Postcard-worthy hikes, drives and scenery just outside the beloved national park.
A trip to or through Northwest Montana surely has its must-do’s and those definitely must include an adventure in Glacier National Park — a Red Bus ride over Going-to-the-Sun Road, a breathtaking hike, a boat ride on an iconic lake, or a rocking-chair afternoon on the deck of one of the park’s historic lodges.
But beyond the boundaries of Glacier, the epic scenery doesn’t suddenly end. The national park is part of one of the largest continuous intact ecosystems in the country, known as the Crown of the Continent, with a total of 10 million acres encompassing Glacier’s million.
And in all that vastness you’ll find quiet trails, abundant wildlife sightings and breathtaking scenery that are just as postcard ready.
Here are three places just beyond Glacier National Park worthy of your trip itinerary:
Jewel Basin, Flathead National Forest
Consistently ranked by locals as one of the best places for a day hike, the Jewel Basin Hiking Area within the Flathead National Forest is more than 15,000 acres of pristine wilderness and includes 35 miles of easy-access trails, 27 alpine lakes and summit views of four mountain ranges. With no motorized traffic, bikes or horses allowed, the trails are reserved solely for hikers; and although dogs are not allowed on the trails of Glacier National Park, they are welcome here — on a leash, of course. The hiking area’s popular Camp Misery Trailhead is about a 30-minute drive east of Kalispell and south of Glacier.
And beyond the Jewel Basin, the entire Flathead National Forest is worthy of exploration. Learn more about hiking, backpacking and other recreating in the national forest.
Hungry Horse Reservoir
The crystal-blue waters of Hungry Horse Reservoir stretch just southwest of Glacier and 20 miles northeast of Kalispell. The dam is the 10th highest in the country; it helps control the water flow of the Flathead River and stores water for the Columbia River Power System. A drive along shore offers amazingly scenic views of the reservoir and 25 surrounding mountain peaks. The west shore is easily accessible by driving south off U.S. Highway 2 from the town of Hungry Horse. The road is paved for the first 11 miles and is also popular with cyclists. On your day trip, stop for a picnic at one of the recreational areas, take a swim or fish.
The Hungry Horse Visitor Center, located on the north end of the dam about 4.5 miles south of U.S. Highway 2, is open daily for tours from the end of May through beginning of September.
Another body of water not to be missed while visiting Kalispell and Glacier is Flathead Lake. The largest freshwater lake west of the Mississippi offers opportunities for beautiful scenic drives on both its west and east shores and quaint villages worthy of relaxed afternoons. And with six state parks dotting its 185-mile shoreline as well as numerous other public access areas, it’s easy to find the perfect spot to swim, fish, kayak or stand-up paddleboard. Motor boats, personal water crafts and sail boats can be rented from many of the arenas around the lake.
For an adventure of a lifetime, pack a picnic and rent or charter a boat to Wild Horse Island State Park. The island was once used by the Confederated Salish-Kootenai Tribes to pasture horses and today is home to numerous wildlife species including bighorn sheep, bald eagles and even a band of wild horses. Hiking trails span the 2,000-acre island for further day-use exploration.
Of course, the adventure beyond Glacier doesn’t stop there. For additional recreational opportunities and recommended places for exploring Northwest Montana, please visit here.
Photo credit: Noah Couser