Small Town Route: Glacier to the Mission Valley & Beyond | Montana

This trip is a journey through the stunning east side of the Flathead Valley and beyond to the Mission Valley through the picturesque home of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes. Enjoy all the suggested trip ideas or pick and choose to accommodate your schedule. Either way the lush valleys, lake views, towering peaks and cultural stories are sure to delight.

Extend your trip west to Hot Springs, MT, south to Missoula, MT or east to Yellowstone National Park. The options are endless. To connect your trip to Yellowstone National Park visit https://bit.ly/2GV1meh.

Pow Wows and First Nation celebrations are typically held in the spring and summer months. Learn more: https://bit.ly/2H1psi5

Learn more about Sacred Places for First Nations: https://bit.ly/2PFyg2K

Layers

Day 1

Glacier National Park | Montana
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Glacier National Park | Montana
Natural Area | National Park or Protected Area
Start in quaint historic community of West Glacier where change is glacial in this gateway village, where you can enjoy the same general store, saloon, restaurant, and service station that have served park visitors since 1938. From Glacier National Park's West Glacier and Apgar areas you can enjoy an array of year round experiences from hiking and backpacking to watercraft recreation to biking the famous Going-to-the-Sun Road to nordic skiing and snowshoeing. A number of camping and lodging options are available in the immediate area and in nearby communities. Dining options are limited in the immediate area of Glacier National Park in the winter month, so plan accordingly. Don't leave Apgar Village without visiting Montana House (open year round). They sponsor free monthly evening presentations on Crown of the Continent topics by noted authors and scientists and sell an impressive selection of art and crafts made by Native American and Montana artists- featuring books, pottery, wood pieces, jewelry, and Native American beadwork. Glacier National Park's Conservancy Park Store at the historic Belton Train Station is a favorite shopping spot too...all purchases support the park's educational and interpretive activities, cultural programs, preservation and research projects. *Glacier National Park hosts Native America Speaks Programs July-September where Blackfeet, Salish, Kootenai, and Pend d'Oreille tribal members share their knowledge of the history and culture of Native America. Programs offered in campgrounds, lodges, St. Mary Visitor Center, Browning and Babb, MT.

Lace up your boots and explore this backcountry wilderness woven with 700 miles (1,100 kilometers) of hiking trails. While just a few glaciers remain, the park’s majestic landscape is the product of massive ice sheets sculpting ancient sea beds…

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Whitewater Rafting on the Flathead River | Montana
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Whitewater Rafting on the Flathead River | Montana
Outdoor Adventure | Guide or Outfitter
In 2018, we celebrated the 50th Anniversary of the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act. Of the five Montana sections of rivers that fall under the Wild & Scenic River designation three are in the Glacier area. The Middle, South and North Forks of the Flathead River have a storied history of actually inspiring the formation of the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act ensuring they will remain free-flowing and untamed. Join Glacier Guides & Montana Raft Co. on their Rafting for Refuse event that they've hosted since 1997. Every year on the 3rd Saturday of June, volunteers help clean the public river access points and along the Middle Fork of the Flathead River river corridor. Montana Raft Co/Glacier Guides provides all of the necessary rafting equipment, expert guides and staff to coordinate the day.

The Flathead River is fed by three forks originating in the Canadian Rockies, north of Glacier National Park, and the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex, in Northwestern Montana. Cool, clean, clear water pulses through the Flathead Valley flowing…

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Columbia Falls, Montana
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Columbia Falls, Montana
Community | Village or Town

Columbia Falls, Montana incorporated in 1909, is a beautiful community with a love for the great outdoors. Often referred to as the "Gateway to Glacier National Park", Columbia Falls sits at the intersection to two of Glacier National Park's access …

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Downtown Whitefish, Montana
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Downtown Whitefish, Montana
Community | Appealing Downtown Area

The smoky tang of steam locomotives once filled the air. Now inhale the sweeter perfume of craft beer and gourmet coffee in this railroad frontier town transformed into a recreation hub with nightlife and an array of top restaurants. Pescado…

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Kalispell, Montana
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Kalispell, Montana
Community | Village or Town

Where the spirit of Northwest Montana lives. Where the mighty mountains of the Crown of the Continent soar. Where the cold, clear Flathead River snakes from wild lands in Glacier National Park and the Bob Marshall Wilderness to the largest…

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Day 2

Bigfork, Montana
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Bigfork, Montana
Community | Appealing Downtown Area

Bigfork, Montana is a quaint, vibrant community where the Swan River flows into the north shore of Flathead Lake. Known as Montana's Christmas Village it is actually a year round destination with an impressive line-up of local and globally…

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Echo Lake Café | Bigfork, Montana
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Echo Lake Café | Bigfork, Montana
Food or Drink | Restaurant
You're going to want to grab a hardy breakfast or lunch at this Flathead Valley's beloved local eatery. Extra perk is the expansive, yet intimate deck with mountain views in the summer and fall.

