Best things to do in Glacier Country Montana

With the largest natural freshwater lake west of the Mississippi, millions of acres of pristine wilderness, and the epic Glacier National Park, Western Montana doesn’t have to do much to impress its visitors. But with that kind of beauty and friendly locals who want to share it, Glacier Country has become one of our favorite places. We’ve road-tripped Montana extensively and upon revisiting areas like Missoula, Flathead Lake, and Glacier National Park, it seemed as fresh as ever because of the awesome Montanans behind each place.

Rather than writing another generic “best things to do in Glacier Country” article, we wanted to go deeper in our selection of top attractions, hotels, restaurants, shops. Instead, we’ve pinpointed the small businesses whose creative offerings and incredible hospitality make each place so special and a road trip that much better. From the fifth-generation farmer making grain-to-glass whiskey in Missoula to the Blackfeet guide risking it all to share Glacier National Park’s First Nation story, allow us to introduce you to the Best of Glacier Country. They look forward to meeting you too.

The Hip Strip, Missoula

Hip Strip, Missoula's best shopping

A university town and the second biggest city in Montana, Missoula has a cosmopolitan-meets-mountain culture that we love. There are awesome indie businesses all over town, but no street says it better than The Hip Strip. Stretching from the intersection of Brooks and Higgins to the south end of the Higgins Street Bridge, this unique collection of shops is 100% locally owned and operated, and wonderfully Missoula. Like Strongwater Mountain Surf, which nurtures the unsuspecting surf culture that’s formed from the Clark Fork’s consistent waves, or the Jeannette Rankin Peace Center, which aims to build a socially just and environmentally sustainable world through thoughtful and funny gifts. (My favorite was that Revolutionary War flag with the coiled snake, with their take on it: “No one is treading on you, sweetie.”) And vintage shops like Betty’s Divine and Rockin Rudy’s Record Heaven made this place a joy to shop.

Missoula Travel Tips

Best of Glaicer Country

Missoula could certainly warrant its HoneyTrek blog for shopping, dining, and adventures along their four rivers and surrounding mountains. But to get you started, eat breakfast at Veera’s Donuts (all vegan and un-BE-lievable), caffeinate with freshly roasted coffee at Clyde’s, sip grain-to-glass cocktails at Montgomery Distillery, fine dine alfresco at Scotty’s Table, line dance the night away at Union Club, and get a fabulous night’s sleep at The Wren.

Meridian Farm & Forge, Mission Valley

Best Farmstays in montana

We always love to add glamping to our travel itineraries and Meridian Farm & Forge embodies everything we love about this experiential lodging style. Not just a place for guests to sleep, Meridian is a working flower farm, blacksmithing studio, and the collective dream of a husband & wife team pursuing their artistic passions. We stayed in Meridian’s adorable yurt, decorated with Zach’s metal sculptures and Danielle’s floral arrangements, and soaked up views of the gorgeous Mission Mountains. Then we got to try our hand at their crafts. Danielle showed us the best flowers to harvest and the art of wreath making, and Zach taught us how to forge raw metal into our new favorite bottle opener!

We celebrated by opening their homebrewed mead and sharing dinner made from veggies grown in their garden. It was such a lovely stay, one that sent us away with new skills and new friends. Don’t miss the video above for magic of this place.

Mission Valley Travel Tips

nine pipes museum of early montana

Stop at Ninepipes Museum of Early Montana, to learn more about the region’s first peoples–from the Kootenay, Salish, and Pend d’Oreille, to the Western pioneers with their interesting artifacts and interpretive trails. 

Miracle of America Museum, Polson

best roadside attractions in America

If the name alone doesn’t turn your head, the World War II fighter planes, 65-foot logging towboat, and wild assortment of relics in the Miracle of America parking lot will have you pulling over for a closer look. Not sure what we were getting into, we read the sign on the front door and it swung open. Gil, the founder and lifelong collector behind this nonprofit welcomed us into his world…40 historic buildings filled with over 340,000 pieces of Americana! “When I was three years old, I found my first arrowhead it felt like a treasure, said this sweet older gentleman, “I want to share that joy of discovery with others.”

