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Southwest Montana: Big Sky and Beyond

By Chris Woolston

Jan 10, 2012

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Photo by Dennis Roth.

Photo by Dennis Roth.

Montana is a sight to see with its vibrant art scene, beautiful national parks, and steamy hot springs.

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Home to ranchers, skiers, hunters, and hippies, Missoula, Montana, is like a Pacific Northwest town set amongst the Rockies. The surrounding region, with Glacier National Park to the north and the Bitterroot Valley to the south, pulls in swarms of summer visitors. Winter brings a more discerning crowd: people who can slap on a swimsuit in 10-degree weather to dip into hot springs, and travelers who appreciate the stillness of snow-covered peaks but who want to stay within reach of the city’s vibrant arts scene.

National Bison Range

Frost on their humps and steam billowing from their oversize heads, bison look especially wild in winter. Hundreds of the iconic animals live on the National Bison Range, about an hour north of Missoula. The 10-mile round-trip Winter Drive is free of charge.

Ranch at Rock Creek

Owner Jim Manley thought of everything for his new Ranch at Rock Creek, a 6,600-acre all-inclusive retreat 100 miles from Missoula. Rooms are outfitted with Western antiques, books, and photography. Bison short ribs are served in the homey dining room, and the ranch keeps things playful with outdoor activities from paintball to sledding, as well as bowling, pool, and karaoke in the saloon.

Jerry Johnson Hot Springs

The region’s best clothing-seldom, natural bathing spot, Jerry Johnson Hot Springs, is over the Idaho border off Highway 12. For a resort-style soak, try Symes Hot Springs or Lolo Hot Springs, of A River Runs Through It fame.

>>Next: AFAR Travel Guide to Montana

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