Western Montana’s Glacier Country sits on the traditional ancestral territory of the Amskapi Piikani, Ksanka, Selis, and Qlispe people, and within its borders reside the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of the Flathead Reservation and the Blackfeet Tribe of the Blackfeet Reservation.

For groups seeking to delve into the vibrant tapestry of American Indian culture and heritage, Western Montana’s Glacier Country offers an enriching experience like no other. Each tribe celebrates their own distinct story and heritage, woven with a rich array of tradition, art, music, dance, storytelling, industry and leisure.

Blackfeet dancer on the east side of Glacier National Park. Photo: Andy Austin

Here, groups seeking to explore the heritage of the Tribal Nations are warmly welcomed. Experience revered ceremonies like pow wows and interpretive tours along the iconic Going-to-the-Sun Road. Indulge in traditional American Indian cuisine and delve into history at museums. Discover the fascinating intersection of Lewis and Clark’s expedition with the enduring legacy of the Tribal Nations. Prepare for a transformative journey of discovery, where the echoes of the past resonate with the vibrancy of the present.

Highlights: First People’s Buffalo Jump State Park, Blackfeet Reservation, Glacier National Park, Lewis & Clark History, Flathead Reservation, Flathead Lake, American Indian Storytelling, Ninepipes Museum of Early Montana, Payne Family Native American Center

Chewing Black Bones Campground is a great spot to stop and stretch your legs. Photo: Andy Austin

Day 1 Great Falls

Arrivals, fly into Great Falls International Airport.

Begin the trip with an exciting adventure at First People’s Buffalo Jump State Park, a historical site that preserves one of the largest buffalo jumps in North America. Explore the ancient buffalo jump and delve into the cultural significance of the bison to Tribal Nations. Engage with interpretive displays and join guided tours to gain insights into the hunting methods, cultural practices, and traditions of the Indigenous peoples who once thrived in the region.

Next, be immersed in the intersection of American Indian culture and the Corps of Discovery at the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center. This center offers interactive exhibits, displays, artifacts and multimedia presentations that vividly chronicle the journey of the Corps of Discovery, including their encounters with Tribal Nations. Nestled near the confluence of the Missouri and Sun rivers, the center offers scenic views and opportunities to explore walking trails or relax in picnic areas.

Overnight in Browning.

A display shows the traditional items inside of a Native American dwelling. Photo: Shutterstock

Day 2 Blackfeet Reservation

Begin the day by discovering intimate insights into the Blackfeet Nation with a local Blackfeet-owned businesses. Backpackers Ferry provides customizable step-on guide services, offering visits to ancestral sites like historical buffalo jumps and pastures, as well as stops at the Museum of the Plains Indians. For small groups looking for a deeper cultural immersion, Iron Shield Creative offers Tribal Traditional Stories Workshop Hikes led by tribal members, where groups can hike the land around Glacier National Park while learning Indigenous stories.

Discover the rich cultures of Northern Plains Tribal peoples at The Museum of the Plains Indian. Photo: HoneyTrek

In the afternoon, meet Mariah Gladstone, a Blackfeet and Cherokee descendant known for her blog, Indigikitchen, focusing on native health and pre-contact traditional foods. Mariah offers educational sessions and serves traditional pre-contact food at Chewing Black Bones Campground, providing groups with a unique culinary experience rooted in Native American heritage.

Go hiking with Iron Shield Creative and learn about the land from the Blackfeet perspective.  Photo: Andy Austin

Consider visiting Lodgepole Gallery near Browning or The Clark Gallery in East Glacier Park to experience the vibrant culture and artistic legacy of the Blackfeet Nation firsthand. Find contemporary and traditional art, oil paintings, beadwork, bronze sculptures and more created by local and national Tribal artists.

Overnight in Browning.

Day 3 Glacier National Park

Experience the awe-inspiring beauty of the Going-to-the-Sun Road with Sun Tours, led by an enrolled member of the Blackfeet Tribe. Each tour begins with a traditional blessing using sweet grass, setting the stage for an immersive journey. Gain insight into the significance of Glacier National Park to the Blackfeet Nation as you explore the beautiful land which is part of their traditional territory in the Rocky Mountain region referred to as the Backbone of the World. Ask to visit to the St. Mary Tipi Overlook, offering both interpretive insights and stunning photo opportunities. Choose from full-day or half-day tours, with convenient pickup and drop-off locations on both the east and west sides of the park. For this itinerary, we recommend the full-day tour starting at St. Mary’s Visitor Center and concluding on the west side. Advance reservations are required for this unforgettable adventure.

