Do you want wide, open skies and mountains that even put New Zealand to shame?
Move Montana to the top of your must-go places.
“Montana?” you may ask yourself. “Seriously? There are 50 states in America, and you’re recommending Montana?”
Yes. I am. And with heavy enthusiasm.
Listen, I didn’t necessarily think too much of it either before I went. I’d heard of Montana’s beauty, but until I saw it, I heavily underestimated it. At the time of this writing, I have currently seen 27 states (only 25 on this road trip.) A lot of memories blur together when I consider the different elements of each state, but each time my memory banks slip back to the images of Montana, I still can’t believe it exists.
And this comes from someone who calls “Yosemite” their “backyard.”
In continuing our conversation recorded in this podcast, Josh and I discussed what we loved about Montana. If you haven’t had a chance to check it out (which you should), here’s the rundown:
Our First Day in Montana
The first time I was lucky enough to see a buffalo in the wild was on the border of Montana and Idaho.
I didn’t even know how to react when it happened. Our windows were down, we weren’t driving very fast, and they were inches away from the car. Inches. If Josh put his hand outside, he would have been able to pet one. Apparently, buffalo crossings aren’t uncommon in Montana, and I still can’t believe I saw one in real life.
The effect of the buffaloes immediately wore off when we saw the mountains Montana had to offer. At the time, I had no idea that the Rockies extended up this far. My American geography must have been off because, for some reason, I thought they were only in Colorado. Now that I’ve seen Montana’s Rockies, I can attest that no one gives them their due credit.
With the term “Big Sky,” I expected Montana to be nothing but flat, open nothingness, apart from Glacier National Park. I’m happy that I was wrong.
The Homey Helena Capital
I’ve mentioned before how we picked the worst time to go through some of these Northern states, and Montana was no exception. I thought April was a better time to visit than December, but I guess I was wrong.
Because of that, the three weeks we had planned for Montana, most of which were meant to be camping, were shrunk into five days.
The first of those days went to Helena, Montana’s capital city.
If you didn’t know, part of our deal with the 50-state trek is to hit every state capital and check out the building. With that, I would have to say that Montana has the “homiest” capitol building out of any of them. It’s warm and inviting, filled with rich history and a strong sense of identity.
Maybe the snow made it more magical, or maybe we just hit the building on a good day. Either way, the warm feeling I felt there still lingers whenever I think about it.
Picnicking in Montana’s Sapphire Mountains
On our quest to find dog-friendly places in Montana, our compass led us from Helena to Missoula. Before we got there, however, we couldn’t help but stop for a picnic on the Sapphire Mountains.
We’re always looking for places to take Piper, and the Sapphire Mountains were a serene, secluded option for a nice trek. We hiked up the side of one of the mountains before the loose gravel became too hard to walk over, especially for Piper. She naturally draws toward even hidden paths. The moment she struggles or can’t find where to step next, we turn around.
The Sapphire Mountains, though not always discussed, remain a must-see in Montana. We, unfortunately, missed out on Glacier National Park (blast that snow), but at least our experience in these mountains helped numb the pain.
Relaxing in Dog-Friendly Missoula, Montana
Once we hit Missoula, we were fortunate enough to accidentally stumble upon the Blue Mountain Recreation Area — and by “accidentally,” I mean neither of us had any qualms. A nice, partially challenging but not overbearing hike takes you to the top of a mountain ridge, where sweeping views of Missoula intertwine with the surrounding mountain ridges that mark Montana’s beauty.
Please note that dogs are allowed off leash here. If you have a dog like mine who can sometimes be a bit aggressive around other dogs, take heed.
As a side rant:
DOG OWNERS: If you see another dog owner who pulls their dog close, removes themselves from the trail, and tells their dog to calm down upon seeing your dog, please be more aware.
In this recreation area, a group of people came through on bikes with five dogs running next to them. All of the dogs were off the leash, I pulled Piper to the side, she went crazy when they neared, and the dogs came over to Piper. She felt attacked, they wouldn’t go away and when they neared, she fought them. While I was doing my best to pull Piper off, the other dog owners didn’t even blink an eye.
Please. Some of us have dogs that don’t always do well with other dogs. I don’t want my dog to attack yours. For this particular instance, I’m happy the other dog owners didn’t get upset with me when Piper attacked. That, however, can all be avoided if you just pay attention to other dogs’ body language.
Another side rant:
DOG OWNERS: There’s a reason so many places don’t allow dogs, and the biggest reason is you. Please, clean up after your pet.
Throughout this entire country, no matter where we go, we find dog poop scattered everywhere. You then consider how none of the National Parks allow dogs on the trails, and it’s hard to blame them when dog owners are so irresponsible.
To be fair, we’ve had situations when Piper has gone to the bathroom more times than we have poo bags to account for. If we can, we always make it a solid point to at least go back to where she went and try to find it to clean it up. It’s annoying, but as the dog owner, that is your responsibility.
Our First Dip into Yellowstone
Apart from my vents about dog owners, Missoula really is one of the most dog-friendly communities in Montana. Since that’s not always easy to find, I have to say I appreciate that.
Montana also opened the doors for us to cross something else off of our bucket list: Yellowstone National Park.
Technically, most of Yellowstone is in Wyoming, but a portion of the park extends into the surrounding Montana border. As it was, just like the majority of National Parks we tried to visit in April, Yellowstone was closed. Rumors flicked around that the park would open the day before we went, but in the end, it did not.
We did follow road 212, which Google said would connect us from the west end of the park to the east, right next to our final destination of Billings. 10 miles away from Billings, we found the 212 closed due to snow.
Alas, what we intended to be an eight hour day turned into a thirteen.
We had to flip around, go all the way back through the park, then drive all the way up and around the western side of Montana, through the central, and over to the eastern to get to Billings. If we didn’t already have a reservation, or if there was any place to camp, we more than likely would have stopped. Choosing the time to visit that we did, we had few other options besides making the day a long one.
In the end, for me at least, it was worth it. Josh and I spent a lot of time looking for wildlife, and I saw my first coyote (wolf?) on the drive back through Yellowstone.
Josh has yet to see anything but squirrels.
Author’s Note: This is the second of a three-part post to cover a recent discussion from the below podcast. You can read the first part (and listen to the interview) here. Be sure to subscribe to the podcast for more stories from across the country!
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