They call Montana big sky country, and they do so with good reason! I mean, just wow. What scenery. So anyone who has read any of my previous articles will know I'm a city girl. I live in London and most of my travels take me to other cities. It was time for a break...
My father-in-law lives in Hamilton, Montana which as many of you will know is as far removed from civilisation as can be expected. He is a man that loves the great outdoors, makes his own life, and wants to be at one with Nature. I was lucky enough to go and visit him and experience what they call “big sky country”. Firstly, how to get there…
Well, you can’t just fly from London to lil’ ole’ Hamilton - to get there you can either take a flight from another airport - for example, Seattle. This would get you to Missoula, a main town with a national airport. Problem is, flights are often expensive. One flight that I researched for this article cost $900 return! That is a lot for a domestic flight! Other options include renting a car, which is favourable - although the journey is long (around 10 hours or so). Finally, you have public transportation. For the purposes of this article I have excluded train. That, I found from where I was travelling from, quite expensive and also indirect. A greyhound is another option. Shares the same time as a car (roughly), but a lot cheaper - around $150. You also get wifi and a toilet, as well as comfort breaks. The journey is split though. Overall for this trip, I opted for a Delta flight. The flight had Wifi and only took a couple of hours.
My father-in-law was fortunate enough to find himself a secluded yet beautiful home up in the hills. It was a log cabin, not too old, with plenty of land. It felt like our own private paradise! Spacious and homely, with three floors and a mezzanine overlooking the living and dining space. He is an old country gentleman, so the decor was in keeping with the theme of an old lodge, decorated with trinkets such as saddles, old lanterns etc. He even had an old wood fired stove, which helped to keep the place warm in the cold winter months. The land was mostly impassable, rocky, hilly terrain - a menagerie of grass and trees. The view, however, from the clearing and over the treetop gave views of the snow capped mountains and nearby lake Como.
My first view from the cabin
In winter, conditions are quite treacherous - subzero temperatures, difficult passes (you definitely need a 4x4 and chains to reach it in winter!), a variety of wildlife, such as mountain lions and bears…I opted to visit with my husband during the summer. The temperature and weather in the summer is quite favourable and is usually around 80F. Sometimes you get the occasional storm roll in, but often this is over quite quickly. At night, a good storm is a feat for the eyes. When the sky is clear, equally so - you can see the milky way and even the odd satellite pass by!
The view from the cabin at dusk
So on my first day of arriving at this beautiful lodge, it was already late, so we got a quick tour, and then settled down for the night to the sound of crickets chirping outside. The next day, we were awoke to the smell of fresh pancakes. My father-in-law doesn’t skimp out on breakfast! It was delicious! We then set out for a tour of the local town - Hamilton. Located in the bitterroot valley, it is an old style town, hasn’t changed much since it was founded in the late 1800’s. It is what I would call the definition of “old town USA”. The main street still in keeping with the theme, although a lot of the venues are now modernised and give all the amenities that you would expect in a modern city - trendy bars, cafe’s and convenience stores. That said, some of the stores are still almost “as they were” - there is an old toy store, which is simply fantastic, as well as an old department store, Ford’s which from the outside at least is like a trip back in time! Small, local businesses where the service is so personal. I really love to shop at and support these stores. I asked a few business owners how business was - they said they were getting by, although the winter months were quite hard for them, with a massive reduction in footfall.
Main St. Hamilton
Fords - Main St. Hamilton
Not far from main street, you can expect to see all the typical chains and amenities such as Walgreens, Trader Joe’s, Dairy Queen and so on. For some of the others, you have to venture out to Missoula - but I found that they had a good selection and everything we needed. We would venture into Missoula on another day. For the rest of the day, we continued our tour of Hamilton and the Bitterroot Valley. You don’t have to go far from mainstream and you are already at the Bitterroot river, where you have views of the river with a backdrop of the mountains. Driving up in the Bitterroot Forest, towards Skalkaho there are truly great scenes of trees and mountainside, with the occasional waterfall. We took a drive through the forest and stopped off by a waterfall. The landscape is scarred from previous forest fires - it was hard not to be taken aback by the majesty of the nature of the whole place. It is truly a sight to see. It was soon heading to the late afternoon and we had a great local tradition to stop by on…A good old fashioned rodeo!
The view from Skalkaho Highway, Bitterroot Forest
A waterfall off Skalkaho Rd.
Skalkaho, Bitteroot Forest
Located off Fairgrounds Road in Hamilton, this is a great traditional experience that gets all involved. Watch the pros wrangle, amongst the typical American fanfare that you would expect. There was even a junior rodeo, featuring kids as young as three years old! It was a great experience. They even had a boot toss, where my kid brother-in-laws got to get involved! As well as this, you can expect fresh local foods and produce being sold and get to meet and chat to the locals. It is really a homely feature with, as usual in these parts, the backdrop of the mountains and forests. Once we had got our fill, we retired home for a light snack before bed.
Rodeo - Hamilton
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