The Ideal Montana Vacation

Think of Montana when you plan your next family vacation. You probably fished Montana with a couple of frat buddies in college, or perhaps you joined some colleagues for a fall fishing trip to the Madison River. Remember how impressed you were with that Big Sky fishing experience? Well, start planning the perfect family vacation or newly wed honeymoon from Glacier National Park to Yellowstone National Park. You and your wife will have so much fun that she will insist that you go fishing along the way, so be sure you pack your emergency trout-fix kit.

Plan at least a two-week trek to include day hikes to mountain glaciers, scenic boat cruises, whitewater rafting, kayaking, rodeos, golf, horseback riding and, of course, shopping. Did I mention fishing? Fly to Kalispell, your jumping off spot for Glacier National Park, rent a vehicle and begin your family odyssey through the Last Best Place. End your visit at Yellowstone National Park and fly home from Bozeman International Airport, gateway to Yellowstone National Park.

If you haven't driven to Montana and you are not sure of the driving time, plan on 22 driving hours from the Los Angeles basin, figure 18 hours from the Sacramento area or San Francisco area, and an easy 10 hour jaunt from Seattle. "All aboard!" For the enterprising vacationers who want an unparalleled experience of seeing our great continent and its spectacular scenic landscapes, book your trip through Amtrak. From Chicago or St. Paul, take the Empire Builder. From California or the Northwest, book passage on the Coast Starlight. Amtrak provides European style coaches with reclining seats, laptop outlets, movies and breathtaking scenery.

Arriving at Kalispell airport, or West or East Glacier if by train, the neighboring towns and resorts offer great accommodations for modest budgets and up. The Flathead Lake area to Whitefish and onwards to West Glacier offers resort seclusion in natural surroundings to Victorian era Bed and Breakfast establishments in the middle of town.

Day 1: Pick up your rental car and check into your lodging. Relax.

Day 2: If you have young children, spend a day at the water slides in Columbia Falls, gateway to Glacier National Park, or take a beautiful trip around Flathead Lake and sample the Bing Cherries at the many stands around the lake. If you are a Golfer, do not pass up Polson's course on the lake. Do you need a more sedate, relaxed first day? If so, then motor down the east-side of the lake to the little town of Big Fork, with its many shops and regional theatre. (Keep in mind that the Swan River is just around the corner, although I would recommend a fishing guide, as access is difficult. Many guiding companies are available to the hungry fisherman who experiences a Mac Attack and wants to fish the lake for lake trout.) I would recommend staying in Polson for Day 2. Stay at the Best Western KwaTaqNuk if you want to do some gambling.

Day 2: Rested and ready to go? Do you want a whitewater adventure on the Flathead River below Polson or a visit to the National Bison Range near Moise. Established in 1908 to protect American bison, this grasslands park is home to bison, deer, elk, antelope and big horn sheep. The refuge offers a big canvass for the artist or photographer in the family. Do you need to cool off? Picnic and swim in the crystal clear waters of Flathead Lake at Polson's city park.

Day 3-5: It is time to see Glacier National Park. If you are on a budget, the park offers great campsites, and outside the park your family will find many RV parks and campgrounds, along with many "tourist traps", as my father reminded his children when we drove by the Mysterious House, the Snake Emporium, and the motorized go-cart track. Day 3 should be devoted to a self-guided tour of the park or with one of the tour companies. If you are going to take the Going-to-the Sun Road and want to get out and walk the trails to see the Billy Goats, start early as mid-summer the parking lot gets full.

Day 4 should include a day hike into one of Glacier's beautiful lakes. (Dad, be sure to bring your fly rod along.) Day 5 should be devoted to a family adventure. Depending on your pocketbook, your family could experience a helicopter tour of the park, a scenic float down the North Fork or a guided trip down the Middle Fork of the Flathead River. Another option is to book lodging in the park at the Many Glacier Hotel or at Swift Current Lake and take a cruise with Glacier Park Boat Company, which offers boat excursions at Many Glacier Lake, Rising Sun Lake, Two Medicine Lake and Lake McDonald.

Day 6-7: If your time is limited to two weeks, it is time move to another location. Your next stop is the Seeley-Swan recreation corridor. The Seeley-Swan is a beautiful valley sandwiched between the Swan Mountain Range and the Bob Marshall Wilderness. If you like backpacking, this is a must-stop visit. If you like swimming, canoeing, biking, fishing, golfing and luxurious resorts, you will wish you had more time to spend in the Seely-Swan.

Day 8: Follow Highway 200 to Missoula along the Blackfoot River of "A River Runs Through It" fame. You could spend the entire day fishing or visiting the Garnet ghost town. Pack a lunch and don't rush to Missoula. It is just another city less than a hundred miles away. But if you need a city fix or a Moose Drool Beer, your trip will be short. Stay in Missoula.

Day 9: Take Interstate 90 east from Missoula and exit at Montana's famous, blue-ribbon Rock Creek. Follow the creek all the way to the mining town of Philipsburg. Yes, it is a dirt road and bumpy in places, but the fishing, I mean driving, is well worth getting off the Interstate. After all, you do want to see as much of the "Last Best Place" as possible. From Philipsburg, drop down to Anaconda along the scenic byway. Spend the night in Butte, Montana.

Day 10: Well, folks, we're running out of time. Day 10 needs to be a driving day--about an hour and a half total driving time. However, are you really going to pass up the Three Forks of the Missouri River State Park or the Buffalo Jump? Spend your evening in Bozeman, which offers great shops and fine restaurants.

Day 11: From Bozeman take Highway 191, The Gallatin Gateway, to West Yellowstone. The entire trip is stunning in its scenery and fishing opportunities. Stay in West Yellowstone and just have fun.

Day 12-13: Yellowstone National Park

Day 14: Bid Montana farewell and fly home from Bozeman, Montana. Oh, you say you need more time to fish. Well, that's easy - spend another week in Yellowstone National (fishing) Park!

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