Drive from Missoula to Columbia Falls
The drive from Missoula to Columbia Falls would typically be about 2 hrs and 40 mins, with no stops. But along the way we stopped at two attractions. The first was the National Bison Range and then the Miracle of America Museum in Polson.
The drive took us along the east shore of Flathead Lake. Flathead Lake is the largest natural fresh water lake west of the Mississippi. The lake, surrounded by mountains, is glacier fed, so the waters have that turquoise color, just beautiful. Driving along there were many roadside stands selling fresh Flathead Lake cherries. We didn’t realize there were cherry orchards all around the area, apparently the micro-climate around the lake supports the growth of cherries. We stumbled into cherry season, so we bought a bag and they were big and delicious. It was also Huckleberry season and everywhere we went there were farm stands, shops and local establishments selling everything huckleberry. Huckleberry jams, huckleberry pastries, huckleberry flavored beers, even huckleberry martinis. We bought some jams along the way and that was our breakfast treat with toast or English muffins. Huckleberries are similar to blueberries, but maybe a bit more tart.
Bison National Range
Our first stop was at the National Bison Range in Charlo, MT. This is a National Wildlife Reserve that provides sanctuary for the American Bison. We arrived early, around 8am, so the visitors center was not open (opens at 9am). There is a $5 entrance fee (per vehicle), but our America The Beautiful Senior Pass is honored at this site. A quick note about the America The Beautiful pass, we purchase our Senior Pass a few years ago, $80 life pass, and it is honored at most National Park and other Federal recreational areas.
There are several driving trails through the reserve and we chose to take long loop road which is 19 miles long. This is a one-way, single lane gravel road that winds up the mountain with steep grades, lots of switchback curves and no guard rails. The first half of this road climbs up a mountain area reaching a summit at about 4800ft where there is a rest stop with portable toilets. The road continues down the other side with some very steep curves until it reaches an open range area, eventually returning to the starting point near the visitors center.
When we first started up the road, we saw another vehicle ahead of us stopped, then moving very slowly. We were a bit concerned about being stuck behind someone who seemed not in a hurry, with no way to pass. When we got closer, we saw the problem, a big, old, bull Bison was in the middle of the road walking at a very slow pace. We were stuck behind this beast for at least 20-minutes until an opening at a curve allowed enough room to rush past this big guy.
Stuck Behind a Bison
Along the road going toward the summit we saw a few solitary bull Bison’s as well as several Mule Deer. Once we came down the other side of the mountain onto the flat range area, we ran into quite a few Pronghorn Antelope as well as several herds of Bison.
Pronghorn Antelope Crossing
Miracle of America Museum
In the town of Polson, on the southern end of Flathead Lake we stopped at the “Miracle of America Museum“. This eclectic museum seems to have just about everything you can imagine. There is a large indoor space housing early native American artifacts, antique fashions and clothing, old toys, a collection of vintage Harley’s and Indian bikes and loads of military memorabilia from the Civil War up to the War on Terror.
The outside space is huge, I don’t know how many acres. You can find old cars and trucks, fire engines, tracked and wheeled military vehicles, signage from famous old America companies and brands, jet craft fuselages, a Huey helicopter, old farm equipment, even a tugboat, it goes on and on!
This place is crazy fun, but also interesting and informative, it represents the products of American ingenuity and industry of the last couple of hundred years. If you are familiar with the TV series American Pickers, this place would be a picker’s heaven.
We rented an AirBnB for the week that was located in the historical downtown section of Columbia Falls. This location was convenient to the Glacier National Park sites. The AirBnB had excellent accommodations for the three of us, with 2-bedrooms, 2-bathrooms, and a large open concept kitchen, dining and living space. The location was in the same block as several bars and restaurants and a cool bakery-coffee shop. The Gunsight Saloon, a block and a half across the street is a fun, local bar and restaurant.
Our AirBnB was clean, comfortable and well stocked. The hosts, Kim and David provided a complimentary bottle of Montana red wine as a welcome gift. If you’re interested you can check out this AirBnB by linking here to their listing.