This article has been created in partnership between Matador and our friends at the State of Montana.
We all know Montana’s skiing, paddling, and backpacking are fantastic — but why else should you visit the Big Sky State now?
1. To get a peek at the future
Haven’t used the word “foodshed” in causal conversation yet? You will one day soon. Head to Montana to check out a thriving local food movement.
You can plan a summer visit and chat with growers at farmers’ markets all over the state, and, of course, sample the fruits of their labors — everything from peaches to bison burgers.
Visit the Montana Homegrown site to learn about farmers who are going beyond organic to consider the relationships of food to culture, agriculture to wilderness, growers to consumers — and to schedule farm tours.
Planning a winter trip? Sample local, in-season produce on top of a gourmet wood-fired pizza at Biga Pizza in Missoula — and wash it down with a local wine or microbrew (Moose Drool, anyone?). Red Lodge and Big Sky Breweries offer free tours — just contact them in advance.
2. To put the world in perspective
There’s nothing like pondering geologic time for making your worries seem insignificant. Fifteen thousand years ago, the valleys of Western Montana flooded repeatedly into a huge, glacier-dammed lake.
When the ice dams failed, the water swept across western Montana, Oregon, and Washington — all the way to the Pacific — and the evidence of these catastrophic floods is still visible today.
Ancient lake shores are still etched into the mountains that ring the city of Missoula—a striking sight if you know what you’re looking at. Farther north, on the Flathead reservation, take a look at Rainbow Lake, formed when gushing flood waters plucked chunks out of the bedrock and carried them away. Visit the Montana Natural History Center or pick up a copy of David Alt’s fun and informative book, Glacial Lake Missoula and Its Humongous Floods, and keep your eyes open for more flood landmarks.
3. To learn history
In Eastern Montana, the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument provides a haunting look at a period in American history that has continuing repercussions in the present. From June through August, get the story of the battle from lively ranger talks — and then take a van tour with Crow guides from the reservation’s community college for a different perspective.
Visit the park in late June for the battle reenactments — one is put on by the National Park Service, the other by a local Crow family. Be sure to stop into a local bar the night before the “battle” to observe in-uniform Cavalry soldiers from all over the world getting into character.
4. To get some culture
For the stout of heart (and stomach), there’s the Testicle Festival in Clinton, Montana, from July 29 through August 2 — a bawdy celebration of Rocky Mountain Oyster season. Have a ball gulping down the protein-rich signature dish, observing the Wet T-Shirt Contest and the Hairy Chest Contest, and watching Hell’s Angels mingle with wide-eyed college freshmen from the nearby University of Montana.
Also, if you’ve never been to a rodeo, Montana is the place for you see how long 8 seconds can last.
If your tastes run more to the literary, visit Missoula in late October for the Festival of the Book, now in its tenth straight year. Spend three days visiting with and listening to renowned authors from all over the United States and all over the literary map.
Book lovers and aspiring writers will be sprinting frantically all over town, trying to squeeze in just one more panel or reading.
Also in late October in Missoula, observe a wonderfully weird meshing of Montanan and Mexican culture at the Day of the Dead Parade — local artists, dancers, and children put on a colorful and macabre show, and the dancing and reveling continue into the night.
In the bleak midwinter months after a day on the slopes, look for warming music, food, art, and workshops in everything from animal tracking to African dance, in cities from Whitefish to Hardin.
In the summer, rest those paddle-sore arms at any number of beer-and music-drenched outdoor events. Grab a copy of the local independent paper, or just ask the nearest fly fisherman, barista, or burrito-scarfing student — and then head out to get inspired by Montana’s energetic and eclectic cultural scene.
Headed to Big Sky Country? Be sure to touch base with one of Matador’s Montana experts to get some insider information that will help you plan your trip.
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Teresa Ponikvar is a former Matador editor, a current reluctant English teacher, and a future mini-farmer. She lives in rural Oaxaca, Mexico, with her husband, young son, and assorted animals and arthropods. She blogs here.
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