Why are visitors so enamored with Montana? The skies, the mountains, the trees, and the people – all are every day reminders of how blessed we truly are to live here. As a recent visitor from the Midwest said, “Noone can tell you about the beauty of this place. You have to see it and experience it first hand, with your own eyes. It is amazing.”
This time of year, especially, reminds us of how very lucky we are to live in Western Montana. As the holidays approach, weekends and evenings are spent on a myriad of events. November, December and January are spent creating new memories while participating in old family traditions. Houses are decked out in colorful lights, while inside, pine trees are embellished with favorite decorations. In the kitchen, recipes from generations past are seen baking in the oven, while the aromas mingle throughout the house. Perhaps the holidays are best described as a time for children, parents and grandparents to come together, enjoying each other’s company amid the sights, sounds and smells of the season.
Leading up to Nov. 28th, Dec. 25 and Jan. 1st, are many spirited events. What activities will become traditions and cherished memories in your family? Will you opt for a store bought reusable Xmas tree? Or will you choose to linger around the many Christmas tree lots, to find the perfect Blue Spruce or Ponderosa Pine? Many families make it part of their holiday tradition to go out into the woods and cut their own ‘perfect’ tree. A woodcutting permit from the Forest Service is required, and for a nominal fee ($5+/-) you will be given a choice of areas that are available. This helps assist in correct land management and forestation. We suggest you dress warmly: hats, gloves, boots even though the weather has continued to be dry and pleasant in the mid 30’s to lower 40’s, it can feel much cooler in shaded and forested areas. It is always a good idea to let a friend or family member know where you will be going and how long you should be gone (whenever you travel the back trails or logging roads of Montana and especially in the fall and winter months). Also, cell phones are wonderful to have along, in case of an emergency, but remember, depending on where you are in the back woods, there may not be adequate reception; although Steve Stelling can happily check in from atop “Snowbowl” during his once-a-week inspection of the ski runs. Remember to bring an axe, saw or chainsaw to cut your fine pine or fir selection and perhaps some rope, for tying to the vehicles rooftop. Many families make a day of it by bringing sleds and picnic baskets filled with snacks and hot chocolate. Afterwards, when your perfect tree is decorated and is seen shining through the front room window, you may wish to begin your holiday shopping.
Montana does not have a sales tax, which is very nice at this time of year. In Western Montana, Missoula is the shopping mecca, as it is the ‘Hub of 5 Valleys’ and the center for a large rural population, as well as numerous smaller towns. Missoula provides the services of a much larger city with a 100+ store Mall, an active Downtown and a growing commercial strip on the west side at Reserve Street, where you will find Costco, Michaels Crafts, Barnes & Noble Bookstore, Staples, Target, Ross, T. J. Maxx, Home Depot and Lowe’s along with a Furniture Store, Video Store, Grocery Store, Cowboy Apparel, Pet Store, Sporting Goods, Computer Store, a Carmike 12 Theater, as well as, many other merchants, a few hotels (including The Marriot and The Hilton) and several motels, like the C’Mon Inn & the Grant Creek Inn and Staybridge Suites, as well as several others. Many wonderful restaurants like the Outback Steakhouse, Perkins, Famous Dave’s, The Montana Club, Mackenzie River Pizza, Johnny Carino’s, The Blue Canyon, Sean Kelly’s and yes of course a Starbucks. As you head South on Reserve Street, just past the Mullan Road juncture (where Super Wal-Mart is located; 1 of 2 stores), is the Humane Society where homeless animals await to be adopted. Continuing South on Reserve, we pass Rosauers Grocery store and Shopko, then meet with Highway 93 (which eventually turns into ‘Higgins’ as you head north) and where our other Wal-Mart are located and future site of Cabela’s and Kohl’s. Many businesses & restaurants are located on the ’93 Strip’ like Hu-Hot, Applebee’s, and Jaker’s Steakhouse, and as you head North the Southgate Mall with over 100 stores including Sears, J.C. Penney, Dillard’s and Herberger’s will be sighted on the west side. Enjoy lunch at the Asian/American ‘Mustard Seed’ or an original hoagie at Hoagieville or a refreshing and healthy drink at Just Chill’n or great burgers at Red Robin.
As we continue north, 93 turns into Higgins, you’ll notice the ‘Hip Strip’ just before you cross over the Clark Fork River; laced with a few great eateries and quaint shops to investigate, but then we cross over Higgins Street Bridge to where you’ll end up in the ‘Downtown’ area of Missoula. This is where many local artisans and store merchants are located and here is where holiday activities abound with concerts, caroling, programs, art shows, craft shows, tree lightings and Santa sightings. Local artists, dealers and museums host “First Friday” an Art Walk for everyone to enjoy beautiful fine art and sculpture in the many galleries to explore ‘Downtown’. And you can enjoy scores of great restaurants like Doc’s for great soup and san, Doublefront for fried chicken, the Uptown Diner for breakfast & lunch or Fine Dining at the Pearl, the Red Bird, or The Depot, to just name a few of the many fun and great places to dine Downtown. There are also two very nice riverside motels set alongside the beautiful Clark Fork River. One is the Doubletree Hotel Missoula Edgewater and the other is Missoula Parkside Holiday Inn Parkside with access to Riverfront Park, the Carousel for Missoula and within walking distance to the downtown area and only 3 blocks from our Main Office in the Historic Montana Building. We suggest you visit the Missoula Childrens Museum; made for kids; from toddlers to about age 10, you all will have a great time (it will keep them busy for hours – on Front Street; open Tues. – Saturday 10-5 Sunday 12-5). Downtown Missoula is where you’ll find plenty of activities for the entire family to enjoy and participate in like First Night (a family friendly event for New Years Eve), the U of M Homecoming parade in the Autumn, First Night the first Friday evening of every month, Out To Lunch in Caras Park every Wednesday, and the Farmers Markets every Saturday morning just to name a few of the annual events. We invite you to check out the “Destination Missoula” website to view and make plans to attend all the activities around town.