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Road Trip Thru north Idaho and Montana
Old 07-20-2010, 05:56 PM   #1
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Road Trip Thru north Idaho and Montana

The route started in Moscow, ID, went through north central Idaho, northwestern Montana, and through central Montana. It ended about 40 miles south of the Canadian border in Havre, MT. This travelogue may seem long. But I think anyone wanting to get a taste of what this famously beautiful part of the nation has to offer will enjoy it.

TRIP PREP
For this trip I chose to caravan with a former classmate. He was the bad-ass biker. Complete with long hair, leather and tattoos. Former member of a punk band that toured nationally, his bad-assness was not an act. No weekend warrior, but a real teddy bear when you get to know him. He drove a Harley he had completely re-built himself. I was the bad-ass wannabee in a classic Chevy. We drew a lot of looks and thumbs-up on the days drive. Including trains honking at one point.

We met over buffalo burgers one week in advance to plan our trip, which ultimately included a decision to take the scenic route wherever possible, and a quick jaunt through Glacier National Park. At his request we planned to stop about every two hours. He explained that as a biker he needed to “Gas-up, stretch, scratch, and make sure all his manly parts were still in place.”

MOSCOW ID TO ST. REGIS MT
We departed Moscow at 7:30am. The sun was out and my windows were down. They stayed that way for the entire days 500 mile drive. My Monte led the charge through the rolling hills of the Palouse. This area was once listed by National Geographic as one of the 20 most beautiful landscapes in the world. Living here that is easy to forget. Not on a day like this. The green and gold colored hills had the hue of gigantic ocean waves kissed by the sun and frozen in time.

Coming out of the Palouse we opted to take the White Pine Scenic Route. This shadow filled curvaceous road goes through the middle of a dense forest stand of very large white pines. After about 60 miles of mountain meadows, curves and rural Idaho we came to interstate 90.

Need for a brief stop in Wallace, ID was indicated by my Harley driving compadre. Wallace is an old time mining town and until about 25 years ago had a very rough and tumble nature. It was well known up through the mid 80s as a den for gambling and prostitution. The Wild West took a long time to die here. Today its main trade is tourism, and it has a very quaint little downtown. We spent sometime enjoying it.

WELCOME TO MONTANA, LAND OF NARROW ROADS AND HIGH SPEEDS
Next after Wallace was Lookout Pass. Nestled on the Idaho-Montana border, this steep pass can be quite the challenge in the winter. Summer time makes it easy, and we had no issues. The western side of the Rockies is different from the east. More wet and lush. As we drove the pass it quickly converted to the look of the more arid east. Beautiful view from the top, though not enjoyed for long as we were driving about 70mph. We departed the interstate at St. Regis. This was the last interstate we would see until our return trip.

In Idaho and most sane states the top speed on narrow secondary roads is 60mph. A reluctant adopter of President Carters late 70s 55mph limit, Montana quickly reverted to high speeds when this federal mandate ended in the mid-90s. They took to it with gusto having no set speed limit for a time. “Reasonable and prudent” was the law of the land. The bane of modern existence, lawyers, quickly forced the state to set-up numerical limits. Driving the narrow, twisty, shoulderless road along the river north of St. Regis I was reminded that Montana is still different. The speed limit was 70 mph and I was being passed like I was standing still. Rivers, lakes and narrow roads at high speed were the name of the game until we reached Glacier. Harley heaven, and fun in a big old Monte, too.

GLACIER NATIONAL PARK: REAFFIRMATION OF MY FEAR OF HEIGHTS
We entered the park near Whitehorse, Montana. No, I didn’t see any white horses. After stopping at the park gate to pay a friendly Ranger our $25 day pass fee we were off.

Glacier is drop dead gorgeous. No other words express it. A twisty, steep and inspiring road called Going to the Sun Highway takes you through the heart of the psrk. This 45 mile long road takes about 2 hours to traverse if you go non-stop. But you will not go non-stop. But you will stop. The road is simply too beautiful. Even the most hardened traveler will stop to enjoy these views.

