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How to see the best of Montana in 7 days

By Tara Tadlock
updated November 15, 2021
S4 R0Sx Ya 1
Spend a week in "the Last Best Place"

Montana is criminally underrated. Its natural beauty has earned it the nickname “The Last Best Place” and, after a week-long road trip across the state, you’ll have a hard time arguing otherwise. The western half of Montana is particularly spectacular thanks to the wonders of Glacier National Park, Flathead Valley, and its many small town splendors. But don't miss out on the beautiful highways that wander around the 100+ mountain ranges in the state.

One of the many unintended consequences of COVID-19 travel restrictions has been the rebirth of the American road trip. Instead of flying to far flung places, people are escaping in their vehicles, in search of rest and respite. Luckily, there is only one way to properly see Montana in all its glory-- road trip.

Due to the sheer size of the state, it would be nearly impossible to scratch the surface of Montana in a week. Instead, spend your time enjoying the Western side of the state-- where buffalo roam in front of snow capped mountains.

Trip length: 7-10 days; 448 miles (720km)

Best time to visit: August through mid-September (fewer crowds, weather is still warm)

Essential photo op: Lake McDonald

Can’t miss experience: Driving Going the Sun Road

Quick road trip summary:

Day 1- Kalispell and Flathead Lake

Day 2- Wild Horse Island and Bigfork

Days 3 and 4- Glacier National Park

Day 5- Missoula

Day 6 and 7- Bozeman and West Yellowstone

Optional additions: Whitefish


Kalispell

Start your Montana adventure in quaint Kalispell! This quintessential Montana town, which will only take a day out of your itinerary, is the gateway to Glacier National Park, making it the best introduction to the state any first-time visitor could ask for. It’s an essential rite of passage for every visitor to order a huckleberry milkshake from Norm’s News.

Flathead Lake, Montana. ©Justin Foulkes/Lonely Planet

Flathead Lake

If you have the time, drive 14-minutes south towards Flathead Lake! It’s the largest natural freshwater lake west of the Mississippi River and an idyllic place for a picnic. In warmer weather, you’ll see people stand-up paddleboarding, kayaking, and horseback riding around the Lake. You might also spot Flessie, the resident lake monster that locals swear dwells in the water. Flathead Lake is also home to guided Llama treks for the extra adventurous.

Whitefish

A 20-minute drive north from Kalispell will land you in Whitefish, a gorgeous town known for its ski slopes and high-end boutiques. Whitefish also has quite the reputation for its “romantic getaway” status.

Montana has the second most breweries per capita in the country (just behind Vermont), and Whitefish has plenty of them. Because of this, it’s almost a requirement that you grab a craft beer from a locally-owned brewery like the Bonsai Brewing Project. If you happen to be visiting during the summer, check out the town’s farmer’s market for local vendors selling everything from florals to produce and handcrafted jewelry.

Short on time? Skip Whitefish (for this visit) in lieu of exploring Flathead Lake.

Rocky Mountains Montana
The Rocky Mountains in Montana. Photo by Donnie Sexton.

Bigfork

Bigfork, Montana, nearly qualifies as a hidden gem. It gets overlooked regularly by those passing through, but that’s a mistake. Bigfork is so picturesque it was proudly featured in the Hallmark film “Christmas in Montana”. Bronze bear fountains are dotted throughout the town, adding to its Western feel and shops along the main street sell homemade preserves from native berries. Make sure to try a pint of the local brew at Flathead Lake Brewing Company.

Wild Horse Island

For a totally unique Montana experience, head to Wild Horse Island. The island, which is actually a state park, is inhabited by bighorn sheep, deer, bald eagles, and (just as the name suggests) wild horses. You can kayak or paddleboard out to the island if you’re feeling fit, or opt to relax on a boat ride from Bigfork.

St. Mary Glacier National Park
Glacier National Park. Photo by Donnie Sexton.

