Travelers entering the region from the west on I-90 should consider spending part of a day on the Hiawatha Mountain Bike Trail , at the far western edge of the state, just off I-90.
Otherwise, Missoula  makes a good formal jumping-off spot for a tour of northwest Montana. Plan to spend a couple of nights here, with one day devoted to both sightseeing and informal hanging-out in this pleasant town. It’s also possible to spend a full day touring the Bitterroot Valley , returning to Missoula for the night.
Once you’ve had your fill of Missoula, head north into the Mission Valley. If you’re in luck, it’ll be powwow time on the Flathead Reservation , but if not, there’s plenty of Native American history and culture to take in. (For a tour with a tribal guide, contact the People’s Center  in Pablo.)
Plan to devote an early morning or an evening around sunset to watching wildlife at the National Bison Range . If birds are more your thing, check out the wetlands at the Ninepipe National Wildlife Refuge .
The Mission Mountains have many good hiking trails and lovely lakes, but be sure to get a tribal recreation permit at any local store before setting out into the wilderness here.
Even with some lingering along the way, Polson  is an easy day’s drive from Missoula, and this town at the foot of Flathead Lake  makes a good overnight base. It’s also the best place to find a boat tour  of Flathead Lake.
For those who want a slower pace and the simplest, least glitzy spa experience imaginable, take a detour to the tiny town of Hot Springs  and spend the day checking out various plunges and pools. It’s most relaxing if you just stay here for the night.
At the northern edge of Flathead Lake, Bigfork  is as bustling as Hot Springs is laid back. Remember, this is bustling in Montana terms—it’ll never be New York. This is the place to remember where you put that extra wad of cash because it’s easy to be tempted by shopping and restaurants. But even on a budget, Bigfork is still entertaining, with plenty of inexpensive camping and free hiking nearby. The Jewel Basin  is a good place for a day hike in these parts.
In Kalispell  you can stock up on supplies for a trip into nearby Glacier National Park . Although it seems at first glance to be an entirely utilitarian town, Kalispell’s Conrad Mansion  and Hockaday Museum of Art  are both worth visiting.
Just a few miles north, Whitefish  is more of a party town. With Whitefish Mountain  loaded with snow in the winter and huckleberries in the summer, this is a place for recreation. It’s worth noting that Amtrak stops in Whitefish, making it possible to ride the train to a ski vacation.
If you only have one day in the area, chances are you’ll be heading either across I-90 or along Highway 93. Either way, you’re bound to spend time in Missoula; if that’s not quite enough to fill your day, either make a short Lewis and Clark pilgrimage to Travelers’ Rest  in the Bitterroot Valley , perhaps combined with a trip to Lolo Hot Springs  or a hike to Peterson Lake, or head north into the Mission Valley for a hike in the Mission Mountain Tribal Wilderness Area .