He led us through the maze of artifacts and vintage vignettes…an old-time soda fountain, gas station, hair salon, and even a spaceship landing strip. It seemed like anything was possible here. “This is my roots section,” he said pointing to a smattering of trinkets from around the globe. “America is from everywhere, so whenever people bring me things from their home country, I welcome that piece of our story.” We’re not sure what was better at this roadside attraction…the artifacts themselves or meeting this one-of-a-kind character.

2FlyUs Hot Air Ballooning, Flathead Valley

2flyus hot air balloons

Floating anywhere in a hot air balloon would be romantic, but with views of Western Montana’s jagged mountains, the vast Flathead Lake, fall foliage, and a glimpse into Glacier National Park, we knew this balloon ride would be a dream. We met husband and wife team Kevin & Debbie Flanagan of 2FlyUs, and their zest for life was immediately evident. “My father used to say that if you find something you love to do, you’ll never work a day in your life,” Kevin told us as we drove to the take-off site, “so I guess, I haven’t had a job in 30 years.” 

Together they rolled out the 84-foot-long balloon, then fired up the fan to fill it with air and the flames to make it rise. Just four guests and our pilot Kevin boarded the basket, as Debbie sped off on a photo safari to capture us from below. We soared a mile high for eye-level views of the mountains and a glimpse into Glacier National Park. We dipped down to catch our colorful reflection in the river and teardrop silhouette against the trees. 

Kevin shared a bit about the history of flying, a solid geography lesson on the region, and their adventures as a family of balloonists. Fun fact, the Flanagan’s daughter is now the youngest balloonist in the country at 17 years old! And when winter comes in Montana, they snowbird down to Arizona to share their love of ballooning year-round. They were clearly living their best life, doing a job that makes a guest feel like they are doing the same.

Flathead Valley Travel Tips

Spending time on Flathead Lake is certainly one of the best things to do in Glacier Country Montana. We spent days exploring the lake on our last trip and had an incredible time kayaking to Wild Horse Island, cherry picking at the fifth-generation Bowman Orchard, and glamping at Camp Kapapa right on the water. Read all about things to do on Flathead Lake here.

Western Outdoor, Kalispell

Western Outdoor Kalispell

Kalispell has one of those perfect Western main streets with charming shops adorned with flower boxes and lit with wrought-iron lamp posts. But if the walls of those false-front buildings could talk, they’d have some Wild-West stories to tell…particularly at Western Outdoor. This 1890s building was once a pool hall, opera house, and shooting range…and for the last 45 years, it’s been the area’s premier western wear outfitter thanks to the Pirrie family. 

It was the legit stagecoach on the second-story landing that caught our eye, but when we walked in, it was the aisles of 2,500 cowboy boots! Wandering the maze of shoes in every color and embellishment, led us through an archway to an old-time soda fountain with spinning stools and a grand bar. When the Pirries’ daughter-in-law Beth joined the family, they decided to buy the neighboring Norm’s Soda Fountain and reconnect the 19th-century building. We bellied up for a yummy breakfast burrito which they reimagined as a delicious vegan meal for us. History, surprise, delight, and Western hospitality, that’s what this place is all about. 

Kalispell Travel Tips

Main street Kalispell is among the best things to do in Glacier Country, Montana

For more gems on Main Street, head to Sassafras Art Coop features all Montana artists, working in every medium, from ceramics to watercolors in another beautiful historic building. For any of your adventure needs, or just to get tips from true outdoorsmen, pop into Rocky Mountain Outfitters. The team is so knowledgeable and sweet, they gave us tons of local hiking and kayaking tips! And last but not least, have a drink at Moose’s Saloon. With every surface etched with patrons’ signatures from their 66 years in business and serving frosty mugs of beer and peanuts, you can throw on the floor, it’s a dive bar dream! Want to stay the night? Try the perfectly situated and chicly appointed Sherman Lodge TK.

Zero-Waste Farmers Market, Whitefish

Whitfish's zero waste farmers market

We arrived at Whitefish on farmer’s market day, just when their community spirit shines brightest. Whitefish is a premier ski resort town and they’ve wisely used that success to invest in the environment and community. They’ve recently added 17 EV charging stations, planted pollinator gardens with native plants, and created a composting program through Explore Whitefish’s sustainability grant. 