Glacier National Park

Warning: visitors who travel to Glacier National Park may never want to leave. If there is one single spot you simply cannot miss on a visit to Montana, it’s Glacier. As the Crown Jewel of the state, it could keep you occupied with its scenic trails and glacial lakes for days on end, however, you’ll want to allow yourself a minimum of two days.

First-time visitors to Glacier might feel overwhelmed by the wealth of options for what to see and do, but there are some clear winners topping any must-see list, including: stopping by Lake McDonald, hiking Grinnell Glacier, and, of course, driving Going the Sun Road. This 50-mile stretch of road is a feat of engineering that takes about 2 hours to drive one-way. The Highline Trail and Avalanche Lake are also well-worth seeing.


Helmville Rodeo. Photo by Donnie Sexton.

Missoula

As far as college towns go, Missoula, Montana, is one of the best for outdoor enthusiasts. It is also one of the country’s quirkiest. An autumn visit to Missoula calls for a hot cup of caffeine at Clyde Coffee, Butterfly Herbs, or Break Espresso. Enjoy your joe while you stroll around the city and take in its many murals and Tibetan prayer flags flying from front porches. There are plenty of local businesses to support, including Hometana, The General Public, and Rockin’ Rudy’s.

On the way to Missoula, make sure to stop in at Ninepipes Museum to support Indigenous art and designs.


Bozeman

Venture further south and you’ll land in Bozeman. Made extra popular with tourists thanks to the television series “Yellowstone” (starring Kevin Costner), Bozeman is known locally as the “California of Montana” due to the number of start-up companies. Despite its reputation as a “pass-through” place with pseudo cowboys and obvious wealth, Bozeman is remarkably easy on the eyes. it only takes a heartbeat to see why everyone wants to live there.

Bozeman has a thriving food and coffee scene (local favourites include Nova Cafe, Jam!, Five on Black, and Plonk), historic ghost tours, and luxury spas. Bozeman is also home to the Bozeman Stampede Rodeo, the Montana Ballet Company, and rowdy Montana State University football games.


Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone National Park. Photo by Donnie Sexton.

(West) Yellowstone National Park

Montana might be home to only 3% of Yellowstone National Park, but that sliver is steeping with phenomenal views. Fill your days up here with fishing, whitewater rafting down the Yellowstone River, and hiking the nearby trails. After all your outdoor recreation, treat yourself to dinner and huckleberry ice cream at Arrowleaf Ice Cream and Grill.

Beartooth Highway in Summer
Beartooth Highway in the Summer. Photo by Laura Brown.

Red Lodge Montana and the Beartooth Highway

The Beartooth Highway is a 68-mile All-American road connected the town of Red Lodge, Montana to Yellowstone National Park. It is considered one of the most beautiful drives in America. It is typically open in the summer months, but those with adventurous snow experience can try their hand at a snowmobile in the winter. Stop over in Red Lodge for a charming small western town experience.

