Need help picking a place to hike among Northwest Montana’s vast selection? Here are nine quintessential treks worth taking this summer.
Some are simple day hikes the whole family can enjoy; others are rugged excursions for the more experienced.
Regardless, always take precaution and have necessary items like bear spray and water.
Also, be informed on regulations specific to each site, such as National Park Service requirements.
These trips are marked with round-trip estimated mileage.
Strawberry Lake Trail
Flathead National Forest, Swan Ranger District – 5 miles
Easy-going and relatively flat, this shaded trail makes for a nice day hike that pays off with an alpine lake at the finish. The path climbs 1,500 feet.
Directions: From Bigfork travel to Echo Lake Rd., drive roughly 2 miles and turn onto Foothill Road and drive another 3 miles to Road 5390. Trailhead is 3.3 miles at the end of the road.
Bob Marshall Wilderness, Roughly 70 miles
In the heart of one of the nation’s largest wildernesses rises this 1,000-foot tall, 12-mile long limestone monolith, known as the Chinese Wall. This iconic feature is a favorite among hiking enthusiasts who’ve made the multi-day trek and sits atop many bucket lists. There are several access points, but two of the favored east-side routes start at Benchmark Trailhead up the South Fork. To enjoy the vast scenery, including side-trips to Prairie Reef Lookout and blue-ribbon fishing in Burnt Creek, plan on spending at least four or five days.
Directions: Travel west of Augusta along Benchmark Road to the trailhead.
Glacier National Park – 19 miles
Considered one of the most spectacular hikes in Glacier, this lengthy loop embarks from Two Medicine Campground and traces three mountain passes — Dawson, Upper Pitamakan and Pitamakan — that present a panorama of Glacier’s grandness. This moderately difficult hike is one of the few round-trip loops in the park and gains almost 3,000 feet of elevation.
Directions: The most preferred route is clockwise starting with Dawson Pass, which means taking off at the North Shore Trail Trailhead on the park’s east side.
Glacier National Park 2-30 miles
Another classic trail, this hike takes off at Logan Pass and follows the western ridge of the Continental Divide. As one of the main pathways into the heart of Glacier’s backcountry, the entire path stretches 30 miles into Canada. But hikers can stop at several points and call it a day, even after 3 miles. This trail passes several landmarks, including Grinnell Glacier Overlook and Granite Park Chalet. Two popular routes are the short 3-mile route that traverses the Highline Trail Cliff — take precaution with kids — and the 11-mile Loop Trail that winds around the historic chalet and down mountain to the Going-to-the-Sun Road.
Directions: Park at Logan Pass and catch a shuttle back.
Glacier National Park – 10.3 miles
Stunning views. Blooming flowers. A massive glacier. This day hike has it all. It also climbs a lot of elevation and reaches 8,080 feet at the pass. Sexton Glacier and Mount Siyeh are two of the stunning features that hikers will encounter.
Directions: Drive 2.2 miles east of Logan Pass to the Siyeh Bend Trailhead and park. Catch a shuttle back.
Glacier National Park – 11 miles
This is a tough hike, but worth it. Hikers are rewarded with some of Glacier’s trademark features, including Mount Grinnell (elevation 8,436), Iceberg Lake and the grand pyramid of Mount Wilbur (9,321). There’s also an impressive piece of history, Ptarmigan Tunnel, the park’s only trail tunnel, which digs 250 feet through Ptarmigan Wall. Crews blasted and jack-hammered the tunnel in 1930.
Directions: Park at Swiftcurrent Motor Inn on Many Glacier Road. This section is closed sporadically depending on heavy bear activity.
Nasukoin Mountain Trail
Flathead National Forest, Glacier View Ranger District – 11.5 miles
This moderately difficult hike near Polebridge leads to the highest point in the Whitefish Range. The top of Nasukoin Mountain (elevation 8,086) features spectacular views of the western edge of Glacier National Park and the expansive North Fork basin and mountain range reaching into Canada. The path travels past impressive rock formations, too. Afterward stop in at the Polebridge Mercantile for a cold refreshment.
Directions: Roughly 35 miles from Columbia Falls on the North Fork Road, turn on Road #115.
Flathead National Forest, Hungry Horse Ranger District – 12.5 miles
This is a favorite among local hikers seeking an after-work adventure within a short drive. The trail gains moderate elevation but features sections that rise sharply. Ambitious hikers can continue to the peak – a 4,000-foot climb from bottom to top – where a panoramic view of the valley awaits. For those who make it a few miles up, there’s an offshoot path leading to a 30-foot high waterfall. Directions: From Columbia Falls, take Highway 2 toward Hungry Horse, turn right at Berne Road and drive briefly to the trailhead.
