Waterfalls, Wagons, and Wild Ales: The Four-Day Weekend in Western Montana

Montana’s two most well-known nationwide parks, Yellowstone in the south of the state and Glacier in the northwest, comprise 5,054 sq. miles. When I instructed Lucy Beighle I used to be planning on hitting each in a single four-day journey, her evaluation was stark: “That’s crazy.” Beighle, who works for Glacier Country tourism, might need been exhibiting her hometown bias in advocating for me refocusing on western Montana, however her recommendation proved gold. “You’ll need at least two days in Glacier; really you could spend a week just in the park,” she stated, and she wasn’t fallacious.

Hardcore hikers and avid outdoorsmen would have zero drawback melting into the million acres of different otherworldly lakes, primeval woods, and waterfall-striped mountains, however two full days supplies a robust abstract of West Glacier (East Glacier, dwelling to the Blackfeet Reservation, is presently closed to guests due to COVID-19) whereas leaving loads of time to discover the vanguard breweries, ghost cities, and ATV trails of factors south. Here’s the easiest way to arrange your journey for this upcoming spring. As at all times when touring through the pandemic, seek the advice of native pointers (Whitefish Covid Cares, the National Park Service) for the most recent on COVID-19 protocols and restrictions.


Day 1: Whitefish

Whitefish, the well-heeled resort city 30 minutes from West Glacier’s gateway, is essentially the most snug basecamp for visiting the park and simply accessible with flights from Chicago, Dallas, Seattle, and 10 different cities. It might be tempting to dash proper to Glacier from the airport, however you’ll already be effectively behind the eight-ball in phrases of crowds on the park, so use today as a buffer of leisurely exploring earlier than going arduous.

WhitefishWill Smith on Unsplash

Cruise via the city’s principal road, with its western-style storefronts and up the winding highway to Whitefish Mountain Resort. A chairlift on the base of this low-key ski resort whisks you 15 minutes up the summit. The wide-open views of the evergreen mountains sliding into Whitefish Lake present a visible marker of the place you might be, Big Sky Country, and are greatest witnessed with an area KettleHouse Cold Smoke Scotch ale on the vertiginous deck of the Summit House Restaurant & Bar.

After ingesting in the beer and the vistas, head again down the elevate and into city for lunch at The Wich Haus, the place chefs-owners Orion and Ellie Heyman turned an historic cottage right into a artistic, ingredient-focused sandwich studio final 12 months. Get no matter seasonally accessorized pork sandwich the couple is dealing; the model I destroyed, with vibrant salsa verde and dripping, last-gasp-of-summer peaches, was the most effective sandwiches I’ve ever eaten.

Five minutes up the highway, the Lodge at Whitefish Lake provides the cushiest digs in city. Its grand timbered facade, glowing fireplaces, Western artwork, and spectacular taxidermy—Huck L. Berry, an Eight-foot-9 Alaskan brown bear carrying a turquoise facemask, greets you in the foyer—make you’re feeling such as you’ve checked into Twin Peaks Great Northern, although the one nefarious entities haunting this resort are the Brads and Chads down on the lakefront tiki bar.

Just past is the lodge’s expansive marina, the place the resident 1990 Windsor Craft will zip you across the Whitefish Lake with a cooler of Champagne and nobody to advise you towards stripping right down to your underwear and plunging headfirst into the bone-numbing blue water. Thawed and dried, head to dinner at Bonsai Brewing Project, a chill beer backyard with terrific burgers and a expertise for barrel-aged fruit sours. Stop at a retailer for bear spray and transportable snacks in your approach again to the Lodge, pack your backpack, set your alarm, and put your ass in mattress. Sunrise comes early.


Day 2: The Going-to-the-Sun Road

The journey from Whitefish to the West Glacier gateway is about 40 minutes, and in the pre-dawn darkness, it slips by in moody, navy shadows. Grab espresso at one of many many drive-through chalets that dot the roads—they open early for park-goers—and plunge into Glacier’s primordial forest by way of the Going-to-the-Sun Road. This well-known 49-mile drive follows the shores of Lake McDonald (pictured beneath), a darkish lunar crater at this hour, earlier than ascending skyward in mushy lazy loops and vertiginous cutbacks.

Lake McDonaldHari Nandakumar on Unsplash

There are pull-offs alongside the way in which for hikes and picture ops, however you’re going proper to the highest, or at the very least so far as you may go earlier than the rangers will flip you again on the method to the Blackfeet Reservation, the place West Glacier turns into East Glacier. This overlook is known as Rising Sun, and in the event you time it proper, because the waking solar shreds the lingering gloom, the title turns into evident.

At this time the GTTSR will simply starting to again up, which is why this blended hiking-and-driving itinerary is Rising Sun early, Rising Sun first. Now you can also make your approach again down, going in the wrong way of the bulk. Fifteen minutes down from Rising Sun brings you to the St. Mary’s Falls Trail, a mellow three.5-miler. This out-and-back winds down via the eerie charred-trunk graveyard of the 2015 Creek Reynolds Fire, then up into primordial forest marked by three waterfalls: St. Mary’s; an unnamed four-tiered cascade; and the piece de resistance, Virginia Falls, which reveals itself out of nowhere, thundering down a sheer cliff. The scenic cascades make this one of many park’s hottest trails, which is why it’s so key to bang it out early.

scenic road Valley View, Glacier National ParkShutterstock

After, drive down the GTTSR, crossing the Continental Divide at Logan’s Pass 6,646 ft above sea degree, and take in the majestic views you missed on the way in which up in the darkness. Russell’s Fireside Dining Room, the fine-dining restaurant the Lake McDonald Lodge, is operating an informal takeout operation, Russell’s on the Run, through the pandemic. Their bison burger smeared with huckleberry aioli is the transfer, eaten exterior with a view of the crystal lake, lilac mayo dripping down your fingers.

