We got to know Montana while workamping in the Summer of 2010. We loved the Big Sky, the rural atmosphere, the abundance of wildlife, the friendly people. As we planned our travels for the Summer of 2017 we hoped we could visit Montana or Colorado. Turns out we visited both. This time around we spent time in Hamilton, Whitefish and Missoula with a side trip to Wallace Idaho. Unfortuntely Montana had one of the worst wildfire seasons in its history. Smoke was an issue all over the state with no real relief expected until the Fall rain and snow. For part of this time our grandson Graham joined us.
Hamilton is the site of copper king Marcus Daly’s home. Irish born Daly made a fortune in Butte copper and Hamilton timber. His home reflects his success and its still a focus in the town of Hamilton. Our guide was a life long resident.
Missoula is home to the University of Montana, Fort Missoula, the US Forest Service Smokejumper Center and a fabulous farmers market. We went whitewater rafting on the Clark Fork River. North of Missoula we visited the National Bison Range, a preserve established by Theodore Roosevelt in 1908.
Montana may have more ghost towns than any other state. The ups and downs of mining are mostly responsible and the state has turned misfortune into a something of a tourism asset. Garnet is near Missoula and a well preserved state park.
Wallace Idaho is the nearest town to the Hiawatha Trail, a top ten Rails to Trails site beginning at the MT/ID stateline and continuing 15 miles downgrade along the former Milwaukee Road railroad line. Along the way we passed thru 7 trestles and 10 tunnels including the 1.66 mile St. Paul Pass Tunnel. It was a great ride for us all.
Deer Lodge is home to the first Territorial Prison in Montana. It opened in 1876 and closed in 1979. The prison was plagued with overcrowding, underfunding and antiquated facilities. Problems led to a famous riot in 1959. We were reminded of Alcatraz.
Whitefish MT was a nice surprise. It is a very nice tourist town with a beautiful Tudor Revival train station. Rail traffic is heavy along this BNSF line as well as Amtrak’s Empire Builder’s busiest station. The Stumptown Historical Society operates a museum in the station. Stumptown was the nickname for the town for in the early days trees were cut down so fast the place was littered with stumps. Great Northern was the original railroad in town and commisioned the Bruck to ferry freight and passengers from nearby Kalispell when the short rail line was no longer profitable. The smoke was too bad to stay long but we will go back someday.
Our last stop in Montana was the National Forest Service campground at Yaak River near the Kalispell River and the BNSF mainline. Again smoke kept us moving.