Between Yellowstone and Glacier national parks lies a landscape of discovery
When you think of Montana, what do you picture? Skyscraping ranges of snowcapped rock? Historic cultural centers that tell of a proud, self-determined West? A cowboy tipping his hat to you as he passes on a boardwalk? Herds of elk grazing in waist-deep bunch grass? A sky so wide it seems to swallow you up?
If that’s what comes to mind, you’re picturing Southwest Montana, a region that holds the best of what Montana is about.
This is the region of Montana sandwiched between the snow-crowned peaks of Glacier National Park to the north and the geological marvels of Yellowstone National Park to the southeast. At its center are Helena and Butte, cornerstones of Montana’s history. South of those welcoming cities lies the famed Trout Triangle, hallowed among fly-fishermen around the world.
Here you will feel worlds away from the bustle of urban life. You’ll meet a diverse mix of friendly people – shopkeepers, historians, ranchers, miners, fly anglers, cowboys (and girls) and more. You’ll have opportunities to glimpse the same wildlife Lewis and Clark marveled at more than two centuries ago – elk, black bears, mule deer, moose, golden eagles and perhaps even a gray wolf. And you’ll find a treasure trove of places to rest your head, from simple cabins in the woods to lavish Western resorts.
It wasn’t always this easy to love this place. In the hardscrabble early days of settlement in Montana, when the gold ran out, the people often did, too. See for yourself with a visit to places including Virginia City, Nevada City, Bannack and Garnet – some of the best-preserved 19th-century ghost towns in the American West.
Of course, European Americans were not this region’s first residents. Southwest Montana encompasses the traditional hunting grounds for many native people, stretching back more than a thousand years. For visitors who seek a connection to those traditional cultures, make sure to time a September visit around the North American Indian Alliance Pow Wow (held in Butte) or the Last Chance Community Pow Wow (in Helena). These gatherings provide a powerful means for native and nonnative people alike to experience an unforgettable immersion in the colorful regalia, captivating dancing and moving music of a traditional powwow.
While most visitors come in the summer, this is a region renowned for its winter beauty and wealth of activities. The region’s three ski areas – Discovery Basin, Great Divide and Maverick Mountain – offer uncrowded slopes and an unpretentious vibe. Windswept Canyon Ferry Reservoir is considered one of the best places in America to try your hand at iceboating. Georgetown Lake, near the historic mining town of Philipsburg, is a popular snowkiting area. And both of those lakes offer fantastic ice fishing for trout, kokanee salmon and other species.
Whenever you come, plan ample time. There’s simply too much to do and see, too many adventures to have.
The Montana you have in mind is the one you’ll find in Southwest Montana.