Backtrack 10 minutes to the Trail of the Cedars, a flat one-mile boardwalk zigzagging via towering, century-old crimson cedars. It connects onto the Avalanche Lake Trail, an out-and-back that feels extra strenuous than its four-mile roundtrip because of its regular climb. Early on the hike you’ll encounter beautiful Avalanche Gorge, whose current-smoothed partitions body water as minty blue as Listerine.

Continuing uphill, the path feels prefer it’s going nowhere until you emerge from the woods into scrubby brush the place the odor of cedar is so persistent, you’ll suppose you’re in a Swedish sauna. The path narrows right here then abruptly drops out onto a stony seaside dealing with a large lake of liquid jade. Little Matterhorn and Bearhat Mountains encompass the water like an amphitheater, distant glacier-fed waterfalls dashing down their craggy, crying faces.

If you’re an skilled hiker, there are dozens of different trails, each well-trod and distant, splitting off from the GTTSR, and you’ll most likely need to press on. Average outdoorsmen, you can provide into your physique’s protests and minimize out. Reward your self with a cocktail at Glacier Distilling in Coram, then decide up takeout from Abruzzo Italian Kitchen in downtown Whitefish. You deserve their excellent Bolognese.


Day three: The North Fork Road and Missoula

No must get up at an unholy hour as we speak. In truth, take a little bit further time for caffeine and carbs on the Wild Coffee Company in your approach out of city towards the North Fork Road, the alternate entrance into West Glacier. Since this hour-long route is partially paved and perpetually dust-choked, its visitors is an infinitesimal in comparison with the Going-to-the-Sun. That solitude is the reward, particularly in the low season. The most individuals you’ll see is on the tiny, solar-powered city of Polebridge, a couple of miles from the Canadian border. Collect snacks (huckleberry bear claw) and souvenirs (a classic Glacier map, an unknown Montana novelist’s paperback) from Polebridge Mercantile, then drive the ultimate rickety six miles to the campground above Bowman Lake. It’s a brief stroll via the woods to the lake, a glassy expanse that displays the encompassing forest and mountains like a mirror.

Missoula, Clark Fork RiverEmma Smith on Unsplash

Compared to Avalanche and McDonald, Bowman is approach much less on-the-radar, so chances are high you gained’t should share the elegant setting with too many individuals. A low-impact path follows the west shore of the finger-shaped lake, or you may simply calm down or swim if the season is true; the water right here is a number of the warmest in Glacier (which suggests nonetheless fairly frigid).

You’ll get lots moist on the subsequent cease, Glacier Guides and Montana Raft, simply exterior the park. The whitewater on the center fork of the Flathead River is sweet May via September, with the Class III rapids (names embody Bonecrusher and Pinball) at their most violent and thrilling in June. The afternoon journey will wrap round three, loads of time to dry off and make the two-hour journey instantly south to Missoula in time for celebratory beers at Imagine Nation, a five-year-old IPA specialist (although don’t sleep on their sours).

Check into the brand new Residence Inn Missoula Downtown, the nicest Residence Inn you’re prone to ever in a single day in. The resort anchors the historic reborn Missoula Mercantile, which additionally homes depraved curries at Zoo Thailand fairly probably the best resort present store, the Montana Scene. Stock up on the softest sweatshirts, knit beanies, state-themed camp mugs, and candles impressed by Glacier’s ecosystem.


Day four: Paws Up

No doubt visiting Glacier is a exercise, so contemplate Day Four your cool-down. Switch out your rental automobile on the Missoula airport for a complimentary Lexus NX crossover from The Resort at Paws Up, the posh ranch surrounded by 37,000 acres of wilderness. Located in Greenough, about 45 minutes due east, Paws Up specializes in a bespoke mixture of boot-scootin’ frontier journey and straight-up pampering. Couples, go for the glamping tents with hammered copper tubs and four-poster beds. Families, the large Wilderness Homes are unbeatable, with each fastidiously thought-about piece of furnishings, material, and artwork reflecting the Montana aesthetic. The wooden porches have rocking chairs and scorching tubs, and the beds are like sleeping on marshmallows.


BisonJacob Stone on Unsplash

You might simply gap up in these digs and order all-inclusive room service from the resort’s smartphone app, however the actions menu at Paws Up is simply bananas. Join an ATV convoy via the sagebrush, waving to the resident bison herd as you tear previous. Rip throughout icy, pine-lined Salmon Lake on wave runners at Paws Up’s personal Island Lodge. Skeet taking pictures. Horseback using. Fly fishing. Just to call a couple of, and that doesn’t even rely the belongings you cando off-property, like driving up via the dense Lubrecht Forest, the place you’ll encounter caved-in mines; the deserted Sand Park Cemetery, everlasting dwelling for six souls (that we all know of); and Garnet Ghost Town, a surprisingly large, remarkably effectively preserved village from the mining growth days that gave Montana its Treasure State nickname. It’s all traditionally fascinating/rattling spooky.

Back at Paws Up, the culinary programming is as numerous because the actions. Dinners are occasions in their very own proper, with completely different ideas happening every night time. The greatest is the Chuck Wagon, a rollicking barbecue by the tented camps with dwell music, garden video games, hearth pits, huge tomahawk steaks scorching over coals, and fruit cobblers scooped from hubcap-sized casseroles. Aside from the fires and the highlight on the guitarist plucking away at a Beatles compilation, there isn’t any synthetic gentle. The solar goes down, and the infinite black sky swallows up the campsite, leaving simply you and the constellations glittering arduous in the absence of sunshine air pollution, a reminiscence that’ll stick to you on the great distance dwelling.


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