If you want to explore a lesser known part of Montana, then a trip to Northwest Montana might be one of the best places in Montana for a vacation. We recently stayed at an Airbnb near the Kootenai river just outside of Troy, Montana. Northwest Montana is a very rural part of Montana– many areas have no cell service–but it is worth it for the views and to disconnect.
Read more to see how you might be able to have a fun trip to Northwest Montana with day trip possibilities such as beautiful lakes, scenic drives, waterfalls, and a stunning forest, to round out the area as one of the best places in Montana for a vacation.
#1 Ross Cedars Scenic Area
For years, I have wanted to go to Sequoia National Park, but still haven’t been able to. When I found out about Ross Cedars in Northwest Montana, I knew I had to go because it boasts amazing cedar trees, many which are over 500 years old, and some of them are so big it would take 8 people to encircle them–we’re talking trunks that were 8 feet in diameter.
The forest was very peaceful and very rustic, full of ancient cedar trees, grand fir trees, western white pines, Engelmann spruce trees, and more. There were other visitors there, but it was way less crowded than so many other attractions in Montana. Even if Northwest Montana is one of the best places in Montana for a vacation, I hope that it stays moderately deserted since it is out of the way, so that people can enjoy true peace and tranquility.
We ended up walking the scenic interpretive loop trail, a one-mile trail that is very easy and could be enjoyed by the entire family. You can learn a lot about the trees from interpretive signs as well as see so many majestic trees just in that loop alone, including trunks that you can stand inside of to see just how massive they are.
In addition, we also took a hike on Ross Creek Trail #142, going to the South Fork of Ross Creek rather than the full five miles to the North Fork of Ross Creek. The creek was dry when we went, but otherwise it was an easy hike with a mild incline. Since it was a less strenuous hike, my husband and I both agreed it didn’t feel that long and it allowed us to see more of the forest with even less people. The entire time we were hiking, I got major Beauty and the Beast vibes, which to me just shows it is a magical, enchanting forest.
The parking lot is small and there are vault toilets. There are also nice areas to relax including benches, picnic tables, and a bridge. I had been trying to get there for 2 years, since last year I had to cancel a trip, so I was stoked to finally get to see Ross Cedars Scenic Area. This is definitely a top Northwest Montana attraction for a family or a couple looking for the best places in Montana for a vacation or educational trip.
A sign at the start of the area warned that hazard trees and potential hazard trees aren’t removed, and that trees could fall unexpectedly due to natural causes. The sign urged caution on windy days in particular, and reminded visitors to be careful when viewing hollow cedar trees as well as staying on paths to avoid damaging the vegetation.
#2 and #3 Kootenai Falls and Swinging Bridge, and Scenic Drives
Two Northwest Montana locations I had been longing to see for a couple of years, ever since seeing them on Instagram, were Kootenai Falls and the Kootenai Swinging Bridge. These were much more popular attractions with more people, possibly because it is closer to Bonners Ferry, Troy, and Libby–and the highway in general. There are 2 parking lots right off the highway. The Swinging Bridge is ½ a mile away, Kootenai Falls is a ⅓ of the mile away, and the Fall View Point is ⅛ of a mile away.
Although short, these hikes were over some more rough and uneven terrain. You also pass over a covered bridge that goes over a train track and has some stairs.
The Kootenai Swinging Bridge is a historic bridge originally built in 1948, and then rebuilt on concrete piers after it was destroyed by a flood in 1948. The bridge is about 2,100 feet above the Kootenai River gorge.
We went across as several other people did too–we noticed people sometimes wait patiently to allow people to cross before crossing themselves, but in our case some less patient folks started walking across after us instead of waiting until we reached the other side. It was fun, exciting, and mildly scary to be over the rushing Kootenai River. The bridge does swing as you walk, especially if others cross while you are still walking on the bridge.
Across the bridge, there seems to be some additional trails where you could walk around, including one that I think went down to the river. However, as posted signs proclaimed early on, the Kootenai River is extremely dangerous and many people have lost their lives in the river, which is beautiful but deadly. I beg you to please look, but don’t swim or go into the water, because you don’t want to become a statistic.
After the Kootenai Swinging Bridge, we walked to the picturesque Kootenai Falls.
Overall, these were cool Northwest Montana experiences with a pretty view. Be warned that the vault toilet at the attraction smelled pretty bad when we walked by, and also on the day we visited, there was a vendor selling what looked like real fur products, which might be a bit upsetting if you’re an animal lover. There also was a stand that had ice cream and other refreshments, but I didn’t buy anything from them.
Another thing you can do easily from Troy in Northwest Montana is to drive to Yaak Falls as well as Yaak, the small unincorporated community and census-designated place 39.9 miles from Troy. The route from Troy to Yaak is known as the Scenic Yaak Loop Drive. Although this is listed as a possible scenic drive for people to take, I’d read conflicting reports on how good it is.
We ended up driving half of the loop from Troy to Yaak, and found it to be a very quaint forest drive with a stop at Yaak Falls, which is right off the side of the road.
Yaak is tiny! We didn’t eat at the saloon, but we did stop at the small mercantile shop there and I found a couple of cool candles, snacks, and other merchandise.
We started driving the rest of the loop drive, but then decided to turn around, and drive a different scenic route from Yaak by following the signs from Yaak to Rexford. This took us over through the mountains and forests via a deserted part of Montana with few people and no cell service. We hardly saw any other vehicles and passed by some mostly-deserted hiking trails.
If you ever are up in Northwest Montana, I highly recommend taking a paper map of Montana’s roads as a back-up plan.
