Generally when Australians talk about visiting America, it’s a trip to one of a handful of places, or a collection of said places; Los Angeles, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Aspen, Miami, New York. The slightly more adventurous might include a stop in New Orleans, Washington DC, Boston, Nashville or Austin. I don’t think it’s because people aren’t interested in exploring the vastly undiscovered remainder of the country, it’s because we’re drawn to these big cities to visit family and friends, or to attend a festival or event. As someone who has been to America half a dozen times, and included New York in all of those trips, I’ll be the first to admit my concept of real America was clouded to say the least. Thankfully, last month, that changed when I joined a group of Expedia Viewfinders for an epic taste of Americana in “Big Sky Country”, Montana.
Montana is the fourth largest state (by size) in the USA, it’s also the third least densely populated state after Alaska and Wyoming. A road trip across the 150,000 square mile state would take roughly 12 hours, but you could easily spend two weeks exploring the magnificent landscapes and picture perfect towns.
Our trip kicked off in Missoula, located roughly a two hours drive west of the state’s capital Helena. Downtown Missoula is small enough to walk around in a day and boasts a handful of excellent dining and drinking options. Those craving the all American, retro diner experience cannot miss Uptown Diner, while coffee lovers flock to Break Espresso or Black Coffee Roasting Company. On Saturdays the community comes together for the Missoula Farmers Market which is a wonderful way to try the fresh produce, chat with friendly locals and soak up the small town vibe. Across from the market Scotty’s Table serves up substantial plates for lunch, providing the perfect foundation for a trip to Kettle House Brewery or Montgomery Distillery. Plonk Wine Bar and Restaurant is a Montana institution with locations in Missoula and Bozeman, and after a fabulous dinner there, paired with equally excellent wines, it’s not hard to see why. After dinner locals head to Top Hat Lounge for live music, or to a handful of classic dive bars like The Rhino and Stockman’s to welcome the next day.
The people of Montana are obsessed with the outdoors. It’s not just a way of life, but a major tourist attraction, bringing billions of tourist dollars to the state each year. It’s not uncommon to chat to folk who’ve visited and never left, drawn in by world class fly fishing, hiking, rafting, RVing and even Rodeo. Even just around Missoula there are a host of activities for the keen outdoorsman (and lady) – day hikes around Mt Sentinel are a popular choice, or there’s the Clark Fork River, where you can try rafting with Montana River Guides, tubing and even surfing, for those game enough to try Brennan’s Wave off Caras Park.