Memories from between the Parks

This blog was first posted in honor of the coming centennial of the National Parks Service. Today, we post it as a reminder of the adventure that lies between the parks.

The bloggers at Southwest Montana sat down with Montana residents to compile their favorite memories of visiting Montana’s National Parks. During the conversation, it became increasingly clear that a trip to Glacier or Yellowstone nearly always included a story or two about Southwest Montana. Below is an edited version of the conversation–

Lamar Valley Yellowstone National Park
Bison | Lamar Valley, Yellowstone
Glacier National Park
Mountain Goat | Glacier









On Driving:

Nearly all of my memories from Yellowstone stem around a whirlwind day trip through the park. On a mission to see all of the sights and sounds, we wove our way through the park, stopping only for the most notable landmarks: the Painted Pots, the Upper and Lower Falls of the Yellowstone, and, of course, Old Faithful. Along the way, a picnic in the car, and the tales of my parents and grandmother’s childhood kept us entertained as we pressed our faces to the glass.

  • A family connection to Myrna Loy – the namesake of Helena’s Myrna Loy Center for the Performing and Media Arts – as we drove past her hometown of Radersburg, MT.
  • A story of taking a train from the homestead, in Jefferson County, to school in Three Forks, MT.
  • And a tale of two hunters who discovered the entrance to the Lewis & Clark Caverns in 1892, one (Tom Williams), a great great uncle.

Our trip through Yellowstone lasted for roughly the same amount of time it had taken us to drive from Helena to the park and back, but those brief trips and family stories will stay with me forever.

Tasha – Helena, MT

Montana Road Trips
Montana Road Trips

On Road Trips:

We made it all the way from Two Medicine to Kiowa Junction (15 whole miles!) before the transmission on our van went out. So, there we were. Sitting in the parking lot of the Kiowa store (Kiowa, in case you didn’t know, consists entirely of the store and the parking lot). With 11 of us, we were lucky enough to say that we did have a second vehicle; unfortunately, the truck only had room for three passengers. In a family where a 9-hour road trip is considered a “quick day trip,” we remained un-phased.  Two people in our party hitched the van to the truck and began the 4-hour drive in the opposite direction to Helena to have the van repaired.

Our wait in that parking lot consisted of several games – the alphabet game where we would recite animals in alphabetical order (antelope – antelope bear – antelope bear crawfish – etc.), a brief game of 3 v 3 soccer, and my personal favorite: an intense game of waterbottle catch – where we had about four bottles flying between us at one time.  Thinking back on this trip, I’m not entirely sure how we made it from Kiowa to Two Med. Clearly we made it back, but what I remember most is how we were able to adapt and make this a road trip for the books.

That trip transpired to include two more trips between Helena and Glacier – each time playing another game in the car, and finding a new place to stop and stretch our legs: Gates of the Mountains, the Bynum Agate Shop, lunch in Augusta, and a fishing trip in Craig, MT.

Katie – Red Lodge, MT

On hiking:

When you think about visiting a national park, one of the first things that comes to mind is hiking. It’s the perfect way to stay active, spend time with the family, and continue to explore some of the “best kept secrets” in the parks. In 2005 (when my sister was 4 years old), our entire family, grandparents included, decided that during our annual trip to Glacier we would hike Dawson Pass starting from the Two Medicine campground. This is a 9-mile hike that gains 2500 feet and provide a spectacular view from the ridge of the Continental Divide looking into the valleys below. Although completing the Dawson Pass hike was a feat that will always be remembered, the preparation for the trip holds even more memories. Countless hikes up Mount Helena were mastered – actually, countless consecutive hikes up the mountain were mastered. According to our grandfather, we needed to ensure that we were prepared for the elevation gain. The obvious course of action was to then hike the same mountain, on the same trail, on the same day, multiple times.

Cole – Helena, MT

Mount Helena | Southwest Montana
Mount Helena

On escaping reality:

When I was in third grade, some relatives made a trip to Montana from Sweden, and wanted to spend time in Yellowstone. One Friday my parents took me out of school around lunchtime (I told everyone I was going to the Grand Canyon, in retrospect, I’m not sure I made it clear that I was headed to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone). I remember a sky the color of granite and flurries of snow that melted on contact. I also remember realizing for the first time that we would take the same road to get to Virginia City as we did to get to Yellowstone. We made it to the campground with huge, wet flakes falling around us. We went into the RV for a quick snack and realized we couldn’t go out again. A herd of bison and their calves had decided to take up residence in our campground. We brewed more hot chocolate, and whiled away the day watching the snow fall thickly on the hides of the bison. (Did they make it to the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone?? I love this story.)

Bert – Missoula, MT

Boot Hill in Virginia City, Montana
Virginia City | Boot Hill

On Family:

Glacier lakes, carved out by the giant ice fields that gave the park its name, have a tendency to drop off quickly from the shore, making them the perfect place to dive in… as long as you can handle the cold temperatures! Swimming has always been a featured aspect of our trips, but the memories that I will keep forever are sitting on the shore with my grandpa, learning to skip rocks. In those moments, nothing else mattered. The lake was still, the mountains stood as guardians, and nothing could break the serenity of the moment. Skipping rocks in any of Southwest Montana’s lakes (Georgetown, Canyon Ferry, Holter, etc.) takes me back to that place – nothing but the shoreline and the immense mountains in my view.

Katya – Bozeman, MT

Georgetown Lake | Southwest Montana
Georgetown Lake

For the bloggers at Southwest Montana, all park stories are Southwest Montana stories. All park stories begin and end in Southwest Montana. Whether we are preparing for our trips by hiking hometown hills, or desperately trying to salvage a trip with a quick 3-hour trip to a Helena mechanic, Southwest Montana is always featured in our tales of adventure – in the parks and beyond.