After about 20 miles of driving along crystal clear lakes and rivers I nearly had a heart attack. This was when we came to the base of Logan Pass. My first thought upon coming to it was “What murderous SOB of a construction engineers came up with this deadly route for a road?” Think of the steepest, windiest, narrowest road up a mountain that you can imagine. Take it times 10 and you might have some idea of this road. Nonetheless, 1000s of people drive it every year. My partner and I were determined to surmount it. He, on his bike, felt less trepidation than I in my muscle boat.

The going was low, slow and beautiful. As I drove I noticed the cliff on the left edge of the road was nearly perpendicular. It even hung over the road in places. I did my damndest not to think of what I’d see if I looked out my passenger side and down. The view from that side of the car was amazing.

About half way up the pass I did look to my right and down and “HOLY MARY MOTHER OF GOD!” I couldn’t see any road, shoulder, nothing! From my vantage it looked like half my car was hanging out over a sheer 2000 foot drop. I decided not to do that again.

After about 40 minutes of beautiful awe-inspiring views intermingled with sheer terror we reached the top. The views from the vista house were amazing. Worth the drive. While there several Big Horn sheep and a family of Mountain Goats wandered by.

Thankfully the road down the east side of Logan pass is not nearly as steep or curvaceous.

BROWNING THRU THE HI-LINE IN MONTANA
Eastern Montana is completely unlike its sibling to the west. Where the charms of the west are numerous and obvious, eastern Montana takes its own sweet time to beguile you. The land quickly becomes almost eerily flat. On a clear day you can see for over 100 miles. The arid landscape has few trees. Those that do survive are often stunted and windblown. As are the few buildings you will see dotting the landscape. The beauty of this land lies in a curious mix of the large and small. Landscapes as large as the mind can imagine, and the fragile beauty of desert flowers and half-dried stream beds.

We soon found ourselves in Browning. Center of the local Indian reservation; Browning is a poster child for all that is wrong with that system. Keeping it simple, Browning looks like a 3rd world country. We didn’t linger.

The last 200 miles of our trip took us through the tiny towns that pop-up every ten miles in an area known as the “Hi-Line.” Most so small you don’t even have to drop down from the 70mph limit. The area was a combination of sweeping vistas, straight road, and high speeds down US Hwy 2.

Around 9:45pm I saw the arid mountain range known as the Bears Paw. Geographically unique, this range resembles a series of large buttes abutting one another more than a true mountain range. I knew Havre was near.

After 14 hours we arrived in Havre. We toasted our classmates and enjoyed some well earned beers.
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Old 07-20-2010, 06:16 PM   #2
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Gorgeous part of the country and since DW was born west of Havre, know it well. Actually was up there last month for the 100 year anniversary. And Logan's pass is fun too, especially if it is storming. Glad you had a great time.
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Old 07-20-2010, 11:41 PM   #3
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Keim,

Great Travelogue! I've driven most of that route, except for the Glacier Park loop. The route, and especially the Palouse is one of the best-kept secrets in North America.

My Grandmother homesteaded near Havre, outside of Scobey in the 1920's. I inherited all the old photos and a copy of their land grant, signed by Calvin Coolidge. She had lots of great stories about their years there, they lasted longer than most but eventually froze out like almost everyone else.

Best,
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Old 07-21-2010, 07:05 AM   #4
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We were in Havre last week.

Montana is like Texas in that it is so big it cannot be described easily -- every hundred miles or so is a whole different country. We have been to/through Montana many times visiting relatives in Bismarck and Spokane. Another beautiful route is from Rock Springs, Wyoming through Salt Lake City either via Pocatello or Boise to that most beautiful of places -- Cour d'Alene. We have driven many times the I-94/I-90 route through Miles City/Billings/Butte -- Pompeys Pillar and the Custer/Greasy Grass battlefield are worth the trip on their own.

Anyway, this time we went from the Black Hills to Miles City. From Miles City, we went to Great Falls and, for the first time, fully understood the meaning of "Big Sky." The views from the high-points in the highway are incredible. I told Brenda that every other state has those "Scenic View" pull-offs but every single one paled in comparison to what we seen every few miles without stopping. From Great Falls, we went to Fort Benton -- the birthplace of Montana. Fort Benton is the second place I have been that I seriously considered as a place to "settle" down . This is only the second time (the other was Silver City NM) I felt an affinity to a place even before stopping and getting out of the vehicle. (The thought was fleeting, of course, because July in Montana is not October through April.) Fort Benton is in a ravine cut out by the Missouri River and the Missouri River is large enough here to have had Steam-driven Paddle boats sail all the way from St. Louis in the late 19th century. Today they have a most wonderful "River Walk" and a very large number of historic buildings and museums. Yet, it is a very small town -- population 1,594. In addition, the Missouri Breaks National Monument (President Clinton) is there for the very adventurous -- as yet completely undeveloped with no roads for travel by ordinary cars.

