sunset at lake koocanusa

State Sign Challenge: Montana

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After spending three weeks in Idaho, I continued to Montana where I spent close to a month.  I didn’t get my state sign shot until I was leaving Montana on the Beartooth Highway.  Montana is known as the treasure state, so I had Annie where a pot of gold while I donned a grizzly bear mask for the state animal.  The eye holes were not conducive to snapping photos, so this is the best I’ve got.  Let’s see your state sign pics (taken responsibly, of course)!

Montana State Sign on Beartooth Highway

Visiting Montana

As I mentioned, I spent nearly a month in Montana.  Somehow, I failed to snap a picture of my odometer, both coming and going, so I have no idea how much I drove.  After mapping out my general route, I drove at minimum 702 miles, but that doesn’t count my drives to hikes or the times I was driving through Idaho and the road cut into Montana. 

I’d say it was close to 1,000 miles and my month included approximately a week in Eureka, nearly two weeks in the Flathead Valley, and about a week in Red Lodge.  I also peppered in a couple days at Hungry Horse and around a few mining towns on the Pintler-Scenic Byway.

Campsites in Montana

Most of the time, I really wanted internet while camping, so my sites in Montana tended to be close to town.  In fact, Eureka features a free camping area in its downtown, though donations are accepted.  I stayed here a few days, before I checked out a large parking/camping area called Tobacco Flats on Lake Koocanusa. This spot afforded a great view of the lake!

Tobacco Flats on Lake Koocanusa

In the Flathead Valley which includes Kalispell, Whitefish, Bigfork, and Polson, I bounced around.  I spent a few days in the disc golf course lot which was in the forest, a few days at trailheads in Jewel Basin, a day at Walmart, and three nights at a hotel because it was sweltering hot. 

Montana experienced a heat wave with 100 degrees.  While that might not sound that hot to southerners, I did not have air-conditioning unless I was driving, so it was rather miserable at times.

I also stayed a few nights near Hungry Horse Dam and found a decent spot, though not shaded, off the road to Glacier and Heart Lakes Trailhead.  Somehow, I missed the bear that wandered by the van, though some drivers spotted it and warned me!

Near Red Lodge, a lot of camping areas were damaged by the flood, but I found a shaded area around the corner from a trailhead.  It was recommended in the iOverlander app by another camper.  It would have been great if people didn’t park in front of the entrance and block you in and out!  Although, people joining me in campsites has become a regular occurrence.

As I was leaving Red Lodge, I found a popular camping area toward the beginning of Beartooth Highway at the Lake Fork Trailhead.  I’ll have to remember that one for my next visit.

Hikes in Montana

I went on several great hikes in Montana.  Just as I thought it couldn’t get any better, it did!  Wolverine Lake and Bluebird Lake were two favorites in Eureka.  Doris Mountain at Hungry Horse is a must, despite the ridiculous drive.  Crater Lake with its views, wildflowers, and several lakes in Jewel Basin was spectacular!

The huckleberries were out at Glacier Lake and Heart Lake.  Since I had never picked any, I loved this hike.  Emerald and Heather Lakes near Bozeman definitely featured the best wildflowers of the season and as a result, it was popular! And finally, Lower Basin Lake, covered in lily pads, was a treat in Red Lodge.

heather lake near bozeman montana

Small Towns in Montana

Of the towns I visited in Montana, Eureka was a surprise.  It was small, but the surrounding area was quiet with interesting things to see. 

In the Flathead Valley, I definitely preferred Bigfork.  It’s quaint and has an eclectic artsy feel.  Most others would probably prefer the busier resort towns of Kalispell or Whitefish.  If I were doing a girls trip and being a tourist, I would lean toward one of those for the available activities.

Of the mining towns, Phillipsburg, Anaconda, and Butte, I felt Phillipsburg was the most picturesque.  Though with all the historic buildings, they were all enjoyable to see.  Home to a college, Butte felt the busiest.

I made a short stop in Bozeman to visit a friend, and it likely deserves more time.

Red Lodge, with American flags lining the downtown, was truly adorable and great place to finish my Montana tour.

It’s really hard to pick a favorite as they highlighted different things to do.  I would definitely return to the mining towns as I didn’t give them enough time, and to Red Lodge as part of my visit was affected by the flood.

red lodge, montana

Wildlife Spottings in Montana

My wildlife spottings in Montana were limited.  I think my dog Annie gets in the way.  While hiking, I only saw one marmot and a few pikas.  The bears and moose remained hidden.  And I missed the mountain goats that others saw on the Crater Lake Trail.

