When a lot of people think about Montana they envision cowboys sitting around a campfire, picking at a lone guitar while dinner cooks upon a smoldering campfire. What most people don’t know (and one of the better kept secrets about the Flathead Valley) is that we actually live in a place filled with culture of all types. Live music, art shows, local crafts, handmade goods, and some of the most delicious culinary fare to have ever danced upon my taste buds. You might even say that Big Sky Country could be called Big Culture Country.
I can’t help but smile as I sit back in my camp chair, warming myself with a sip of fresh coffee brewed over a campfire. I look to the west and see the sun dipping low in the sky, illuminating the hillside in a warm bath of orange light. I glance toward camp and catch a glimpse of Susie, my equine guide for the day, munching lazily upon the green carpet of wild grass and sweet clover surrounding her and her fellow hoofed companions. My belly is happy and full from the Cutthroat trout expertly prepared by our guide and owner of Swan Mountain Outfitters, Pat Tabor. At this exact moment in time, everything is perfect!
These terms have all been affectionately coined as descriptors of this mystical land we Montanans call home. And for good reason: I’ve yet to discover a place that holds such an incredibly diverse mix of landscapes as Montana. Read part of my story below. You may be surprised at how much you relate.
There are a ton of amazing places to cycle throughout the Flathead Valley, but my hands down
favorite is Going to the Sun Road in Glacier National Park during the spring plowing season! This legburning jaunt is one of the best ways to see this amazing feat of engineering stretching from West Glacier on the southwest side of the park over to St. Mary on the east side. The entire 50 mile road is only open to vehicle traffic from mid-June through mid-September but therein lies the beauty of biking GTTSR.
We are incredibly blessed with an amazing range of recreational options available to us here in the Flathead Valley. Between hiking, shooting, fishing, ATV-ing and camping (I could go on
forever), it can be hard to figure out how to divide your time. But once the snow dries up every
spring one thing is certain, I can’t wait to get out exploring on my mountain bike. That crunch
of gravel under the tires; the ability to cover so much terrain so quickly, to get deep within the wilderness with minimal effort has always thrilled me.
Lucky for us, there are countless trails scattered around the Flathead Valley like spiderwebs covering different nooks and crannies. While I always love exploring new trails, there are a few favorites on standby that I always find myself going back to.
Here are a few of my favorites:
Montana is such an incredibly diverse state full of amazing landscapes ranging from plains stretching as far as the eye can see to mountain peaks towering so high they scrape the sky. Between all these varying landscapes are rivers carving through the land, jutting, flowing, and meandering here and there as they have done for countless generations.
One of my favorite ways to immerse myself in nature and disconnect from work life has always been to get out on these rivers in a raft full of friends for a float. Luckily, for those of us in the Flathead Valley, we have amazing access to a large selection of fantastic rafting rivers, my personal favorites being the three forks of the Flathead River.
If there’s one thing I love about summer evenings in the Flathead Valley, it’s strolls with friends
and family through our abundant farmers markets to peruse the plentiful stands featuring some
of the best produce, arts, crafts and food trucks this wonderful little corner of Montana has to
offer. I can’t help but smile as I wander about, tasting the wares as I drift from booth to booth, snagging a sweet bite of a Flathead Cherry here, a morsel of locally made cheese there, or a delicate bite of melon so fresh and juicy it doesn’t seem real.
Its officially the first day of summer! The only thing better than that is the fact Going To the Sun Road is open in Glacier National Park. What a great week! Spring Fever for this gal can only be cured in three ways: hiking in Glacier, planning a hike in Glacier, and talking about planning a hike in Glacier.
At this point in my 25+ year love affair with Glacier National Park, I’ve hiked most of the “on-trail” hikes that I’ve had a hankering to do. And some of those trails, like the dusty, well-worn path to Iceberg Lake, I’ve hiked numerous times. But no two hikes are alike, and there is no trail I’ve grown tired of yet – oh, certain portions of certain trails, to be fair – does anyone really harbor deep affection for that very last mile down from the Loop/Highline Trail/Granite Park Chalet trail, when it’s buggy and thronged with tourists and the sun beating down on your head intensifies the ache in your twelve-miles-in-shins? Not me.
What makes the Flathead Valley the absolute last BEST place in the last best place, Northwest Montana?
Well, the Trail of the Cedars/Avalanche Lake hike in our backyard national park, Glacier, certainly adds to the Flathead’s distinction.
I’d put Trail of the Cedars/Avalanche in the “easiest hikes in the park” category. Immediately accessible off the stunning Going-to-the-Sun Road -- insider tip: take the free shuttle and you won’t have to fight for a parking space -- the first part of the trail, The Trail of the Cedars, is a loop of just .60 paved miles, and has a raised, handicap accessible boardwalk in some sections. The cedars are mossy and magical, and some are over 80 feet tall.