From Fort Benton we went through Havre, Glasgow and Wolf Point to Williston, North Dakota. From there we went back to Montana through Sidney and stayed overnight in Glendive. The next day we spent over five hours in Theodore Roosevelt National Park at Medora, North Dakota. Like our ten days in Nebraska in May, We enjoyed an eye-opening surprise for what a beautiful and diverse country we live in.

(Did I ever mention how much fun this RV thing is?)
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Old 07-21-2010, 07:46 AM   #5
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Montana is like Texas...
...without the chiggers, scorpions, etc.

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The next day we spent over five hours in Theodore Roosevelt National Park ...
I still don't get your 'shoot & scoot' travel style. Since you have your own home on wheels, why not stay a day or two to enjoy the place? Or do you and/or your DW suffer from RVADHD?
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Old 07-21-2010, 08:06 AM   #6
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[QUOTE=REWahoo;959961 Or do you and/or your DW suffer from RVADHD? [/QUOTE]



Oh, I don't know. There are some who would think that 10 days in Nebraska (and we were just in the western half) would seem like a life time. And I recall mentioning staying in New Orleans for a week... twice. And this Montana portion of that trip took about a week. Any longer and I would have missed Salem Sue or the Enchanted Highway.

Bottom line, I guess: That is the way we have always done it. Our early years were mostly spent visiting Hawaii and its many wonders with the clock always ticking. We have, for instance, been on over twenty cruises -- which is the ultimate "shoot & scoot" travel experience. Simply put, we don't know any better. other way. Besides, life is short and there is so much to see and do to simply sit around the campfire.
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Old 07-21-2010, 08:17 AM   #7
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If anyone here likes traveling away from the interstate highways you might like the book Blue Highways by William Least Heat Moon. It's the story of his trip around the USA on the 2 lane roads shown in blue on road maps.
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Old 07-21-2010, 08:21 AM   #8
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Yeah - we took almost a month to cross Montana! (following the Lewis & Clark trail) And that was just going across the north part and then down the western part. The place was huge!

I wish we had had time go back across the southern part following the Yellowstone, but it was getting cold. Besides - had to swing by Yakima Valley WA and buy some more wine! (now that "side trip" only took a week LOL!)

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Old 07-21-2010, 08:29 AM   #9
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If anyone here likes traveling away from the interstate highways you might like the book Blue Highways by William Least Heat Moon. It's the story of his trip around the USA on the 2 lane roads shown in blue on road maps.
here is a link to the book: Blue Highways: A Journey into America

Another good book to have with you at all times is: National Geographic Guide to Scenic Highways & Byways

Or visit RoadTrip America - Road Trip Planning for North America
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Old 07-21-2010, 11:05 AM   #10
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Westernskies:

You are right about the Palouse. Vastly underrated. Beautiful landscape.

Too bad you haven't seen Glacier. Beautiful.
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Old 07-21-2010, 04:07 PM   #11
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A close family member might be moving to Moscow. When they first told me I thought, why would they want to go to Russia? Thanks for the travelogue, I'm looking forward to doing a similar trip in the future.
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Old 07-21-2010, 04:12 PM   #12
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I ordered something online. After about a month I contacted the vendor to see why it hadn't arrived yet. "I'm doing all of my international shipments at the same time." To which I responded "Good idea! But I'm in Idaho." They were embarrassed!

It is a fun trip, FinallyRetired. I could have taken a month to do it, exploring along the way. I still wouldn't have seen 10% of what their is to see.

