Category Archives: Activities

Montana National Forests


National Forests are a huge resource in Montana. The state has 16,893,000 acres of national forests. These forests cover 18% of the total land area in Montana. Most of the national forest lands in Montana are in the western mountainous parts of the state.

national forests MT
National Forests, Montana. Courtesy National Forest Service.


The National Forest Service manages ten (10) national forests in Montana. By name, the national forests:

  • Beaverhead-Deer Lodge National Forest
  • Bitterroot National Forest
  • Custer National Forest
  • Flathead National Forest
  • Gallatin National Forest
  • Helena National Forest
  • Idaho Panhandle National Forest (smidgen in Mont.)
  • Kootenai National Forest
  • Lewis and Clark National Forest
  • Lolo National Forest

The national forests in Montana are often spread across large geographical areas. But the forests are not always in a single block of land. Segments of the the Beaverhead-Deer Lodge National Forest are large tracts, separated by land holdings of other parties, for example.

Trees dominate the landscape in Montana’s national forests. In addition, many species of shrubs and other plants are common. The forests are also a refuge for an abundance of wildlife, including mammals and birds. Lakes, rivers, and streams in the national forests have a variety of fishes.

Most of the trees are conifers, about 17 types, including pines, spruce, and firs. Douglas-fir, lodgepole pine, and ponderosa pine are common conifer species. One estimate says that 66% of the trees in western Montana forests are conifers. Conifers have needle-like leaves. Conifers give forests a dark-green appearance.

About five (5) species of hardwoods (broadleaf trees) grow at lower elevations. Hardwoods have broad leaves. Areas with broadleaf trees tend more toward lighter green. Aspen is especially beautiful in the fall season, when its leaves are brightly colored yellow and orange.

As for mammals, mule deer, white-tailed deer, lynx, mountain lion, elk, and black bear are common. In some forests, moose, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, grizzly bears, and gray wolves, may roam the land. Each national forest in Montana tends to have its own special mix of wildlife.

Among the various fishes, anglers especially seek several species of trout: Rainbow Trout, Brook Trout, and Western Cutthroat Trout. Mountain Whitefish is another common species. Less common are Arctic Grayling, Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout, and Lake Trout.

Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks Website shows the range for each species. Consult FWP’s Field Guides. Research will reveal the kinds of wildlife and fishes which inhabit various geographic areas of the state.

Douglas fir is a common conifer in Montana’s forests. Photo courtesy National Forest Service.


Indian Painbrush
Indian Paintbrush. Photo courtesy National Park Service.


great horned owl
Great Horned Owl. Photo courtesy NPS.


Beaverheed NF
Fun on a lake in Beaverhead-Deer Lodge National Forest. Photo courtesy National Forest Service.


Flathead NF
Flathead National Forest. Photo courtesy National Forest Service.


Beaverhead NF
Beaverhead-Deer Lodge National Forest, Photo courtesy National Forest Service.


Kootenai cabin
Rustic cabin in Kootenai National Forest in Montana. Cabin owned and rented by U.S. Forest Service. Photo courtesy U.S. Forest Service.

For the public, Montana’s national forests are highly valued for recreation. Opportunities for picnicking, camping, bird watching, hiking, skiing, fishing, biking, boating, horseback riding, hunting, scenic drives and more are found in national forests.

Before heading out to a national forest, get good maps for the areas you want to explore. The United States Geological Survey (USGS) sells maps for each national forest. Cost is $14 per map plus a handling charge.

Lolo NFS map
Map Ninemile Ranger District Lolo National Forest.

Some maps may be available at National Forest District Offices at various locations, such as the Missoula Ranger District Office (24 Fort Missoula Road) 406-329-3750. Commercial vendors, such as sporting goods stores in western Montana also may carry and sell maps of local national forests. The National Forest Service provides online Interactive maps which are useful, too.

