Thrill to the Thaw

Melt away your cares with springtime adventure.

Most vacationers come to Northwest Montana during the long, hot days of summer or the powder-piled months of winter. But those of us who live here know that spring is a time of unsurpassed wonder and beauty. Every year, the sunny skies and warming temperatures of the season work their miracles on this verdant valley, turning snow to water and beckoning buds from bare branches. Winter’s white blanket transforms into a rainbow of wildflowers. The sky fills with the song of migratory birds.

This is nature’s optimistic hour.

It is also a time of relaxing solitude for visitors and locals. Favorite trails and fishing holes appear once again untouched, beckoning with the promise of fresh discovery. Whatever direction you go from Kalispell, the season’s thaw reveals something new.

BIKE TO THE SUN

Before the summer’s tourists descend on Glacier National Park , there is a window when the snow is nearly clear and before vehicles are permitted on Going-to-the-Sun Road. This window may be closed to drivers, but it is wide open for cyclists who wish to ascend the epic road and delight in the quiet beauty of the park as it comes back to life after a long winter. Waterfalls, wildflowers, green mountain vistas capped with winter’s remaining blanket: it’s all-pleasing to the eye and the soul.

Inside the west entrance of Glacier National Park, start your ascent up the Going-to-the Sun Road from Apgar Visitor Center or the parking lot of Lake McDonald Lodge. Watch the park’s road status for the best days to cycle.

EXPERIENCE LIFE IN FULL COLOR

No sooner does the snow melt than the Flathead Valley erupts in a Technicolor spray of wildflowers. The brilliant yellow sunbursts of arrowleaf balsamroot blanket entire mountainsides, which are spattered here and there with pink bitterroot blossoms, rich red spikes of prairie fire and delicate purple prairie smoke. Under the forest canopy, you’ll find flowers with names evocative of their beauty: shooting stars, fuzzy-tongue penstemon, lady’s slipper orchids.

Good spring wildflower hikes in the area can be found at Lone Pine State Park and Columbia Mountain. The latter trail, accessed off Highway 2 between the House of Mystery and Black Rock Canyon near Columbia Falls, also features a beautiful double waterfall.

You can also marvel at the colors of the season right in Kalispell at Bibler Gardens, a private display garden designed by Louis A. “Sam” Bibler. The extensive gardens — including ponds, waterfalls, sculptures, arboretum and a log stable with a menagerie of miniature animals — are maintained today according to Sam’s desire to preserve the site as a place of lasting beauty that could be enjoyed by the Kalispell community and visitors to the area. Public tours are conducted in the spring and summer. Visit Bibler Gardens online for information.

HOOK UP AT ICE-OUT

The Flathead Valley’s spring melt means some of the most epic fishing of the year. Lake Mary Ronan and Little Bitterroot Lake are two popular spots to fish for rainbow trout at ice-out. Streamers and egg clusters can produce fat, hard-fighting fish bedecked in their brilliant spawning colors. Long, toothy northern pike also get exceptionally aggressive at ice-out, and will attack just about anything. Smith Lake and the Thompson Lakes chain are particularly productive.

Before you book a plane ticket, make sure you check both state regulations and local conditions. Late ice can occasionally delay safe fishing conditions on some lakes. Most small streams are closed to fishing, and rivers have special regulations until the third Saturday in May. Then, the June runoff brings muddy conditions to the rivers. So pick your days with care — and get ready for some unforgettable fishing.

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