Epic adventures in Montana's unassuming burgs

June 13, 2014 10:00 am  • 

Living under our gorgeous Big Sky, we’re often the envy of the rest of the world. But here’s a little secret the rest of the world doesn’t know: under our expansive skies, we’ve also got a supply of small towns that are faceted gems of activities and adventure. Find more things to do in the recent issue of Magic City Magazine.

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  • Greek for “Hot City,” Thermopolis is principally known for the world’s largest mineral hot springs, which release more than 3 million gallons of geothermally-heated water per day.

    Containing more than 27 minerals, these waters have long attracted visitors for their therapeutic properties. As a bonus, the cooling waters create colorful travertine terraces — “painted” by algae and wispy, rainbow-colored steam.

    Located at the northern end of the stunning Wind River Canyon, Thermopolis is also known as an exceptional outdoor playground. It’s surrounded by mountain ranges, with the 6,000-foot, volcano-shaped Roundtop Mountain towering above town.

    Boasting 235 sunny days per year, Thermopolis offers soothing hot spring experiences, as well as great museums, hiking, whitewater rafting, geologic history that’ll take you back millions of years and the most beautiful scenic drive in Wyoming — all served up with cordial cowboy conviviality.

  • Don’t miss out on some incredible wet ‘n’ wild fun this summer at the Fort Peck Reservoir.

    The largest body of water in Montana, this reservoir boasts more than 1,500 miles of unspoiled shoreline along its 134-mile length, and it has the largest hydraulically-filled dam in the nation.

    Charted by Lewis and Clark in 1804, the area later emerged as a trading post (established by Col. Campbell K. Peck) and then served as an Indian agency, before the dam construction became part of Roosevelt’s New Deal in 1933.

    More than 11,000 workers assisted the U.S. Army Corps in the dam’s seven-year construction, and many of the historical buildings still in the area were originally built to house these workers.

    Now, in addition to producing almost 3 million kilowatt hours of electricity per day, the dam and reservoir provide a remote recreational heaven in the northeast corner of our really big state.

  • This small Western town in the glacier-carved Flathead Valley is often described in endearing terms — picturesque, quaint, cozy and charming. But no matter the descriptions, they all add up to a town with plenty of personality.

    In addition to its accessible charisma, Whitefish has clear mountain air, emerald peaks, alpine vistas and a wealth of wilderness.

    Like so many Montana towns, it was the introduction of the railroad (in 1904) that spurred its growth. In the late 1940s, construction of a ski resort fired up a burgeoning tourism industry, which flourishes to this day.

    Originally called Stumptown, the area later was renamed for its proximity to Whitefish Lake. It’s now a year-round resort community with a full menu of fun adventures during the summer, including everything from summer festivals to incredible outdoor recreation, great food (locals swear by the garlic burger at the Bulldog Saloon), shopping, entertainment or just relaxing.

  • Once a part of the 1860s gold rush and capital of the Montana Territory, Virginia City now serves as a time machine that will whisk you back to the era of gold rush fever and placer mining camps.

    During the peak gold stampede, more than 5,000 people (including Calamity Jane) lived in Virginia City, and another 5,000 staked claims in the area. When the population exploded, there was little law enforcement, and some took the law into their own hands, including the short-lived Montana Vigilantes.

    After the gold petered out, the area became a ghost town until the 1950s when the Bovey family began to purchase and restore the buildings.

    Now, most of the city is designated as a National Historic Landmark District and contains more than 100 historical buildings with period furnishings. Stroll the same boardwalks that miners and vigilantes haunted in the living history museum that is Virginia City.

  • Once a small trading post on the Yellowstone River, Livingston shares a history with, and owes its development to, the Northern Pacific Railroad.

    The town was named after the railroad’s director, Johnston Livingston, and was the original gateway to Yellowstone National Park. Visitors heading to the park changed trains in Livingston and took the Park Branch Line — through the Paradise Valley — into Yellowstone.

    Once the part-time home of Calamity Jane and host to European royalty, Livingston is now a thriving Western small town that draws artists, writers, musicians, movie-makers and visitors from all over the world.

    Surrounded by three mountain ranges and a rushing river, Livingston is truly a little piece of paradise in Big Sky Country. Enjoy turn-of-the-century charm, historical buildings and western hospitality, as you explore all that the Livingston area has to offer.

  • Founded in 1876, Miles City was once the livestock and horse-trading center of the country, and still retains its reputation as an historic cow town.

    Named after Gen. Nelson A. Miles and located at the confluence of the Tongue and Yellowstone Rivers, the area is steeped in history, beginning with its early days as a flourishing trading site.

    After the Battle of the Little Bighorn, the influx of soldiers caused a population explosion and a need for businesses and services, including boarding houses, bordellos, saloons and dance halls.

    When the Northern Pacific Railroad arrived in 1881, cattle could be transported from as far away as Texas, and Miles City cemented its position as a pre-eminent cattle town.

    It’s a place that loves its cowboys and loves to have fun. But don’t think that Miles City is just a one-trick pony kind of town. Embodying the spirit of the Old West, Miles City has a whole kit and caboodle of activities.

  • Known affectionately as “West” to locals, this burg has been a gateway entrance to Yellowstone National Park since the early 1900s.

    Like so many other Western towns, it owes its origin to the railroad and was founded in 1908 when the Oregon Short Line Railroad rolled into town.

    With a year-round population of about 1,200 hardy souls, West Yellowstone hosts more than 3.5 million visitors each year and is the most popular entrance into Yellowstone.

    Proximity to the park makes West a great home base to explore this national treasure, but it’s also a super destination on its own.

    The area is rich in history and offers a full complement of outdoor adventures, a wide variety of lodging, shopping, great dining (try the tapas and paella at Café Madriz) and entertainment.

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