The eight years I spent in Montana were a time of transition. And not transitionary in the usual sense. Montana was where I started to learn to set down roots in one place and become my own self apart from my family or old friends. It’s also a place I continue to go back to, which isn’t really a thing I did before. See, I moved about every three years as a kid and just never returned to those places after I left. So when my best friend from grad school wanted to take a trip this summer, I suggested we do one week in Western Montana.
What follows will be a rough itinerary of our trip day by day. There will be lots of pictures because Montana is a place I could photograph until I die. Montana was the place where I learned to see every places and things with the eyes of a traveler (shoutout to Alain de Botton). It’s somewhere I’m constantly rediscovering through photography, especially as it continues to change as the years pass.
We landed on Saturday, August 6th — me in the morning, my friend in the afternoon. The morning gave me time to do a tour of my old neighbourhood, get coffee and snacks for the trip, and game plan the rest of the day. It was pouring rain when I landed, which took the hike I had planned off the docket. So we did what any rational person would do in the case of bad weather: we got burritos and beers at La Parilla/Shine Beer Sanctuary. (Note that Parilla calls itself La Pa now but I am extremely resistant to change and everything will be called what it was when I was in college).
This was an easy day for us as my best friend had just flown in from Michigan and both of us were a bit sleepy. We grabbed some last-minute supplies (mostly the kind we couldn’t get through TSA in our carry-ons), dinner, and drinks and went back to our AirBnB to watch the sunset and rest.
Day Two found us loaded up in the Jeep and headed out to Fairy Lake. 7 miles down a very bumpy dirt road, it’s not the easiest hike to get to but it is one of my favourites. One of the goals for this trip was teaching my best friend how to hike. I’m a firm believer that anyone can learn to hike at any age. One of the best ways to get outside is to go with someone who can show you the ropes.
Fairy Lake is a 1-mile loop around a lake and about as easy as hikes in Western Montana get. You can also hike in from a few miles out, so there are trails that lead through the woods up to the lake. We did a slight detour onto the outer trail to take in the scenery. Pictures truly never do this state justice.
August is a wonderful time to visit Western Montana as you’re going to see just so many wildflowers everywhere. I was so happy to see one of my favourite varieties on the trail: Indian Paintbrush. Fun fact: Indian Paintbrush is the state flower of Wyoming.
One of my other jobs on this trip was helping my best friend learn more about photography. Just like everyone can hike, everyone can take photos. Knowing more about framing, leading lines, using light and shadow — that takes practice. And there’s no better place to practice photography than Montana. The state is just infinitely photogenic.
Just as the heat of the day started to bear down on us, we finished our 2 miles around the lake and headed back to Bozeman. But not before stopping three or four times to take more photos.
Eating and Drinking
Even having come back to Bozeman in 2019 and 2021, it’s always amazing to me just how much Bozeman is in flux. There’s enough of what I remember about Bozeman that it’s clearly the same town. And yet so much of it has changed that it feels entirely different each time.
That’s a lot of words to say that Dave’s Sushi, my favourite sushi joint and the spot I spent so many nights with friends in college, got a fancy new building. Happy to report that the sushi is just as delicious and the portions as generous as I remember.
The bonus of Montana now having such a huge craft brewery scene is that we can combine two of our favourite things: drinking and being outside. After Dave’s Sushi, we headed to Mountains Walking. The last time I was in Bozeman in 2021 with my kids, I didn’t feel comfortable going to taprooms with just them and me so this was my first time getting to visit any of them.
We also got over to Nordic Brew Works which, yes, I did choose largely for the name. It’s in a big business development down on Huffine that, when my buddy bought a house there in 2009, there was nothing but a few new houses and a gas station. Now it’s entirely built up. Change is weird, man.
After our long day of hiking, eating, and drinking, we headed back to our AirBnB to pack and relax for the long drive to Kalispell.
The normally 6-hour drive ended up taking 8. First, we stopped in Missoula to destroy a couple orders of cheese fries from Hoagieville. We also stopped at a few of the turnoffs around the Mission Mountains. Like this one in Ninepipe that’s somehow always closed when I want to stop at it.
The drive also took forever as we had to divert around the east side of Flathead Lake. See, the thing about summer in Montana? Wildfires. It had been a fairly mild summer but right before we flew in, there was a fairly sizable fire in Elmo along the west side of Flathead. And as fires are unpredictable and it had jumped Highway 93 before, we played it safe and went on the other side.
