Five Hidden Gems of Montana - Page 2
|Waterfall in Montana wilderness (iStockphoto/Thinkstock)|
Once a booming logging town, Polebridge is a little bit slower these days (population 88, and no traffic lights, or electricity for that matter—the town is completely off the grid). But this dinky spot 35 miles south of the Canadian border is the northwestern gateway to Glacier National Park, and it’s just the place to stage an outdoor expedition—or recover from one. For less than $50, you can rent a no-frills cabin from Polebridge Mercantile (the bakery is the thing of legend) or bunk at the North Fork Hostel and Inn on the bank of the North Fork of the Flathead River down the road; hostel bunks and private cabins are available. Then drive down the road, over the bridge, and you're in Glacier, the crown jewel of Montana’s parks, near Logging, Kintla, and Bowman lakes, a number of great hiking and backpacking trails, and views that buckle the knees. On your way out, stop for a burger and a cold one at the venerable Northern Lights Saloon, as woodsy and out of the way as watering holes get.
Upper Missouri River
Right in the middle of the state, an untamed stretch of the Missouri River cuts through a landscape as devastatingly beautiful as it is desolate. First mapped by the Lewis and Clark expedition in 1805 and later traversed by trappers and steamboats, it is now encompassed by the boundaries of the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument, rugged, remote, and 375,000 acres strong. A full 149 miles of river run through the monument, and the area can also be explored by car on the Missouri Breaks National Back Country Byway (just don't attempt to drive it when rain turns the road’s dirt into impassable mud locally known as “gumbo”). Fort Benton is a historic river town that's a popular jumping-off point for multi-day river trips. Ferries at Stafford and Virgelle remain in operation on the river, down from more than 20 ferries in years past.
Spanning roughly 250 square miles in south-central Montana, this wilderness area attracts far less traffic than Montana's national parks and the neighboring wilderness areas, but it has more than enough alpine scenery and trails. The centerpiece is the Anaconda Range, cresting up to the Continental Divide at the 10,793-foot summit of West Goat Peak, one of many 10,000-foot-plus mountains here than can be bagged without technical gear. There are also plenty of more moderate hikes on the 280-mile trail network that crisscrosses the area, but hikers aren't the only ones drawn here: The jewel-like lakes that dot the wilderness are prime trout fishing destinations, and wildlife-watchers may catch a glimpse of mountain goats and bighorn sheep scaling the peaks.