Avoiding stir-crazy: Montana wilderness tips

Avoiding stir-crazy: Montana wilderness tips

By this late stage of my 5 month road trip in the USA I honestly think I had gone a bit insane. In a nice way. I was travelling solo and ticking off USA National Parks like they were the size of football fields, obsessively driving for hours and then hiking for miles: I was desperate to see a bear (!). Travel and frugal accommodation expenses aside, my target daily budget was down to a tight $10 USD a day, so I was living off boiled eggs, packet pasta, salad and cans of tuna. What a nutter. The Montana wilderness, like neighbouring states Wyoming and South Dakota in America, totally enchanted me with its mega-scale scenery. Maybe next time I can travel in a less frantic mental state, and with a proper diet!

 

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3 THINGS YOU REALLY CANNOT MISS:

EAST GLACIER | to travel from Missoula, Montana, it is 3.5 hours drive to East Glacier where I arrived at a great hostel – Brownies – and the perfect setting sun. The place is tiny with very cute little streets (albeit I was nearly bitten by a dog!), and you can pick up coffee at the hostel, or a slice of huckleberry pie and glass of chardonnay in the sunshine at Whistle Stop: some much needed R&R and daily budget blown…..

montana wilderness tips
You’re in big bear country now!
montana wilderness tips
Huckleberry Pie is all the rage

AVALANCHE LAKE | this is a 2 mile walk each way. The outbound stint is tiring and a seemingly endless forest and uphill hike (with constant bear fear), but the end reward is totally lovely. You emerge from the trees to gorgeous blues and greens and glacier water falling down the cliffs; the place is full of butterflies.

montana wilderness tips
This spot at Avalanche Lake is breath-taking (check out those waterfalls in the background)
montana wilderness tips
Hiking in flip flops seemed to cause amusement to other visitors!

LOGAN’S PASS | by my second day in Glacier National Park, Montana – following a fruitless Yellowstone search too – I was resigned to the fact that I wouldn’t see a bear. So my quest-of-the-day became mountain goat spotting! This proved really easy at this beautiful spot. I did the Hidden Lake walk, including the 3 mile round trip down to lake itself. There are so many amazing wild flowers they look like a carpet, and as well as goats there are marmots, weasels, and chipmunks scurrying about.

montana wilderness tips
The weather wasn’t amazing but you can still appreciate how beautiful the Hidden Lake is I hope
montana wilderness tips
Hoorah – mountain goat! These guys hop over those cliff faces with such ease.
montana wilderness tips
Under the melting snow are blankets of beautiful mountain flowers

3 THINGS WORTH A SNOOP:

MISSOULA | is a cool town in Montana dotted with dive bars, vintage shops, and a hipster-ish scene – it felt a little like Austin, Texas. You’ll find a big queue at Big Dipper ice-cream, and can grab a good breakfast at Catalyst. Missoula is situated along a river, which makes for a pleasant walk to take in the beautiful ‘Carousel for Missoula’.

montana wilderness tips
The charming Carousel of Missoula

ROAD TO THE SUN | I drove from East Glacier to St Mary to do the famous Road to The Sun scenic drive, which was very beautiful and made for some stunning photo ops, but due to the time of year there was limited snow to truly display the beauty of Glacier National Park. I decided to get out and walk at St Mary Falls, which are definitely worth a stop. (Maybe not such a sensible idea, as a family at the hostel had spotted 3 black bears whilst driving…. Alas, I never saw one).

montana wilderness tips
This is one of the first views you’ll clap eyes on, across St Mary Lake
montana wilderness tips
Crystal clear glacier water on the St Mary Fall walk
montana wilderness tips
Like me, you will just have to imagine how amazing this would look covered in snow!
montana wilderness tips
Waterfalls crash straight on to the Road to the Sun

TRANQUILITY | embrace it. Of all my Montana wilderness tips, make sure you find the time to appreciate that this place is absolutely heavenly. I don’t think I have ever been somewhere that felt so fresh and wholesome. There are waterfalls and wildlife at every turn and a magical feeling in the air.

montana wilderness tips
This space is so vast and the reflections are incredible

3 THINGS TO STEER CLEAR:

BEL AIRE MOTEL | I arrived in Missoula after a really long drive through Idaho from Jackson Hole, Wyoming, so ditched a potential couch surfing contact for the privacy of a room in the Bel Aire motel, which was downtown on West Broadway. It was nothing fancy, granted, but it was a proper room and a proper bed. So you can imagine my rage when I woke up in the night to discover big living bed bugs!

montana wilderness tips
The drive through Idaho is interestingly uninteresting!
Seeing smoke in the sky from fires was a regular occurrence; this is Missoula and Bel Aire motel
Seeing smoke in the sky from fires was a regular occurrence; this is Missoula and Bel Aire motel

SUMMER | I never thought I’d say this, but turns out sometimes Winter is better than Summer. Especially if you’re visiting Glacier National Park. Makes sense, hey? Hmm.

montana wilderness tips
A smidge of snow clinging to the rock face – it is June after all

BILLINGS | I’m pretty sure most visitors are using Billings as an entry and exit point only. It didn’t appear to have much to say for itself. I’d arrived from East Glacier via a tedious drive to Great Falls, and stayed at the suitably bland Rodeway Inn. Luckily all of this was in aid of a 5:45am flight to launch my most epic of festival experiences – and USA finale – Burning Man!

1 THING I WISH I’D DONE:

FLAT HEAD LAKE | Montana wilderness tips: it’s nicknamed “Big Sky Country” for a reason! It’s all wide-open jaw-dropping isolated space. Talking of scale, Flathead Lake is a huge natural freshwater lake flanked by two scenic highways: I read the water is so clear on Flathead Lake that it looks amazingly shallow, even though in actuality it’s 370 feet deep.

montana wilderness tips
Photo credit: National Geographic

AND KNOW THIS: There’s a lot of open space in Montana. So much so that 46 of Montana’s 56 counties are known as frontier counties. That means they have an average population of six people or fewer per square mile.

 

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