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fuzzy May 22nd, 2013 10:27 AM

Northern Idaho - Western Montana Drive
My wife and I are planning a trip to briefly explore northern Idaho and part of Montana in mid-July. We only have a week and will be flying into Spokane, then driving a rental car. Tentatively, we want to visit Sandpoint and Bonner's Ferry, Idaho then Kalispell/Glacier NP and Missoula, Montana before returning to Spokane and flying home. I know that is a lot of ground to cover in just one week, but more time and fewer places are not options - we'll just get a glimpse of the highlights and hope for another visit later.

Though I would welcome suggestions regarding must-see places and things near our planned destinations, my primary questions are these:

a. Kalispell to Missoula - Which is more scenic - Highway 93 or Highways 83 and 200?
b. Missoula back to Spokane - Which is more scenic - Highway 200 through Sandpoint or Interstate 90 through Coeur d"Alene?

I should point out that we've previously spent time in both Coeur d"Alene and Sandpoint, so the portion of the drive between those towns and Spokane is not part of my question. However, we have never driven between Missoula and those towns .

Which way should we go?

NorthwestMale May 22nd, 2013 12:36 PM

Here is something you might take interest in:

The story of the fantastic flooding which impacted so much of the land between Missoula and Spokane and points west. Some of the very areas in which you'll be traveling have roadside references to the same thing, so it might be helpful to have refreshed your understanding for the trip.

For example: when standing IN Missoula, you can look up at the hills and see various 'lines' in the hillside (say, not far from the letter "M" you'll find there)... which each represented a different <b>height</b> of the lake shore for the lake which repeatedly filled that whole valley, every X-thousand years.

PS - Missoula to Spokane, surely the northern path is more scenic, if also slower.

tomfuller May 22nd, 2013 01:06 PM

The Meadow Lake Resort in Columbia Falls is the best place I've found in the Glacier NP area.
FYI- The eastbound Amtrak Empire Builder has two sections that join every night in Spokane between midnight and 1:15AM. One section comes from Portland and the other from Seattle. The joined train arrives in Whitefish before 8AM.
A van from Meadow Lake Resort picked my wife and I up from the train station in Whitefish.

wave725 May 22nd, 2013 02:27 PM

Be sure you make the drive across the Going to the Sun Road all the way to Many Glacier while in Glacier National Park. Many Glacier is considered the most scenic part of the park. You can explore the Many Glacier Hotel and even take the scenic boat ride across Swiftcurrent Lake.

Stop at Logan Pass Visitor's Center along the GTTS Road and take the short hike up to Hidden Lake Overlook where you're almost always guaranteed to see mountain goats. The views of Hidden Lake from the overlook are spectacular and the hike itself is beautiful and less than 3 miles round trip.

Another excellent hike off the GTTS Road is to Virginia Falls - my personal waterfall favorite hike in the park. You can walk out and stand at the base of the falls.

When you get over to St. Mary's stop at the Park Cafe for a nice lunch and some incredible homemade pie - they have at least a dozen varities to choose from and have indoor and outdoor seating.

There will be some road construction on the GTTS Road so expect some delays. The nice part about thg delays is the spectacular views you'll have while you're waiting!

boom_boom May 23rd, 2013 12:08 PM

If you drive between Glacier and Missoula, the National Bison Range near Moiese and St. Ignatius Mission are worth a visit.

Myer May 26th, 2013 02:38 PM

I second the locations that wave725 mentioned.

If you plan on doing any hike that starts at Logan Pass such as Hidden Lake or Highline, try to get there before 10AM as that parking lot is a very popular spot and fills up.

Funny that I found Hidden Lake surprisingly tough on the aging legs. The first part of the hike is on a boardwalk with many wooden stairs. Those aching legs!!!

Many Glacier is extremely scenic. However, you probably have to do one of several hikes to really enjoy the scenery.

Grinnell Glacier is shorter (if you start with the shuttle boats) than Iceberg Lake but is more strenuous due to the steepness and rock / earth stairs on the trail. The scenery on both of these is spectacular.

I was very pleasantly surprised with St Mary and Virginia Falls. I thought that after Yellowstone and Yosemite these falls would be nothing much. They each have their own unique shape and are definitely worth the time and effort.

fuzzy Jun 24th, 2013 03:07 PM

Many thanks to all of you for your suggestions. NorthwestMale - ironically I just learned of the Ice Age floods this week while watching a program about the Willamette Valley of Oregon. They credited Lake Missoula with providing the rich topsoil deposited there by the floods.
Thanks again.

DoubleDAZ Jul 5th, 2013 10:10 AM

Pardon my butting in, but I have a question for boom_boom.

We'll be traveling from Apgar Village to Missoula. We currently plan to take Hwy 83 down. Is the Bison Range worth switching to Hwys 35/93 or is it just worth a side-trip out of Missoula once we get there? It's hard to tell which route would bemore scenic, 83 through the valley or 35 along the lake and then 93 through the range.

achay Jul 7th, 2013 06:28 AM

It would be more scenic to go around Flathead Lake on the west shore and then turn right at Ravalli to go to the Bison Range. Then return to 93 to head down to Missoula. Or, turn right at Moise and take the back way to the Bison Range without going through St. Ignatius. There is a beautiful old church in St. Ignatius though which is worth visiting.

The long loop car trip through the Bison Range takes about 2 hours and is worth every minute. We have seen elk, bison, deer, bear and antelope at various times at the Bison Range and you get a spectacular view of the Flathead Valley from the top. There's a nice little café just outside the entrance to the Bison Range.

