Montana, the Big Sky State, is home to some of the most beautiful photography spots in the world. Many of these underrated views are within an hour drive from Montana’s second largest city, Missoula. Here are a few of my favorite Missoula spots:
Mount Sentinel “M” Trail
This is probably the most iconic of Missoula views. The trailhead for the widely popular “M” Trail is right on campus, and a 30-minute hike will give you some of the best views possible of the valley.
2. Mount Jumbo
The Mount Jumbo hike is a bit longer than the “M” Trail, but certainly worth it for a lesser known lookout of the city.
3. Blue Mountain Recreation Area
Blue Mountain is a great area for a morning dog walk or a round of frisbee golf. This beautiful area is just a 10-minute drive from the city and has some amazing views of the South Hills.
4. Pattee Canyon
The Pattee Canyon road goes from the southeast corner of Missoula all the way to Bonner, Montana. Just be careful on the roads in winter.
5. “Top of the World”
“Top of the World” is the easiest of these spots to access. Simply drive all the way up Whitaker Drive and loop back down on Spanish Peaks Drive. Make sure to check out this view before the area is completely covered in real estate developments.
Just 3 hours away from Missoula, Montana sits one of the most pristine and beautiful national parks in the west: Glacier National Park. Planning a weekend trip to GNP in the fall season can be a challenge with the park’s fast-changing mountain weather and wildfire conditions.
Although these can be tricky problems to work around, a visit to GNP during these unpopular times provides an experience unlike any other with minimal traffic, trails to yourself, access to abundant wildlife, and beautiful fall colors. Next time you are planning a trip to Glacier, consider a September or early October visit – you will not be disappointed! If you happen to find yourself in GNP during fall season, here are a few of the must-visit destinations:
Morning Coffee @ Many Glacier Lodge
Kick off the early morning after a night of camping at Many Glacier Lake Lodge. Grab a coffee at the lakeside coffeeshop run by world travelers and sit beside a roaring fire overlooking the lake.
Grinnell Glacier Hike
One of the most rewarding hikes on the east side of the park is Grinnell Glacier. This 7.5 mile out-and-back hike stretches along side bright blue glacial lakes and rocky cliffsides marked burnt orange mountain ash trees and alpine meadows. The trail climbs to a perched valley where you will find Upper Grinnell Lake, where the smallest remaining glacier sits in the park: Gem Glacier. The backdrop of Upper Grinnell Lake is called ‘the Garden Wall’ and is part of the continental divide.
Located in prime bear habitat, it is common to see grizzly bears on the distant hillsides of this 10-mile hike. This moderately difficult hike to the lake includes small crossings over footbridges through alpine meadows. A family of moose inhabit the area surrounding IceBurg Lake and can be seen resting in the shade. If you are brave enough, go for a swim in the glacial waters!
Drive the Going-To-The-Sun Road @ Sunset
During peak season, The Going-To-The-Sun road leading to Logan Pass on both the West and East sides of the park is often the most crowded and trafficked road in the park. However, during fall evenings, the road is completely empty – meaning you can pull over, take photos, and view wildlife on your own time! Bring your binoculars to spot birds of prey, big horn sheep, mountain goats, and bear along the way.
Huckleberry Milkshakes @ Two Sisters Café
Treat yourself after a long weekend of hiking and sightseeing with a Montana famous huckleberry milkshake from Two Sisters Café in Babb, MT. This quirky and colorful restaurant makes a perfect pit stop on the way out of the park!
We all heard of the idiom “early bird gets the worm”, probably from your parent, or someone like my friend Michael! I used to, who am I kidding, still am the one who sleeps in till 10 am and can’t fall asleep before midnight.
When I moved to Missoula, MT to study business at the Uni, I
got introduced to a community of fun, down-to-earth and adventures photographers,
which became really good friends of mine! At the end of summer 2017, I was invited
by the supeeeeer duper talented and the sweetest Michael Graef on a VERY early
sunrise exposition (4am kinda early!) somewhere outside of Missoula and as much
as I thought I could pull myself out of bed, I simply couldn’t. But, there was
a time when I agreed to get myself out of bed one morning and meet with the
group that was going. To be completely honest, that was one of the best
decisions I’ve ever made!
On the day to day basis I love sleeping in as much as I can,
but when it comes to getting up to get with a group of creatives, my camera, and
explore new areas I am ALWAYS down!
Few nights ago, I got a message from Michael about going to
the hot springs in the am with a few other friends, and I will likely never
turn down that opportunity, especially on a Wednesday morning when the chances
of us getting an empty pool are very high.
Here are a few of my favorite photos of Meghan from that morning, and you can find some behind the scenes in my “Sunrise” highlights on my Instagram @fotografed_ .
Opened in 1998, the Hiawatha trail is a 15-mile-long bike trail that operates out of Lookout Pass Ski Area right off of I-90 at exit 0. All amenities such as trail passes can be found at the ski area that opens at 8 a.m. The actual main trail for the Hiawatha is actually located 7-miles east of the ski area at exit 5 in Montana. The trail is open roughly from the end of May and closes at the end of September every year.
