Montana Road Trip in Flathead Indian Country

Flathead LakeTravel Montana/Rick and Suzi GraetzThe sky colors with dusk as twilight settles over Flathead Lake.

Route Details

Length: About 320 miles, plus side trips.

When to go: Popular year-round, but
especially appealing in the spring and fall.

Words to the wise: Watch out for
deer and elk crossing the roads.

Nearby attractions: Gatiss Gardens,
east of Kalispell (includes some five acres
of perennials). Glacier National Park, West
Glacier. Museum of the Plains Indians,
Browning. Towe Ford Museum, Deer Lodge
(contains one of the world’s largest collections
of antique automobiles).

Further information: Travel Montana,
301 S. Park Ave., Helena, MT 59901; tel.

Print a map of this route.

Montana may be known as Big
Sky Country, but in the state’s
rugged northwestern corner, the
landscape looms just as large. Like the
cowboys, prospectors, and pioneers
who staked their claim to its riches,
nature exists on an epic scale in Flathead
Country — where the mountains
seem the highest, the valleys the
broadest, the rivers the wildest, and
the lakes the bluest of blue.

1. Missoula

A brawny western town, Missoula
sits in a fertile basin where the
Clark Fork, Bitterroot, and Blackfoot
rivers converge. Through the
years the site has served as a natural
thoroughfare — first for Salish
Indians and much later for
travelers on the Northern Pacific

Despite a devastating fire in
1884, much of historic Missoula
remains. The old downtown district
on the north side of the Clark
Fork showcases many lovely old
structures. Across the river the
University of Montana, a major
research institution, is surrounded
by leafy blocks of lavish 19th-century

Missoula’s mile-long Greenough
Park provides a refreshingly scenic
hike through stands of conifers and
cottonwoods lining the banks of
Rattlesnake Creek. Bird-watchers
gather here to glimpse warblers,
pileated woodpeckers, American
dippers, Bohemian and cedar waxwings,
and other avian rarities.

2. Flathead Indian Reservation

Traveling northwest from Missoula
on I-90, the drive traces
the Clark Fork for eight miles
through grassy bottomland and
then turns sharply north on Rte.
93, where it begins to climb. Seven
miles later — and about a thousand
feet higher, amid forests of
Douglas fir and ponderosa pines
— you arrive at Evaro and the
southern boundary of the Flathead
Indian Reservation. Home
to more than 5,000 Indians, the
reservation encompasses over 1.2
million acres, including much of
the valleys to the north and the
mountain ranges on either side.

From Evaro, the road descends
into the Jocko Valley to Arlee, site
of the largest powwow in the
northwest, held every summer in
July. From there a short, steep
climb leads to a turnout with an
eye-popping view of the Mission
Mountains. Reaching 10,000 feet,
these stunning peaks form a barricade
of ice and stone that seems
to launch skyward from the valley
floor. So protected is Mission
Valley that the Indians knew it as
the “place of encirclement.”

3. St. Ignatius Mission

As early as 1840, Jesuit missionaries —
known to Indians as Black
Robes — visited western Montana,
choosing this hillside spot to build
their mission in 1854. The structure’s
plain brick exterior gives
little hint of the beauty to be found
within; about 50 murals and frescoes
with biblical themes adorn
the walls and ceiling.

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