21 November 2016

10 Things to do OUTSIDE on Black Friday!

Avoid the frenzy of holiday shopping on Black Friday and head outside with your loved ones to create connections with each other, and with nature. Here is a list of 10 fabulous places in and around the Missoula area to explore with your friends and family, compiled by the staff at the Montana Natural History Center!

1. Kelly Island—Montana Birding and Nature Trail
Kelly Island is accessible for almost any age to explore. The expanse of river rocks along the river provides great rock hounding opportunities. In addition to belt rocks of many colors, you can find jasper, agate, animal teeth, and other fun treasures. The river and cottonwood gallery contain birding opportunities from chattering flickers to Peregrine Falcons chasing Mallards. 
-Christine Morris, Community Programs Coordinator

2. North Hills Open Space—Mountainview Trail

Take a hike up along the “switchback” trails above the PEAS Farm. There is a trailhead on the corner of Mountain View and Duncan Drive. The trail takes you up some steeper switchbacks before reaching the ridgeline where views of Missoula and the surrounding mountains are abundant. Often, you can watch hawks catch thermals or view the bluebirds along the fence lines. The hillsides feature rare communities of cushion plants, including the Missoula phlox and our state flower, the bitterroot. We’ve also seen coyotes, foxes and lots of deer. You can make the hike as long or as short as you’d like based on the loop nature and openness of the trail system. And if you’re lucky, you may even find a geo cache at the top of the switchbacks under the highest pine tree. The neighborhood kids make a special effort to keep it stocked with goodies so be prepared to leave a treasure if you take one!
-Sarah Millar, Development and Marketing Coordinator

3. Pearl Lake

 One of the places I love is Pearl Lake, outside of Superior. The drive from Missoula takes about 1.5 hours and the hike in is about 4 miles. Pearl Lake sits right below the Stateline Trail dividing Montana and Idaho, so sitting by the lake puts you in the middle of a big bowl surrounded by ridgelines. There are a few great campsites to keep in mind for the warmer months, but during the fall it makes a great day hike or even a snowshoe trip. I often spot a herd of mountain goats on the lake shore and I've heard pika there as well. It's a gorgeous, secluded spot to explore the northern Bitterroots!
-Drew Lefebvre, Teaching Naturalist

 Larch Camp Road in Pattee Canyon
Need a pint-sized adventure? Our family loves to walk the trails off of Larch Camp Road in Pattee Canyon. There are so many small trail loops, with climbing hills, sliding hills, and even a few places with grand views. If you are really observant, you might find one of the small treasures that people have left, tucked into holes in the trees (is Santa Claus still there?).
-Lisa Bickell, Education Director

5. Rock Creek

 Rock Creek is one of my very favorite streams in Montana. Part of my affection for this lovely, small river is the fishing, which is definitely some of the best fishing in the Missoula area. On colder days, throw on a bacon-and-egg combo (a San Juan worm and a salmon egg patterns). If the weather is warm, stay on top of the water with dry flies and watch for the sipping heads of brown trout or the explosive, acrobatic take of rainbows.

But the fishing is only part of the equation. The area is rich with wildlife, too. I've seen rubber boas, bighorn sheep, whitetail deer, and American Dippers! The flora is spectacular as well as dogwoods and willows nestle the shores along with black cottonwoods, aspens, and plenty of Douglas-fir.

If you're going to head up Rock Creek for some fall fishing, I recommend staying lower on the stream. Any of the access points at Valley of the Moon and upstream a few miles should provide excellent opportunities to catch a nice brown!
-Thurston Elfstrom, Executive Director

6. MoZ Hidden Treasure Trail on Mt. Sentinel

I like to head right out my front door on Pattee Creek Drive, head up Pattee Canyon Road and hit the Gas Line Trail that connects you with the MoZ Trail. You can run, hike or mountain bike up this trail. Lately, I’ve been enjoying running or hiking the lower half of the MoZ Trail. It offers a beautiful view of the Missoula valley, Lolo Peak, and Sleeping Woman Peak. You can daydream about making turns in the winter at Snowbowl as you look to the north. In the spring and summer the wildflowers are abundant and in the fall it offers a welcome way to get out and possibly above the Missoula inversion and into the sunshine. Might be perfect for November 25th!
-Ramey Kodadek, Development Director

7. Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge
Wintertime is a great time to visit Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge near Stevensville. Open to the public year-round, Lee Metcalf NWR offers great opportunities for hiking as well as seeing wildlife from the car. The wildlife viewing area trail meanders through sloughs and ponderosa pine stands before ending up at a stunning view of the Bitterroot River and Mountains. On the ponds near the visitor center, watch for muskrats and waterfowl including Green-Winged Teal, Northern Pintail, Bufflehead, and Common Goldeneye. On land, look for herds of deer, flocks of wild turkeys, and overwintering eagles and raptors such as Red-tailed and Rough-legged Hawks.
-Stephanie Potts, Youth Programs Coordinator

8. Woods Gulch Trail in the Rattlesnake Recreation Area

Woods Gulch in the Rattlesnake has a nice 6-mile loop, along with several longer and shorter options depending on your time frame and energy level. The lovely fall larches turn golden as the sun shines through the ponderosa pines. There's a wealth of wildflowers in the spring, from trillium to fairy slipper orchids. The trail climbs, providing a nice view of the Missoula valley at one point. Look for deer, juncos, chickadees, and ravens.
-Christine Morris, Community Programs Coordinator

Sledding at Lolo Pass
Nothing says the holidays like some good, old-fashioned family fun! Our family loves to find places to sled, and sometimes we have to go up to higher elevations in search of snow. One of our favorite spots is the sledding hill just behind the Visitor’s Center at Lolo Pass. It can be epic fun for older kids and adults, and can be tailored to smaller rides for younger kiddos. Bring a picnic lunch and hot cocoa and gather inside their warming hut to thaw frozen toes and fingers before heading back out for belly laughs and screams down the hill. If your crew is feeling more adventurous, pack the cross country skis and snowshoes and head out on their groomed trails!
-Sarah Millar, Development & Marketing Coordinator

10. Christmas Tree Hunting

Are you going to decorate for Christmas? Take this day to go on a Christmas Tree Hunting Expedition. Visit your local National Forest office for a tree permit (just $5 per tree!) and information on where to go. Pack up some warm clothes and snacks and head out for an adventure. Will you choose a Douglas-fir, or maybe an Engelmann spruce? Or perhaps you'll find the perfect grand fir or subalpine fir to grace your living room this season. Take lots of photos and maybe make this an annual tradition!
-Lisa Bickell, Education Director