• Followed all COVID-19 protocols while travelling
  • Bought groceries for picnics and a very special birthday dinner
  • Alternated BIG activities every other day
  • Birthday dinner Day 1
  • Pontoon boat trip on day 2
  • Explored charming rustic town of Bigfork Day 3
  • Day trip to Glacier National Park day 4
  • Surprise dinner guest evening of day 5
  • Cherry orchards everywhere!
  • We saw Mama bear and cub in cherry orchard

By the end of July 2020, COVID-19 counts were down, summer temperatures were up, lockdown had slowed the spread, and it looked like we could get away for a quick 4 day trip to Montana to celebrate my lifelong friend’s 60th birthday. First time on an airplane in many months, so we took every precaution.

Although at the time, Airbnb’s weren’t really renting, another friend offered up her house in Montana for any friends or family that were interested.  She usually has it rented the entire summer on Airbnb, and was grateful for any friends or family to makeup the shortfall.  We reserved the house, and made our travel arrangements for a 5 day 4 night stay.

The birthday girl has privileges and a companion pass on Southwest Airlines.  So the decision was made to fly on Southwest into Spokane, Washington, rent a car, and drive the 4 hours to the house in Montana.  Southwest Airlines was still blocking middle seats in July 2020, so the trip was uneventful.  We took all the usual strict COVID-19 precautions; and briefly stopped at Costco for provisions before leaving the Spokane area.  We drove the short distance across Washington state to Idaho and made Coeur d’Alene for lunch. We had never been to Coeur d’Alene and now we want to return on another trip to more fully explore this beautiful town.  Idaho had just made mask wearing mandatory in the state 2 days before our arrival. It was interesting to watch a political protest regarding the restrictions play out while we enjoyed lunch on an outdoor patio. We left to continue our journey to our final destination, the Flathead Lake area of Montana, just outside the town of Ronan.

To say the scenery was great would be an understatement.  The stunning mountains rising out of the plains took our breath away.  We were blessed beyond measure to be spending our time in such a beautiful part of this great country.

Winding through the incredible vistas we located our home for the next few days, just outside of Ronan. A 3-bed, house designed by a famous Japanese architect back in the 1990’s.  Nestled on 5 acres, the area featured abundant wildlife, or evidence of such, every day.  A scenic babbling brook ran in front of the house giving us our own little slice of heaven to enjoy.

Our first night was the birthday celebration dinner in honor of the special occasion with special friends. We cooked at the house the steaks we had gotten at Costco, with baked potatoes and all the trimmings plus a very special bottle of red wine. We dined al fresco on the house’s large porch mesmerized by the beautiful views and sounds of the creek.  If memory serves, we introduced our friends to the game Rummikub after dinner, as there was a set on the game shelf of the house.  After several very competitive rounds, our friends liked Rummikub so much, they ordered their own set to be delivered and waiting for them when we returned from the trip. Thank goodness for Amazon.?  In fact, my friend liked it so much, she gifted her entire team at work, each with their own set for Christmas this year.

The next day we had booked a pontoon boat outing for nearby Flat Head Lake.  An incredible deep turquoise mountain lake, similar to Lake Tahoe, more incredible views and the weather was absolutely divine!  A quick boat review from the owner for the two of us who would be boat drivers and off we went.  The boat owner, pointed out several points of interest for a picnic and sites that he recommended.  We made the hour journey to Wild Horse Island, and found a quiet cove to anchor and break out lunch on the boat.  After our stop and a quick swim, we gathered up anchor and proceeded across the lake to explore the back side of Finley Point in Skidoo Bay.  The water was crystal clear, and fish spotting captured our interest for the next hour.  As the sun started to wane, we made our way back to the dock.  It was a fabulous experience we would highly recommend if you are in the area and have the time.  We booked with, and highly recommend them.  We ended the day with dinner at a locally famous drive-in burger joint known for its Huckleberry milkshakes this time of year.  Upon returning from our outing, there were several more competitive games of Rummikub.

The next day we took a day trip to the town of Bigfork.  It had a quaint downtown area to explore with boutique shopping and lots of food and drink options, including many with patios. We had wanted to see a show by the local Polson Players, however, when we arrived at the box office, they were closed due to COVID-19.  We found a lovely sculpture garden and got several great photos for our memory box.  We opted to make it an early night, as we had a day trip planned the next day to Glacier National Park and wanted to get an early start.

We had heard about all the wildlife in the area – bears, bison, mountain goats, etc.  but up until this point we had only seen turkeys, and a few deer at the house.  So our goal on Glacier day was to spot some wildlife, we even remembered to bring the binoculars.  Took us a couple of hours to drive there, and Glacier National Park was truly STUNNING! We checked in at the Ranger station to confirm any road closings.  We began our drive on the edge of Lake McDonald and followed it as we climbed toward Going to the Sun Mountain.  We stopped at each pullout to enjoy the pristine vistas, and take pictures.   Wildlife was still elusive, but the scenery was incredible.  With the help of a couple of park rangers, we found a lovely area with picnic tables where we could enjoy the lunch we had packed.  We are always up for a picnic!

After lunch and a short rest, we doubled back and drove back down the mountain. Once we were out of Glacier, we continued our drive back to Ronan, passing several cherry orchards along the way.  All at once I shouted, “Bear!”.  We were already well past the particular orchard when I finally convinced the group, yes we needed to turn around, I really saw a bear.  So after a quick U-turn, we went back about 500 yards.  Still no bear.  We turned around again to carry on in the direction of Ronan. But then – there she was!  A large mama black bear and cub in a fenced orchard right next to the road.  We stopped and, in our excitement, fumbled for our cameras.  Sure enough, the hero shots, at the very end of our day. Astonishing!  Not just “a bear”, a mama and her baby cub.  The mama could hear us squealing and talking once we lowered the windows to get the shots. So much for stealth.   She took a few steps to the next row of trees in the orchard and baby cub scampered up a nearby tree for safety.  Mama has taught him well.  What a way to cap off an already amazing day.

Our final day in Montana was very low key.  We went for long walks, took more pictures, watched several deer close to the house, and packed up for early departure the next day.  Our last night in Montana we had made reservations at a lakeview restaurant in Polson, where unbeknownst to the birthday girl, our hostess, another lifelong friend, was flying in from Chicago to surprise her.  The surprise went off without a hitch and we had a wonderful time replaying all we had done during our time in Montana.  I think there was stargazing that evening too, as well as a few glasses of wine.  Star gazing out away from spill light gives you feeling of just how immense the universe is.  It is awe inspiring.  We now understand another reason why Montana is called “Big Sky” country.

The next morning, we packed the van, took more pictures and said good-bye to our friend.  We retraced our route to get back to Spokane to fly home.

We highly recommend a trip to Montana and you will understand why they call it Big Sky country, particularly around the Flathead lake area.  There are several Airbnb listings in and around Ronan and Polson.  A small bit of planning, and a dash of flexibility and you will have a wonderful time.  Late July is a beautiful time of year to be there.

Happy travels,

Kathy & Mike