Though the sustainability initiative we loved most? A zero-waste farmer’s market and celebration of good food and local art! On Tuesdays from early May through September, the beautiful Depot Park is lined with vendors —produce, international foods, and handmade crafts—all using compostable or recyclable packaging and nary a single-use plastic! For dinner, we opted for buddha bowls at “Wild Child.” The owner handed us a long list of ingredients, “Pick as many as you want, no extra charge.”  Edamame, avocado, almonds, cucumbers, sesame, seaweed salad, tofu…we got it all! The generosity of this meal and everything about this sunset market, made our night.

Whitefish Travel Tips

Whitefish Lake Glacier Country Montana

Whitefish is on a stunning lake, the remains of an ice-age glacier. Enjoy it from the sandy City Beach or the lake’s two state parks. Drive up the east side to play the scenic Smith Lake Disc Golf Course, funded by local businesses. No matter how you spend your day on Whitefish Lake, it’s one of the best things to do in Glacier Country, Montana

Dan d’ Lion Eatery, Hungry Horse

Best vegan restaurants in Montana

As a vegan, it can be tough traveling through rural areas, so when Dan d’ Lion Eatery appeared along the highway to Glacier National Park, we could not have been more excited. Meg Blakney was a caterer for decades and noticed the growing number of people with gluten allergies and guests preferring plant-based dishes. She didn’t just want to leave them hanging with a salad, so she started the Earth Angel Organics food line and ultimately this gluten-free, plant-based, 95% organic, and ultra-delicious restaurant. 

Meg was behind the counter, in the kitchen, and waiting tables, but as busy as she was, came over to our table with a big smile to tell us about the day’s specials in detail. “Today, we have Lebanese Garden Hash, made of green bean, potatoes, and zucchini in a tomato sauce of cumin, nutmeg, cardamom, and cinnamon. It’s served over millet rice and topped with edamame and toasted pumpkin seeds.” Say no more, Meg. We ordered that and their pizza just to see how good gluten-free, dairy-free pizza with homemade vegan sausage could be. The answer? Incredible. We got chatting with Meg about her kitchen garden of experimental varietals and when we asked her about her inspiration to create this restaurant as a non-vegan she said, “People with dietary restrictions deserve to eat well too.” No matter your favorite way to eat, you’ll love Meg’s style.

Sun Tours, Glacier National Park

Native American tours are among the best things to do in Glacier national park

Before Glacier became a National Park, UNESCO Biosphere, and International Peace Park, it was home to the Blackfeet Nation. They believe it to be the “Backbone of the World” and it remains the most sacred place in their culture, but those stories weren’t being heard until the founder of Sun Tours, Ed DesRosie, raised his voice. He was determined to run tours led by the knowledge keepers in his tribe–despite getting his concessionaire license denied and getting fined for leading tours anyway. Three years of legal battles and protests later, the park realized the importance of Sun Tours’ perspective. Flashforward 30 years, Ed has served on the Montana Governor’s Tourism Advisory Council and earned a spot among the “Native Business Top 50 Entrepreneurs.”

We joined Sun Tours’ East Glacier half-day tour. At the St Mary Visitor Center, 30 minutes from the headquarters of the Blackfeet Reservation, we boarded our small bus tour with our guide and driver Dan. We ascended the park’s Going To The Sun Road, the 50-mile switchback route, and historic Civil Engineering Landmark. We made stops at stunning lookouts like Jackson Glacier, Bird Woman Falls, and St Mary Lake’s Wild Goose Island. Dan shared the Blackfeet legend of two forbidden lovers being chased onto the island and the Great Spirit turning them into geese to fly away in peace. 

Climbing to 6,000 feet, the mountain peaks swirled with clouds and a flash snowstorm greeted us at the continental divide. Dan navigated the icy roads like a champ while we admired the snow-dusted peaks (another reason we are glad we took their tour!). By the time we returned to St Mary’s Visitor Center, the sun was shining and the autumn leaves were glowing. Dan concluded the tour with a language lesson, teaching us the word “Oki” which means “see you later,” because in Blackfeet culture you never say goodbye. 