Swan River Nature Trail
Bigfork -4 miles
Established in 1914, this beloved pathway once acted as the main route between Bigfork and the Swan Valley. The gravel trail follows the Swan River, including the exciting stretch known as the “Wild Mile,” where kayakers and boaters regularly brave a stretch of rapids. This path is a favorite among birdwatchers and wildflower enthusiasts, as well as families looking for a nearby walk.
Directions: Located in downtown Bigfork at the end of Grand Avenue.
There are 1 million acres of land to explore in Glacier National Park. Inside its borders are two mountain ranges, 130 named lakes, six mountain peaks that top 10,000 feet and 26 glaciers.
The Sun Road
The historic 48.7-mile Going-to-the-Sun Road travels through the heart of those 1 million acres (although it’s actually 50 miles from end to end, only 48.7 miles of the road is designated a National Historic Landmark). Built in 1932, the road takes thousands of visitors on an unforgettable ride up and over Logan Pass. This year, the entire road could open on June 21, but park officials say it all depends on the weather.
For more than seven decades, 33 Red Buses have called the Sun Road home. Designated Model 706 by the White Motor Company, 35 “Reds” were built for Glacier National Park – one was destroyed in a wreck and another has been preserved in its original condition. But buses aren’t the only way to see the park. Six boats owned by Glacier Boat Company also cruise the waters of the park throughout the summer.
If driving isn’t your thing, there are 734 miles of hiking trail inside the park that take you to the deepest parts of the wilderness. In 2011, Jake Bramante became the only known person to hike every single mile of established trail in the park.
More than 2 million people visit the park every year, but when you venture in, you are far from alone. The park has 300 species of bird, 1,200 different types of plants, 65 native mammal species and the largest population of grizzly bears in the lower 48 states.
On a clear summer night, you can enjoy the dark skies inside Glacier National Park. If you look up, you’ll be able to spot 75 to 100 identifiable objects and more than 4,000 stars.
There are many great people to meet inside the park. Ranger Doug Follett first worked in the park more than 70 years ago. That’s more than Lake McDonald Lodge manager Todd Ashcraft, but with more than 170 employees at the site, Ashcraft has his work cut out for him. And of course, you can also stop by the Lake McDonald Post Office and buy a 46-cent stamp from Nancy Hildebrandt to send a letter home from Glacier Park.
Sometimes you just need to get out of town. Whether it’s an overnight stay in a motorhome by the lake or a weekend camping trip under the stars, there’s something about escaping city life that feels like pressing the restart button.
Among the long list of quality weekend vacations, here are six campsites worth checking out.
Big Arm State Park
Looking for a quick and easy getaway? This is one of the most popular outdoor escapes in the Flathead Valley, with 217 acres of lakefront parkland. Located 38 miles south of Kalispell on the west shore of Flathead Lake, this family friendly state park features seven tent sites, 41 RV/trailer sites and 20-foot wide, 10-foot tall wooden yurts. Campers have plenty of activities to choose from, including lounging on the pebble beach, swimming, fishing and hiking a nearby trail system.
Tip: Big Arm is within paddling distance of Wild Horse Island, a 2,163-acre state park perched in the middle of the lake that’s home to bald eagles, bighorn sheep and, of course, wild horses.
Lake Mary Ronan State Park
Tucked behind Blacktail Mountain seven miles off Highway 93, this is another revered destination. Lake Mary Ronan is known for its prime fishing, since it’s regularly stocked with salmon, trout, bass and perch. There are 25 campsites for tents or RVs, most of which have electricity, and a boat ramp. It’s a short drive from Lakeside and a great place to bring kids for the weekend. Hit the nearby hiking trails in search of wildlife or various birds, or when the time is right, even mushrooms or huckleberries.
Tip: To avoid attracting bears or other bothersome critters, it’s best to store food and garbage inside bear-proof containers while camping, especially at Lake Mary Ronan.
Yaak Falls Campground
This small getaway is 16 miles northwest of Troy – about a two-hour drive from Kalispell – but it’s a favorite among those who’ve visited. The campground sits near the Yaak River in a sylvan section of the Kootenai National Forest. It features seven peaceful sites for tents or RVs that are shaded by natural conifers. There are toilets but no drinking water on-site. To get here from Troy, travel 10 miles west on Highway 2, turn east at the junction of Highway 508 and follow the road six miles.
