One of the best ways to experience Western Montana’s Glacier Country is with a recreational vehicle. Montana boasts some of the best camping and RV sites providing access to the region’s best nature-based experiences. Choose to stay at one of the many campgrounds located in Glacier National Park or at one of the state parks found around the shores of Flathead Lake or in one of the many privately owned RV parks throughout the region. If you don’t have your own RV, renting is easy at Pierce RV Supercenter or Gardner’s RV Center in Kalispell or Cruise America rentals just south of Missoula at Sport Land Inc.
Pick up your RV rental in Kalispell at Pierce RV Supercenter (3138 Highway 2 E.) or Gardner’s RV Center (3100 Highway 93 S.). You can provision your RV in Columbia Falls or Kalispell before heading into West Glacier, the gateway to Glacier National Park (18 miles/19 minutes).
Visit the small village of West Glacier before heading up the Going-to-the-Sun Road, truly one of the most scenic drives in the continental United States. From West Glacier you can experience a whitewater rafting trip or a guided fishing trip on the Middle Fork of the Flathead River–one of the first rivers in the country to be designated a wild and scenic river systems.
Travel to the grand Lake McDonald Lodge (8 miles/14 minutes from West Glacier) where you can hop aboard a red jammer bus for a tour of the 50-mile-long Going-to-the-Sun Road. The historic soft-top tour buses were introduced in the 1930s and have since been restored and outfitted with propane engines as a gift from the Ford Motor Company. The red bus drivers provide entertaining commentary about the park’s flora and fauna, history, geology and glaciology. RVers might consider participating in more than one of the many red bus tours available, especially since the Going-to-the-Sun Road is closed to private vehicles longer than 21 feet or wider than 8 feet. The tours are reasonably priced and run from 2.5 – 9.5 hours. Pick-up available at some area RV parks and campgrounds.
Overnight at Lake McDonald Lodge or campgrounds in Glacier National Park (including Apgar and Sperry) or nearby RV parks.
Try the historic Belton Chalet (built in 1910) for a gourmet dinner in the lovely dining room.
Gardner’s RV Center – 877.696.3978 – www.gardnerrv.com
Pierce RV Supercenter – 406.752.8050 – www.piercerv.com
Recreation in West Glacier – 406.888.5403 – www.glaciermt.com/west-glacier
Going-to-the-Sun Road + National Park Service – 406.888.7800 – www.nps.gov/glac
Red Bus Tours – 855.733.4522 – www.glaciernationalparklodges.com/activities-red-bus-tours
From West Glacier travel the park’s southern boundary along Highway 2. Visit Essex (27 miles/23 minutes from West Glacier), home to the historic Izaak Walton Inn that once housed winter snow removal crews for the Great Northern Railroad. Today, it’s a lovely inn and restaurant enjoyed especially by railroad buffs. A few miles from Essex, watch for the Walton Goat Lick pull-off (30 minute stop). Mountain goats graze and lick the mineral-laden rock of an exposed river bank cliff at this site. And you will definitely want to check out the impressive architecture of Glacier Park Lodge in East Glacier Park, the grand hotel built by the Great Northern Railway in 1912 (28 miles/25 minutes from Essex).
For lunch try Luna’s Restaurant in East Glacier Park.
Stop by the St. Mary Visitor Center for a wealth of park information (42 miles/one hour from East Glacier Park). The east side of the park offers wonderful day hiking opportunities and interpretive boats tours on Two Medicine Lake, St. Mary Lake and Swiftcurrent Lake. You may enjoy combining a boat tour and a day hike to Grinnell Glacier. Stop by the activities desk in the Many Glacier Hotel for information (21miles/30 minutes from St. Mary).
You will enjoy an overnight stay at Many Glacier Hotel, Many Glacier Campground or nearby RV parks outside the park. Check out David Walburn’s show at Many Glacier Hotel for a blend of wonderful music, scenic photography and slides of historic paintings. They combine rich and colorful narratives that bring his stories to life. A truly unique Montana experience!
Izaak Walton Inn – 406.888.5700 – www.izaakwaltoninn.com
National Park Service – 406.888.7800 – www.nps.gov/glac
Many Glacier Hotel – 406.732.4411 – www.glaciernationalparklodges.com
Glacier Park Boat Co. – 406.257.2426 – www.glacierparkboats.com
You may add an additional day:
From Glacier National Park drive north across the Canadian border to visit the Prince of Wales Hotel (43 miles/50 minutes from St. Mary), a rustic grand hotel built in 1927. The Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park was established in 1932 as was the world’s first international Peace Park. The park is also a United Nations World Heritage Site.
Climb aboard the wooden-hulled 1927 International for a boat tour down Waterton Lake and cross the international border by boat to Goat Haunt in Glacier National Park (two hour cruise). Or enjoy high tea at the Prince of Wales Hotel with a beautiful view of Waterton Lake and the Waterton townsite.
