Tag Archives: Itinerary

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

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

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

EXPERIENCE WESTERN MONTANA BY RAIL

Traveling by train has been a popular mode of transportation for years in Europe and Canada and is gaining in popularity in the U.S. That’s great news to us here in Western Montana’s Glacier Country, especially as one of the most scenic segments of Amtrak’s Empire Builder travels through the northwestern corner of Montana. Tour operators can create itineraries where their clients can choose to travel the entire route of the Empire Builder, with flexible stops along the way to see what nearby towns have to offer. Or they can have clients travel sections of the route, then bus or rent a car for the remainder of their itinerary. No matter which option is chosen one thing is for sure: Montana by rail is an easy way to travel.

Empire Builder near Glacier National Park. Photo: Amtrak.

Empire Builder near Glacier National Park. Photo: Amtrak.

Running from Seattle, Washington and Portland, Oregon to Chicago, Illinois, Amtrak’s Empire Builder travels through the northern tier of Montana with stops in seven of Western Montana’s communities, including Libby, Whitefish, West Glacier, Essex, East Glacier Park, Browning and Cut Bank.

Libby is the first stop in Western Montana and is located at the base of the breathtaking Cabinet Mountain Range and along the winding Kootenai River where travelers will find the largest undammed falls in the state and the backdrop to famous films including “The River Wild” and most recently “The Revenant.”

The Cabinet Mountains.

The Cabinet Mountains.

Kootenia Falls near Libby.

Kootenia Falls near Libby.

The next stop is Whitefish–Western Montana’s most authentic mountain town and home to Whitefish Mountain Resort. Known for its world-class skiing in the winter, Whitefish Mountain Resort also offers fun-filled adventures in the summer including mountain biking, an Aerial Adventure Park, an alpine slide and Walk in the Tree Tops. Plus, your clients will see some of the most breathtaking views of the Flathead Valley and Glacier National Park from the top of Big Mountain. Downtown Whitefish boasts gourmet restaurants and boutique shopping along the quaint main street, Central Avenue. Unique lodging options abound in Whitefish from a 4-star hotel, to mountainside lodges and bed-and-breakfasts.

Historic Whitefish Station.

Historic Whitefish Station.

View of the Flathead River from the train.

View of the Flathead River from the train.

A popular stop to disembark is West Glacier, due to its close location to the west entrance to Glacier National Park. The train depot sits across the street from the Belton Chalet, the first lodge built by the Great Northern Railroad at Glacier National Park. Opened in 1910, the Belton Chalet has been fully restored and is one of the most charming accommodations in West Glacier. Plus, their on-site dining room serves gourmet meals made with local Montana ingredients.

Breakfast at Belton Chalet.

Breakfast at Belton Chalet.

Leaving West Glacier, the train travels east along the southern boundary of Glacier National Park as it passes jaw-dropping scenery out every window. The next town is Essex and features the Izaak Walton Inn. Once a railroad bunkhouse, the Izaak is now a historic inn that sits trackside and has lodge rooms, as well as train cabooses and a luxury locomotive that have been converted into adorable lodging options. The Izaak Walton Inn is quite popular with international visitors, cross-country skiers and snowshoeing enthusiast, as well as train historians. Essex is noted as a “flag stop” on the Empire Builder route and will stop if ticketed passengers are getting on or off at the Inn.

Historic Izaak Walton Inn from the train.

Historic Izaak Walton Inn from the train.

Charming bedroom at the Izaak Walton Inn.

Charming bedroom at the Izaak Walton Inn.

Travelers are greeted with views like this from the train.

Travelers are greeted with views like this from the train.

Once the train passes Essex it crests the Continental Divide at Marias Pass and then continues east to its next stop at East Glacier Park. Across from the station is Glacier Park Lodge, an impressive lodge made of timbers that are estimated to be 600 years old. The lodge was originally built by the Great Northern Railway to promote train travel and attract visitors to the region. The East Glacier Park station is open mid-spring through mid-fall.

Beautiful mountain views cresting Marias Pass.

Beautiful mountain views cresting Marias Pass.

East Glacier Park Station with Glacier Park Lodge in the background.

East Glacier Park Station with Glacier Park Lodge in the background.

The next stop is Browning, the headquarters of the Blackfeet Indian Nation. A stop in Browning gives travelers easy access to The Blackfeet Heritage Museum and Museum of the Plains Indians both offering great information on the history and culture of the Blackfeet. Keep in mind that the Amtrak station in Browning is open from mid-fall to early spring (typically October – April).

Statue of a Blackfeet warrior.

Statue of a Blackfeet warrior.

The last stop in Western Montana’s Glacier Country on Amtrak’s Empire Builder is the town of Cut Bank. The town started as a Great Northern Railway camp with workers who were there to build a train trestle over Cut Bank Creek. Today, it boast abundant outdoor opportunities including fishing, guest ranches, birding, hiking and incredible views of the Rocky Mountain Front.