Use NFS Website to find Websites of national forests in Montana (listed above). A navigation box labeled “Find a Forest or Grassland” appears on the right side of the National Forest Service’s Homepage.  Forest Service Websites have information on recreation opportunities, maps & publications, and more.

The Forest Service does not charge for general access to Montana’s national forests. But a recreation fee may be charged for specific facilities, such as campgrounds and cabins, and special services. At Custer-Gallatin National Forest, the fee in 2020 for use of Canyon Campground, $7. For Porcupine Cabin, $45. Other fees may apply.

In some cases facilities are free. Kootenai National Forest in northwest Montana has around 600 basic campsites with little or no development. All are free.

When fishing or hunting in Montana national forests, regulations of Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks apply. A non-resident fishing license, 12-years of age and older, is only $42.50 for two consecutive days. A Montana fishing license is easy to snag at most local sporting goods stores.

Nothing will break a family’s budget, when using national forests in Montana.  Fully explore if fees are charged before you go. And remember, if fees are charged, you get some nice facilities and services as part of the deal. Reservations can be made on a site called

More generally, visitors to national facilities can buy an Interagency Annual Pass.  This pass is good for visiting federal sites in Montana and other states. $80. A best deal is an Interagency Annual Senior Pass for $20, if 62 or older.

If you are planning to visit national parks, consider: The standard entry fee for a seven-day pass at Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks is $35. Seniors, 62 or older, can save big with an Annual Senior Pass, only $20.

Forest Service pass


Interagency Senior Pass

Check for details on the NFS’s Website:

Selected National Forest Service Offices in Montana:

  • Beaverhead-Deer Lodge NF, Butte (406) 683-3900
  • Custer Gallatin NF, Billings (406) 255-1400
  • Custer Gallatin NF, Bozeman (406) 587-6701
  • Helena NF, Helena (406) 449-5490
  • Kootenai NF, Libby (406) 293-6211
  • Lewis & Clark NF, Great Falls (406) 791-7700
  • Lolo NF, Missoula (406) 329-3750
  • Bitterroot NF, Hamilton (406) 363-7100
  • Flathead NF, Kalispell (406) 758-5204

Montana’s national forests may be overlooked by some visitors. But the potential for enjoyable recreation is almost limitless. Visit your national forests!
Copyright © 2020 John Sandy

Luxury Ranches and Resorts


Are you ready for a luxury vacation? If so, four high-end guest ranches and resorts in the mountains of southwest Montana are ready to welcome you.

• Triple Creek Ranch in the Bitterroot Valley, near Darby, Montana, offers much fun. (406) 821-4600
• The Resort at Paws Up near Greenough, Montana, 35 minutes northeast of Missoula, rivals the best. (877) 580-6343
• The Sage Lodge a few miles south of Livingston, Montana is sparkling new. (855) 400-0505.
• The Silver Bow Club near Butte offers has abundant activities for guests in a beautiful setting. (406) 491-2157

These Luxury vacation destinations offer extra nice lodging, great cuisine, and activities galore, all in beautiful surroundings. Best of all, highly trained staff are eager to help and guide you at every turn. Prices at luxury guest ranches and resorts are high; still, for those rolling in the dough, the experience is well worth the cost.

Triple Creek Ranch offers wellness treatment, stocked trout ponds, fitness center, swimming pool, tennis court, horseback riding, hiking trails, and more. A wine cellar will satisfy the most discerning oenophile. If that’s not enough, off-ranch activities (for an extra fee) such as guided fly-fishing, trap shooting, mountain biking, whitewater rafting, and cattle driving, and golfing, can be arranged.

The Resort at Paws Up offers mountain biking, cross-country skiing, archery, tennis, nature hikes, fitness center, and more. If you like to learn new things, this is the place to go. You can participate in workshops on photography, wildlife painting, and wilderness skills. Most interesting is Paw’s Up cookbook live culinary series. This activity features talented chefs who share recipes, cooking skills, and what inspires their cookbooks. Chefs at two on-property restaurants prepare exceptional cuisine. For breakfast, be sure to savor the taste of huckleberry pancakes. Plenty of entertainment is another reason why guests come here. This ranch caters to families and kids.

