A Week in Southwestern Montana

Becky and I had a wonderful week in Montana visiting my parents

My parents had been wanting me to visit their home in Ennis, Montana for a bit now since they moved out there, but I wasn’t able to due to the pandemic. Well, fully vaccinated and feeling comfortable with flying, Becky and I made it out to Montana and spent a week with them. We had a great vacation where we hiked a bunch, relaxed and read, and explored Bozeman.

Travel video I made from the footage I recoded on the trip

Getting There

Becky and I flew out of the Philadelphia airport, which is about a 90-minute drive from Lancaster. This is my first time living kind of far from the airport, but it worked out all right. We used long-term parking outside of the airport that shuttled us there—it’s cheaper than the parking options at the airport, but it’s still another expense to factor into the traveling.

Something that was unexpected when we booked the trip is that there are direct flights from Philly to Bozeman. This made the travel days quite simple and easy. Becky and I read on the plane and were there in what felt like no time.

Becky standing in front of the mountains behind my parents’ home

We took it easy at my parents’ home. It’s a great spot—20 acres in the Madison River Valley just outside of Ennis. They’ve got horses and plenty of space for the dogs to roam around on. It was so nice to have a home base during the trip where we could cook and relax.

The Mountain West region is pretty smoky right now due to wildfires, so a lot of the views were covered in smoke. While it was a bit disappointing, it was still beautiful and luckily not a problem on hikes.

Hike to the Helmet

On the first full day of our trip in Montana, my parents, Becky, and I went for a 10 mile hike to a mountain called the Helmet in the Lee Metcalf Wilderness Area. It’s only about 20 minutes south of my parents’ home, and there’s a pretty extensive trail system. You could spend days back there.

The hike starts off by following a creek, which you eventually part from when you start climbing up the mountainside in a long series of switchbacks. We gained 2,688 feet of elevation in five miles, but the grade was so gentle and steady that it was quite enjoyable.

The views at every point of the hike were staggeringly beautiful. So different than the Mid-Atlantic region’s mountains, so much more epic and seemingly never ending.

Once we got to the saddle between the Helmet and the Sphinx, we had a snack and took a break. The sun was out in full force, with the temperature in the 90s. Luckily it was all downhill back to the truck.

View the hike on Strava

Virginia City

All tired from the hike, we laid low the next day. We went to Virginia City, a historic landmark where a lot of the buildings have been maintained to keep their look from the 1800s. The interiors of some buildings have been preserved to look like they originally did. There are some shops and restaurants, and it’s a great little place to stop at if you’re in the area.

Learn more about Virginia City on Wikipedia

Odell Trail to Lake of the Woods

Ready to get back out and adventure, we ventured out farther into the Montana wilderness to the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest. It was about a three-hour drive from my parents’, and it was certainly worth the drive time.

We followed the Odell Trail to two different lakes—Odell Lake and the Lake of the Woods. This hike felt really remote. We didn’t see anyone else on the trail, and we were deep in the national forest. It was about 10 miles to the Lake of the Woods, but the elevation gain was much less than the hike to the Helmet—only 1,600 feet of gain.

Once we got to Lake of the Woods, we ate lunch and fly fished. I’ve never fly fished before, so that was a new experience for me. I’m on the fence, personally, about the ethics of fishing. We caught and release, so that seemed fine, but it does seem to be a little deceitful and painful for the fish. Nonetheless, I gave it a try and had a nice time in the water. I caught one cutthroat trout.

After a couple of hours of hanging out at the lake, some storm clouds started to roll in. We b-lined it back to the truck and made it out without getting rained on.

The Lake of the Woods hike along the Odell Trail was so different than the hike to the Helmet—such different scenery and trees. If the Helmet hike was epic, the Lake of the Woods hike was serene.

View the hike on Strava

Bozeman & the County Fair

Photo of an in-progress mural featuring a lot of flora in Bozeman, Montana

Needing another rest day, Becky and I went out on our own to explore Bozeman. We walked along the main stretch of shops downtown and had an awesome breakfast at the Nova Cafe. Becky had a root veggie bowl with eggs and I had mushroom tacos with tofu. Both were delicious!

We then did a little shopping. We popped into some bookstores, which were all great. I got a pen and highlighter at a stationery store. We enjoyed some tea and kombucha and watched the cars drive by. It was sunny but not too hot. Without the humidity of the East Coast, being outside in the 80- and 90-degree heat in Montana wasn’t too bad at all.

Photo of our lunch from the Co-Op in downtown Bozeman

We worked up our appetites again and enjoyed lunch from the Co-Op in Bozeman. They had so much delicious ready-made food, from salad to hummus to noodle dishes to veggie sushi.

Fueled up and ready to go, we made our way to the first day of the County Fair, not far from downtown. We saw on the news that it was happening, so we thought it’d be fun to check it out!

Photo of Becky and Brett at the County Fair with the rides behind us

We went on two rides—the ferris wheel and the Gravitron. I got a bit nauseous after the Gravitron, but it was worth it, I guess! We ate some funnel cake, drank some lemonade, and walked around the fairgrounds.

Overall, it was a really great day in Bozeman! There’s a lot going on there, and it was a nice change of pace from the outdoors.

Tobacco Root Mountains on ATVs & Hike to Bell Lake

For our final full day of the trip, we went into the Tobacco Root Mountains, just a bit Northwest of Ennis, to ride ATVs around and do a little hike. Getting to see the landscape on ATVs was awesome. Flying through the mountains and getting to see so much of it was great. Most of the dirt roads were easy to drive on, but a few of the unimproved roads required some careful maneuvering of the ATVs.

We looked at the map and saw a small lake with a trail leading up to it called Bell Lake. So we drove there on the ATVs and parked at the gated trailhead. The hike was really steep—over 800 feet of elevation gain in about a mile. But holy smokes was it worth it.

We crested the ridge, the lake coming into sight. We were all blown away by it.

Unfortunately for us, a storm was rolling in during what had been a warm and sunny day up until that point. We found some shelter in the trees, fished a little, and then made our way back to the ATVs. We managed to not get too wet, and we finished out the trip with no problems.

View the hike on Stava

The Return Home

Photo of the wing of an airplane

We flew home the next day without much issue! What a trip. It was great to explore a lot of new places, spent time with family, and relax a bit after not flying for almost two years. There’s so much to see and do in Montana, we definitely only scratched the surface. We’d like to go to Glacier National Park and do some backpacking. Also, Eastern Montana is supposed to be really rad and pretty secluded. I’m sure we’ll be back, especially since we have a home base at my parents’!

We don’t have any major trips planned, but I’m sure we’ll keep exploring and enjoying Pennsylvania and the surrounding area in the weeks and months to come.

See ya’ out there!

Author: Brett Chalupa

day: software developer, night: adventurer, video maker, writer

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s