As summer crowds thin out, many locals find they finally have time to breathe after the hustle and bustle that comes with peak tourist season in Montana. Those who have extended time off of work during the “shoulder season” often explore new parts of the country, and even the world.

Residents who can’t manage to take that much time off, however, find repose in the quieter months of fall. Hunters head into the forest; anglers take advantage of cool, still mornings on the water; and the rest of us try to pack in as many activities as possible before winter settles in.

Some people might say Montana only has two seasons – summer and winter – but they don’t know what they’re missing. Now is an ideal time to hit the road, explore your own backyard, and get a real feel for what other towns are like when they aren’t overloaded with visitors. Wander into a bar and meet the old man and his dog that come at the same time every day – maybe you’ll take home a piece of history no one else knows about.

Southwest Montana is a prime spot to live, but it’s also a convenient location for starting your next trip. No matter what direction you head in –whether its east toward Paradise Valley, south toward West Yellowstone, west toward Butte, or north toward Missoula and Whitefish – you can’t go wrong. No matter how small, each Montana town offers something special that keeps visitors returning time and again.

Maybe it’s a particular place’s atmosphere, an old bookstore, or just an appreciation for the fine masonry and woodwork characteristic of so many historic buildings that interests you. Seeing where and how other people live is always refreshing, helping to shed light on one’s own experience.

Enjoy some of the state’s finest fish and meat at Yellowstone Valley Lodge, rejuvenate in the natural hot waters of the Boiling River, and explore the beautiful scenery of Paradise Valley. From there, you can head northwest, exploring Montana’s rich mining history evident in towns like Butte, Anaconda and Philipsburg. Stop in Missoula on your way to Glacier and revel in the city’s boisterous nightlife and abundant music scene. As you pass through the friendly town of Whitefish, don’t forget to take in the changing fall landscapes.

There’s no need to plan it all out, but we’ve provided a few recommended places to stop along the way, should you find yourself in any of these areas this fall. – Maria Wyllie

 

Music: Top Hat Lounge

Whether you’re traveling through Missoula or you just passed your Bio final at the University of Montana, top_hat_stringdustersthe Top Hat Lounge is the spot to hear live music on Front Street. Recent acts include Galactic, Robert Earl Keen and G. Love and Special Sauce. Upcoming shows include Birds of Chicago on Sept. 23 and Bozeman’s Pinky and the Floyd on the 27th.

Grab a beer: Draught Works Brewery

At Draught Works Brewery, the beer names are nearly as good as the brews themselves. For a hoppy beverage, try the Scepter Head IPA; for a smoother, lighter pils go with the Quill Pig; and for draught_worksa taste of Americana amber, try “Shadow Caster,” the beer named after Norman MacLean’s classic novella “A River Runs Through It.”

Lodging: The Lodge at Whitefish Lake

This hotel resort backs up to scenic Whitefish Lake with views of the ski runs at Whitefish Mountain Resort. lodge_at_whitefish_lakeGrab your room key and drop your bags in one of the spacious 800-square-foot lakefront suites and head down to the heated outdoor pool and hot tub. The tiki bar is open while weather cooperates, but the Boat Club Lounge is open all year and was awarded the town’s best happy hour by the Whitefish Pilot in 2012.

Dining: Tupelo Grille

In Whitefish, the dining buck stops with the Southern-style Tupelo Grille. Start your meal with Southern Bayou Catfish Strips or Grilled Green Onion Sausage as an app, then move on to thetupelo_1 12-ounce Wagyu Beef Ribeye or Cajun Penne Pasta. An expansive wine list rounds out an unforgettable meal.

Activity: Whitefish Bike Retreat

The Whitefish Bike Retreat was “created by cyclists for cyclists,” according to its website. Located on the bike_retreatoutskirts of town on Beaver Lake Road, this 19-acre, full-service resort is nestled along the Whitefish Trail with downhill and cross-country access. The Whitefish Bike Retreat offers lodging and equipment rentals, and the knowledgeable staff will help you plan your mountain or road bike adventure.

Bonus: Glacier National Park

One of the nation’s most pristine national parks lies 26 miles northeast of Whitefish. With more than 700 miles of trails and camping options galore, the Crown of the Continent is one to cross off your bucket list.glacier Drive Going to the Sun Road, a 50-mile stretch completed in 1933 that runs the length of the park from east to west. Wildlife viewing is spectacular and the high-mountain lakes are not to be missed. The last day to drive the entire length of the road is Sept. 21, but it’s open from the west entrance to Logan Pass through Oct. 19.