Echo Lake Café serves wholesome food with exceptional views of the Swan Mountain Range, in NW Montana. Established in the 1960s, the cafe has remained the heartbeat of the…

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Flathead Lake Interpretive Trail #77 | Bigfork, Montana
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Flathead Lake Interpretive Trail #77 | Bigfork, Montana
Outdoor Adventure | Hiking Trail or Trailhead
Let's face it the drive along the eastern shore of Flathead Lake is pretty impressive, but to really savor the views of the largest natural freshwater lake west of the Mississippi you're going to want to hop out of your car. Stretch your legs on this short trail and dip your toes in the cool blue waters. Tip: Download or print off the Flathead Lake Interpretive Trail pamphlet beforehand. It correlates with numbered markers along trail and shares information on culture, history, geology and so much more.

Flathead Lake Interpretive Trail #77 is a family-friendly 0.4 mile loop trail with short spur trail option, along the eastern shore of Flathead Lake. Long sweeping switchbacks make the steep descent to a small secluded swimming beach a decent…

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U-Pick at Getmans' Orchard | Polson, Montana
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U-Pick at Getmans' Orchard | Polson, Montana
Outdoor Adventure | Agritourism
Flathead cherries are beloved by residents and visitors alike. If you missed the popular cherry season along Flathead Lake's shore there are still opportunities to grab some deliciously sweet peaches, pears, plums, and apples and raspberries from some of these orchards.

Each July, the road from Bigfork down to Polson, Montana comes alive with cherry stands offering visitors a taste of the area’s most bountiful crop: Flathead Cherries.  The soil, pristine water source, and hot summers are just some of the…

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Blue Bay Campground on Flathead Lake | Montana
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Blue Bay Campground on Flathead Lake | Montana
Accommodation | Campground or RV Park
If Blue Bay is full another option is Finley Point/Flathead Lake State Park (https://bit.ly/2wfZncq).

South of Bigfork, along the east shore of Flathead Lake are Woods Bay, Yellow Bay and then Blue Bay. Blue Bay is on the Flathead Reservation.

The Blue Bay campground and day use area are owned and run by the Confederated Salish and…

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Day 3

Polson, Montana
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Polson, Montana
Community | Appealing Downtown Area
Downtown Polson has shopping and several restaurant options. If up for a quick side trip, check out the impressive overlook for Seli’š Ksanka Qlispe’ Dam (formally known as Kerr Dam). Stairs and a boardwalk escort visitors down to a vista overlook right above the dam with impressive mountain views beyond cascading blue waters.

One has to wonder, cresting the hill above present-day Polson, Montana, what explorer David Thompson might have thought when he topped that same rise in 1812. Having engaged a guide from a nearby Salish tribe, Thompson rode north and “alighted on…

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Shadow Cruiser- Flathead Tour Boat | Polson, Montana
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There are several daily cruise options throughout the summer. If you get a chance hop on one of their special cultural cruises. The last cultural cruise of the summer is usually early September.

Twilight on the largest natural freshwater lake in the contiguous western United States started casting a bigger shadow in 2009. Hop aboard The Shadow Cruiser and sail into the sunset on the tour boat operated by Kwataqnuk Resort and the…

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Polson Interpretive Trail | Polson, Montana
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Polson Interpretive Trail | Polson, Montana
Outdoor Adventure | Walking Tour

The Polson Interpretive Trail was a collaboration between the City of Polson and Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes and offers a paved trail with spectacular views of Flathead Lake. The trail connects the City of Polson's Salish, Sacajawea…

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Big Arm State Park Campground | Big Arm, Montana
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Big Arm State Park Campground | Big Arm, Montana
Accommodation | Campground or RV Park
Big Arm is a popular jumping-off point to Wild Horse Island State Park, a 2,163 acre island off the west shore of the lake that is home to bald eagles, bighorn sheep, yellow-pine chipmunks, and wild horses. Wild Horse Island is accessible only by boat.

