Thursday, August 14, 2014

National Bison Range Montana - August 2014

Don't miss the amazing wildlife in the National Bison Range in Montana! 

It was a beautiful Sunday in Missoula, Montana.  The only problem was that we had just

Bison herd, Montana
hiked 12+ miles the previous day and our legs were literally shot.  We certainly didn't want to spend the entire day inside so we decided to take a road trip north towards Kalispell, Montana.

We headed out of Missoula heading north on 93.  We weren't 30 minutes en-route until we saw the sign for
A Bison relaxes by the side of the road
A Bison relaxes by the side of the road
the Montana National Bison Range.  Why not?  We had no schedule - TripAdvisor reviews looked good - so we went to check it out.

The Montana Bison Range is a beautiful wide open area of land set aside by the government nearly a century ago.  There is a 20 mile smooth dirt road that you drive through the area.  For a gravel road, it is generally pretty smooth.  There were also very few people when we were there so it made for a nice drive.  There are a few small places to walk, but there is no hiking in the Montana National Bison Range and you are not
Expansive views in the National Bison Range, Montana
Expansive views in the National Bison
Range, Montana
supposed to get out of your car except at designated areas.  Surprisingly that even though the speed limit is 25, you are generally going to be moving slow as there is so much to see in the Bison Range. Along with the wildlife, the drive also offers you beautiful expansive views in all directions for almost the entire drive.

We saw tons of Bison.  A few of them even right up close sitting near the road.  Giant herds off in the distance, playing in the was quite the sight.  Then there were plenty of pronghorn antelope, deer and a couple of bighorn sheep.  The highlight of our trip to the Bison Range was without a doubt getting to see a mama black bear and her two cubs.  We sat and enjoyed
Sow black bear cruising in the Bison Range
Sow black bear cruising in the Bison Range
watching the bear cubs for a good 15 minutes - climbing and playing up and down a seriously tall pine tree.  Just enjoying themselves.  After a while, the mother bear comes walking in from across the field.  While she appeared brown, based on her size and features she was most certainly a black bear.  We stayed in the car and she paid no attention to us as she walked closer.  She eventually strolled by and the cubs followed her off into the forest.  It was truly amazing to be able to watch these animals in the wild with the bears seemingly unaware of our presence even though we were within 50 yards the entire time.

If you're in the area, spending a couple hours in the National Bison Range in Montana is certainly time well spent.

Pronghorn antelope, National Bison Range, Montana
Pronghorn antelope, National Bison Range, Montana

Bull Bison, close up and personal!

Black bear, national Bison range, Montana
Another shot of the black bear from across the field

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Hiking to Canyon Lake in the Bitterroots, Montana

We're a few days into our extended stay in Montana.  Outside of a few relatively flat miles on a couple of trails around Missoula we haven't walked on any significant elevation since last year.  Unless of course you count a few feet up sand dunes and then a few feet down them to get to the beach.  Our legs today are telling us that our eagerness to get on an epic hike may have outweighed the logic in choosing our first trek of the trip.

The choice - hike to Canyon Lake in the Bitterroot Mountains south of Missoula.  It's a 5 mile in and out that gains 2200ft of elevation.  That didn't seem too hard to start with did it?  Oh yeah and I forgot, my wife is 14
weeks pregnant.  For the record, she picked the hike!

Anyhow, the hike to Canyon Lake is nothing short of beautiful.  For the first 3 plus miles you climb a gentle grade next to the creek.  Some minor ups and downs along this area but nothing too tough.  You go in and out of being down next to the creek in the covered forest and then out up over rock falls along the base of the Bitterroot mountains.  The walls of the mountains climb a couple thousand feet and both side of the creek
Dori heading up towards Canyon Falls
providing spectacular views as the area opens up.  As a bonus, the berries were in full bloom.  We had a nice continuous snack of blueberries as we hiked along canyon creek.

At around the 3.5-4 mile mark the trail ascends out away from Canyon Creek towards Canyon Lake.  The views become amazing here as the vistas open up as you come out of the dense forested area.  You'll soon be able to see Canyon Falls as well.  From here you'll ascend up above the falls and then back down, finally arriving at Canyon Lake.

The wildflowers had already peaked but still provided some great colors for us on the hike.  These colors matched with spectacular views of the surrounding peaks, rock falls and waterfall were just amazing.  I do
Katie and Dori ascending among the
wildflowers heading to Canyon Lake
have to see that our Florida legs were pretty beat when we arrived at the lake.  We were happy to be there and the views were impressive.

The water in the lake was crystal clear.  I quickly was able to spot some trout near shore; wishing I had a fishing pole with me.  We hung out at the lake for around an hour.  Cooled off, had some lunch, dipped our toes in and let the dog swim for a while.  Perfect weather, perfect views and a great hike made for a great day.

Canyon Lake
We were moving pretty slow throughout.  Between our flat land legs and my wife being pregnant we took our time on the hike.  We definitely burnt a few beers worth of calories!  Overall, it took us about 8.5 hrs including our lunch break at the lake and numerous stops on the trail.  The few miles of steep descent near the lake took quite a bit more than it's share of time.

We definitely recommend Canyon Lake if you are looking for a hike in the Bitterroots.

Katie hiking up along a rock fall; getting close to Canyon lake

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

8 Weeks in Missoula!

I think this officially makes us snowbirds.  We're evacuating Florida for the next two months and escaping what is pretty much a big hot humid mess for the worst two months of August and September.  Our new temporary home is in Missoula, Montana.  A nice little cabin just a few minutes from town but secluded enough to feel like we're far enough away.  After 2900 miles across the country we made it, barely.  It was a pretty boring drive and unfortunately it was dark as we finally arrived in west South Dakota where the scenery starts become more than just corn.  However, we made it safely and our place in Missoula is fantastic!

Only a couple days in and we've already experienced a couple of cool hikes.  Short hikes, but beautiful none the less.  A quick jaunt into the Rattlesnake area just outside of Missoula and a couple miles into the Bitterroots about an hour south of town.  Both were wonderful.  Then again, I think we're just happy to be out of the humidity!  I don't know who's more excited:  us or the dogs?
Morning hike on the main Rattlesnake trail in Missoula

Dori interested in some wild turkeys.

Dori on the Canyon Creek trail in the Bitteroots outside of Hamilton, Montana