Best Things to Do in Glacier National Park

The Crown of the Continent deserves all the hype it gets. Of course, driving Going-to-the-Sun Road for the big overview of the park and pull over at all the photo stops. We’d highly recommend hiking the trails around Two Medicine Lake and gearing up for the 10-mile round-trip to Iceberg Lake, where icebergs literally float in the water into July and you float on top of them like a penguin. To kayak among the reflections of the lakes is a dream, with Swiftcurrent Lake and Two Medicine Lake offering some of the best views and boat rental operations. If you have your own kayak, take this pro tip from our friends at Rocky Mountain Outfitter to paddle from McDonald Lake down McDonald Creek…next time! For more summertime ideas and one of our favorite travel stories check out our Facebook Gallery from our previous trip.

Museum of the Plains Indian, Browning

Museum of the Plains Indian, Browning Montana

Most people don’t go east of Glacier National Park, but that’s the heart of the Blackfeet Reservation and home to one of the best museums on Plains Indian history and culture. The exhibits of ceremonial clothing, baskets, weapons, toys, and more were in a dazzling array of styles from the Blackfeet, Crow, Northern Cheyenne, Sioux, Assiniboine, and more Plains Indian tribes spanning Canada to Texas. Though The Museum of the Plains Indian is not just a series of history exhibits, there was a contemporary gallery featuring Native American art from around the country and a working studio for local artists.  

Paints, pencils, and palettes were scattered across the tables with finished pieces on display. There were colorful Western scenes painted on top of handwritten journal entries from the turn of the 20th century. This was our first encounter with Native American Ledger Art. Sometimes chosen by Native Americans as a desired canvas for its flourish and portable nature and other times it was the only paper available, like in the jails where Native Americans resistant to reservations were thrown.

We asked the gallery attendant about the price of this gorgeous piece of horse ledger art and she said, let’s ask Ernest. Five minutes later the artist himself appeared from his nearby home and proceeded to share the meaning of his Ledger Art and sparked our fascination with the legacy of this medium. We purchased a piece of Ernest Marceau’s work, and as a thank you he gave us two sketches done on Museum of the Plains Indian Letterhead…a perfect canvas and keepsake from our time together. 

Best Time to Go to Montana

Best things to do in Glacier country montana

Montana has a proper four seasons, with excellent skiing and a bounty of water sports, but to us, going in September felt like the sweet spot. Gorgeous fall foliage gave our trip an incredible backdrop and the shoulder season meant there were no crowds, particularly in the wildly popular Glacier National Park. Come after September 10th and you won’t need a park reservation, you can easily get last-minute lodging, and all services are still open through the month. 

Whenever you get to Montana, be sure to check out the small businesses above for the best things to do in Glacier Country and let them know Mike & Anne say hello! 

Many thanks to Glacier Country Tourism for inviting us to return to their region and share stories of its beautiful places and people! As a part of our Bloggers Give Back initiative, we’ve donated to FAST Blackfeet and Five Valleys Land Trust to show our appreciation to the community.

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8 Comments

  1. Isabellita Pabalan says:

    Montana is breathtaking! So great to hear the locals were so friendly and made your trip that much more awesome!

    1. Montana is so stunning. And by connecting with locals and the best of their local businesses we have an even deeper connection with this place.

  2. Ntensibe Edgar says:

    Nnniiccceeee…I would love to visit the Meridian farm. How cool you got to learn to blacksmith and flower arrange…I look forward to visiting!

    1. Edgar, love that you picked up on the magic of Meridian Farm 🙂 It’s such a special place to stay.

  3. Renata Feyen says:

    Love the personal touch you’ve added in highlighting small businesses, made me feel the warmth of each locale. thanks for sharing these gems!

    1. So glad you liked this take on our things to do in Glacier Country blog! Even in a destination this beautiful, people make the place 🙂

  4. Your your guide to Glacier Country, Montana was truly exceptional! The vivid descriptions and insider tips made it easy to plan our trip. The breathtaking scenery and hidden gems you highlighted enriched our experience. Thank you for sharing your expertise!

    1. Awww thank you so much for your kind words! We worked hard to share the true essence of Glaicer Country, so we are glad it paid off 🙂

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