Overnight in Kalispell.

The St. Mary Overlook offers a short, interpretive walking loop. Photo: Andy Austin

Day 4 Kalispell, Lakeside, Polson

Begin the day with an exploration of Kalispell, a vibrant community steeped in Old West charm, and visits to two renowned museums. Step back in time at the Conrad Mansion Museum, a testament to pioneer luxury living. Explore all 26 rooms of this impeccably preserved mansion, designed by architect Kirtland Cutter in 1895. Learn about the Conrad family’s enduring legacy.

Spend the morning in the gardens at the Conrad Mansion, after perusing inside.

Continue the cultural journey at the Hockaday Museum of Art, housed in a historic Carnegie library building constructed in 1901. Discover an impressive collection of artworks by Blackfeet Nation and Montana artists, including masterpieces by renowned artist Charles M. Russell. Admire the museum’s permanent exhibit showcasing Glacier National Park art and culture, or explore rotating exhibits featuring nationally acclaimed artists.

After a morning immersed in art and history, savor the views and mouthwatering food during lunch at Harbor Grille in Lakeside, overlooking the tranquil waters of Flathead Lake. The best way to experience the lake is aboard a scenic cruise with Far West Boat Tours, departing at 1 p.m. daily (and just across the parking lot from Harbor Grille). Groups will enjoy the captivating narrations by the knowledgeable crew as they glide past picturesque islands, including the legendary Wild Horse Island. Legend says the Salish people pastured their horses on the island to keep them from being stolen by other tribes. There are still a few wild horses on Wild Horse Island, along with bighorn sheep, mule deer and bald eagles.

Hop aboard, and discover the largest freshwater lake west of the Mississippi. Photo: Andy Austin

In the afternoon, venture into the Flathead Reservation for a unique opportunity to hear ancestral family stories through an American Indian Storytelling experience. Choose between a visit to the serene Camp Kapapa site in Elmo, where traditional appetizers and captivating stories await, or opt for a private dinner experience at Finley Point Grille in Polson, with the Water People Tour brought to your location.

Overnight in Polson.

Day 5 Pablo, Charlo, St. Ignatius

Begin the day with a visit to Takes Horse Gallery in Polson, an establishment owned and operated by Montana American Indians. This gallery offers museum-quality artwork spanning from Western contemporary to abstract, providing a rich cultural experience for visitors.

In Pablo, immerse yourself in the rich heritage of the Salish, Kootenai and Pend d’Oreille tribes at the Three Chiefs Cultural Center. Engage in educational activities, history presentations, beading classes and traditional gatherings such as pow wows. Explore the center’s artifacts and exhibits, listen to the stories of the Indigenous peoples, and participate in cultural activities, traditional arts and crafts, and educational games.

 The Three Chiefs Cultural Center, gallery exhibits tell the stories of the Salish, Pend d’Oreille and Kootenai Tribes.  

For lunch, head to Charlo and dine at Allentown Restaurant in Ninepipes Lodge, offering exceptional views and a group-friendly dining experience. Afterward, walk across the parking lot to the Ninepipes Museum of Early Montana, dedicated to preserving the history and culture of the Flathead Indian Reservation. Marvel at the museum’s extensive collection of stunning beadwork, vintage photographs and a life-size diorama portraying wildlife in an early camp scene. Don’t miss the opportunity to stroll along the nature trail outside, with spectacular views of the Mission Mountains.

Make a stop in Moiese to visit the CSKT Bison Range visitor center. While motorcoach buses are currently limited to a 15-minute lower loop road tour, the visitor center itself is worth the visit. With prior arrangements, groups can coordinate programs with the Education Officer on-site or at the nearby Ninepipes Museum.

In St. Ignatius, indulge in a shopping spree at Four Winds Indian Trading Post, where you’ll find an array of authentic American Indian supplies, including beads, face paint, headdresses, animal hides and more. Consider exploring the St. Ignatius Mission, a National Historic Site adorned with 58 hand-painted murals dating back to the late 1800s. Additionally, you may enjoy a workshop at Meridian Farms, a carriage ride from Live Oak Belgians, or sampling local delights from Stutzman’s Country Market, an Amish deli.