The Sage Lodge has exceptional guest rooms and suites. So nice. A spa is onsite for those who like to be pampered. Guests dine in The Grill at Sage Lodge or in The Fireside Room. On the menu Bison Bolognese, pappardelle, dark roasted hazelnuts, and pecorino, $31. Activities at Sage Lodge include fly-fishing, horseback riding, mountain biking, trail hiking, snowshoeing, and more. The Sage Lodge is in a convenient location near Livingston and Bozeman. Yellowstone National Park is a few miles to the south.

Silver Bow Club is an 1,800-acre paradise, with frontage on the legendary Big Hole River in southwest Montana. Guests can choose to stay in suites, lodge rooms, or log cabins. Activities include fly-fishing, pheasant hunting, horseback riding, trap shooting, ATV riding, and duck hunting. The Silver Bow Club is a classic, with definite western-style flavor and ambience.

Before you go, learn more about these wonderful destinations. Choose the one that best suits your tastes and interests. A lot to consider, cuisine, lodging, activities, and location. No two of these luxury destinations are alike. Still all are excellent.
Copyright © 2020 John Sandy

Many Glacier Campground


Many Glacier Campground is a favorite of many folks who like to stay close to nature in Glacier National Park. The setting is unrivaled in nature with high mountain peaks in view from inside the campground. Swiftcurrent Creek and Lake are nearby.

Many Glacier Campground is located on the east side of the park, along Many Glacier Road which runs east to west inside the park and is a continuation of Glacier Route 3 from near the tiny village of Babb, Montana. Elevation at the campground is about 4,500 feet, so after sunset it can get cool outside.

Many Glacier Campground
Map of area in vicinity of Many Glacier Campground. Map courtesy National Park Service.

The area around the campground is heavily forested. Large lodgepole pine, Douglas fir, quaking aspen, and other vegetation blanket the landscape. Wildlife including bear, bighorn sheep, and moose live in the mountains near the campground.

Space is available for tents and RVs: 109 sites. The campground has potable water, restroom facilities, and bear proof food lockers. Each campsite has a picnic table.

This campground is a good stop for hikers, since Grinnell Glacier, Iceberg-Ptarmigan, Swiftcurrent Pass, and Cracker Lake Trailheads are nearby. Swiftcurrent Nature Trail in this area is an outdoorsy delight.

Many Glacier Trails
Trailheads near Many Glacier Campground. The Many Glacier Campground is near the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn. Map courtesy National Park Service.

For services, Swiftcurrent Motor Inn is a short distance from the campground. The Inn has a restaurant, some groceries and shower facilities (for a fee). More services are available in the town of Babb, about 12 miles east of the campground, outside the east entrance to the park. Babb has general store, gas station, general store, restaurants, and a U.S. Post Office.

Check for details about the Many Glacier Campground on the park’s Website. Notice: NPS says Many Glacier Campground is closed for the 2020 season.

Campgrounds in Glacier National Park have regulations on length of stay and the types of RVs allowed. Other rules for using the park’s campgrounds must be followed, as well.

In addition to Many Glacier Campground, other popular campgrounds in Glacier are at Apgar (west side); Avalanche (west of Continental Divide); and St. Mary’s (east side). All three campgrounds are along Going-to-the-Sun Road inside the park.

Most campgrounds in the park are first-come, first-served, signed up for at entrances to the park. For some campgrounds, however, advanced reservations may be allowed. Check the park’s Website.
Copyright © 2020 John Sandy

Hiking Glacier


Glacier National Park boasts over 700 miles of trails. A hiker’s paradise to be sure. No matter the trail, magnificent scenery can be seen in every direction. Four nature trails are very popular:

  • Forest and Fire
  • Hidden Lake
  • Running Eagle Falls
  • Trail of the Cedars
  • Swiftcurrent Nature Trail

Trails often mentioned by hiking pros are:

  • Iceberg Lake
  • Grinnell Glacier
  • Highline Loop
  • Cracker Lake

The National Park Service wants hikers to have a fun time and an enjoyable experience when hiking in the park.