Big Arm State Park is located on Flathead Lake, the largest natural freshwater lake in the western United States. Twenty-eight miles long and 15 miles wide, Flathead Lake is renowned for its fishing. 

Located on the lake's Big Arm Bay,…

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Day 4

Wild Horse Island State Park | Montana
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Wild Horse Island State Park | Montana
Natural Area | State or Provincial Park

At 2,160 acres, Wild Horse Island is the largest island in a freshwater lake west of Minnesota. Wild Horse Island has been a landmark since the Salish-Kootenai Indians were reported to have used it to pasture horses to keep them from being stolen…

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The People's Center
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The People's Center
Museum, Theatre, Interpretive Centre | Museum
People's Center is a must and tells the story of the Salish, Pend d'Oreille and the Kootenai tribes through a museum, programs and gift shop. Looking for a hands-on experience? The People's Center offers a traditional arts day every Friday (except federal holidays) from 9:00am - 4:00pm where you are invited to come together and sew native regalia, quilts, ribbon shirts or skirts, bead, make jewelry and learn to make moccasins with help from those with expertise. There is no fee to participate, but a $5.00 fee does apply for buckskin or certain supplies.

Much like the beating of a heart, the People’s Center lies at the core of the Flathead Indian Reservation, pumping life into the culture of the Salish, Pend d’Oreille and Kootenai nations.

“Xalt Sxlxalt,” or “good day,” greets visitors at…

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Ninepipes Lodge | Charlo, Montana
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Ninepipes Lodge | Charlo, Montana
Accommodation | Lodge or Resort

Ninepipes Lodge and Allentown Restaurant offer majestic Rocky Mountain views. With close proximity to Glacier National Park, National Bison Range, Ninepipe National Wildlife Refuge, and Flathead Lake, activities are endless. The Lodge is a…

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Day 5

Ninepipe National Wildlife Refuge | Charlo, Montana
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Ninepipe National Wildlife Refuge | Charlo, Montana
Natural Area | Fish and Wildlife Reserve or Sanctuary

At the southern most point of the Rocky Mountain Trench, where the Pleistocene’s glacial assault ground to a halt, the receding ice bled into rich terminal moraine. The melt left behind a vast stretch of bogs, fens and marshes, scattered between pot-…

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National Bison Range | Montana
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National Bison Range | Montana
Outdoor Adventure | Wildlife Viewing Area

Established in 1909 and stocked with descendants of bison rescued from extinction by Pend d'Oreille people this sanctuary protects hundreds of bison on 18,500 acres (7,487 hectares) of rolling grassland and forest. Take short nature walks from…

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St. Ignatius Mission Church | St. Ignatius, Montana
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St. Ignatius Mission Church | St. Ignatius, Montana
Local Point of Interest | Religious Site or Structure

The St. Ignatius Mission was built in the early 1890's near Montana's first Catholic school in this town founded in 1854 by Jesuit priests. This Catholic Church is unique because its walls and ceilings have 58 original paintings by Brother Joseph…

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Trip Plan Details

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In This Trip Plan

1 Glacier National Park | Montana
2 Whitewater Rafting on the Flathead River | Montana
3 Columbia Falls, Montana
4 Downtown Whitefish, Montana
5 Kalispell, Montana
6 Bigfork, Montana
7 Echo Lake Café | Bigfork, Montana
8 Flathead Lake Interpretive Trail #77 | Bigfork, Montana
9 U-Pick at Getmans' Orchard | Polson, Montana
10 Blue Bay Campground on Flathead Lake | Montana
11 Polson, Montana
12 Shadow Cruiser- Flathead Tour Boat | Polson, Montana
13 Polson Interpretive Trail | Polson, Montana
14 Big Arm State Park Campground | Big Arm, Montana
15 Wild Horse Island State Park | Montana
16 The People's Center
17 Ninepipes Lodge | Charlo, Montana
18 Ninepipe National Wildlife Refuge | Charlo, Montana
19 National Bison Range | Montana
20 St. Ignatius Mission Church | St. Ignatius, Montana