Best of Montana in spring: nature and wildlife
Discover Montana's most beautiful springtime landscapes, and experience exciting animal encounters.
Ross Creek Cedars Scenic Area, Kootenai National Forest
“Ross Creek is a majestic Muir Woods setting without the masses,” says Missoula resident Bradley Naranch, describing the hundred-acre grove of ancient cedars. The towering trees soar up to 175 feet and measure up to 12 feet in diameter. While not as mammoth as coastal redwoods, which can grow to more than 300 feet tall, the Ross Creek cedars offer the advantage of being somewhat of a secret. “Here you can enjoy ancient and magnificent trees without coastal fog or iPhones intruding,” says Naranch. “It sometimes feels like the trees exist at that moment only for you, and that tends to inspire a palpable sense of awe in the face of such aged but still active creatures.” Wait until the snow clears in late May or June to walk the 0.9-mile self-guided loop trail. You could complete the entire loop in about 30 minutes, but there’s no reason to rush. Says Naranch: “Take your time to savor the solitude and pristine surroundings—the lush fern understory, towering trees, and natural light diffusing through the high canopy.”
Whitefish Bike Retreat, Whitefish
Whitefish Bike Retreat is a trailside community center for mountain bikers, recreational cyclists, and freewheeling mud boggers who love to pedal through the muck. Located in the wilderness at the middle of the Whitefish Trail, the retreat offers private and communal bedrooms and bunkrooms in a converted barn, along with a group kitchen, lounge, eating area, laundry facilities, fire pit and patio, and bike storage and repair space. "When I saw this property, I envisioned more than a bike hostel. I saw a bike retreat catering to cyclists and adventurers of all kinds,” says owner Cricket Butler, who opened the space in 2013. “I really wanted to give back for all the times I rode my bike and needed the kindness of a stranger.” From the retreat, riders can hop on a network of routes, including five new downhill, lift-served trails at Whitefish Mountain Resort, and various free-ride, cross-country, and single-track options. “Everyone who passes through our doors has amazing journeys and stories to share,” says Butler. “It is a place built by cyclists for cyclists."
Montana Grizzly Encounter, Bozeman
At Montana Grizzly Encounter you can “meet” rescue bears like Brutus, who likes to ham it up for visitors, and Maggi, who can make snowballs and toss them at onlookers. “Visitors get an up-close view into the lives of our rescued bears while learning about bear safety in the wild and discovering why our bears needed rescue,” says Ami Testa, who co-owns the Bozeman grizzly bear rescue and education sanctuary with Casey Anderson, host of National Geographic’s Expedition Wild. Each of the six resident bears were rescued from inhumane living conditions, such as overcrowded wildlife parks or cages. At the sanctuary, the powerful predators are free to roam, romp, swim, and snooze in a re-created natural habitat. Their cage-free grizzly compound includes boulders, ponds, native trees and grasses, and, most importantly, a wide moat perimeter safely separating the bears from their human visitors.
Snow Geese Migration, Freezout Lake
- Nat Geo Expeditions
When snow geese migrate from central California to Canada and the Arctic each spring, tens of thousands make a pit stop at Freezout Lake, located about 40 miles northwest of Great Falls. Most of the day the geese are clumped together in the lake, creating swirling, snowy “islands” on the water. If you time it right, you can see these floating flocks take flight en masse in a deafening chorus of calls and flapping wings. “The must-do experience is to watch the morning fly-out right at sunrise, often right overhead and fairly low,” says retired meteorologist and bird-watcher Mike Schwitters of Choteau. For dawn viewing, camp at a Freezout Lake site or book a hotel room in nearby Fairfield. If you miss the sunrise launch, you still can see the birds return to the lake in late morning or watch them fly out again about an hour before sunset to feed in the surrounding malting barley fields.