#2. You don’t need to own a bike to ride the Hiawatha Trail
Okay, that’s a lie, well only slightly. You do need a bike to ride the Hiawatha. However, you do not need to own one personally because you can rent one from the Lookout Pass ski area. Not only can you rent from two choices of mountain bikes for both children and adults, but you can also rent helmets, bike lights and bike trailers.
#3. You will never know what actual time it is
Because the Hiawatha trail main trailhead starts in Montana, but Lookout Pass ski area where you buy your ticket is in Idaho, and Idaho and Montana are in two different time zones it can get very confusing. Now you may be reading this and thinking that it’s logical to just reference Montana time because that’s where the trail starts. But actually half of the trail is in Idaho time because the first tunnel you bike through sends you straight into Idaho from Montana. But then again be warned, I still don’t know this to be 100% because after riding the Hiawatha many times I still am very confused by the time concept.
#4. It’s fun for the whole family
Or in my case my best friend and I because we’re out of state college students. But nonetheless, the Hiawatha trail is a perfect weekend outing for all ages. The 15-mile trail is mostly all downhill so it’s not as strenuous as 15 miles’ sounds. Along with this there are many pullout spots along the trail to take a break, take in the view and have a picnic.
#5. The views are incredible
I personally struggled with staying on the trail because of how pretty the scenery is. If you go later in the season, you’ll be able to see the trees begin to change color. So if you’re somebody who likes to look at everything but where you are going, go slow to avoid a spontaneous trip off the side of the trail.
#6. There is a light at the end of the tunnel
One of the very cool things about the Hiawatha trail is that it use to a continental railroad system, and contains 7 sky high trestles along with 10 train tunnels. Right out of the gate, bikers will bike through the St. Paul Pass Tunnel which is 1.66 miles long. You will be totally consumed by darkness in this tunnel and it gets very cold. Unless you are Bane from the Dark Knight rises, it’s essential that you have a reliable and bright bike light, and no your IPhone flashlight will not suffice. It may sound scary to some, but the tunnels are one of the main attraction on the trail and an experience you don’t want to miss. Also, the acoustics in the St. Paul Pass tunnel will convince you that you should’ve auditioned for American Idol.
#7. Make sure you pack the essentials
As a veteran of the Hiawatha trail I will tell you that it is much more fun if you pack the right things. Some of these necessities for ultimate fun on the trail include a helmet (everyone loves to be safe, also it’s required), gloves (the tunnels get very cold, so gloves come in clutch), a backpack (to hold all your snacks of course), snacks and a sack lunch (to fill your backpack of course. I also recommend packing a pb&j because it’s the one sandwich that taste best smashed), a bright light (if you have one, if not you can rent one), first aid kit (because better safe than sorry) and water (you’ve got to stay hydrated!). Also I recommend dressing in layers because some parts of the trail are more shaded then others which causes some to be colder than others.
#8. Always buy a shuttle pass
A shuttle pass is not required to buy because it’s possible to ride the 15 miles down to the bottom of the trail and then back up, and some people do this. However, from experience the 15 miles back up to the trailhead is a lot harder than the way down because, well, gravity. But when planning ahead purchasing a $9 shuttle pass so that you have the option to ride on the bus back up to the trailhead is never a bad idea. Better safe than sorry right? You never know what may happen to you on your 15-mile ride to the bottom. You may have plans to be an animal that day and go down and back up, but then realize you’re much more tired after the first half of the ride, or realize it took longer than you thought and you’re short on time. Like I said, it’s better safe than sorry, and also who doesn’t love fun facts and stories about the area provided to you by your very knowledge Hiawatha shuttle driver?
#9. Angels do exist on the Hiawatha trail
I recently learned on my past trip on the Hiawatha trail that angels exist. I was about 5 miles into the trail when tragedy struck and I popped a tire. I realized I was probably SOL because I never planned on popping a tire, because who plans on that? With ten more miles to go I began pedaling my sad self down the now extremely bumpy trail. After a mile or so on my embarrassing flat tire, a red haired angel pedaled up next to me on a blue bike and asked if I needed a replacement. Her name was Emma, or as I call her Angel Emma and she was one of the patrols on the trail that assisted the distressed like myself. She quickly worked her magic and replaced my tire and sent me on my way. Thankfully Lookout Pass who operates the Hiawatha trail plans for people to have misfortunes down the trail.
#10. Take your time on the trail and enjoy the ride
The Hiawatha trail has been dubbed the “crown jewel of rail to trail adventures” and a crown jewel of an adventure it is. Not only do you get to be outside exploring beautiful Montana Idaho but you get to be amongst other friendly cyclists! So enjoy the ride and take the whole day to experience it.
Sad you missed your chance to ride the Hiawatha trail this season?
Because I know I would be if I missed it, but thankfully I didn’t! And because I didn’t you can experience parts of my ride in this short video.
Enjoy and visit www.ridethehiawatha.com for more information and to plan your trip next season!