Everyone already knows about Missoula, Glacier National Park, and the National Bison Range, so I’m not going to talk about those places. Instead, here are the hidden spaces that I discovered nestled against a rugged terrain of magnificent mountain peaks, rolling meadows, and crystalline lakes and streams. I only passed through the southwestern edge of Montana north of Idaho and Wyoming, and if given the opportunity to explore the Treasure State with more depth, I imagine I would need to add more gemstones to this treasure chest.
Lost Trail Hot Springs
I almost drove right passed the sign on the side of the highway, but decided at the last minute to stop and check it out, and I’m pleased that I did. It is far more rustic and remote than any of the northern California hot springs that I have attended, but is cute anyway and far less crowded. Its seclusion along the Salmon River Scenic Byway probably keeps away too many travelers, and it also seems to have gained many negative Google reviews in recent months (unfairly, in my opinion). I paid $8 cash for a day in the hot pool, which was about 98 degrees. I also had access to showers, which was a pleasant bonus since I had been camping at an undeveloped site. I soaked and floated in silence, gazing out at a dense forest, for about two hours before continuing along my journey.
Montana Highway 1
This drive is also called the Pintler Veterans’ Memorial Scenic Highway. I jumped onto it on a whim, after feeling overwhelmed from the speed of traffic on I-90. Highway 1 cuts across the land east of Missoula, and intersects back with I-90 near Butte. This drive is an example of how maps do not reflect actual geography. Looking at a map, there is no indication given of the natural beauty of this road, and many travelers are likely to breeze past on the freeway, with no second look at this slower and more attractive option. Artist galleries, quaint villages, and picturesque scenery dot this stretch of road, and it was far worth the detour off the freeway.
While living in Jackson Hole, WY, in 2004, I visited Bozeman a handful of times, but now it is much cuter and more lively than I remember. I stayed at the Treasure State Hostel in downtown, and explored a bit of the area. Downtown Bozeman is lined with boutique jewelry and clothing shops, vegan and vegetarian cafes, and craft breweries. While there, I really wished that I had arrived with extra spending money, and a completely hungary stomach. The community has a very artsy vibe to it, and people were out and active until well past 11pm. I know that Missoula is supposed to be the “hip” spot in Montana, but I prefer Bozeman.