Hope your family member likes Moscow. I know I do.
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Old 07-21-2010, 06:04 PM   #13
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I had some fun driving through Montana last year. Came in from NoDak, spent a day in Billings, then set up base in Great Falls. Spent two days in Glacier NP, which was far too little. I found it amusing that you can drive 70 miles an hour on the two-lane roads and not see another car in either direction for up to an hour at a time. Truly a very empty state.
But the people I met were certainly friendly and the scenery was great. Flathead Lake was probably my favorite part.

I'd like to go back there and spend much more time, and probably will, but not until next year. Has anyone done any serious backpacking in Glacier? That's high on my list.

In Idaho, I've only been to Boise, Bonners Ferry, Coeur D'Alene, Idaho Falls, and Mountain Home. Another great state that's very little known to people from the eastern half of the country.
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Old 07-21-2010, 06:14 PM   #14
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I haven't packed into Glacier. But I have packed into the Scapegoat and Bob Marshall wildernesses. They are just south of Glacier. Also awesome.


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I had some fun driving through Montana last year. Came in from NoDak, spent a day in Billings, then set up base in Great Falls. Spent two days in Glacier NP, which was far too little. I found it amusing that you can drive 70 miles an hour on the two-lane roads and not see another car in either direction for up to an hour at a time. Truly a very empty state.
But the people I met were certainly friendly and the scenery was great. Flathead Lake was probably my favorite part.

I'd like to go back there and spend much more time, and probably will, but not until next year. Has anyone done any serious backpacking in Glacier? That's high on my list.

In Idaho, I've only been to Boise, Bonners Ferry, Coeur D'Alene, Idaho Falls, and Mountain Home. Another great state that's very little known to people from the eastern half of the country.
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Old 07-22-2010, 11:36 AM   #15
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Hope your family member likes Moscow. I know I do.
How would you characterize Moscow? I've heard it's a college town, but there's a lot of farming around there, right? Is it a good place for young people starting a family?
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Old 07-22-2010, 11:46 AM   #16
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How would you characterize Moscow? I've heard it's a college town, but there's a lot of farming around there, right? Is it a good place for young people starting a family?
Due to the presence of the U of I Moscow is probably the most liberal town in Idaho. Thats not saying much, as Idaho is notoriously conservative. The U of I and Washington State U are two of the largest employers. Ag is also a large part of the economy, as the town is surrounded by some of the most fertile soil in the world.

The town has a relaxed pace of life. Nice parks, pleasant downtown. Very easy to walk or bike around town. Very low crime rate. Schools are some of the best in Idaho.

If you like outdoor activities Moscow may be nirvana. With the exception of the ocean, almost all types of outdoor activities are available with just a few hours drive or less.

You may wish to go to this forum and search for Moscow:
Idaho Forum - Relocation, Moving, Local City Discussions - City-Data Forum
Lots of nice descriptions there.
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Old 07-22-2010, 01:06 PM   #17
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My first trip after retiring a couple years ago was to northern Canadian & Alaska. We drove up through Idaho & Montana into Alberta. Since you were in Glacier I think you are describing the Going To The Sun Highway ( http://visitmt.com/virtualvisitor/bi...o_the_sun.html )
One of the most remarkable roads I have been on. We were there in July and it had only been open two weeks, sections were one lane and you did not want to get off the road. Nice part of the world but I think I'll make sure not to be there in winter.
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Old 07-22-2010, 02:21 PM   #18
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Due to the presence of the U of I Moscow is probably the most liberal town in Idaho. Thats not saying much, as Idaho is notoriously conservative. The U of I and Washington State U are two of the largest employers. Ag is also a large part of the economy, as the town is surrounded by some of the most fertile soil in the world.
Thanks, Keim, and thanks for the link. Sounds like a great place. I can do liberal, or I can do conservative, I just can't do extreme in either direction. Given a choice, I would rather be in a liberal community, the discussions tend to be more interesting, especially in a college town.

Many years ago I thought about relocating to northern Idaho but was put off by the alleged skinhead and neonazi communities up there. From what I've read, that's pretty much a thing of the past now, at least I hope so.
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Old 07-22-2010, 03:22 PM   #19
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Next time you hit Montana, try the Canadian entrance to Waterton and take the boat ride down to the US ranger station at the south end of the lake in Glacier. In addition to the fantastic scenery, you get to see the 49th parallel as a swath cut through the forest on both sides of the lake.
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