Magnificent Montana: Bozeman, Butte, Missoula, and Flathead National Forest

June 30 – July 5, 2016: After experiencing the grandeur of Grand Teton National Park, Yellowstone National Park, and Wyoming overall, we were expecting to be somewhat disappointed by whatever destination was next. However, we instead found ourselves very much enjoying the magnificent scenery of Montana. And, Montana has so more to offer than impressive landscapes; it’s a contender for one of my favorite states in the country.

We began our Montana adventure as we exited Yellowstone National Park in Gardiner, Montana. We stopped in Livingston at Katabatic Brewing Company on our way to Bozeman. Our campground in Bozeman was run by the sweetest couple and we enjoyed the local scene with beers at MAP Brewing Company and White Dog Brewing Company, and cocktails at Wildrye Distilling and Bozeman Spirits (check out their Cold Spring Huckleberry Vodka and their Ruby River Gin).

Camper Dan also got a treat: a bath and industrial strength vacuum.

Our next stop in Montana was Butte. Butte was a booming mining town in the late 1800s and early 1900s but experienced a rapid decline after World War I. The population stabilized in the 1990s at approximately 35,000 residents. One of Butte’s claims to fame is Our Lady of the Rockies (a 90 foot statue), which we could see from our campsite, and another is the unfortunate presence of a Superfund site (the horrific Berkeley Pit).

We were starting to realize that Montana was more than natural beauty; it has a rich history, interesting cities with growing economies, and even a great distillery scene (with some very odd state regulations for breweries and distilleries; partially to limit consumption at non-traditional establishments). So we checked out the local establishments: Headframe Spirits where I had a fabulous mixed drink made from their Orphan Girl Bourbon Cream Liqueur that was similar to Buffalo Trace Bourbon Cream (for which I acquired a taste back in 2014 on our road trip whilst in Kentucky Bourbon country) and Muddy Creek Brewery.

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From Butte we traveled to Missoula and along the way we surpassed 10,000 miles driven on this 2016 road trip extravaganza! And, it will be day 100 on the road tomorrow!

In Missoula, we stopped in at The Dram Growler Shop and Montgomery Distillery. Our journey continued north and we enjoyed The Garden of One Thousand Buddhas just north of Arlee, Montana. How random it was to find this garden; and what a cool juxtaposition against the Montana landscape.

Carrying on, we stopped at the Miracle of America Museum in Polson. We found this place absolutely disgusting and we both wanted to vomit after two minutes. There are tons of random memorabilia (totally cool stuff; ranging from old cars to war artifacts) but, interspersed with the items are placards with conservative ideological statements. We left $12 ($6 per person entrance fee) poorer and infinitely more disheartened about the future of the United States.

Michael even wrote a Google review to try to save others from experiencing such awfulness:

This place has a somewhat cool pile of kitschy Americana junk collecting dust. Unfortunately it also proudly displays its equally antiquated conservative/libertarian propaganda. It is assumed here that you believe in the “miracle” of American exceptionalism, or that you have failed to progress beyond a third grade understanding of the world at large. If you proudly display a bumper sticker that reads “Socialism = bad”, or you fail to see the benefit of meaningful gun control, you may love this “museum”. If, however, you have even a modicum of progressive ideology, you’d be well advised to skip this place lest you risk staining your clothes with your own vomit.”

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Our evening destination was Lake Mary Ronan State Park. We probably snagged the last of the 30 sites and enjoyed both an electric hookup and a slight view of the lake!

The following day, the American holiday of July 4th, we enjoyed another spectacular campsite at Emery Bay, a USDA Forest site within Flathead National Forest on Hungry Horse Reservoir. Although we reserved and paid for this off-the-beaten-path waterfront site, there is plenty of dispersed camping in the area for free. Our private, wooded site had an amazing view over the turquoise waters of the bay and the surrounding forested islands. We kicked back, grilling both lunch and dinner, and listened to music whilst enjoying the breathtaking scenery. We haven’t seen a body of water this beautiful since our 2014 road trip that included Banff and Jasper National Parks in Alberta, Canada.


TIP: If you’d prefer to book in advance or don’t want to camp, check out these other accommodation options in Bozeman, Butte, Missoula, and the Flathead Lake area.

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