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5-DAY ARTS + CULTURE GETAWAY: A WESTERN MONTANA MUSEUM TOUR

Glacier Country

DAY 1: BITTERROOT VALLEY

Begin your Western Montana arts and culture tour in the beautiful Bitterroot Valley. Visit the historic Daly Mansion in Hamilton, home of copper king Marcus Daly. This 24,000 square foot estate features an astounding 25 bedrooms and is fully furnished with period furniture and artwork. Also tour the impeccably manicured mansion grounds at the Margaret Daly Memorial Arboretum. Today, the Mansion is a local arts and entertainment hub.

Also in Hamilton, visit the Ravalli Country Museum & Historical Society. Here you’ll find many unique and rare historical collections of American Indian heritage and history of the Bitterroot valley. Example exhibits include Indigenous Pottery of the Southwest, Lewis & Clark, Life in the West, and a model car gallery.

Head up U.S. Highway 93 to Stevensville—Montana’s First Best Place—and take a guided tour of the Historic St. Mary’s Mission. Explore the well-preserved buildings and complex that represent the first pioneer settlement in Montana.

At the northern end of the valley in the town of Lolo, walk in the footsteps of Lewis and Clark at Travelers’ Rest State Park Visitor Center and Museum. This historic crossroads served as a campsite and trail junction for the American Indians—namely the Salish, Pend d’Oreille and Nez Perce tribes, and also as a campsite for the Corp of Discovery. Adjacent to Travelers’ Rest at the Holt Heritage Museum get a glimpse of the Old West through an interpretive area, authentic teepees, horse-drawn wagons, and an old-town street scene.

End your day in Western Montana’s arts and culture hub of Missoula. Stay at the Residence Inn by Marriott Missoula Downtown, with a rich history of its own as the former Missoula Mercantile.

For more information about museum tours, seasons and hours of operation, and admission fees, contact each museum separately.

For more on Western Montana arts and culture, and where to eat, drink and stay in the region:

Glacier Country

DAY 2: MISSOULA

Head to the heart of the downtown arts scene—the Missoula Art Museum. View diverse and thought-provoking work in the Contemporary American Indian Art Collection and rotating exhibits of contemporary art relevant to the community, state and region.

Next, make your way to the University of Montana campus to visit the internationally renowned Montana Museum of Art & Culture, home to one of the oldest and most prominent fine art collections in the Rocky Mountain Northwest, including significant historic and contemporary artworks.

At the Historical Museum at Fort Missoula, get a history lesson in Missoula’s beginnings on 32 walkable acres featuring more than 20 beautifully preserved structures. View one of the few remaining teepee burners, a wood waste burner named for its distinctive teepee shape, and learn about fort history, a WWII alien detention center, the exploits of the all African American 25th Infantry Bicycle Corps, and Glacial Lake Missoula. Don’t forget to climb aboard the fully restored urban streetcar in the Trolley Barn. Also at Fort Missoula, visit the Rocky Mountain Museum of Military History with in-depth war history spanning the Revolutionary War to today’s War on Terror.

For a fascinating look at the life of a wildland firefighter, visit the Smokejumper Visitor Center, a popular Missoula visitor attraction. A 45-minute tour takes you through the working smokejumper facility, including a reconstructed fire lookout tower.

Head toward the Museum of Mountain Flying—on the Missoula Airport grounds—for a captivating look at the history of flying in the northern Rockies. Witness vintage aircraft, memorabilia and artifacts, and learn about the pioneer aviators who put the Rocky Mountain West on the map.

Test your wildlife knowledge at the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation Visitor Center. The interactive displays allow you to hear an elk bugle, handle antlers, watch conservation films and view world-record elk mounts. There’s also a walking trail on the beautiful Grant Creek location grounds.

Grab dinner in downtown Missoula where you’ll find no shortage of breweries, distilleries and places to eat, no matter your taste. Overnight at Missoula’s Gibson Mansion Bed and Breakfast. Built in 1903, this lovingly restored Victorian mansion boasts period décor, gourmet breakfast service, a library, and a parlor complete with a cozy fireplace.

For more information about museum tours, seasons and hours of operation, and admission fees, contact each museum separately.

For more on Western Montana arts and culture, and where to eat, drink and stay in the region:

Glacier Country

DAY 3: FLATHEAD RESERVATION

Travel north from Missoula into the Flathead Indian Reservation, home to the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes. Against the backdrop of the stunning Mission Mountains, take a self-guided tour of the St. Ignatius Mission, the walls and ceiling of which are adorned with 58 original paintings by Brother Joseph Carignano. Peruse the on-site museum and gift shop, as well as the historic log home, which was the original Sisters’ residence.

