south dakota

Top Things to Do in Hill City

Well, it’s better late than never, I guess.  I’ve taken almost a 3 month hiatus away from my blog with a stint in the hospital (I recommend not getting acute pancreatitis) and a not very smooth move into my townhome.  Then the holidays came and my blog on Hill City, South Dakota had to wait!

Now Hill City is covered in snow, but my soccer peeps and I visited while the black hills glowed in beautiful fall colors at the beginning of October.  It was my second time to the area, the first being 11 years ago during my year-long road trip across the USA. I liked the Black Hills so much I have wanted to return. I finally made it back and already want to return again!

Several small towns pepper the Black Hills, but Hill City was one of my favorites and great base for visiting Crazy Horse, Mt. Rushmore, and more. We spent five days in Hill City, not only exploring the sites nearby, but also driving up to Spearfish and spending some time around there. 

We rented a house on VRBO with a great location outside of Hill City and adjacent to the Mickelson Trail.  It had great views of horses, fall colors and sunsets.  While I very much liked the location, if I had to do again, I’d stay longer and split the stay between Hill City and Spearfish because there is so much to see and do and it eliminates a lot driving.

sunset at lake koocanusa

State Sign Challenge: Montana

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)!


Things to Do in Red Lodge

Red Lodge is a small city located in south, central Montana with a population of approximately 2,200.  It was established in the late 1800’s and relied on coal mining until the Great Depression.  Upon many mines closing, residents turned to bootlegging, selling its “syrup” as far away as San Francisco and Chicago.

The city was linked to Yellowstone National Park after the Beartooth Highway opened in 1936.  This access to the park coupled with the largest coal mining disaster in Montana in 1943, steered the Red Lodge economy toward the outdoors and tourism.

Over time, it’s lovely downtown has been redeveloped, and the red brick buildings donning American flags feature a variety of boutiques, restaurants and hotels. Despite the recent Yellowstone floods which heavily affected the area, Red Lodge is a great little city to visit with many things to do.

lower basin lake

Happy Hiking: Basin Lakes Trail

After spending a few weeks in the Flathead Valley, I moved farther south to Red Lodge, Montana.  Though you can still see many effects from the flood early this summer, the roads and businesses are open, so go support them.

Unfortunately, some of the hikes on the top of my list were not accessible unless I added an additional 8+ miles along a road.  Since those trails were already 10 miles, 18 miles wasn’t in the cards for me.  Fortunately, the Basin Lakes Trail was open, and it was spectacular!


Happy Hiking: Emerald Lake and Heather Lake

After visiting Butte, I made a short stop in Bozeman to visit a Denver friend, Diana, who moved away a few years ago.  It was so great to see her and laugh about how in Colorado we had to be at the trailhead no later than 7am, and in Montana you’re hard pressed to see anyone before noon!

I also got to enjoy a shower and a home cooked meal. That is always nice while being on the road. At David and Diana’s, we had homemade pizza. The pizza was a perfect carb load for my long hike to Emerald Lake and Heather Lake the following day. 


Things to Do in Butte

History of Butte

I feel like I have visited mining towns all summer and Butte, Montana is another interesting one.  Established in 1864 as mining camp, Butte was the first major city in Montana.  It straddles the Continental Divide in the Rocky Mountains is located on the “richest hill on earth”.

Butte once had a population of 100,000 with 20,000 miners and many immigrants.  In fact, today, Butte is home to the largest Irish American population per capita in the United States.  Now, with a population of approximately 35,000 Butte is the 5th largest city in Montana. 

Butte once supplied 25% of the World’s copper and 50% of the United States’ copper.  Through its history, it has produced more than $48 billion worth of ore, mostly copper, but also silver and gold.  As a result of the mining, Butte is the largest superfund site in the USA.


Pintler Scenic Byway – Phillipsburg to Anaconda

So, I camped off the dirt road going to the Glacier Lake Trailhead for few nights while I hiked in Flathead National Forest.  I had little shade, but great cell service which was a pleasant surprise in the wilderness.  A car coming down from the Glacier Lake Trail stopped to warn me that a bear just ran by VANgo!  Ugh, I’m so sad I missed it!!  Annie growled at something, but I did not see a thing.  It’s amazing how quiet they can be.

Anyway, from Condon, I took the scenic route to Butte in Southwestern Montana.  I passed by Seeley Lake which I visited on my road trip across the USA 11 years ago and then dropped down into Drummond where I picked up the Pintler Scenic Byway.

annie at glacier lake with the wind in her face

Glacier Lake and Heart Lake

Having spent the evening in Polson and realizing I had to drive all the way back to Bigfork and then drive back down east of Polson near Condon on a different road, I almost skipped the hike to Glacier Lake and Heart Lake.  That would have been a HUGE mistake!

Getting to Glacier and Heart Lake

The Jewel Basin Hiking Area is an absolute gem, and Glacier Lake and Heart Lake did not disappoint.  The drive to the trailhead is 12 miles down a dirt road.  At the beginning, the road is well graded, but as it climbs, the road narrows and gets rougher.  That said, it is in good condition.


Flathead Food Tour


Of late, I have not spent much time exploring towns while in Flathead Valley.  Whitefish and Kalispell are both very cute but are a little too big for me when I’m flying solo.  They would be perfect if I were to return with friends to be a tourist.  But since I wasn’t being a tourist, and I had been there twice before, I didn’t linger.

That said, it was time to do something aside from hike and take cover in the air-conditioning, so I started my day in Bigfork, after camping nearby at a trailhead off Jewel Basin Road.


Hike to Crater Lake

As I mentioned in a previous post, I ditched VANgo and retreated to a dog friendly hotel for air conditioning.  So much for fleeing the Texas heat.  I ended up in 100 degrees in Montana!?!  As many say, at least it was dry heat.  But when the sun doesn’t set until 10 pm, and it is over 90 degrees in the van in the shade with the windows and doors open for hours on end, dry heat is pretty hot!

Upon showering and enjoying the A/C, I’m reminded no to take such simple pleasures for granted.  Some people still don’t have these modern conveniences.

Anyway, after a few nights in a hotel, I headed toward Bigfork, Montana to tackle Crater Lake.  The 10.8 mile Crater Lake Trail is located 15 miles northeast of Bigfork in the Jewel Basin Hiking Area in Flathead National Forest.  While only 15 miles away, it takes 45 minutes to get there as much of the drive is on a washboard, dirt road.