchbacks, an elevation gain of 620 feet and an incredible view of the Missoula Valley below.

Victory celebration above the M overlooking the Missoula Valley.

10) Drive the National Bison Range
Situated at the base of the Mission Mountains, the National Bison Range is one of the most easily accessible and beautiful adventures in Western Montana. In early spring, visitors can travel along the west loop, while Red Sleep Drive (the 19-mile-long one-way drive that winds through the range) opens in early May. Be sure to keep an eye out for baby bison. Insider tip: bring your binoculars.

Antelope roam the National Bison Range north of Missoula.

For more information on where to stay throughout Western Montana, visit our tour operator website. If you need additional tour itinerary assistance, feel free to drop me a line; I’m always here to help.

Happy spring!
DP

GUEST POST: TOP 4 SHOULDER SEASON ADVENTURES WITH GLACIER GUIDES AND MONTANA RAFT

Travel is all about the experience. Forget collecting silver-plated spoons from each state—travelers these days are out in the world to create intangible experiences and memories that will last a lifetime, especially in America’s national parks—Glacier National Park in particular. As tour operators, you are challenged by the ever-growing popularity of the parks, and seek help creating the memorable, unique experiences your guests demand. Waiting in long, hot lines does not create happy guests or repeat customers. We can help.

At Glacier Guides and Montana Raft, we’ve been in the business of creating unforgettable adventures since 1983. Our focus is on the quality of the experience, and our mission is to provide one-of-a-kind travel vacations and getaways in and around Glacier National Park, while preserving and protecting the park’s unique ecosystem using the most ecologically sound practices possible.

Glacier National Park in spring.

What we hear from our guests—some of whom we’ve been guiding for over 30 years—is that part of the Glacier Park experience they are looking for is one that includes intimacy, solitude and peace. Even if they are interested in an adrenaline-packed whitewater rafting adventure, they are still looking for an experience that allows the time and space for introspection and reflection. And our guides know how to use our rivers and mountains to do just that, while also educating, entertaining and attending to safety at all times.

For this more intimate experience with Glacier National Park, offer tours in our less crowded times of the year: May, June, September and October. There are many reasons Glacier National Park is so popular in July and August, but there are better times of the year if you are in the business of experiential travel. Here are our top 4 Glacier National Park shoulder-season activities.

1) Spring Biking the Going-to-the-Sun Road
The first sign of spring in Glacier Country is the announcement that the snow plows are out, scraping a winter’s worth of snow off the famous Going-to-the-Sun Road. As soon as the plows have advanced a few miles up that gorgeous road, we strap on our helmets and go biking. The plowed portions of the road are open only to biker and hiker traffic until mid to late June, and pedaling a bike up the nearly empty, quiet, Going-to-the-Sun Road is nothing short of spectacular. Breathing in the fresh alpine air, watching spring waterfalls cascade off the mountains and catching a glimpse of a new moose or elk calf crossing a greening meadow is an experience travelers will not soon—or ever—forget.

Spring biking the Going-to-the-Sun Road.

These interpretive, guided bike tours on the closed sections of the Going-to-the-Sun Road are exclusive to Glacier Guides and Montana Raft. Nearly all ages and abilities can enjoy at least part of this Glacier National Park shoulder-season experience. Our guides will go as far as the group wants to go, and for some groups (especially those with young children) that might not be very far. That’s okay. We think every trip is less about the destination and more about the memories made on the journey, like sitting on a sun-warmed rock on the edge of the cerulean waters of McDonald Creek, relishing one of our homemade, locally sourced, largely organic sack lunches. For other groups, we might bike all the way to Logan Pass, the apex of the road. Either way, it is sure to be a day guests will never forget.

2) Spring Whitewater Rafting on the Middle Fork of the Flathead River
For some guests, adrenaline is a necessary part of the experience. We provide an unmatched whitewater rafting adventure on one of the most stunning rivers in the world. The Middle Fork of the Flathead River is designated a Wild and Scenic River. Its crystal-clear, turquoise waters flow over gorgeous red and green rocks left over from Glacier National Park’s glaciated past. The Middle Fork forms Glacier National Park’s border to the south and the Flathead National Forest to the north.

Adrenaline pumping whitewater adventures.

