“Why would you want to travel to ___?!?” (Fill in the blank with any place you wouldn’t wouldn’t want to go on vacation.)
“What are you going to do there, anyway, besides ___, ___, and ___?” (Fill in those blanks with the activities that place is stereotypically well-known for, and that don’t interest you.)
I love traveling, and I really want to go as many places as possible, but sometimes it’s simply because I enjoy traveling anywhere, not that I’m particularly looking forward to going to that specific place. It’s hard to get excited about a place that you think has nothing for you.
I have several places like this, but recently I’ve had to change my mind about one of them.
Until a few months ago, I thought the only reasons to go to Western Montana (apart from visiting family) were Yellowstone National Park, Glacier National Park (which I thought only had skiing), and hunting/fishing. Since I’ve already been to Yellowstone (wouldn’t mind going again, though, but it’s not as high priority as somewhere I’ve never been), only go fishing when other people are going, and don’t have a great desire to try hunting or skiing, none of these made this area really appealing as a travel destination.
Then I went to a travel industry event with representatives from Western Montana’s Glacier Country, Missoula, Whitefish, and Kalispell and found out that my assumptions were very wrong.
Although pleasantly surprising, it was a bit uncomfortable to admit that I’d written off a really interesting place because I’d gone only on these assumptions and hadn’t really looked into it.
(Of course, if I’d really been planning to go, I’d have looked into it a bit more then, but sometimes it’s hard to look for things you don’t expect to find, so I’m sure my searching wouldn’t have turned up as big of a list.)
Now I have a real list of things to do when I go to Western Montana.
In addition to my first guess about Yellowstone, Glacier NP, and hunting/skiing, the area’s also known for beautiful natural landscapes, Native American history and culture, local food/drink/foodie experiences, biking trails, music and nightlife, museums and art, historical buildings, lakes and beaches, and bucket-list worthy events.
Here’s my current list of things I’d be interested in doing in the area (bucket list style):
See the Chinese Wall in “The Bob” (Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex)
1000 feet high and 22 miles long, this steep cliff is along the Continental Divide. It’s far too strenuous of a hike for me to see it/stand on it up close (takes about a difficult week of hiking or one challenging mountain climb), but there are options to see it via charter plane (unfortunately, very expensive).
Visit the Blackfeet Indian Reservation
One of the 10 largest tribes in the US, the Blackfeet Nation offer many opportunities for visitors to enjoy the land and learn about the tribe’s culture and history.
- At every entrance to the reservation, there are statues of Blackfeet warriors made of scraps of rusted cars, barbed wire, and sandstone blocks from an old mission school. Each of the materials was chosen to represent significant events in the tribe’s history.
- There are also two major four-day cultural celebrations during the year: the North American Indian Days Celebration (one of the largest gatherings of US and Canadian tribes) and the Heart Butte Society Celebration, both with traditional dancing, singing, drumming, games, and rodeos.
- Sun Tours also offers a guided cultural tour of Glacier National Park, including stories of the tribe, information on nutritional and medicinal uses of common plants, and park history and features.
- Museum of the Plains Indian features historic and contemporary art from the Northern Plains Tribes, including the Blackfeet
- Blackfeet Outfitters has scenic calm water rafting tours and Jeep tours that take visitors around the reservation and into areas where it’s common to see wildlife such as eagles, osprey, beavers, elk, deer, moose, big horn sheep, grizzly and black bears.
Go on a park ranger-led snowshoe walk in Glacier National Park
During the 2 hour walk, rangers show participants how to look for signs of wildlife and share information about the plants and animals of the park.
Walk along (part of) the Bitterroot Trail
The 50-mile, paved, multi-use trail (for pedestrians, bicyclists, and horse-and-riders) goes along the Bitterroot River and was a multi-community project connecting Missoula and Hamilton and all the small towns in between.
Take a guided dog sled trip, wagon ride, horseback ride, or sleigh ride
In every season there’s a unique way (and, yes, very touristy, but be honest, it’s still fun) to see the natural beauty of the area, no hiking involved. Multiple companies offer each attraction, with options for both short and overnight pack trips, and many have add-on activities like food or music.
Swim in Flathead Lake
Considered the largest natural freshwater lake west of the Mississippi River in the 48 contiguous US states, this lake covers over 200 square miles and has 185 miles of shoreline. Located on the Flathead Reservation, the lake is supposed to be good for many water activities, overnight camping, and U-pick Flathead cherries (and fruit stands and restaurants featuring other local agricultural products).
See the Whitefish snow ghosts
Whitefish is famous for its “snow ghosts” – trees covered in layers of rime ice, formed when clouds of super-cooled water droplets are blown against the trees, rapidly freezing into layers of thick ice. While interesting to look at, larger snow ghosts can weigh many tons and gusty winds can cause trees and branches to break, so be careful of standing too close!
Attend the One Fish, Two Fish Whitefish Winter Festival
Based on the mythological legend of Ullr (a Nordic snow god/king), his Queen, his Prime Minister, and the Yetis, this festival includes a main-street grand parade with costumed characters acting out the legend, a kids’ carnival, pancake breakfast, pie social, torch-light ski parade, the Penguin Plunge (a hole is cut into the iced-over lake and people jump in to raise money for charity), and skijoring (an extreme winter sport where a horse and rider pulls the skier around an obstacle course).
Try winter fat biking
These specialty bikes have giant tires for riding on top of snow, and can be rented from shops in the area. They’re supposed to be super fun to ride and is an activity anyone can do if they know how to ride a regular pedal bicycle.
Go on a scenic float or whitewater rafting trip
Montana rivers are supposed to be excellent for these activities. Also available in many places: canoes, kayaks, and stand up paddle boards.
Dine at the Summit House under the full moon
During certain winter full moons, the 6800-feet-high Summit House at Whitefish Mountain Resort offers the Moonlight Dine and Ski, with great views of the Glacier National Park. Ride the chairlift to the dinner, and take a return chairlift trip at the end of the meal, or take your skis/snowboard equipment and follow the instructor/guide down the moonlit mountain.
Take the Walk in the Treetops Tour
This was the first treetop canopy tour in the US, and one of very few in North America. The tour takes participants through an old-growth forest, along a 700-foot boardwalk, reaching a peak of 70 feet in the air, while guides talk about the history, plants, wildlife, and general ecosystem of this forest.
There are many other things in Western Montana that could also be fun like mansion museums, zip lining, and ghost towns, which all surprised me because as I mentioned, I didn’t think these or the rest of the list above were possible to do in the area. From now on, I’ll definitely be less eager to dismiss places as boring or not “for me.”
Have you ever prematurely written off a place as “not for you”? What made you change your mind?