Montana Parent’s Summer travel
staff picks Jessica Geary-Cecotti
Backpacking in Yellowstone Last summer my family kicked our camping/adventure game up a notch by backpacking into Yellowstone. We chose a moderate four-mile hike on Blacktail Deer Trail that led to a beachy camp spot on the Yellowstone River. While it did push the limits of our comfort zone, it was well worth it; we were able to truly “unplug.” No electronics, no vehicles, not even a cooler. The only sounds (aside from “Are we there yet?”) came from the surrounding nature. It was hot but the summer season drastically reduces the chance of a bear encounter, so in my mind the heat was totally worth it. As tough as our crew was, regular breaks for gummy worms were essential for morale. The primary focus was being together and finding space to go within ourselves. Once we reached our camping spot, the rest of the afternoon was spent playing in the river, fishing and enjoying the splendor of our surroundings and each other. We’re already planning our next trip in Yellowstone, this time we are heading to Fairy Falls.
Hunting for Treasures at Crystal
My husband and I have been rockhounds for many years, and luckily our kids share this passion. Many birthdays and random weekends have been spent packing up the camp gear and heading to Crystal Park with our kids and friends. It never ceases to amaze me how someone always finds something. Whether it’s a large perfect Amethyst point, small clear quartz crystals perfect for jewelry, or unique crystals with amber or gray tones. And the good news is that Crystal Park is a unique National Recreation Area, which allows you to keep your treasures. Crystal Park sits at 7,800 feet in the Pioneer Mountains of southwest Montana. The park is open for day-use only and has a $5 per-car fee. You can make a day trip out of it, but I’d recommend camping as it’s almost three hours from There are many Forest Service 12 Bozeman. summer 2021
campgrounds nearby or you can rent a cabin at Elkhorn Hot Springs which is only 5.2 miles away. Elkhorn Hotsprings is a great idea no matter what sort of trip you make out of it – it’s just a wonderful way to soak off the dirt and warm up after a day of digging. It can get a little chilly up there due to the elevation, so bring many layers of clothes including a hat and gloves that can get dirty. For digging, bring a large spade shovel, picks, small trowels and sifters along with a bucket to carry out your loot. Insider tip: I have found many perfect crystals on top of the tailings that were exposed by rain. Crystal Park facilities include three picnic sites in the parking lot with grills, fire pits and picnic tables, as well as toilets and water for washing off crystals at the end of the day. Crystal Park is open May 15 through September 30, depending on road conditions. Other activities to add on to your trip include the Coolidge Ghost Town (between Crystal Park and Wise River), Bannack State Park (between Crystal Park and Dillon) and Jackson Hot Springs.
Three Forks/ Headwaters
The quiet burb of Three Forks is a great daycation for parents of little ones. Right in between the three large cities in southwest Montana, it’s an easy drive of less than 45 minutes from Butte, Bozeman or Helena. Headwaters State Park is a small state park on the confluence of the Madison, Gallatin and Jefferson where the Missouri River is formed and flows south. There are gentle walking and biking trails easily accessible for all ages, capabilities and abilities. With many historical markers including what is left of the old Gallatin City, it’s a great place for a picnic, bike ride, hike or just sitting along the banks fishing and relaxing. Bring the bug spray and leave the dogs home, there are snakes around in the heat of summer. In the winter it’s a great spot for locals to catch a little more sunshine in the banana belt of the Valley. If you like golf, Headwaters is usually the first course open for the season. While in Three Forks - The Frontier has amazing hamburgers but don’t bring the kids past 9 p.m. and do not veer off the hamburger menu. The best BBQ in the Valley is at Blue Smoke BBQ, a food truck on Main Street open during the summer. The Three Forks Rodeo is small town rodeo at its finest and held each year in mid-August. The Iron Horse Cafe and Pie Shop is a sweet spot for breakfast and pie all day long with about 10 different varieties to choose from daily. For adult time - the Sacajawea Inn is lovely. Try the poutine (French fries topped with cheese and gravy) in the basement bar or enjoy a fancy dinner in the hotel. I would highly recommend the honey cake. I know you ask.... what is honey cake? But I swear to mother earth, up and down to heaven—it is the best dessert in the valley. I don’t honestly know what it is because I’ve never heard of it before trying it, but it’s similar to layers of a sweet pastry with honey, sliced like a pie. It reminds me of the little of the treat you get on the airplane, but fresh from the hive with the perfect touch of soft honey and hard cookie. Don’t ask, just step outside the box and try it. Because I never thought I’d ever order something that doesn’t have chocolate. Have an amazing summer enjoying this wondrous place we call home!