Travelers have been journeying to Montana for a couple of centuries, and if you count the Native Americans who traveled to the plains to hunt, for quite a bit longer. Though the native hunters didn’t build hotels, the travelers who came after Lewis and Clark became increasingly used to comfortable accommodations, and by the early 1900s most towns had hotels — and many of these historic hotels are still in operation.
An itinerary based on historic hotels and B&Bs in historic homes will bring you close to the history of the Old West and take you to out-of-the-way destinations that were once important travel centers.
Glacier National Park
Glacier National Park has many famous lodges, but savvy travelers and railroad diehards make their way to Essex (on the southern border of the park) to spend the night at the Izaak Walton Inn, built as a railway workers’ hotel in the 1930s. This old lodging is wonderfully atmospheric and is a magical destination in winter for cross-country skiing — and the fishing ain’t bad either.
South of Bigfork (a good spot for lunch), the Double Arrow Lodge, about 120 miles from Essex, is a well-loved lakeside lodge and cabin resort from the 1930s, stretching along the shores of beautiful Seeley Lake. The old resort has just the right degree of rustic homeyness, and food in the lodge restaurant is notable.
To reach the next night’s lodging, make your way to Philipsburg. The biggest news in Philipsburg in, well, 120 years is the reopening of the Broadway Hotel. This handsome old lodging has reopened its doors after a complete updating and refurbishing of its rooms and is a fun and comfortable place to begin exploration of the region’s rich mining history.
In Boulder, history of a different kind is on display at Boulder Hot Springs. For centuries, Native Americans came for R&R in these hot mineral waters, and when white entrepreneurs moved in during the 1880s, a glamorous European-style hot-springs spa and hotel sprang up — one of the earliest tourist destinations in the state. If you’re looking for a unique and colorful spot to soak away travel aches and pains, this is it.
Continuing east, the Grand Hotel in Big Timber, while not exactly big-city grand, is pretty special for this little town. The handsome brick building has extracomfortable rooms upstairs and the town’s best restaurant downstairs. Naturally, there’s also a good bar where you can get to know the mix of locals and travelers who end up here at the end of the day.
Just 22 miles east of Big Timber, Reed Point offers one of Montana’s most unique hotels, the aptly named Hotel Montana. This century-old hotel is in a sleepy little river town that comes alive once a year for the annual Great Montana Sheep Drive (this is not a misprint). Also known as the Running of the Sheep, the September event honors the sheepherders and ranchers who founded the town. This beautifully renovated, slightly fabulous hotel bespeaks these days of the Wild and Woolly West.
© W.C. McRae & Judy Jewell from Moon Montana, 7th Edition