A few things to note about the Empire Builder and train travel:

  • The scenery is spectacular during every season and the train runs year-round.
  • From April to September Amtrak welcomes volunteers from the National Park Service, Trails & Rails program to offer educational information from the observation car.
  • Each coach seat provides reclining options and a leg rest with a free pillow.
  • Sleeping accommodations range from roomettes to full bedrooms with private baths.
  • Some train travel can be up to half the price of a plane ticket to get to the same destination.
  • Amtrak often gives discounts to children, military, students, seniors and AAA members.
  • The train is eco-friendly and more energy efficient with less emissions than cars or planes.

If you need help planning an itinerary visit our tour operator page here, or want more information on adding Amtrak’s Empire Builder to an itinerary drop me a line here. I am always happy to help.

DP

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

MAY IN MONTANA – AN INTERNATIONAL FAM TOUR

In early May, Glacier Country Tourism will join the Real America Region in welcoming a few of our international tour operator colleagues from France, Germany, Italy and Australia for Roundup, an annual conference that brings tour operators to explore the #RealAmericaUSA—a region made up of Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming. After Roundup, we’ll set out on a familiarization tour (FAM) from Cody, Wyoming to Kalispell, Montana. This FAM tour will be showcasing some of the wonderful things to see and do on an itinerary between Yellowstone National Park and Glacier National Park, two of Montana’s icons.

Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone National Park.

Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone National Park.

Wild Goose Island and St. Mary Lake in Glacier National Park.

Wild Goose Island and St. Mary Lake in Glacier National Park.

To kick things off, we are offering a sneak preview of this FAM tour here on the blog. But that’s not all. We also want you to join us for a first-hand experience of the attractions and stunning scenery on this two-state itinerary by following along using #MayInMontanaUSA on Instagram and Twitter from May 7 – 12, 2016.

As an added bonus, this itinerary through Wyoming and Montana would be a perfect route for tour operators to package, especially as an FIT route for travelers who want to explore some of the region’s most scenic places.

Day 1
Today we leave Cody, Wyoming and head into Yellowstone National Park through the east entrance on Highway 14. Inside the park, we will follow along the Yellowstone River with a stop at Canyon Overlooks and Visitor Center. Since it is spring, we hope to see baby wildlife including bison, bighorn sheep, elk, deer, pronghorn antelope and, if we’re lucky, a grizzly or black bear. We’ll round out our stay in Yellowstone with a stop at Mammoth Hot Springs and the iconic Roosevelt Arch in Gardiner, Montana. This is the original entrance to the park and the only entrance that is open year-round.

Any day is a good day spent in Yellowstone National Park.

Any day is a good day spent in Yellowstone National Park.

As we head north through Paradise Valley, we will pass the town of Emigrant, Montana.  Home to Chico Hot Springs, a world-renowned bed-and-breakfast regarded for its exceptional dinners and soothing hot spring pools.

Gorgeous views in Paradise Valley.

Gorgeous views in Paradise Valley.

Continuing our journey north on Highway 89, we’ll follow the Yellowstone River as we arrive in Livingston, one of southwest Montana’s most charming towns. Over the last several decades, Livingston has become an arts mecca, with many artists and writers living in the area. The downtown boasts more than 15 art galleries, along with an eclectic blend of shops, museums, live theater and music, as well as tasty restaurants.

Heading east on Interstate 90, our next stop is the fastest growing city in Montana— Bozeman. One of the most diverse small towns in the Rocky Mountain West, Bozeman has an eclectic mix of ranchers, artists, professors, ski enthusiasts and entrepreneurs who are drawn here by world-class outdoor recreation and easy accessibility. Bozeman is home to Montana State University as well as the Museum of the Rockies—a Smithsonian affiliate and federal repository for fossilsOur time in Bozeman will include a stop at the museum to see one of the largest and most famous dinosaur collections in the world, as well as  a planetarium and displays of dinosaurs and dinosaur eggs unearthed in Montana.

Sunset views outside of Bozeman.

Sunset views outside of Bozeman.

Overnight in Belgrade.

Day 2
After leaving Belgrade, we’ll travel north on Highway 287 along the mighty Missouri River for Helena—the capital city of Montana. Helena became the “Queen City of the Rockies” with the boom brought on by the 1864 gold strike. A one-hour tour on The Last Chance Tour Train (season begins May 15) provides interesting, entertaining and colorful insights into Helena’s history.

Capitol building in Helena.

Montana’s capitol building in Helena.

As we head north out of town on Interstate 15, we will pass by the Gates of the Mountains area on the Missouri River. Insider tip: the Gates of the Mountains are what we call a “must visit” in Montana. Both group tours and FIT travelers are well-advised to take the two-hour boat tour along the towering walls of limestone and past stunning scenery to see American Indian pictographs painted on the rock walls by Montana’s First Nations centuries ago.

From our boat tour on the edge of Helena, we’ll head to Rocking Z Guest Ranch, one of Montana’s many guest ranch experiences. Rocking Z has one of the best equine vacation experiences in the state and is deeply rooted in Montana tradition, welcoming horsemen from advanced riders to the novice. Additional highlights: comfortable accommodations, great home-cooked meals and a welcoming family atmosphere.