In the springtime, and particularly in late May when runoff is at its peak, the water is high and the river’s nine named rapids vary from Class II to Class IV. Our impeccably trained guides keep guests thrilled (and safe) as they navigate John F. Stevens Canyon and the fun, splashy Tunnel Rapids, Bonecrusher, Washboard, Big Squeeze, Jaws, Pin Ball, CBT, Repeater Rapids, The Notch and Pumphouse rapids. Following the guide’s simple commands, guests actually become part of the crew that maneuvers the boat. In the spring, this trip is about two and a half hours long. Generally speaking, we do not allow children younger than six on this trip in the spring. Guest safety is our #1 priority. Wetsuits and river shoes are always complimentary.

3) Shoulder Season Scenic Floating on the Border of Glacier National Park
Whether it’s spring or fall, if whitewater rafting is more of an adventure than guests are looking for, but the beauty and peace of a calmer section of the Flathead River appeals to them, then our Scenic Float is perfect. Suitable for nearly any age (ages three and up) and ability, this trip never fails to inspire and relax. The beauty of the Middle Fork is perhaps even more enjoyable when viewed at the slower speed of the Scenic Float trip.

Stunning scenery on this scenic river float.

The trip is approximately two hours long, and guests enjoy glimpses of Glacier National Park from the comfort of a boat as their guide discusses geological, anthropological and ecological matters pertaining to Glacier National Park. Guests also float through the confluence of the North and Middle forks of the Flathead River, which forms the park’s southernmost tip. This trip is mellow in the best sense of the word, offering a peaceful, relaxing experience on one of the world’s most pristine rivers.

4) Fall Day Hiking on the Highline Trail
Around here, we love to hike in every season, but fall is our favorite. By September, all of the high mountain passes and trails have completely thawed out, and most of our visitors have gone back to work and school. Glacier National Park turns to gold with changing tamarack needles and aspen leaves, and Montana’s famous big sky is never bluer. The cool, crisp autumnal air is invigorating. It’s simply an ideal time of year to go hiking.

Hiking in Glacier National Park.

Glacier Guides was chosen as the exclusive backpacking guide service in Glacier National Park. We offer a wide range of adventure hiking options, from day hiking and backpacking, to hut treks and vehicle-supported excursions. All of our trips are ecologically friendly, and family or custom adventures are available. Our friendly, experienced guides take care of every detail, use top-of-the-line equipment and prepare delicious, healthy meals. With over 700 miles of trails, Glacier Park is a hiker’s dream, and we provide trips to accommodate all ability levels. We can create a custom trip that’s tailored to your guest’s interests and desired activity level. We’d love to help plan the perfect Glacier National Park experience for your guests. For more information, visit glacierguides.com or call 406.387.5555.

Happy Adventuring,
Courtney Stone

The author, Courtney Stone

About the author: As Marketing Director for Glacier Guides and Montana Raft, Courtney strives daily to meet its mission of providing exceptional active travel vacations and experiences in and around Glacier National Park, while preserving and protecting the park’s unique ecosystem. Otherwise, you’ll find Courtney hiking, backpacking, rafting, skiing or cleaning up the trail of glitter her kids leave in the wake of their own daily adventures.

How Group Tour Operators Can Utilize Social Media

In today’s world, social media plays a significant roll all-around us and there are some amazing benefits that come along with utilizing this type of marketing. FACT: your target audience is using social media and most likely using it on a daily basis. It’s also a fact that social media influences consumers when trying to decide where they want to visit and what they want to see and do on their travels.

A group tour visiting Glacier National Park.

As a tour operator, utilizing social media on a group tour can be simple and fun. It allows you to create and share the story that you want and connect with your audience through the stories being told by the attendees on your tour. It’s a great way for potential clients to see exactly what they will be experiencing. Using social media on your tour and having your attendees engage with social media will allow you to show your audience that experiencing a place on one of your tours is the absolute BEST way to travel.

Taking a tour on an iconic red bus in Glacier National Park.

We’ve rounded up a few of the best ways to utilize social on your group tours…

Encourage social media sharing. Share your business handle and the social media icons that you are currently using on all marketing collateral. This allows you to have direct connection between you and your tour guest. Be sure that you have clear signage encouraging your group attendees to engage and share their experiences in real time by tagging your business in their photos. By having your clients post for your business it gives you another platform to highlight your tour offerings and showcase your expert knowledge of the region you are visiting.