Tip: The best reason to make this trek is the nearby falls. A short quarter-mile hike from the campground leads to the awe-inspiring Yaak Falls, which stream down a spectacular green bedrock surface.
Bad Medicine Campground
This is a good destination for many reasons, but primarily because of its proximity to one of Montana’s treasured relics, the Ross Creek Cedars. The campground features 17 sites – RV and tent – located along Bull Lake, which is a good source of fishing for salmon and trout. But the main attraction is the nearby grove of western red cedars that live inside a dense 100-acre slice of forest. Most of the trees are almost 10 feet in diameter and were born around the time Columbus was discovering the New World. To get to Bad Medicine, travel 15 miles west from Libby on Highway 2, turn south on Highway 56 and drive 21 miles before taking Ross Creek Cedars Road. Bad Medicine is about 2 miles from Highway 56.
Tip: Don’t forget your camera.
Holland Lake Campground
On the western edge of the Bob Marshall Wilderness, this campground sits on the shore of one of the area’s most pristine lakes with a scenic waterfall in plain view. There are 39 cozy sites for tents or RVs among the woodsy 24-acre campground, with water and restrooms available. The crystal-clear lake is good for fishing, swimming or boating. Nearby trails enter the forest and lead to a waterfall that feeds into the lake. Supplies can be purchased in Condon, 7 miles south, or Seeley Lake, 20 miles north. This campground is 75 miles south of Kalispell off Highway 83.
Tip Because this is a popular destination, get here early, or make reservations for the group site at www.recreation.gov.
Giant hotel chains and tourist destinations have started testing a new type of “tech-free” vacationing. Hotels in the Caribbean and beyond are now offering guests the chance to escape the constant over-stimulation from smartphones and iPads. The idea is based on recent surveys that found vacationers were not truly relaxing because their gadgets were keeping them focused on work, checking emails and voicemails. That’s not even an option for visitors in Glacier National Park. Almost the entire park is without cellular service, which means there’s no choice but to set down the iPhone. With 192 sites, Apgar Campground is the largest in Glacier, with tent and RV opportunities. It sits near Lake McDonald and the Apgar Village. Located near the park’s western entrance, it’s also a great launch pad for day hiking the vast trails nearby.
Tip: Catch one of the many informational programs offered by park rangers.
Summer in the Flathead means a plethora of festivals, events and outdoor markets to choose from.
Here are six of the biggest events taking place over the warm months in the valley.
Be sure to check out www.flatheadevents.net for day-to-day information.
Fourth of July
Celebrate your patriotism at the water’s edge in Bigfork and Whitefish. The village of Bigfork offers an old-fashioned parade at noon, followed by a children’s carnival and the annual “Ducks for Bucks” race down the Wild Mile at 4 p.m. Also, check out the third annual Freedom 5K Walk/Run, starting at 8:30 a.m. at Brookies Cookies. For more information, visit www.bigfork.org. In Whitefish, be sure to head down to Whitefish Lake as the sun sets to catch one of the valley’s favorite fireworks show, which takes place over the water at about 10:30 p.m.
Arts in the Park
Arts in the Park is one of the largest and longest-running festivals in the valley, taking place at Kalispell’s Depot Park. It offers an array of artistic creations to peruse, and plenty of entertainment. Arts in the Park is the Hockaday Museum of Art’s biggest fundraising event of the year as well. There will be delicious food, children’s activities – including face painting and plenty of hands-on projects – and live music all weekend. Daily admittance is $3, and a weekend pass is $5. Children under 6 get in free.
For more information, visit www.hockadaymuseum.org.
Columbia Falls Heritage Days
The annual celebration of Columbia Falls’ founding and history offers visitors and community members alike a chance to have fun and get to know the “Gateway to Glacier National Park.” Events include a car show, free swimming, rodeo, a three-on-three basketball tournament, the Boogie-to-the-Bank 5K and 10K Run, a wild horse drive and more.
This year’s theme is “Our Town: 1950-1960.” Be sure to check out www.cfallsheritagedays.com for a full schedule of events.
The Event at Rebecca Farm
Head to the pristine Rebecca Farm for this incredible event, which ranks as one of the largest equestrian triathlons in the country. The Event is part of the international equestrian circuit, showcasing global talent in dressage, cross-country and show jumping events.
