The King, Arthur, would not take his meat for dinner until he had an adventure and so we have the story of Arthur, Sir Galahad and Sir Percival and the Holy Grail. Before dinner, the great knights went out to see the fabulous white shield with a red cross upon it and vowed that all their adventures, henceforth, would be for the grail. It is great fun to seek adventure before your dinner and not a bad philosophy with which to begin your hiking adventures through Montana.
As a child I learned to hunt and fish in Montana. Hiking was only a part of that – it’s what you did to get to the fish. When I was an adult and working in the big city, I used to have one daydream – I would stand on a big rock overlooking a high mountain lake, the water was as blue as a neon light and big cumulus clouds danced around in the reflection off the surface. It’s a dream and a memory that constantly sustains and motivates me.
I learned to hike for hiking’s sake with a friend from Chicago. One of my great memories is standing next to him when we arrived at the headwaters of a river. He had the maps memorized and he had the big picture of east or west drainages in his intellect, assiduously directing our steps. But when we found one small creek of melting glacial ice and he saw how all the pieces of water fit together into one big river drainage, he just whooped for joy. He was so thrilled to discover for himself how all things are connected in a great web.
The first step to take on any hike is to look at the maps and read hiking guides. A highway map of Montana will show you that Highway 200 runs east and west through the whole state. It is a two-lane highway most of the way and very scenic, fun to drive and take photographs.
To get ideas for trailheads to drive to, read: Hiking Montana, by Bill Schneider. This is a Falcon Guide and one of many good guidebooks on the state. Falcon Press has a web site and they are located at: P.O. Box 1718, Helena, MT 59624. Bill Cunningham is a veteran hiker and writes of great adventures for Montana Magazine, also on line, P.O. Box 5630, Helena, MT 59604 (Helena is the state capitol and where a lot of printers live!). One of my favorite guidebooks is: Birding Montana, by Terry McEneaney. It is also a Falcon Guide. Terry takes you on drives and hikes all over Montana and tells you what species of birds live there.
When you find a hike that is longer than a few understandable miles, you’ll need a topographic map to take you into the wilderness. One good shop for maps is: Missoula Blueprint Co., 1613 South Avenue West, Missoula, MT 59801, (406-549-0250). You can also buy maps from the US Forest Service – forest maps – that show public and private lands, trails, roads, campgrounds, etc. Forest Service offices are available in every town along your way through Montana or you can call the recreation phone line in Missoula: 406-329-3814. There is also a web site for you to check out: www.montana-maps.com.
If you are a true knight or knight-ess, and you want fabulous adventure before your evening of fine dining and say you don’t have enough time to drive through the state or you just want one good location to fly in and out of – visit one of two national parks that exist in Montana: Yellowstone National Park and Glacier National Park and International Waterton Park. Glacier and Waterton exist on a peace treaty between the United States and Canada. You can take a wonderful ferry ride across the border. The Lamar Valley in Yellowstone is where the wolves were transplanted from Canada. You can watch wolves and grizzlies feed on elk kills in early June. Both parks offer fantastic backcountry hiking for all levels of experience. Glacier alone has 730 miles of hiking. Log on to Yellowstone Park or Glacier Park and see what comes up.
Horsepackers are welcome on most trails as are ORTVs. A horse or an off road vehicle won’t do damage if they stay on the designated trails – neither will you and your vibram soles, if you stay on the trails and don’t stomp around on the fragile plants.
If you want to take a class and learn about the intricacies of the web of nature in Montana – and meet some great new friends – both national parks have learning centers. I’ve taken classes on birds (with Terry McEneaney), art of the journal, owls, fly fishing, tracking large animals, and so forth. Log on to www.yellowstone.org for the Yellowstone Ecosystems Studies. I couldn’t find the Glacier Institute on the internet, but that doesn’t surprise me. They are a small but wonderful organization without a large bank account. You can write Glacier National Park at West Glacier, MT 59936 and ask for a brochure from the institute, or call: 406-755-1211.
Hiking Montana can take a week, a day, or the rest of your life. Please contact me if you would like any help visiting Montana, and remember: To walk is human, to hike is divine.