We had breezed through Montana several years ago on a cross-country road trip. We were pressed for time and spent most of it just barreling through it. However, the drive was so spectacular that we swore we would return someday to spend more time and explore everything Montana has to offer.
This past spring, Glacier Country Tourism gave us the opportunity to travel to Montana for an unprecedented 10-days. We were ecstatic! We experienced the urban, the unplugged, the undiscovered and finally the unforgettable.
Our unforgettable road trip explored the Flathead Valley starting in downtown Kalispell. The downtown is a mixture of history and charm. The Grand Hotel is the heartbeat of Main Street, embracing guests and their pets since 1912. From there you can walk to many restaurants and museums including the Conrad Mansion and Hockaday Museum of Art.
As our road trip continued, we went to St. Ignatius Mission. The artwork that adorns the ceiling and walls is stunning. There are 58 original painting by Brother Joseph Carignano. If that weren’t memorable enough, the Mission Mountain Range serves as a beautiful backdrop.
As we always do when we travel, we took an ADDdetour and stopped at the Miracle of America Museum in Polson, MT. It’s the kind of place that draws you in with all the crazy artifacts sitting out front. We just had to go in and see. What we thought would be a quick in and out, turned into a 2-hour tour exploring the dozens of buildings home to thousands of artifacts. We had the good fortune to meet up with Gil Mangels, the museum founder, who personally escorted us around giving us a personal account of each and every acquisition. It was fascinating. Cars, boats, bikes, military memorabilia, a soda shop replica, dolls, flags, a pharmacy, a barber shop, a dentist office and the list of historical gems goes on and on. If you go, tell Gil we sent you. He is as unique as the museum he founded.
We stayed the night in Polson at the Gaynor Ranch Bed & Breakfast. Gaynor Ranch is a different type of Guest Inn from any that we’ve stayed at before. Located in the shadow of the Mission Mountains, Don and Nancy Gaynor serve up heaping helpings of old west hospitality along with a home cooked breakfast. The conversation flows as freely as the morning coffee. They have teepees for the adventurous to spend the night in and for the rest of us, five tastefully appointed private rooms with full baths and free wifi. They have horses to ride or admire, and dogs that welcome you into the family in this laid back, and unique destination.
National Bison Range
We headed out on our next day of unearthing something amazing in Montana. We cruised down Highway 200 dotted with small towns like Thompson Falls and Paradise, on our way to the National Bison Range. Established in 1908 by President Theodore Roosevelt, as a sanctuary for the American bison, the National Bison Range encompasses 18,000 acres. It is not only home to bison but elk, deer, bighorn sheep, mountain lions, bears and 200+ different species of birds. We entered the range and drove the nineteen-mile long Red Sleep Mountain Road up through the range, inching along in hopes of spotting wildlife. We were not disappointed. Throughout our drive, we spotted plenty of bisons, larger than life, mostly grazing, and not giving our presence a second thought.
Quinn’s Hot Springs
Our next stop was Quinn’s Hot Springs Resort on Route 165 along the Clark River. We had beautifully appointed cabins with large front porches, right on the river bank, with first class amenities and showers so large a bison could have easily fit in it. The hot springs (6 chemical-free pools) were popular and crowded. We figured out the early bird get the use of the springs without the masses, so go early. It’s the perfect time to relax and soak in the health benefits of the mineral springs. The restaurant at Quinn’s was divine, featuring a wide variety of seafood, steaks, and pasta dishes.
Exploring the Clark Fork River
We ventured out first thing in the morning to ‘float’ on the Clark Fork River. We met up with Mike Hillygus, an outfitter with High Plains Drifter, who adeptly guided our boat down the river while telling us about the area and postcard-worthy scenery. The air was chilly and damp, but Mike brought extra coats and foul weather gear for us to remain dry and toasty. It was one of the most relaxing mornings I had spent in a very long time. We followed the float with a gourmet lunch prepared by Mike (he was a chef in his former career), and we talked about his passion, fly-fishing in Montana. He taunted me with fish tails of catching trout and cooking them up immediately after that, an item still at the top of my bucket list. I vowed to return to check this one off my list.
As we drove along the St. Regis-Paradise scenic byway, I couldn’t help but daydream about returning. Montana had so much of what makes for an unforgettable vacation.
What are some of your most unforgettable vacation experiences?