The Event is free for spectators, and parking costs a $5 donation, which last year went to support the “Halt Cancer at X” foundation, which raised $65,000 for cancer research.
For a schedule of events, visit www.rebeccafarm.org.
Huckleberry Days Arts Festival
As Whitefish’s preeminent summer arts festival, Huckleberry Days offers more than 100 artists and food vendors in or around the city’s Depot Park. Kids have plenty of opportunities for fun as well, including a bungee jump.
One of the unique aspects of this festival is the huckleberry dessert bake-off, paying homage to one of the Flathead’s favorite summer fruits in numerous, delicious ways.
For event and vendor information, visit www.whitefishchamber.org.
Dragon Boat Race
The Montana Dragon Boat Festival came to Flathead Lake last year and was such a big success that an extra day of racing the 41-foot boats was added to this year’s event. Held at the Flathead Lake Lodge near Bigfork, the festival is sure to draw thousands of spectators and dozens of dragon boat teams – made of 20 paddlers, a person to steer and a drummer – from around the country and Canada.
For team and contact information and more on the growing sport, visit www.montana.racedragonboats.com.
Crown of the Continent
Aug. 25 through Sept. 1
For the Crown of the Continent Guitar Foundation, success sounds like many of best guitarists in the world playing on stage in Bigfork and sharing their knowledge with eager students for a week.
In essence, success sounds like what participants can expect at this year’s Crown of the Continent Workshops and Festival.
Established in 2009, the not-for-profit organization is focused on celebrating guitar talent in the Crown of the Continent, bringing together local, national and global talent to put on workshops and concerts for a unique, once-a-year experience.
COCGF founder David Feffer is pleasantly surprised with the festival’s recent burst of growth, attributing it to the new relationships formed each year in the guitar community.
“What people are beginning to understand is that every single event will be spectacular,” Feffer said. “These musicians are truly the finest of the finest.”
This year’s festival and workshops take place from Aug. 25 through Sept. 1.
It’s about learning and sharing guitar, Feffer said, through classes and concerts. The experience is one of a kind, he said.
“One of the reasons that we established ourselves as a not-for-profit organization is to make this level of experience accessible to anyone,” Feffer said. “It’s just something that you literally cannot get anywhere else.”
This year’s concerts, which cost $35 apiece or can be seen with an all-show Crown Pass, include many of the guitar world’s heavy hitters: Grammy-award-winning classical guitarist Scott Tennant; the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet, which has been playing for 30 years; Robben Ford, a globally renowned electric guitarist; jazz guitarist Lee Ritenour, who, in his career has accrued a Grammy and 17 Grammy nominations; singer-songwriter Livingston Taylor, whose 40-year career has included writing top 10 hit songs recorded by his brother, James; country music sensation Mac McAnally; and Daryl Stuermer of the band Genesis.
The lineup will also feature one of the nation’s best jazz guitarists, Pat Metheny, who has won 20 Grammy awards. Metheny will perform as part of the Pat Metheny Trio on Aug. 28, marking the first time the guitar master has played in Montana.
“You don’t have to be an aficionado of a particular genre of music; when you get the very best of the best you can appreciate it,” Feffer said.
Two days after sales opened for Crown Passes, the foundation had already sold more than the total number of Crown Pass sales from last year, Feffer said.
Many of the artists playing the concerts also teach six days of workshops, which bring in students from across the country, as well as locally. The foundation gives out 15 scholarships each year, and the deadline to apply for those scholarships is June 14.
The workshops and the concerts take place at the Flathead Lake Lodge, and Feffer said cooperation with the lodge and many other local businesses are what keep the organization afloat and the ticket affordable.
“The local support we get is just off the charts,” he said.
And since the festival has gained a reputation and earned the friendship of many major musicians, it keeps growing, Feffer said. For example, Musician’s Friend – a part of Guitar Center – is running a contest this year to send two of its half-a-million members to the workshops.
Top-of-the-line guitar makers are also getting involved, Feffer said. When the foundation sent out a request for raffle prizes, C.F. Martin and Co. had an instrument in the mail within days.
The event kicks off with a summer concert on June 21 with a free showcase of western Montana talent, taking place at the Saddlehorn Trapper Cabins.
By bringing in an array of talent, from local to international, Feffer hopes to inspire a new generation of musicians and watch the festival grow.
“We’re really, really excited,” Feffer said.
For more information, visit www.cocguitarfoundation.org.
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