Highline Trail Glacier NP
Highline Trail, Glacier National Park. Photo courtesy U.S. Department of the Interior.

Some good advice is offered by the National Park Service and hiking professionals:

  • Always take along bear spray
  • Let someone know where you are going (including route), description of what clothing you’re wearing, when you plan to return, and a description of your car (including where parked and license plate number)
  • Don’t count on cell phone service in the park
  • Be prepared to help yourself as help from others may be a long time coming
  • Get familiar with the hazards associated with hiking
  • Learn about the trail(s) you will be hiking on before you go
  • If available carry a map of the trail(s)
  • Always check the weather before heading out on a trail
  • Stay close together with your hiking group
  • Above all always hike with a group for safety

Some good advice to prepare yourself for hiking:

  • Wear suitable hiking shoes
  • Take along first-aid supplies
  • Carry plenty of water
  • Pack some food and ready-to-eat snacks
  • Physically condition yourself for walking in rough, often steep, terrain
  • Tackle only trails that match your abilities and condition
  • Be prepared for changes in weather conditions
  • A light rain jacket and suitable clothing (think layers) are essential
  • Take along sunscreen, a hat, sunglasses, and insect repellent
  • Carry a sturdy water-proof backpack

There are many challenges in hiking Glacier as there would be in any mountainous area. It’s unlike a stroll in a city park. But the rewards that come with hiking Glacier are well worth the effort.

The publishing world has many guides for happy and successful hiking. Read one.


  • Day Hikes of Glacier National Park Map-Guide by Jake Bramante
  • Top Trails: Glacier National Park by Jean Arthur
  • Day Hiking: Glacier National park & Western Montana, by Aaron Theisen

Excellent trail maps by the National Park Service are online.

The authors of Hiking in Glacier have published a very good online guide to 65 trails in Glacier. They did some sifting and came up with a list of the 10 best trails in the park.
Copyright © 2020 John Sandy

Horseback Riding


Montana horseback riding
On a horeback ride in the wilds of Montana. Photo courtesy Summer Star Ranch, Helena.

Horseback riding is an activity many visitors enjoy in Montana. The rider and horse come together in a way nothing else can match. Horseback riding takes skill but anyone with patience can learn. Fun for sure. A bonus, ranches which offer horseback riding are found in scenic areas of the state.

This is an activity that families can enjoy together in the great outdoors. Memories never forgotten. If you stay at a guest ranch, horseback riding is usually part of the package. Ride as often and as much as you like.

For other visitors a short ride, maybe an hour or half-day, is all that’s wanted. Many ranches/outfitters offer this more limited service. A few are listed here. Always contact the ranch/outfitter in advance before arrival to make sure horses and wranglers are available when wanted.

Billings: Bitter Creek Outfitters (406) 855-6075

Absarokee: Paintbrush Adventures (406) 328-4158

Livingston: Bear Paw Outfitters (406) 222-6642

Bozeman/Gallatin Gateway: Broken Hart Ranch (406) 586-5421

Red Lodge: Elk River Outfitters (406) 860-3699

Missoula: Dunrovin Ranch (406) 273-7745

Whitefish: Bar W Guest Ranch (406) 863-9099

Gardiner: Yellowstone Horseback Riding (406) 848-7510

Glacier National Park: Swan Mountain Outfitters (406) 387-4405

Cooke City (near NE entrance to Yellowstone): Skyline Guest Ranch (877) 238-8885

Helena: Summer Star Ranch (406) 461-2659

West Yellowstone:  The Diamond P Ranch (406) 646-0606

Pray (south of Livingston): Rockin’ HK Outfitters (406) 333-4933

Big Sky: 320 Guest Ranch (406) 995-4283
Copyright © 2020 John Sandy