Create a hashtag. It’s always beneficial to have a hashtag that is associated with your business allowing you another way to monitor how your business is performing on social media. Another way to utilize hashtags is to create a specific hashtag that focuses on a particular tour, trip or product that are unique for your business. Having your client’s use your hashtag turns them into ambassadors for your brand and creates exposure for your business.

Engage. Once your group tour attendees share their experiences on their personal social channels you need to like their photos, comment on their posts or share their photos with your business pages. Engaging is key to creating conversation about your business and gives you the opportunity to showcase your expert knowledge. Tip: If you plan to share their content, be sure to have clear messaging that states once they use your hashtag or tag your business in their photos this gives you (the tour operator) permission to share their photos on your own business page.

Monitor the conversation. Now that your group tour attendees have utilized social media while on your tour and tagged your business, it’s important to monitor the conversation and keep checking back on the posts to see if there are questions from others about your offerings. You don’t want to implement this system and then do nothing with it. In order to get it right, you need to commit time and effort in maintaining each social channel to keep your engagement strong. Update your channel regularly and keep the conversation going.

Now go out there and start implementing social media on your group tours and watch the magic happen. If you have specific questions about social media we are always here as a resource. Oh, and be sure to follow Western Montana’s Glacier Country at @GlacierMT on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, or follow our hashtag, #GlacierMT on all social media channels.

Happy hashtagging!

NG

3 NOT-TO-BE-MISSED SPRING DESTINATIONS IN WESTERN MONTANA

Spring is always a welcome sight in Western Montana’s Glacier Country. Don’t get me wrong, we are winter-loving snow enthusiasts, but when the powder starts melting and the birds start singing, well, WE LOVE THAT. Spring in Montana has a flair for the dramatic, with bright blue skies dotted with billowing clouds. Mountainsides filled with blooming wildflowers and emerging wildlife make it one of the loveliest seasons to visit, yet one that is relatively undiscovered. While we have lots of great spring destinations in Glacier Country, we’ve rounded up our top three to add to your spring itinerary.

The boat dock at Apgar Village in Glacier National Park.

Glacier National Park
Glacier National Park is open year-round, and spring is one of the quietest times to explore, with less visitation than summer. The Going-to-the-Sun Road traverses the mountainside and doesn’t open in its entirety to vehicular traffic until the plows have finished removing the snow up at Logan Pass, around the 3rd weekend in June. However, the road is open earlier to walkers, runners, hikers and bicyclists. A favorite pastime for locals—that’s catching on with visitors—is biking the iconic road while it’s vehicle free. It’s a bit steep on the way up, but the views are breathtaking and the ride back down is swift and exhilarating.

Biking the Going-to-the-Sun Road.

Wildlife watching in Glacier National Park during the spring is always an exciting time, as new offspring can be spotted. (Be sure to keep a safe distance and never feed the animals.) Here are more tips on safely watching wildlife in the West.

Moose sighting in the spring.

Additional activities: red bus tours begin in late May with the Huckleberry Mountain Tour. Hiking is always a fun adventure this time of year. To find out which trails are clear of snow, visitors can call 406.888.7800.

Bigfork
Much like spring feels to summer, Bigfork is often overlooked as a place to visit over its larger and more well-known neighboring towns of Kalispell and Whitefish. However, Bigfork is one of the most charming towns you’ll discover in Western Montana. Sitting on the northeast shore of Flathead Lake—the largest freshwater lake in the Western U.S.—Bigfork hosts a variety of spring events, including Taste of Bigfork and the Bigfork Whitewater Festival at the end of May. Watch as kayakers paddle a class IV section of the “wild mile” on the Swan River. Take time to check out the art galleries, boutique shops and restaurants in downtown Bigfork along Electric Avenue.

Bigfork Whitewater Festival.

Downtown Bigfork, MT.

Missoula
Missoula’s ease of accessibility to the outdoors makes it a special spring destination. Less than an hour away is the National Bison Range and a host of wildlife viewing that takes place there every spring. Not only do bison roam the expansive 18,500-acre range, so do elk, deer, antelope, bighorn sheep, coyote and bear, as well as multiple kinds of waterfowl.