The deer, especially with their babies, were fun to see, and they were everywhere in Eureka. I even saw one mama with four youngsters which is extremely rare.  I mistakenly took them for granted, as I didn’t see near as many in the rest of the state. Eureka also treated me a wild turkey sighting with several babies and a few bald eagles! 

deer in eureka, montana

Food in Montana

To change things up from hiking.  I made up my own food tour in the Flathead Valley.  I visited a lavender farm, picked cherries, and indulged in cheese and BBQ.  I also snagged some wild huckleberries and tried an Irish pasty which was common food for the miners. 


Trials and Tribulations

Well, I thought I might make through an entire month without Annie puking. I had about one day to go and cautiously told a friend that my dog hadn’t been sick in almost a month. I definitely jinxed myself.  After her third day of diarrhea, she finally had a solid poo, but with worms.

It turns out she had tape worms which is very difficult to diagnose, but fortunately easy to treat.  I got to a vet clinic just before they closed on Saturday, picked up four pills, and voila!

VANgo had a pretty good summer.  It still seems like solar isn’t charging up the battery like it should, but it could be my imagination.  And overall, it was never an issue.  I managed to stay fender bender free too.  No rocks or campsite markers got in the way!

Unique Sightings

As with all my scenic drives through different states, I see a variety of interesting signs.  I particularly liked the sign, “Please park on the grass.”  I had to read that one twice.  Most of the time I see the opposite.

Also, in case you didn’t know, “Dr. Ironside extracts teeth without pain.”  Be sure to visit that dentist!!

The folks at the makeshift shooting range had a unique set up.  The manikin head gave me the heebee jeebies!

Another interesting, though sad sight, were the white cross highway markers.  Montana is one of the few states in the country that honors crash victims with a fatality marker.  Yes, I’ve seen several family made markers, but it was my first time to see official markers.

The well-maintained markers obviously serve at a grieving place for families, but also are a stark reminded to drive safely.

I also liked seeing round hay bails wrapped in a covering that looked like the American flag and seeing some very unique, historic planes at Stonehenge Air Museum near Eureka. I also like the big mining smoke stack in Anaconda that the Washington Monument can fit in.

Musings from the Road

While I don’t think I even had a musing during my three weeks in Idaho.  In Montana, they came flooding out!

  1. I took seeing deer for granted after being blessed to see so many babies in Eureka, my first stop in Montana.
  2. So much for escaping the Dallas heat!
  3. Mosquitos are smarter in Montana than Idaho, or my reaction time cut in half.
  4. Inside VANgo may have been a bigger bug graveyard than the windshield.
  5. I’ve been watching too many China flood reels on IG with giant trucks falling off crumbiling cliffs and washing away in the river.  I kept getting afraid VANgo would tip off the narrow dirt roads.
  6. Who came up with plastic?
  7. Why do they call a baby fish a fry?
  8. I hate when visitor centers don’t have pamphlets outside for after hours.
  9. Sometimes I wish VANgo had a microwave.
  10. $4.83 for diesel. Woohoo!!  Finally below 5 bucks!
  11. I wish I had dog senses.  I’d see a lot more wild animals.
  12. I can’t believe a scenic byway has a 70-mph speed limit.
  13. It’s remarkable how many people are sheep. 
  14. I wish maps color coded dirt roads for drivability.  Black for hardcore jeep driving, blue for high clearance, and green for two wheels. With perhaps a few more categories in between.

Fun Facts About Montana

  • The average square mile of land contains 1.4 elk, 1.4 pronghorn antelope, and 3.3 deer.  These populations outnumber humans in the state.
  • The Montana Yogo Sapphire is the only North American gem to be included in the Crown Jewels of England (I am definitely having Gem Mountain Sapphire Mine send me a bucket of gravel to sapphire hunt).
  • Flathead Lake is the largest freshwater lake in the west.
  • Montana is the only state with a triple divide allowing water to flow into the Pacific, Atlantic, and Hudson Bay. This phenomenon occurs at Triple Divide Peak in Glacier National Park.
  • No state has as many different species of mammals as Montana.

Overall, it was a good trip to Montana.  I may need to add Glacier National Park in one more time, but for now two past visits was enough and seeing a few new areas was enjoyable!  ETB

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Beth Bankhead

Former public finance professional turned award winning travel blogger and photographer sharing the earth's beauty one word and image at a time.

7 thoughts on “State Sign Challenge: Montana

  1. My engagement ring has a yogo sapphire in it! You won’t find yogos at Gem Mountain, though. You’ll find Montana sapphires, but they’re not the same thing. Yogos are only found in Yogo Gulch.

    Sounds like an awesome month in Montana! I’ve enjoyed reading about your many hikes and other explorations, and you’ve given me lots of ideas for where to go on my MT roadtrip next summer.

  2. Sorry should have introduced you to my cousin and her hubby that lives on Flathead Lake. You all would have enjoyed one another.

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