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Montana Serves Adventure By The Mile – Bring Your Bikes, Boots, And Skis
Wax your skis, lace your boots, or tune up your bike – there's lots of sporting adventure for those who come to Montana.
With snow covering the state for much of the winter it’s no surprise that skiing is a big thing here. From international-class resorts to mom-and-pop hills, there’s a lot of diversity here. Big Sky, south of Bozeman, is one of the largest ski areas in North America – thousands of acres of powder fields, tight trees, and wide-open cruisers are blanketed in the state’s signature “cold smoke.” North of Kalispell, Whitefish Mountain Resort offers more than a dozen ski lifts and jaw-dropping views of Glacier National Park. Want a slower pace? Lost Trail Pass south of Hamilton offers dirt-cheap lift tickets and more than 300 inches of snow a year. Headed to Havre? Make sure to visit Bear Paw Ski Area, a true throwback gem run mainly by volunteers.
When all that snow melts the mountains reveal another type of trails – ones built for mountain biking. You’ll find dozens of miles of lonely singletrack near Whitefish at the Lion Mountain Trailhead. Pipestone Pass near Butte has a huge network of trails strung along the Continental Divide and is home to one of the nation’s most challenging bike races, the Butte 100. Adventurous bikers will find backcountry routes in the Tobacco Root Mountains and the highly-rated Bangtail Divide near Bozeman. Helena boasts that singletrack begins at the end of every street and even runs a free shuttle on weekends to haul bikes uphill. Missoula has tons of tough as nails bike trails as well as buttery-smooth flow trails.
Prefer hiking boots to pedals? Glacier National Park has trails across snowfields and through tunnels – make sure you take the 12-mile Highline Trail, which hugs a cliff before bouncing through alpine meadows. South of Missoula, the Bitterroot National Forest offers dozens of trailheads and hikes leading deep into the wilderness toward hidden lakes and deep valleys. Trails lead in and around Big Sky and up to high peaks in the Madison Mountains. To the east, south of Red Lodge, well-maintained routes head into the Beartooth Absaroka region, which has sky piercing mountains and pocket glaciers.
Canoers and stand-up paddle boarders will find plenty of smooth water for playing on. Established water trails on Flathead Lake lead past sandy beaches and to deserted islands, while placid water on the Clark Fork is perfect for an afternoon paddle. Boaters in Swan Lake share the water with migratory birdlife, and those venturing to Seeley Lake will find dozens of easy to access yet empty lakes and ponds, some tucked against the imposing Mission Mountains. And don’t forget that anyone can paddle across Glacier National Park’s Lake McDonald, which has one of the best settings in the state.
Those who like their water white will find tons of challenging options. The Middle Fork of the Flathead east of Columbia Falls is home to several commercial rafting companies, while do-it-yourselfers can put in on the North Fork of the Flathead or the trout-filled Upper Missouri near Craig. Experienced paddlers can trace the route of Lewis and Clark on rivers like the Jefferson and the Marias, while anglers dream about casting flies into rivers like the Big Hole and Rock Creek.
Montana has some of the highest concentrations of wildlife in America, and you don’t even need binoculars to see a lot of it. Mountain goats line many trails in Glacier National Park, and bighorn sheep greet motorists headed to Big Sky. Grizzlies roam across Yellowstone National Park, followed by herds of bison and groups of wolves. Visitors to the high peaks of the Northern Rockies may be lucky enough to see an elusive wolverine, while pronghorn antelope roam the valleys around Wisdom and Dillon. Elk are found all over the state, especially in the Seeley and Swan valleys north of Missoula.
Those seeking a faster pace can hop on a snowmobile and explore the state’s vast white reaches. Lolo Pass west of Missoula is covered with more than 400 inches of snow a year and has more than 100 miles of marked and groomed snowmobile routes. Snowmachiners will find deep snow in the Stateline Mountains near Lookout Pass and in the southern Bitterroot near Lost Trail Pass. Ranges like the Pioneers and the Little Belts offer unmatched opportunities for solitude and adventure.
Montana’s wide open highways make the state a great destination for road biking, and several cross-country routes make use of the Treasure State’s empty asphalt and wide shoulders. Missoula-based Adventure Cycling recommends routes along U.S. 93 from British Columbia south to Idaho, and U.S. 12 from Idaho east toward North Dakota. Uncrowded roads near Dillon, Bozeman, and Helena are popular routes for road bikers too.
Hunters come to Montana from around the world with the hopes of tagging a record buck or elk. The state offers lottery draws for hunters in search of trophy animals like black bears, bighorn sheep, and mountain lions, while those hoping for deer can choose from dozens of open hunting zones.