Head south on Highway 89 for a scenic drive down the east side of the magnificent Rocky Mountains and discover what the Blackfeet Indians call the “Backbone of the World.” The alpine beauty begins to fade into a Montana of high plains, wide-open spaces and small towns that cater to locals and travelers curious enough to spend time in them.
The first stop is Browning (29 miles/29 minutes from St. Mary), 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. If you visit during the second week in July, don’t miss the dancing, drumming, rodeo action and tipis at North American Indian Days.
Stop in Bynum (58 miles/50 minutes from Browning) and search for dinosaur fossils at the Two Medicine Dinosaur Center. Experience the small town charm of Choteau (14 miles/13 minutes from Bymum) and be sure to stop in at Allen’s Manix Store in Augusta (26 miles/25 minutes from Choteau) before crossing back over the Rockies into Lincoln (82 miles/1.25 hours from Choteau). As you pass through Ovando (27 miles/25 minutes from Lincoln) check out Trixi’s Antler Saloon for a look into the past.
Browning – 406.338.2344
Montana Scenic Loop – 406.466.5784 – www.montanascenicloop.com
Two Medicine Dinosaur Center – 800.238.6873 – www.tmdinosaur.org
Central Montana – 800.527.5348 – www.centralmontana.com
Montana Scenic Loop – 406.466.5784 – www.montanascenicloop.com
Continue along the Montana Scenic Loop until you arrive at Clearwater Junction (9 miles/9 minutes from Ovando) and travel north on Highway 83 through the Seeley-Swan Valley. Pinched between the east slope of the Mission Mountains and the west slope of the Swan Range, the Seeley-Swan is a series of pristine mountain lakes among dense stands of ponderosa pine, douglas fir and larch.
Experience Alpine Artisans’ Tour of the Arts, a unique, self-guided tour of artist studios and galleries. The tour leads you on an enchanted journey where you’ll have the opportunity to meet artists and watch them immersed in their passions. Download a printable version of this self-guided tour, complete with contact information and driving directions for the various studios, galleries and cultural museums.
Your final destination today is Bigfork (74 miles/65 minutes from Seeley Lake). Sitting on the northeast shore of Flathead Lake, this quaint western village was chosen as “One of the 50 Great Towns of the West,” designated as “One of the 100 Best Small Art Towns of the Nation,” and was listed in National Geographic’s Guide to Small Town Escapes, which is no surprise given its gourmet restaurants, fun shops, local character and beautiful natural surroundings.
You may enjoy a hike along the Swan River Nature Trail, a level trail that follows the “wild mile” of the Swan River. The trailhead is at the east end of Grand Avenue, a couple blocks up the hill past the Bigfork Inn.
You’ll enjoy the beautiful drive to Whitefish (33 miles/34 minutes from Bigfork). The October 2009 issue of Arthur Frommer’s Budget Travel Magazine picked Whitefish as one of the 10 Coolest Small Towns in America. This charming small town is located 25 miles from Glacier National Park and nestled at the base of Whitefish Mountain Resort, a world-class ski and summer resort.
Downtown Whitefish is perfect for leisurely strolls through galleries, shops and eateries. Must-stop places for one-of-a-kind finds can be found downtown on Central Avenue.
History buffs will enjoy the Great Northern Railway Depot. Here, Amtrak trains still come and go in the same fashion as the early models that brought tourists to Glacier. Through collections that span from fur trapper times to the early days of skiing, the Stumptown Historical Museum tells the story of how the logging camp of Stumptown became Whitefish.
Check what’s playing at two of Whitefish’s remarkable performing arts venues—the O’Shaughnessy Center and the Whitefish Performing Arts Center at Central School. If you can, catch a Broadway-caliber performance from the Alpine Theatre Project.
Whitefish Mountain Resort’s Walk in the Treetops (9 miles/15 minutes from downtown Whitefish) is one of the area’s striking outdoor activities, with participants taking a naturalist-led walk through the forest canopy on a boardwalk suspended 60 feet above ground. Brace for glorious views of mountains and lakes, where red-tailed hawks, western tanagers and kinglets vie for your attention. Whitefish Mountain Resort’s activities also include the wildly popular and exhilarating Aerial Adventure Park, as well as zip lines and an alpine slide.
Whether you’re looking to beat the heat, take in incredible vista or hitch a ride to the top for some mountain bike action, the summer lift rides at Whitefish Mountain Resort are a great way to get outdoors and enjoy Montana’s Glacier Country.
Overnight in Whitefish before flying out of Glacier Park International Airport.
Whitefish Mountain Resort – 406.862.2900 – www.skiwhitefish.com/summer
Alpine Theater Project – 406.862.7469 – www.alpinetheatreproject.org
Whitefish Convention & Visitors Bureau – 877.862.3548 – www.explorewhitefish.com
The Stumptown Historical Museum – 406.862.0067 – www.stumptownhistoricalsociety.org
Grouse Mountain Lodge – 406.862.3000 – www.grousemountainlodge.com
Whitefish Lake State Park – 406.862.3991 – www.stateparks.mt.gov/whitefish-lake
For campground listings, visit www.glaciermt.com/camping.
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