Here's the Beef

Jul 1, 2003
Outside Magazine

   Photo: Illustration by Zohar Lazar

Tips & Resources

WATCH YOUR BACK and keep your pepper spray handy when hiking: You're in grizzly territory. For more info, contact Travel Montana (800-847-4868,

ROUTE: Havre to Libby, Montana
MILES: 354

In Montana, saying you've been up on the Hi-Line is secret code for aimless wandering. This stretch of U.S. 2 parallels (and shares its nickname with) the Great Northern Railway, which was strung just south of the Canadian border in 1887. Montana's portion of U.S. 2 seems to be afflicted with the highway equivalent of multiple-personality disorder: Traveling west from Havre, you run straight as a wire through vast stretches of farmland until the prairie breaks into sagebrush-covered foothills and the Rocky Mountains begin jutting up from the horizon as if the earth were teething. After cutting across the center of the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, you wind through escalator-like foothills, crossing the Continental Divide at Marias Pass, 5,215 feet above sea level. When you begin the descent, with Glacier National Park to the north and the Great Bear Wilderness Area to the south, you're surrounded by one of the biggest chunks of contiguous wilderness in the lower 48.

Fly-Fishing Mission Lake: Take a shot at huge rainbows on this 750-acre glacially carved lake on the Blackfeet Reservation (off the south side of U.S. 2, just before you hit Browning). The fish strike on dries and streamers from early spring till fall. Though no state license is required, you'll need a tribal fishing license (single day, $20; three days, $30). Visit Cut Bank Creek Outfitters, in Browning, for licenses, guides, and fishing intel. (406-338-5567)
Hiking in Glacier National Park: East of Essex, park at the Walton Ranger Station and hit the Scalplock Mountain Lookout Trail, which switchbacks through thick forests of fir and pine, climbing 3,079 feet in 4.7 miles to the fire lookout. From the summit you can see 9,000-foot glaciated peaks and fingers of conifer forest reaching into alpine tundra.
Rafting the Middle Fork of the Flathead River: Glacier Raft Company, in West Glacier, offers half-day ($40) and full-day ($65) runs on the river's Class II-III rapids. Or horseback in and raft out on a five-day guided trip into the Great Bear Wilderness ($1,500). (800-235-6781,

The 37-room Izaak Walton Inn, in Essex, was constructed in 1939 to house railroad workers. It's a Hi-Line classic, stuffed with memorabilia like photographs of train collisions and avalanche disasters. (Doubles start at $108; 406-888-5700,

For the real taste of the Hi-Line, bite into some Montana rib eye at the Sports Club, a local ranchers' hangout right on U.S. 2 in Shelby. (406-434-9214)

The best time to hit the Hi-Line is the second week of July, during North American Indian Days on the Blackfeet Reservation, with native dancing, drumming, and, if you're really lucky, a demolition derby. (406-338-7521)

The lonesome pedal-steel symphonies of Japancakes sound just right east of the mountains; across the Great Divide, try Johnny Cash's latest collection, Love, God, Murder.