We ended up coming to the highway eventually and drove until we reached and went over the Kookanusa Bridge, which is the tallest and longest bridge in Montana. This led us to taking the Lake Kookanusa Scenic Byway. The scenic byway was also extremely pretty and was hugging the Kookanusa Lake the entire time .
Note that Yaak is the location of the Yaak Sasquatch Festival.
#4 A Fun Date in Kalispell and Whitefish
One day, we drove from Troy to Kalispell, which is 1 hour and 51 minutes, or 107.0 miles. We also went to Whitefish, which is 21 minutes, or 17.2 miles, from Kalispell. We checked out some used bookstores in both towns, and we hit up three state parks.
The drive from Troy to Kalispell was breathtaking, with lots of pristine lakes, pine trees, and mountain views. It was extremely refreshing, and I’d highly recommend the route as one of the prettiest in Northwest Montana and Montana in general.
In Kalispell, we really enjoyed going to Lone Pine Tree State Park, which has a few miles of trails as well as a scenic overlook of the entire town that is easily walkable from the parking lot near the visitor center. In Whitefish, we checked out Whitefish Lake State Park. We also looked at City Beach, which is a popular spot at a different part of Whitefish Lake but much more crowded.
There are several breweries in and near Kalispell. I haven’t tried them all, but have tried Bias Brewing and SunRift Beer Company. I liked them all. I was saddened to find out that Kalispell Brewing Company recently permanently closed, which is tragic since they had a beer we loved. We recently tried some cider from Rough Cut Hard Cider that we bought from the store in Libby, and it was great. Their physical location is also in Kalispell but we didn’t hit them up in person.
In Kalispell, we had the predicament of finding a restaurant that was open on Labor Day and also wasn’t insanely crowded. The place I thought we could eat at was too crowded and it looked like there was gonna be a wait. I’m extremely happy we stumbled upon the Mercantile Steak. It was an amazing restaurant in a really cool historic building with neat stained glass lights. The food and service were amazing.
I had a bison ribeye steak and garlic mashed potatoes. My husband had their burger. My husband was still raving the next day about how that burger was one of best burgers he’s ever had.
In Whitefish, I tried Sweet Peaks Ice Cream. I got to try their Flathead cherry ice cream and it was really good. I wasn’t crazy about their waffle cone because it had cinnamon in it, which I wasn’t expecting, but that’s just a personal preference/expectation issue, otherwise I really loved the smooth ice cream.
We enjoyed visiting Voyageur Booksellers, a used bookstore that also sells Copperleaf Chocolate and other chocolates. I got some mint malt balls that were really tasty, and we found some cool used books.
From what I could see, there are lots of great shops in Kalispell and Whitefish. I liked Out West Trading Co. a lot, and had to restrain myself from spending money I don’t have on all their amazing shirts, mugs, and other items. Whitefish also has The Montana Scene and Montana Shirt Company, two places with a lot of products I like–they have other physical locations in Montana and online storefronts.
I think Whitefish and Kalispell are extremely charming towns, and I really want to go back to explore them more in-depth as time and money permit. A fall visit to both is on my Montana bucket list. Both towns are popular tourist destinations and also some of the best places in Montana for a vacation. It would be a pity to pass up a day trip to these locations if you’re in Northwest Montana or just Montana in general.
#5 Northwest Montana: What to Do in Troy and Libby
Troy and Libby are both small towns in Northwest Montana, but Troy is much smaller than Libby. Both have restaurants and convenience stores of varying sizes.
In Troy, we did try coffee at Main Street Perk and Pub, and it was quite good. In Libby, there is a brewery called Cabinet Mountain Brewery Co., which has really good beer. We loved the Ross Creek Red. They also had one of the best stouts I’ve had before, and I liked almost all of their beers that I sampled.
We also ate there, but we did find the food to be a little underwhelming. It was good food, but just not anything to write home about. Out of the things I had, I thought that the tacos were the best.
Both towns have small historical museums which we didn’t get the chance to check out, so that might be something to keep on your radar. There was a used bookstore in Libby that we didn’t get the check out either. In Libby, we did make a special side trip just a little outside a town to see their Amish Farm to Market store.
It was a cool little store with lots of Amish items, really cheap spices, great coffee, a nice deli, and food that we wish we could have tried. I also tried their fresh pressed cider and thought it was good. Overall, the store was super cute. They sell both Amish things as well as things you would find at a normal store.
An Airbnb to Call Home
For our Northwest Montana staycation, we stayed at an adorable Airbnb that was just right outside of Troy, Montana. It was very cozy and had so many wonderful touches to make a stay comfortable. It was also extremely affordable. This Airbnb was right on the Kootenai River. This was an Airbnb you could easily relax at and it wouldn’t have been a nightmare if you were forced to stay there, for example, if you got sick during the trip.
The only slight downfall about the place was that during my stay, the shower wasn’t perfectly clean, and we also found three spiders. However, the place has rave reviews; so I’m guessing that was a one-time issue for me and also I privately provided feedback to the owner about it without publicly posting about it on Airbnb. Also, given the fact that it is so close to nature, it isn’t a surprise to find spiders. Overall, I’m still fondly thinking of the place weeks water, so I’d definitely recommend it for a Northwest Montana vacation. You can rent the entire cabinet or, like we did, the master suite.
Northwest is a Must
Overall, I really enjoyed our trip to Northwest Montana. It was relaxing and fun, especially since we snagged such a dreamy Airbnb that didn’t cost a fortune. Although I saw some pretty alarming political slogans/signs at times, it was overall an idyllic region. Make sure to check out my blog for more Montana adventures, including Helena, Montana: The Underrated Gem of the Northwest.
Comment below if you have any questions or if you have been to any of these Northwest Montana tourist attractions!