In Charlo, across from the scenic Ninepipe National Wildlife Refuge, the Ninepipes Museum of Early Montana celebrates the history and culture of the Tribal Nations in the region with artifacts, historical photographs, traditional beadwork, weaponry, mounted wildlife and an American Indian camp. Take a stroll on the short nature trail for spectacular views.

For more on the rich history and culture of the Salish, Pend d'Oreille and Kootenai tribes, visit The People’s Center in Pablo. Guided and audio tours are available and offer an idea of tribal life before and after European settlement.

North of Pablo you’ll land in Polson at the southern end of Flathead Lake—the largest freshwater lake west of the Mississippi. The one-of-a-kind Miracle of America Museum is an eclectic Montana gem. Pore over an astoundingly large collection of American history, drawing visitors from the world over. You’ll find vintage planes and helicopters, old farm equipment and frontier homes, an Area 51 exhibit, and lot—lots—more.

If time permits, stretch your legs on the Polson Interpretive Trail, which connects the Polson's Salish, Sacajawea and Riverside parks. View interpretive signs along the way, depicting tribal and city history in Kootenai, Salish and English.

Your last museum stop of the day is the Polson Flathead Lake Museum, home of the Flathead Lake Monster, Nessie, where you can also learn about life as an early homesteader in the region.

From Polson, drive up the west side of the lake, taking in breathtaking views along the way. Arrive in Kalispell and overnight at the historic Kalispell Grand Hotel.

For more information about museum tours, seasons and hours of operation, and admission fees, contact each museum separately.

For more on Western Montana arts and culture, and where to eat, drink and stay in the region:

Glacier Country

DAY 4: KALISPELL + WHITEFISH

Wake up and take a Historic Walking Tour of downtown Kalispell, exploring the town’s railroad roots and historic architecture. Don’t miss downtown’s boutiques, coffee shops and eateries.

First stop, Kalispell’s Hockaday Museum of Art—housed in a historic Carnegie Library—holds the works of important and influential Montana artists as well as a Glacier National Park gallery dedicated to the painters, sculptors, photographers and writers, past and present whose work has been inspired by the Crown of the Continent.

At the Northwest Montana History Museum, set in Kalispell’s original Central School, explore engaging exhibits and one-of-a-kind artifacts that tell the story of the Flathead Valley, the Indigenous peoples of the land, the vanished town of Demersville, and pioneer Frank Bird Linderman.

End your time in Kalispell with a tour of the architecturally exquisite Conrad Mansion Museum and gardens, home of Charles E. Conrad—Kalispell founder and pivotal figure in the settlement of the Northwest.

From Kalispell, make your way about a half hour’s drive north to Whitefish, Western Montana’s quintessential mountain resort town. Take a Whitefish Historical Walking Tour, exploring the history and buildings of Central Avenue and downtown Whitefish. Tours are offered by the Stumptown Historical Society and Whitefish Museum, which houses fascinating railroad history and artifacts.

Drive to Essex, about an hour east of Whitefish, and stay at the Izaak Walton Inn where you’ll find a truly unique lodging experience. Stay in a classic caboose or a luxury railcar complete with views of Glacier National Park.

Glacier Country

DAY 5: STATE HIGHWAY 2 + BLACKFEET RESERVATION

From Essex, take a scenic 30 minute drive on U.S. Highway 2 along the eastern border of Glacier National Park—keeping an eye out for the Blackfeet National Bison Reserve—and stop at the historic Glacier Park Lodge in East Glacier Park on the Blackfoot Indian Reservation. The lodge’s architecture is breathtaking, and the lodge sits directly across from the 1913 train depot, where Amtrak’s historic Empire Builder stops. If there’s time, play a round of golf on the oldest grass greens course in Montana. Note, red bus tours of the park leave daily from the lodge. Sun Tours are also an excellent way to take in the history of the area.

From East Glacier Park, head to Browning and visit the Museum of the Plains Indian where you’ll find arts and crafts of the Northern Plains Tribe, and historical exhibits of tribal clothing, weapons, and everyday household items. Also in Browning, stop at the Blackfeet Heritage Center & Art Gallery for dioramas of Blackfeet culture.

Close out your arts and culture exploration of Western Montana with a Blackfeet Cultural History tour by Darrell Norman, a Blackfeet Tribal member who will hop in your vehicle and guide you to various historical sites—like buffalo jumps, medicine lodges, and campsites—on the reservation. Then, spend the night under the big Montana sky in an authentic teepee at the Lodgepole Gallery & Tipi Village.

For more information about museum tours, seasons and hours of operation, and admission fees, contact each museum separately.

For more on Western Montana arts and culture, and where to eat, drink and stay in the region:

Trip Tips

Always check road reports and weather conditions when traveling through Montana in the wintertime.

If you’re flying in:
Glacier Country Airports
Yellowstone Country Airports

If you’re renting a car:
Glacier Country Car Rentals
Yellowstone Country Car Rentals