by Jenna Heberden
While Montana may not be on people’s radar as a typical summer vacation destination, more folks than ever before are visiting the Treasure State, perhaps best known for its fly-fishing and big, open skies. A nature lover’s haven, Montana offers something for thrill seekers and more casual travelers alike. Whether exploring the ever-popular Glacier National Park, the state’s most visited site, or reliving a bit of spirited Montana history, visitors are sure to enjoy the gorgeous scenery, long warm days and true Montana-style hospitality.
Spend a day on Flathead Lake
The biggest lake west of the Mississippi River, Flathead Lake has plenty of room to play – in, on and by the water. Fed by glacier runoff from nearby Glacier National Park, the lake is filled with crystal clear water that lets visitors see down some 300 feet to the bottom. On most summer days, the water is calm and warmed by the sun – ideal conditions for water-skiing, wakeboarding, tubing or paddleboarding. There’s no need to worry about buying equipment; several lakeside marinas offer a choice of water rentals and even sell fishing licenses on site. With more than fourteen different native fish, it’s likely that even novice anglers can head home with a fresh catch. End a day at the lake by picking cherries on one of the several orchards that crowd the east shore.
Anyone not scared off by Garnet Ghost Town’s reputation for being haunted should check out this piece of pure Montana history. More than 100 years ago, 1,000 people called Garnet their home – all with the same dream of becoming wealthy from the semi-precious garnets that give the town its name. However, a raging fire and hardships on the homefront during World War I left Garnet abandoned, and no attempts to modernize the town have been made since. Today, the site is one of Montana’s best preserved ghost towns, with nearly three dozen remaining buildings including a log and frame cabin, a store, a saloon and a hotel, each brimming with history. For those who don’t mind a possible encounter with the paranormal, the Kelly’s Saloon site still garners reports of haunting laughter and music coming from inside.
During the summer, Glacier National Park transforms into a nature lovers’ paradise. With six mountains towering above 10,000 feet, 25 active glaciers and more than 700 lakes, the park is truly something the whole family will enjoy. The 50-mile, paved, two-lane highway, known as the Going-to-the-Sun Road, is Glacier’s most popular destination. The drive can be a little white-knuckling in spots; it is the only road to cross Glacier National Park from east to west, and carries travelers through some of the most spectacular scenery the park has to offer. For anyone looking to enjoy the amazing views without having to keep their eyes on the winding road, guided tours let guests relax and take in the sights worry-free. Drive through Glacier in style – in a vintage 1930s convertible Red Jammer bus – or with Sun Tours, which offers Native American perspectives on the vast landscape.
Not sure how to cap off a Montana adventure? Relax in Chico’s open-air mineral hot spring pools. When the pools opened in the late 1890s, people came from all over the country to soak in the “healing waters,” thought to cure everything from kidney trouble to blood disease and skin disorders. Healthful properties aside, the mineral pools are the perfect getaway for relaxation, complete with drinks and food served poolside. There are two pools to choose from – the larger one hovers around 96 degrees Fahrenheit, and the smaller pool averages 103 degrees. They can get crowded at peak times, so be prepared to make a friend or two, and don’t forget to bring flip flops and a robe.
Sip on Montana’s finest beer during a brewery tour
For the nature-averse, head to Billings for Montana’s only walking brewery tour. Located in downtown Billings, this unofficial brewery district consists of six breweries and a micro-distillery, each open for public tours and, of course, tastings. The 1.5-mile route starts at Angry Hank’s Micro Brewery for one of their eight ales on tap, and continues on to include some historic points such as the Billings Depot, Inc. – a service center for three major railroad companies – and the Western Heritage Center, an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution housed in the historic Parmly Billings Memorial Library building. The tour ends at the Montana Brewing Company, where guests are encouraged to try one of their several award-winning beers or their summer seasonal, Stillwater Rye.