11 Northwest Montana Adventures to Add to Your 2016 Checklist

Exploring new territory and tackling exciting challenges in the new year!

BY DILLON TABISH for the Flathead Beacon

New year’s resolutions are often boring, onerous tasks mostly motivated by a sense of pressure or guilt. It doesn’t have to be that way. The best resolutions involve exciting dreams and ambitious goals. What better way to make 2016 memorable and constructive than exploring the vast outdoors. Of course, Glacier National Park is an easy source of adventures for one’s life list. But here are a few other worthwhile activities for the next 12 months.


Ross Creek Cedars nature trail south of Troy. Beacon File Photo

Explore Ross Creek Cedars

Near the lowest point in Montana, some of the largest and oldest trees in the state stretch toward the clouds. South of Troy off Montana Highway 56, a grove of western red cedars is tucked inside a dense 100-acre site called Ross Creek Cedars. Most of the trees are almost 10 feet in diameter and stretch nearly 200 feet into the sky and were born around the time Columbus was discovering the New World. A short pathway winds through the cedar grove, making for a great family day hike among these monolithic cedars. There are no camping facilities at the cedar grove, but Bad Medicine Campground is nearby and features 17 sites for tents and RVs.


Beacon File Photo

Scuba Dive in Lake McDonald

With the largest freshwater lake in the West among more than 500 aquatic attractions, the Flathead Valley boasts crystalline waters and vast submarine labyrinths that satisfy hardcore divers and recreational hobbyists alike. Lake McDonald, Glacier National Park’s largest lake at 6,823 acres of surface area with depths as far down as 472 feet, is home to wrecked ships, amazing geology and submerged trees. One particular highlight is the so-called Underwater Forest near Sprague Creek, where massive a collection of ancient trees have settled into the bottom of the lake.


Hikers ascend Great Northern Mountain. Kellyn Brown | Flathead Beacon

Hike Great Northern Mountain

The monarch of the Great Bear Wilderness and one of the most prominent peaks in Northwest Montana, Great Northern Mountain is a worthy gem to add to the bucket list. It is a rugged and remote hike, but it’s very rewarding to arrive at the summit, elevation 8,700 feet. Near Hungry Horse Reservoir, the most common route follows the north side of Hungry Horse Creek. The route is mostly Class 2, meaning more difficult that may include off-trail hiking.


The Montana Spartan Race. Beacon File Photo

Run a Race

There’s no shortage of races for all running abilities in this valley, whether it’s a short fun run in Kalispell or a grueling half marathon in Whitefish. The unofficial running season begins in April (although there is the Snow Joke Half Marathon in Seeley Lake next month). What better motivation to start running a few miles a week than signing up for one of the dozens of races to look forward to over the next 12 months? For a full list of races, visit FlatheadBeaconRunningClub.com.


The north shore of Flathead Lake. Dillon Tabish | Flathead Beacon

Explore the North Shore

In spring and late fall, Flathead Lake’s mighty presence fades with diminished water, revealing a vast beach of soft, clean sand along the north shore. This expansive lakeshore, called Africa Beach by some, stretches from Bigfork to Somers and features a wide-open landscape that makes for a fun afternoon adventure. The beach lies in a sensitive waterfowl production area and access is allowed during specific times in spring, winter and late fall. The only year-round access is from Holt Drive near Bigfork, where a trail follows a county right-of-way to the beach.


Biking up Going-to-the-Sun Road. Courtesy Photo

Cycle Going-to-the-Sun Road

No doubt, one of the most memorable experiences in this valley is biking Glacier National Park’s iconic Sun Road. It’s not an easy task; the slight uphill grade builds up fast and burns the legs quickly. But it is truly a rewarding and amazing experience. The best time of year to traverse the road is the spring and late fall when vehicle traffic is haulted at Avalanche Creek. For an even more thrilling ride, pedal up the road on a full moon night.


Rafters paddle over a rapid on the Middle Fork of the Flathead River. Beacon File Photo

Raft the Middle Fork

It’s hard to imagine a more scenic float trip than the Middle Fork, which flows from the Great Bear Wilderness along the southern boundary of Glacier National Park. The best whitewater is upstream in the Great Bear, where several Class III and IV rapids interrupt the breathtaking views. Once the river emerges from the wilderness, it eases into a recreational float with mostly Class II rapids, before picking back up near West Glacier, where commercial float trips are offered for day-trip adventures through Jaws and other named rapids. The North Fork is also a worthy day-float with fewer rapids but just as many picturesque views.


The Chinese Wall. Courtesy photo

Hike to the Chinese Wall

In the heart of one of the nation’s largest wildernesses rises this 1,000-foot tall, 12-mile long limestone monolith, known as the Chinese Wall. This iconic feature is a favorite among hiking enthusiasts who’ve made the multi-day trek and sits atop many bucket lists. To enjoy the vast scenery, including side-trips to Prairie Reef Lookout and blue-ribbon fishing in Burnt Creek, plan on spending at least four or five days to travel roughly 70 miles.


Chalked fingers find friction on the sedimentary rock near Kila. Beacon File Photo

Rock Climb Stone Hill

Learning a new skill is always a fun challenge, and rock climbing is certainly a challenge that takes skill. In Northwest Montana, the best opportunity to ascend solid rock is Stone Hill, a large section of quartzite off Montana Highway 37 and Lake Koocanusa, about 16 miles south of Eureka. There are several routes for all abilities of climbers, including beginners.


A skydiver smiles as she plummets from about 10,000 feet while skydiving tandem. Photo courtesy of Skydive Lost Prairie

Skydive Lost Prairie

For nearly 50 years, Skydive Lost Prairie, one of the oldest full-time skydive operations in the state that is tucked in a serene valley west of Kalispell, has taken courageous souls 9,000 feet into the clouds and jumped out of planes with parachutes. The company is open throughout summer, and in early August hosts the Boogie, which attracts hundreds of skydivers every year for a weeklong festival.


Dave Ingram, a volunteer with the International Dark-Sky Association, sets up his telescope before a summer astronomy program at the Apgar Transit Center in Glacier National Park. Beacon File Photo

Stargaze in Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park is home to some of the darkest skies in the world. At night, visitors can witness the vast canvas of stars, planets and galaxies with even the most basic astronomical telescopes. The National Park Service hosts summer viewing programs led by rangers.