But we made it to Kalispell just in time to go have pizza and beer at Moose’s, a place my in-laws have frequented since the 70s. We also got some drinks at Sunrift and ice cream at Sweet Peaks. We would’ve gone to Kalispell Brewing but it mysteriously closed right before we got there. It’s now Bias Brewing’s taproom. I hope they still sling those delicious noodle bowls and pizza there.
Day Three ended uneventfully because we needed to be up at the crack of dawn to make it to Glacier. The thing with Glacier is hikes fill up fast. We had an entrance ticket but that only does so much to lessen the crowds, to say nothing of finding parking.
Because it was so early, we made a quick stop at Lake McDonald Lodge before anyone showed up.
Our next stop was the Trail of the Cedars. This was the one hike I wanted to do for the day as it’s one of the easiest in the park.
I don’t know if you know this, but Glacier is huge. And there’s a lot to try and see in one day. I’ve been three times and there’s huge sections of the park I’ve never been to. (Many Glacier, I am coming for you). All that to say we had the option to do the hike up to Avalanche Lake but I didn’t want us to do too much too early.
So with that, we headed to Jackson Glacier.
Which was really just an excuse to mess around with All My Lenses and be That Photographer. I feel no shame.
We attempted Logan Pass but after circling the lot for what felt like hours, we bailed and headed to Sun Point. This hike is slightly more challenging but the views are so worth it.
We also made a quick stop at St. Mary Lake wherein I scrambled to the top of our Jeep to get this shot:
We decided to try Logan Pass one more time and wouldn’t you know it: this time we got a spot! We didn’t go all the way to Hidden Lake to save my friend’s knees but we did manage to see some friends.
We made one last stop at Lake McDonald on the way out.
Before you ask: no, it wasn’t that empty, I’m just really good at removing people from photos.
Day Four ended with dinner at the Montana Club and another early bedtime so we could schlep on back to Bozeman.
One reason I chose Wednesday as the day to go through Missoula was Out to Lunch. Approximately 10,000 years ago when my husband and I were first dating and before food trucks were ubiquitous, he told me about this. And even though we’ve been together for approximately 10,000 years, this was my first time going. It made a perfect pit stop for lunch and a good way to show my bestie Missoula’s general vibe: Ann Arbor if it was in Montana.
I wanted more time to putz around downtown Missoula, but that drive to Bozeman is always longer than I think it is, so we left right after lunch.
One pit stop I did want to make was Buffalo Jump State Park outside Three Forks. I had friends in Anthropology who did archaeological digs out there but I’d never been. Growing up in the West, we learned a lot of Native history (shoutout to my teachers who made it a point to teach us this). I knew what a buffalo jump was but had never seen a site for one.
After checking into our AirBnB downtown, we headed over to one of my other favourite spots: Naked Noodle. Try the Crack n Cheese, it’ll change your life.
We also hit up the Chocolate Moose, an adorable candy shop that I still remember opening. We saw these guys outside just having an incredible time. Did the music sound good? Does it matter? Look how happy they are.
Also, if you’ve never walked around Bozeman, it has some of the cutest houses.
This was the one day I was looking forward to most. This was the day we were going floatin’. If you’ve never floated down the Madison in a tube on a summer day with a beer in your hand, you haven’t truly lived. There are no pictures of that as I’m not so stupid as to bring expensive cameras floatin down a river.
There are also no photos of Music on Main because I was too busy marveling at how much it had changed and how much it stayed the same. I have so many memories of going to Music on Main in the summer and running into everyone I’ve ever met there. This time, my goal was to run into no one and reader, I’m proud to say: mission accomplished.
But I did get photos of our trip to Treeline Coffee, a shop I wanted to visit my last two trips to Bozeman and to which I just never got. We also got some just absolutely incredible bread at Wild Crumb.
The day of our departures. It’s still such a trip to me just how much Bozeman’s airport has grown in the last 10 years. So many airlines flying in now, so many more gates.
The flight in was too rainy and bumpy to get good photos, but I did get quite a few on the way out.
And there you have it! A week in Western Montana. Lots more we could have stuffed in, but that’s for another trip.
If you, too, would like to make use of the secrets of my success, I’ve made a handy-dandy map for you on the Google.
If you’ve enjoyed the photos in this post, I have many more shots from this trip and others at my print store.
Thanks for reading!
And don’t move to Montana. Please.