Alternatively, the drive down the east side of the lake (hwy 35) via Bigfork to Polson is even more scenic than the west side of the lake. It's a little slower, the entire drive is 2 lanes. Bigfork is a charming little town that has a great bar - The Garden Bar - for hamburgers and a local microbrew. There are many local breweries in western Montana if you are beer drinkers.

200 through Sandpoint is more scenic but is much slower, about twice as long as I-90 through Coeur d'Alene. The I-90 drive is really pretty too.

We have taken these drives many, many times so if you have any other questions just holler.

DoubleDAZ Jul 10th, 2013 07:54 AM

Thanks, achay. I think I'll plan enough time to explore the entire area. I'm retired, so the only concern is lodging. How does this sound?
Kalispell to Missoula via Hwy 83.
Missoula to Bigfork via Hwys 93 & 35. (East side)
Bigfork to Missoula via Hwy 93.(West side)
Bison Range
Missoula to Fairchild AFB via Hwy 200 thru Sandpoint.

achay Jul 12th, 2013 08:43 PM

I'm unsure why you are going from Kalispell to Missoula and then back up to Bigfork from Missoula. You can easily get from Kalispell to Bigfork (head south out of Kalispell and turn right and drive along the top of Flathead over to Bigfork, sorry I don't know that road Number) and Bigfork to Polson (along the east side of the lake) in half a day. Spend the night Polson and then head down 93 to Missoula, stopping to see the Bison Range along the way. Then head over to Sandpoint..

DoubleDAZ Jul 13th, 2013 08:04 AM


Simply to explore the entire area and see as much scenery as we can. Looking at a satellite view on Google Maps, Hwy 83 is further east and appears to go through a valley between 2 mountain ranges. Hwy 93 goes around the west side of the lake while Hwy 35 goes around the east side through Bigfoot before it connects to Hwy 93 at Polson. I understand that I can use any of the 3 routes to get to Missoula, but just getting to Missoula is not the goal. It sounds like there is enough nice scenery along each of the 3 routes to make all 3 worthwhile. So, going down one and then making a circle out of the other 2 seems like a way to experience the most scenery in the area. We like to stop in select places for 3-4 nights and just explore. However, if you're suggesting that we'd experience enough of the area by simply taking Hwys 35/93 along the east side of the lake through Bigfoot, then that's what we'll do.

John Jul 13th, 2013 08:09 AM

Your trip sounds like a good plan to me!

achay Jul 13th, 2013 01:12 PM

Oh no, please stay with your plan!! You are so right, there is beautiful scenery to explore all over western Montana and Flathead Lake is magnificent. Going all the way around it would be wonderful. You are very smart to stay in one place for a while and explore. I hope you have a wonderful trip and enjoy all the Montana has to offer. If I can answer any other questions for you, fire away!

DoubleDAZ Jul 13th, 2013 07:08 PM


Thank you,I will. The trip is a large circle planned for next summer, from Phoenix up to Banff, over to Mt Ranier, down through central Oregon (Crater Lake) and ending with Yosemite.

achay Jul 14th, 2013 07:44 AM

If your route takes you to Fairmont Hot Springs - about 2 hours south of Banff I think - you might like to stay here:

Really nice hot springs pools in a spectacular mountain setting.

Your trip sounds excellent, I hope you are able to see part of Glacier Park. Better get to it now, the glaciers are shrinking at a rapid rate.

DoubleDAZ Jul 16th, 2013 01:30 PM

Please note the trip is for NEXT summer, so I've got plenty of time to make changes. Stops are set based on the travel times between locations, but I'm always open to suggestions and I'll take a look at The Resort Lodge since we will be going right past it. It might be too expensive for just an overnight stop, but I won't know until I check. We usually don't spend much time in our room, so we tend to look for bargain rates. We're making an excepton for Glacier because we'll be there for 3 nights and want the full experience, mostly a chance to photograph sunrises and sunsets. I've listed Apgar, but my goal is to stay at all 3 lodges in the park. Anyway, here is the tentative itinerary:

1 Panguitch UT (2 nights)
-- Zion NP

2 Salmon ID
-- Butte
-- Helena

3 Malmstrom AFB MT

4 Apgar Village Lodge, Glacier NP MT (3 nights)
-- Trail of the Cedars nature trail
-- Logan's Pass Visitor's Center
-- Hidden Lake Overlook (Mt Goats)
-- Virginia Falls Trail
-- Saint Mary MT
---- Park Cafe
-- Many Glacier
---- Swiftcurrent Boat Ride

5 Missoula MT (2 nights)
-- Bigfoot MT
-- Rainy Lake

6 Fairchild AFB WA

7 Golden BC (2-3 nights)
-- Banff
-- Lake Louise
-- Radium Hot Springs

8 Chelan WA
-- Kamloops BC

9 Longview WA
-- Johnson Ridge Observatory, Mt St Helens

10 The Dalles OR
-- Mulholland Falls and other riverfront waterfalls

11 Klamath Falls OR
-- Crater lake

12 Fallon NAS NV
-- Reno
-- Carson City

13 Las Vegas NV

tomfuller Jul 16th, 2013 02:51 PM

FYI - A new "Whitefish Hostel" opened up this month. It was opened by two sisters. They converted an old restaurant about 3 blocks from the train station in Whitefish.
They are also serving vegan tastes in the cafe.

DoubleDAZ Jul 21st, 2013 12:10 PM

Thamks, Tom.

Note: That should be Multnomah Falls in my itinerary. :)

nanabee Oct 20th, 2013 07:04 AM


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