Overnight stay in Missoula.

Admission is free to the St. Ignatius Mission, view murals on its walls and ceiling that were painted by Brother Joseph Carignano. Photo: Andy Austin

Day 6 Missoula, Lolo

Begin the morning with a short 10-minute drive to the stunning Bitterroot Valley, arriving at Travelers’ Rest State Park in Lolo. Take a leisurely walk along the outside interpretive trail, immersing yourself in this centuries-old gathering place and campsite where Lewis and Clark rested and prepared for their journey to and from the Pacific Ocean over 200 years ago. It remains the only archaeologically verified site of their expedition. Across the street, you’ll find the Holt Heritage Museum (tours by appointment only). This comprehensive personal collection museum features memorabilia and an expansive array of American Indian artwork, along with western wear, including hats and boots worn by some of the Wild West’s most famous cowboys and cowgirls. It’s an ideal spot for a group lunch with western entertainment, or you can opt for a meal at Lolo Peak Brewery & Grill.

The Holt Heritage Group is an experience, and a favorite among groups.

After lunch, return to Missoula, renowned as the art and cultural hub of Western Montana. For this itinerary, let’s focus on experiences related to American Indians. Start by visiting the Missoula Art Museum, which houses a permanent Contemporary American Indian Collection and offers free admission.

For a memorable closing event, consider hosting a reception at The Payne Family Native American Center, situated on the University of Montana campus in Missoula. This building holds significant historical importance as the first campus facility in the nation built specifically for a Department of Native American Studies and American Indian Student Services. It stands on the grounds of a historic Salish Indian encampment, with its design reflecting this rich legacy and honoring the heritage and cultures of all Montana tribes. Following the reception, head to the Star Gazing Room for a captivating planetarium show led by a knowledgeable astronomer. The show delves into topics such as constellations, planets, deep sky objects and current celestial events, highlighting the star lore of various cultures. Groups can arrange a private showing in advance for an exclusive experience.

Overnight in Missoula.

Explore the galaxy at the Payne Family Native American Center. Photo: Todd Goodrich

Day 7

Departures. Fly out of Missoula Montana Airport.

Annual Events

The Blackfeet Nation has two major events that display the tribe’s native traditions and customs. North American Indian Days—held every year during the second week of July—is one of the largest gatherings of North American tribes from throughout the United States and Canada. Festivities include a parade, traditional and fancy dancing, drumming, customary games and a rodeo.

North American Indian Days takes place in Browning every summer. 

The Heart Butte Celebration—a time-honored festival and pow wow—occurs every year during the second week of August in the community of Heart Butte.

Annual events on the Flathead Indian Reservation honor the traditions of the Indian people. The Annual Arlee 4th of July Celebration has been held consecutively for more than 100 years and includes an encampment, competition dancing, drumming and traditional games. The Standing Arrow Pow Wow is held annually during the third weekend in July and includes drumming, dancing and traditional dance and food.

Every summer in Glacier National Park, Blackfeet, Salish, Kootenai and Pend d’Oreille tribal members share their knowledge of their histories and cultures with park visitors as part of the Native America Speaks program. Don’t miss this important opportunity to learn more about American Indian culture in Montana.

Recreate Responsibly

It’s crucial to engage in responsible recreation and show respect for tribal lands. When traveling through the region, take note and acknowledge when you enter tribal territories. If you intend to engage in recreational activities, such as camping, fishing, hunting, hiking or boating, on tribal land, ensure you obtain a tribal permit beforehand. Additionally, if you plan to attend a pow wow, it’s essential to be mindful of pow wow etiquette to avoid inadvertently disrespecting the tribe. For further guidance, visit recreateresponsiblymt.com.

Members of the Blackfeet tribe—some dressed in their traditional regalia—on the Blackfeet Reservation east of Glacier National Park. Photo: Andy Austin

March 25, 2024

Related: American Indian, Arts and Culture, Bison Range, Bitterroot Valley, Blackfeet Nation, Browning, Charlo, CSKT Nation, Festivals + Events, Flathead Lake, Glacier National Park, Group Tours, Historic Tours, Itinerary, Kalispell, Lakeside, Lolo, Missoula, Outdoor Adventure, Polson, St. Ignatius, Stargazing, Tour Operator