In an effort to get caught up, I’m combining all of our stops in Montana thus far! At the time I began writing this, we were driving to Glacier National Park; to my right, the Mediterranean blues of Flathead Lake were framed by the Mission Mountains, and only sloped Cherry Orchards with ripe, dangling cherries separated me from the water; It’s truly beautiful, as nearly every inch of Montana has been. We stopped in Bozeman, Missoula, and Polson and also drove through or explored Gallatin National Forest, Helena and the Gates of the Mountains, and Bigfork. There is no reasonable path that would lead to it, but I could live here; the stunning scenery over every hill and around each bend would see me through the harsh winters. But alas, I’m only a tourist passing through, and taking in every field, mountain, horse, marina, and river under this big sky.
We fled Yellowstone and headed to Bozeman to visit long-lost friends! Our journey took us through Gallatin National Forest, which was fabulously beautiful, as it was green, offered dramatic cliffs, and we followed the Gallatin River the whole time – so lovely! I couldn’t help but daydream about living on a ranch; it was picturesque and will be on my list for places to take the kids riding on a Guest or Dude Ranch someday.
Our drive to camp took us through downtown Bozeman, which is adorable and the perfect size (for me) with lots of locally owned shops and restaurants, but enough people that everyone isn’t up in everyone else’s business. Katy dropped by the campsite to visit for a couple minutes and discuss plans. After she left, the kids both fell asleep and Raj and I couldn’t resist joining them in a family nap – what bliss! It doesn’t happen too often, but when it does, we are quite thankful.
Katy and Ted invited us to their home that night, so we introduced the kids to their adorably sweet 10 year old, Ayla. Nina was rather impressed with her new friend and followed her around like a puppy. Chai made instant friends with their dog, Django, and London loved running around their yard. Ted grilled up chicken, corn and potatoes, and made a delicious jicama slaw. We had such a good time, but it was Nina who couldn’t cope with leaving – the poor thing melted down when it was time to leave her new friend for the night.
Our short time in Bozeman, we focused on hanging out with friends and finally getting the braking system installed. It was inconvenient to give up the Jeep and Gypsy for another day but it worked out well that the weather was nice for biking and we had Katy as a tour guide. She took us to a chocolate and dinosaur museum (odd combo, yes) but it was quite impressive. Who doesn’t love chocolate and dinosaurs? Outside they also had a fabulous homesteading living museum, which we noticed because my dream garden sucked me in – so many vegetables framed in gorgeous flowers, and a volunteer was harvesting radishes and beets to deliver to the local food bank!
That evening after dinner Ted and Ayla left town for her swim meet. Poor Nina was so sad! Luckily the babysitter Katy had arranged was a younger girl so Nina felt like she was with yet another friend. They watched movies and stayed up too late, as Raj, Katy and I escaped for a night out! We biked into town and enjoyed several cocktails and wonderful conversation. Katy and Raj met in New Zealand forever ago, but I feel like Katy and I would be great friends if we lived closer – we have so much in common and I have so much respect for the work she does and her parenting style. Unfortunately, after our hilarious late night bike ride back to Katy’s, we had to pack up, say goodbye, and move sleeping babies back to the RV.
Bear Canyon Campground: We pulled up their hill and my initial reaction was disappointment, as the sights are close together, and the playground for our toddlers was a bit weak (the pool with a slide looked nice though), but our spot at the back of the campground made up for it! What amazing views! The location is convenient to town, though a short drive. We loved that they allow dogs off leash in the back fields, but be warned it’s not fenced at all. There was also a very short and steep hike up the hill and it was worth it for the surrounding views. Some train noise but it didn’t bother us a bit. I’d recommend this place for an overnight stay or a base camp to explore Bozeman, which is a fabulous town and I wish we’d been able to stay longer.
We drove the long way to Missoula so we could go through Helena and take the Gates of the Mountains 2 hour cruise. The boat ride offered a refreshing break, and the tour and views were lovely, though it was challenging parking the RV at their hilly, gravel marina; I thought Raj would have a heart attack at one point! From there we chose a scenic route to Missoula and crossed a pass that was incredibly windy, but also very beautiful. We finally arrived in Missoula about 7:30pm and settled in, grilled steaks and put the kids to bed. Raj fell asleep with London about 9 and wouldn’t get up again!
Missoula was a good place to be for a few days because the kids were a mess, so we hung around the campsite a lot and didn’t feel we were missing anything (no offense, Missoula). Nina especially was rough for a couple days –hitting, ignoring us, and screaming… Three year olds can be unpredictable, but sometimes when she’s worked up, it can be difficult to know whether it’s normal behavior that would happen at home or if it’s acting out as part of the trip, be it homesickness, routine thrown off, overtired, etc. Sometimes I’m confident this adventure is wonderful for the kids but occasionally, like those few days, I wonder if it’s too much for them. I find it important to follow their queues about when we need to change schedule and just lay low, but it is hard to find a balance because while this is undoubtedly a vacation, it’s also temporary full-timing. But without question, we are constantly putting kids needs above our own travel desires (as we should), and the timing in Missoula worked out pretty well to give them some R&R.
We still explored some though! We visited the Missoula carousel, which was beautifully hand-crafted and we all enjoyed the ride; another first for Nina and London! There is nothing like a successful adventure for the kids; seeing their faces light up and happiness radiating from them – it is priceless (yet in this case cost us only 3 dollars). Right next to the carousel is an impressive volunteer-built massive playground in the design of a castle, so of course the kids enjoyed running around there as well. When we made it back to camp, we devoured salmon grilled on cedar planks and asparagus with wasabi mayo. After our slower paced day, Raj and I both had the energy to stay up half the night writing.
We went on a sustainable farm tour with Farmer John, who practices sustainable farming methods and his family has owned the same property in Missoula since about 1860. Though it was cut short with rough weather, we saw border collie puppies (herding pups in-training), goats, alpacas, and lots of chickens. The experience was awkward because Farmer John has been trying to get his web management company to pull down the info about tours, but he was still courteous and informative.
Jim & Mary’s RV Park: Lovely flowers, as other reviewers have mentioned, decent space between sites, and nice amount of shade. Dog friendly but no dog park, kids accepted, but no playground. Mostly retirees and large fancy rigs. Nice, clean place, but personally, not wowed.
Our drive from Missoula to Polson/Flathead Lake was a short 1 hour drive, so we took it easy after a horrible night with London – he occasionally wakes in the night, totally up and wants to party… for about 2 hours. It sucks when we’ve only been asleep 13 minutes. Anyway, as we hit the road, we filled the propane for the first time since leaving– it was an easy and cheap ($33) process.
As we approached Flathead Lake, the gorgeous views sang to my soul! As a water sign (Cancer), I crave being close to the water, and I’ve been missing Lake Lanier near Atlanta, where we usually spend quite a lot of time in the summer months. Unfortunately, we never could get it together to inflate the kayaks before the afternoon winds picked up. However, we ate amazing BBQ (twice from the same place- it was THAT good), climbed trees, explored playgrounds, hiked Kerr Dam, drove to Bigfork on the North side of the lake, found a great friend for Chai to run around with, and my favorite, we took the kids cherry picking and saw a doe with two fawn!
Polson KOA: We had a nice spot here, but in general, they are close together. Some have phenomenal views of the lake and the entire place is stepped so almost all sites have peek-a-boo views of the Mission Mountains if not the lake. Facilities and amenities are very nice; larger dog area, playground with the best views of the whole place, a pool, and more. We enjoyed our stay – it was the nicest KOA we’ve been to. If you’ve got some extra money to spend, check out the neighboring Motorcoach & RV Resort – fancy with great views.