Freedom to roam for big mammals—bear, elk, wolves, lynx, moose—means robust wildlife populations and great viewing. During spring and summer, grizzlies wander the high country, scarfing up grass, roots, insects and, rarely, meat. In the autumn, they rove where berries ripen. Black bears prefer the cover of forests. Your chance of seeing a wolverine during your lifetime is greatest while hiking in Glacier National Park, especially the Highline Trail. The region’s wild rivers and glaciated lakes are magnets for waterfowl, resident and migratory. Eagles, hawks, and owls swoop through intermountain valleys and along alpine ridges.
Tremendous day hikes and vast backpacking terrain are a bonanza for mountain explorers. Thousands of miles of trail crisscross public land, much of it maintained by volunteers. Close to town, families find pedestrian joys at Foys to Blacktail Trails near Kalispell, the Whitefish Trail, Columbia Lake Spirit Trail, and Kimberley Nature Park. The Montana Wilderness Association, since 1962, leads free nature hikes. Waterton and Glacier National Parks provide access to trails that quickly put you in alpine zones, although you must be willing to walk uphill in beautiful settings that take your breath away.
At the headwaters of the continent, thousands of small streams feed hundreds of lakes and two dozen major rivers. Flathead Lake is the largest natural freshwater lake west of the Mississippi in the Lower 48. Outfitters point to choice riffles to cast your fly in the Elk River and South Fork of the Flathead. Musclepowered boaters find wilderness tranquility on Kintla Lake in Glacier National Park and Elk Lakes Provincial Park. Mountain hikers swear by therapeutic leaps into glacier-fed lakes to pacify weary muscles. Downstream, millions of North Americans depend upon these fresh, clean waters for drinking, recreation, and agriculture.
Although not a strict dividing line, the Continental Divide is a helpful guide for those who do and do not love snow. The mountain crest catches Pacific storms that deposit abundant snowfall on the west side. On the eastern side, snoweater chinook winds, warm and fierce, quickly erase the leftovers of earlier blizzards. Snowshoeing, and cross-country and downhill ski opportunities abound on the west side. Windows between freezing and snowfall for wild ice skating may last longer on the east side for those who can abide the wind.