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Northwestern Montana

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St. Mary Lake, Glacier National Park.

Northwestern Montana is a mountainous region of Montana in the United States of America, best known for the sprawling Glacier National Park and the cities of Missoula and Kalispell.


Regions[edit]

Cities[edit]

  • Missoula, largest city in the region; home to the University of Montana.
  • Kalispell, base for outdoor activities at West Glacier and the Flathead Valley.
  • Cut Bank, a small town serving the eastern side of Glacier Park.
  • Libby, near the Kootenai National Forest and Kootenai River; popular with hunters.
  • Seeley Lake, known for its cross-country skiing and snowmobiling trails.
  • Whitefish, a resort town near Flathead Lake.
  • Hungry Horse
  • Superior
  • Thompson Falls
  • Troy

Other destinations[edit]

  • Glacier National Park has innumerable opportunities for hiking, fishing, boating, and camping, on a vast scale – the park is bigger than the entire state of Rhode Island.
  • The Flathead Valley contains still more outdoor activities, including Flathead Lake and two ski resorts.
  • Seeley Lake, southeast of Glacier Park, is a less-crowded alternative with more convenient access to Missoula.

Understand[edit]

Downtown Missoula

Northwestern Montana has long relied on its natural resources. Lumber and mining are mainstays of the economy, but those same mountains and forests now draw tourists in great numbers as well. The terrain is some of the most varied in the Mountain West, with the the Bitterroot and Continental Divide branches of the Rocky Mountains flanking it on west and east, leaving a mixture of freshwater lakes, praries, glaciers, rivers, and forests between.

Winter weather is milder than the rest of Montana, due to the shielding effect of the mountains – the average temperature typically floats between 20 and 40 degrees. Spring is rainy and unpredictable, but summer and autumn are consistantly pleasant with late sunsets.

Get in[edit]

By plane[edit]

Missoula International Airport (IATA: MSO) and Glacier Park International Airport (IATA: FCO) (near Kalispell) have connections throughout the western United States on several airlines. Despite the names, neither has any scheduled service to Canada.

By car[edit]

Interstate 90 passes through Missoula, connecting from Idaho on the west towards Southwestern Montana and Butte on the east. U.S. Route 12 overlaps I-90 through most of western Montana, until diverging at Garrison and continuing east to Helena. Further north, the scenic U.S. Route 2 connects Kalispell and the west entrance to Glacier Park, then skirts the southern boundary of the park as far as East Glacier before entering the plains of North Central Montana.

The major north-south artery is U.S. Route 93, linking almost every city in the region and continuing to Twin Falls, Idaho. Route 93 is prone to clogging with traffic, particularly on summer weekends.

By train[edit]

Amtrak operates the Empire Builder service daily between Seattle/Portland and Chicago. Stops are made at Libby, Whitefish, West Glacier, Essex (flag stop), East Glacier (seasonal – summer), Browning (seasonal – winter), and Cut Bank.

By foot[edit]

For the dedicated long-distance hiker, the Continental Divide Trail follows the mountains from Wyoming up to the Canadian border.

Get around[edit]

A car is essential for most travel through the region. Rimrock Trailways (406-245-5392, 800-255-7655, [1]) provides scheduled bus service once daily between Whitefish and Missoula via Kalispell.

See[edit][add listing]

Within Glacier, the Going-To-The-Sun Road crosses the park from west to east, offering spectacular panoramas. At the midpoint, the Logan Pass Visitor Center is the base for a variety of short, scenic hiking trails. The park provides shuttle service [2] from the west entrance, which is recommended for nervous drivers – for much of the westbound drive, the only thing separating the road from a cliff face is an eighteen-inch stone wall! Portions of the road stay open year-round, but the higher elevations and through route are only accessible from June through October, weather permitting.


Do[edit][add listing]

Outdoor activities galore - camping, hiking, fishing, hunting, boating, golfing, rafting, etc. Between Glacier, numerous state parks, and the private resort areas, it's almost harder to find some place where these aren't options.

Whitewater Rafting and flyfishing are popular activities, particularly during spring and summer months. The Alberton Gorge just west of Missoula is a popular rafting run, with many commercial outfitters offering day tours. Commercial permits are only offered to a handful of outfitters. Other popular rivers for innertube floating include the Clark Fork, Bitterroot, and Blackfoot rivers.

The area has several major ski resorts. Whitefish Mountain [3] and Blacktail Mountain [4] are the largest in the Flathead Valley/Kalispell area, and the Montana Snowbowl [5] is near Missoula. Lookout Pass [6] straddles the Idaho—Montana state line, allowing the unusual opportunity to ski through two states on one run.


Stay safe[edit]

Bears are present throughout the wilderness, as well as the occasional mountain lion.

During the winter, smaller secondary roads are often closed entirely, and even the Interstate can shut down rapidly when the weather turns poor. Verify weather conditions and road status [7] before setting out, and travel with emergency supplies. Unpaved roads are typically impassable for over half the year.

Get out[edit]

Glacier Park is joined across the Canadian border with Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta.



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