Sometime in the Fall of 2017, the vendor that we work with at Oliver Wyman to power the alumni social network told a group of alumni directors that they would be hosting their first conference just outside of Missoula, Montana on a ranch - and that’s all I needed to hear to be all in. What other reason would I get in life to visit Montana?
You may be surprised to find that getting from New York City to Missoula isn’t exactly easy, or direct. Another alumni director friend of mine suggested we stop off in another city beforehand to break the trip up a bit, so we decided on just under two days in Denver. I fly United domestically exclusively, but their layovers stop at 4 hours so I had to book two tickets. According to the United representative, booking two roundtrip tickets was actually cheaper than trying to connect all the dots - go figure. We stayed at the Oxford Hotel, a historic hotel right in LoDo (Lower Downtown) by Union Station, which was great. Walking distance to shops and restaurants which was all we needed for the short stint. It doesn’t hurt that they had free bourbon hour every night at 5pm - and were not stingy with the pours! We hung out in City Park for awhile since it was the first nice weather we’d seen in months, and just did quite a bit of walking around.
Flying to Missoula from Denver was a very easy 90 minute trip. We were picked up at the tiniest airport with the most taxidermy, and drove into the woods and up a dirt road to Huson, MT to stay at the High Meadow Mountain Ranch. This was was one of the most adorable places I’ve ever seen - full with cabin, barn, cows, horses, and gorgeous snow covered Rocky Mountain views almost entirely circling the area. We got to spend just under three days in this space discussing and learning from each other - but more on that in another post. Taking a break one afternoon, we drove up to a little prairie house on government owned land. The caretaker was this bad-ass elderly lady named Betty who called herself a “Montana Feminist” and was tougher than a box of nails and an utter delight. She showed us all around the property and gave us a little bit of history about it and the forest fires that nearly destroyed it. I’d never seen the remnants of a fire like that and it was eye opening and devastating.
After the conference was over, I was picked up at the airport by two of my friends I spent time in Korea with. I had convinced one of them to spend his birthday in Montana and the other actually lived in Missoula and offered to show us around. Missoula is a sweet mountain side city, and the food and fresh air is exactly what I needed for four days. It’s also home to huckleberry fields, and if you’re anything like me - you’ve never heard of a huckleberry outside of a Mark Twain book. Huckleberries are a more tart cousin to the blueberry and this town goes nuts for ‘em. Seriously they’re in everything - jam, milkshakes, pies, martinis, you name it. After my first Huckleberry milkshake I became belligerent about their superiority. You don’t choose the #HuckLyfe - the #HuckLyfe chooses you.
The first thing we did was go to my first ever national park - the National Bison Range. A giant area of land meant for the preservation of Bison that you enjoy from the safety of your own car. Within minutes of driving into the range, we were greeted by a rather large group of Bison who stubbornly refused to get out of the way. And well… you sit there until they’re ready to go. We also saw Elk and plenty of deer, and it was a great way to spend a couple of hours.
The biggest highlight of the trip was a 2 hour ride up to Glacier National Park. We were there in the beginning of May, which is apparently still winter so most of the park wasn’t actually open to visitors. We were able to drive along Lake McDonald, and check out the grounds of the Lodge. Nothing was open other than some of the facilities (which is a plus) and a shop or two, but no restaurants. So if you’re going to go - try after Memorial Day. We took the Sperry Trailhead up about 1.5 miles before turning back to head down. Along the way back down there were two girls in full ski outfits with their skis & gear on the back who were going to hike the 6 miles up to the top and ski down. THAT is commitment. Also, there’s bears. So - be prepared for that.
We took the two hour drive back, but not without stopping at Flathead Lake for a sunset dinner at the brewery. Montana is one of the biggest craft beer states in America, so it was kind of a must. The beer was great, and so was the food. One of the few places with a nice view too.
The last thing we did in Montana…. was go to Idaho. When you’re that close it makes sense just to pop on over the border and cross off another state, and this time it was in search of hot springs. We were looking for the Jerry Johnson Hot Springs, which are naturally occurring right next to a raging river alongside a trail. At first we walked about a mile in the wrong direction, but it was a fun stroll through the woods. We doubled back and found the correct trail with all the other people. Being that it was just a hole in the ground with hot water, I opted out. My friends got in, and I went to sit by the river and stick my feet into the cold water. No regrets.
We left Idaho and on our way back into Montana stopped at the Lolo Hot Springs and spent the next few hours here. They have two pools - one outdoor that’s hot and one indoor that’s hotter than hot. I much preferred the pools to the one in Idaho, but that’s just me :)
All in all… I only experienced a small portion of the state, but it was incredible and highly underrated. Very much recommend it if you’re any kind of outdoor enthusiast. If you’re on Foursquare and log your travels, here’s my list. It’s not 100%, but it picks up the big things.