Antelope roam the National Bison Range north of Missoula.

Missoula sits at the convergence of three rivers. The Blackfoot River and the Bitterroot River flow into the Clark Fork River, which flows through the heart of downtown Missoula. With the spring runoff, the rivers is high and the kayakers and surfers rejoice. Make sure to stop and watch them from Caras Park in downtown Missoula as they paddle on Brennan’s Wave.

Kayaker on Brennan’s Wave in downtown Missoula.

Join in on one of Missoula’s special spring events like the International Wildlife Film Festival or the Garden City Brewfest. Hike the M trail on Mount Sentinel for views of the sweeping valley below. Visit Fort Missoula to learn about the early settlement of the region or take a tour of the Missoula Smokejumper Visitor Center to get a glimpse of what life is like for the brave men and women who parachute into our national forests to fight wildfires. Missoula also has a thriving downtown with lively music and culinary scenes that will delight visitors of all ages.

Learn about professional Smokejumpers in Missoula.

For more information on where to stay throughout Western Montana, visit our tour operator website. If you need additional tour itinerary assistance, feel free to drop me a line; I’m always here to help.

Happy spring,

DP

TRANSPORTATION: GETTING TO MONTANA IS EASIER THAN YOU THINK

Montana: when you think of this beautiful place, chances are majestic mountains, big blue skies, wildflower-filled meadows, miles of hiking trails and crystal clear rivers and streams come to mind. But you’re also probably wondering, “Is it easy to travel to Montana?” The answer: yes this heavenly place is closer than you think.

transpo-blog

A couple enjoys fishing in Western Montana.

Located in Western Montana, Glacier Country is a vast place and is an ideal option for a scenic meeting or convention and group tours. Western Montana’s Glacier Country is also home to two major international airports, a well-maintained highway system and a passenger train to get you and your clients here with ease.

A 7-minute drive from downtown Missoula, Missoula International Airport (MSO) offers easy access to the southern tier of Western Montana’s Glacier Country. Direct flights arrive daily from Denver, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Phoenix/Mesa, Salt Lake City, Portland and Seattle, with seasonal flights arriving from Atlanta, Chicago and San Francisco. This airport services Delta/SkyWest, United, Alaska/Horizon Air and Allegiant Air.

Situated in the northern tier of the region is Glacier Park International Airport (FCA). Located 15 minutes from Whitefish and Kalispell, this beautiful airport is the gateway to Glacier National Park and the Canadian Rockies and  has daily flights from Salt Lake City, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Denver, Seattle and Las Vegas, with seasonal flights from Atlanta, Los Angeles, Chicago, Portland and Oakland. Airlines flying into this airport are Delta/SkyWest, Alaska/Horizon Air, United and Allegiant Air.

b2b-map

Map outlining all the flight options for both international airports.

If your group is interested in traveling to Western Montana by train, then Amtrak’s Empire Builder is the answer. Amtrak’s Empire Builder travels through the Hi-Line of Montana and the northern tier of Glacier Country, where it makes stops in several communities, including Cut Bank, Browning, East Glacier Park, Essex, West Glacier, Whitefish and Libby. This train is an amazing way to travel past Glacier National Park, the Rocky Mountains and all the stunning terrain in between. Amtrak operates daily from Seattle and Portland, as well as Minneapolis and Chicago. This is a great option for large groups wanting to see the beauty of Western Montana’s Glacier Country in a relaxing and comfortable setting.

Amtrak’s Empire Builder traveling through Western Montana. Photo: Amtrak

Amtrak’s Empire Builder traveling through Western Montana. Photo: Amtrak

Highlights along Amtrak’s journey through Western Montana’s Glacier Country.

Highlights along Amtrak’s journey through Western Montana’s Glacier Country.

If traveling by air or rail isn’t what you are looking for, and you prefer driving to Western Montana, then you’re in luck. Driving in Montana is easy with a well-maintained highway system that’s anchored by Interstate Highway 90 running east and west and U.S. Highway 93 running north and south. The beauty of driving on our highways and roads are that you will always have breathtaking scenery and heart-stopping views, with charming small towns sprinkled along your route.

See you soon,

NG