Heading west on Interstate 90 (and a 2-hour drive from Helena), our final stop of the day is Missoula—Montana’s Garden City. The second largest city in Montana, Missoula is home to the University of Montana, as well as nine historic districts, funky boutiques, live theater and a thriving music scene. The city of Missoula sits at the convergence of five valleys and three rivers, making it a prime launching point for outdoor recreation.

Overnight in Missoula.

Day 3
One of Montana’s most active cities, this morning we’ll embrace the outdoor culture Missoula offers. Overlooking the city of Missoula and donning the letter M is Mount Sentinel. The trail to the “M” is one of the most popular hikes in Montana and with 11 switchbacks to the top, hikers are rewarded with stunning panoramas of the Missoula Valley. After taking in the view of the city, we’ll explore it on a walking tour of the numerous art galleries located downtown, with a final private guided tour of the Missoula Art Museum.

Mount Sentinel and the Clark Fork River.

Mount Sentinel and the Clark Fork River.

Our last stop in Missoula:  the Smokejumper Visitor Center . Here, we’ll take a guided tours (available regularly in the summer and by appointment year-round) and see a first-hand look at  the brave men and women—known as smokejumpers—who fight fires deep in the country’s wilderness areas.

Following our tour, we hit the road and travel north on Highway 93 to the Flathead Indian Reservation, home to the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes. Within the boundaries of the reservation are the National Bison Range, Mission Mountains and the Mission Mountain Wilderness, along with several communities, including Arlee, Charlo, Ronan and Polson.

Just a little further north (about 45 minutes from Missoula), we’ll make our first official stop on the reservation at Ninepipes Museum of Early Montana in Charlo. Nestled under the Mission Mountain Range and named after Joseph Ninepipes, a Salish Chief, the museum offers a look into more than a century of life on the Flathead Indian Reservation, as well as homesteading in early Montana with artifacts, antiques and early photos.

As we continue north to the town of Polson, we’ll travel Highway 35 up the east side of Flathead Lake. The largest freshwater lake in the western United States, Flathead Lake is 48 kilometers long (30 miles), 24 kilometers wide (15 miles) and 91 meters (300 feet) deep in some places and is ideal for water recreation like fishing, sailing and kayaking.

Bigfork is our next stop and sits on the northeast corner of Flathead Lake. One of the top 100 best small arts towns in the U.S., Bigfork boasts 50 shops, 16 galleries and fantastic restaurants. Plus, the Bigfork Summer Playhouse offers live plays six nights per week in the summer months.

Charming town of Bigfork.

Charming town of Bigfork.

Overnight in Bigfork.

Day 4
After a delicious breakfast in downtown Bigfork, today we travel through the beautiful Flathead Valley to the mountain town of Whitefish and a visit to the Bar W Guest Ranch. Sitting on Spencer Lake, Bar W has  3,000 acres of terrain that are perfect for horseback riding and outdoor activities like skeet shooting, archery, fishing, hiking, mountain biking, cattle penning and square dancing.

Wagon loads of fun at Bar W Guest Ranch.

Wagon loads of fun at Bar W Guest Ranch.

After getting a taste of the West, we’ll unwind with a free afternoon of exploring shops, galleries and watering holes in downtown. Whitefish is home to Whitefish Mountain Resort—a world-class ski resort and summer recreation hub that offers zip lining, Walk in the Treetops, an Aerial Adventure Park, hiking, mountain biking and an alpine slide.

Overnight in Whitefish.

Day 5
The last day of our trip will be spent in the Crown of the Continent, Glacier National Park. Encompassing more than 1 million acres, the park is open year-round and has 762 lakes, 25 glaciers and the 80-kilometer-long (50 miles) Going-to-the-Sun Road. Established in 1910, Glacier National Park is home to historic lodges, two backcountry chalets and motor inns. Activities include hiking, boat tours and horseback trail rides, along with a number of ranger-led activities throughout the year.

Great photo opportunities on the boat tours in Glacier National Park.

Great photo opportunities on the boat tours in Glacier National Park.

While we are in Glacier National Park, we will board a vintage 1930’s red bus for a guided tour from Apgar Village to Lake McDonald Lodge. The bus drivers are the guides—also known as jammers—(back in the early days they had to “jam” the buses into gear to get them to climb the Going-to-the-Sun Road) who tell about the history of the park, the building of the road and the flora and fauna seen throughout the park.

Red bus tour stop at the top of Logan Pass.

Red bus tour stop at the top of Logan Pass.

After a day spent in Glacier National Park, we’ll head to the Flathead Valley’s largest community, Kalispell. Known for offering great shopping options for both big box stores and charming downtown boutiques, it also has a handful of historic museums and one of the best local breweries in Montana, Kalispell Brewing Company.

Our FAM tour comes to and end with a farewell dinner—along with a stop at the famous Moose’s Saloon—before heading to bed for early flights out of Glacier Park International the next morning.

If you would like more information on any of the attractions on this itinerary or need help planning an itinerary for your own group, visit our tour operator page here, or drop me a line here. I am always here to help.

Remember to follow along at #MayInMontanaUSA on Instagram and Twitter during the week of May 7 – 12 to see real-time images and comments from our international FAM guests.

I hope you enjoy May in Montana,

DP