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Inspiration

The best books to read in every state in America

As soon as coronavirus arrived in New York City last winter, my brain became a tangle of anxious thoughts, pounding down on my already overtaxed amygdala. I had one salvation: a three-by-two map of America hanging in my living room. While most of my friends set their sights on the Balis and Bermudas of the world, my only travel goal has long been to visit every state in America. Ostensibly, this map’s point was to be the canvas for a smattering of pins until I created a multi-hued distribution upon all 50 sates. In actuality, the point was to accomplish something, to wrangle up America into a palm of pastel thumbtacks, to live a life full of stories. Stories from a life of zigzagging our great terrain this past year, it turned out, would not be in the cards as travel restrictions and lockdowns made all too clear from the outset of this mess. But as I squinted once again at the pin-less sweep of real estate on my wall somewhere between Minnesota and Oregon early last spring, I realized I could still get to work on these travels, if I got a little creative. Thus, my 50 states book project was born, where I embarked on a challenge to read a tome set in every state in the union. I still met people and places and things and disasters and triumphs, but I didn’t rent a car, or hop on a plane, or even scour the internet high and low for Clorox wipes to sanitize my hotel room. Instead, I let William Least Heat-Moon, Bill Bryson, and Paul Theroux lead me on road trips, I hung out with that guy who walked across America, Peter Jenkins, I chased redbirds in Kentucky with Sharon Creech, listened to crawdads singing in North Carolina, and I went on one hell of a bender with Hunter S. Thompson in Vegas. I spent a grand total of $233.96 buying used books on Amazon—less than an average one-night hotel stay in Chicago, mind you. I read classic texts and obscure novels, fiction and nonfiction, humorous and heartbreaking, and it completely changed the way I think about travel. For one thing, given the titles I read, I can now unequivocally say the best adventures are the outdoors ones. My nationwide literary adventure had me walking around my own little nook of a park, Sutton Place Park in Midtown Manhattan, like I was a Thoreauvian naturalist (I’m not sure how he’d feel about the giant neon Pepsi Cola sign across the East River). In lockdowns, these books gave me inspiration to find meaning in the toughest of days knowing that This Too Shall Pass, and the road awaited me. It even helped me feel a little less pissed when my well-intentioned best friend would send me gorgeous mountain-y snapshots from her quarantine castle in the Hudson Valley. After all, I had just gotten back from a whirlwind stint in Iowa. Perhaps counterintuitively, surveying a book from every state in America blurred the lines of my much-loved pushpin map. Alaska was Alabama was Kentucky was Kansas. On page 18 of my Michigan selection, The Deer Camp: A Memoir of a Father, A Family, and the Land That Healed Them by Dean Kuipers, I came across this passage: “The great American anarchist Edward Abbey is probably not a terrific role model for mature relatedness—by all reports, he had prickly relationships with other people and, like Henry David Thoreau, needed the solitude he so extolled. But in Desert Solitaire Abbey addressed that need to confront our position vis-à-vis the nonhuman world…” In a quick swoop of the pen, my Michigan author had referenced my Maine essayist and my Utah wordsmith. We’re all independent, yet linked. Separate, yet dependent. Alone in the woods, yet with your friends on the forest floor. Alaska is Alabama is Kentucky is Kansas. Alabama Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee by Casey Cep Cep does a deep dive into Harper Lee’s true-crime book about reverend Willie Maxwell, an alleged serial murderer that never was finished and published. Her portrait of To Kill a Mockingbird’s scribe, Harper Lee, is just as fascinating as the unreal story of Maxwell. Alaska Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer There’s hardly a stretch of 10 pages in this book without creased corners and underlining, in this enthralling account of a renegade college grad who abandons the conventions of traditional life on Alaska’s harsh frontiers. Arizona Arizona Then and Now: People and Places by Karl Mondon By the time I got to my Arizona selection, my eyes had glazed over from so. much. text. Thankfully, this assortment of archival photos from the Jeremy Rowe Collection juxtaposed with modern-day photography from Mondon was exactly what I needed. Nothing will beat the heavenly Grand Canyon, but the main street photos of towns like Bisbee and Winslow really made me nostalgic for wandering a new teeny town’s downtown for the first time. Arkansas Hipbillies: Deep Revolution in the Arkansas Ozarks by Jared M. Phillips Hippies of the Haight-Ashbury variety + backwoods hillbillies = “Hipbillies.” A fascinating perspective on this Southern counterculture from the 1960s and ‘70s, I was intrigued to learn about these back-to-the-landers’ incredible impact on the future of the Ozarks. California The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan Head to San Francisco in this award-winning gem from Tan that also brings you along to China in stories of immigrant Americans, the lives and pain they left behind, and the chapters they’ve built anew. Colorado The Voyeur's Motel by Gay Talese A journalist uncovers a heck of a world after receiving an anonymous letter from a peeping Tom who owns a hotel in Aurora and spies on unknowing guests. It’s creepy, it’s can’t-put-down, and it will definitely have you look around extra carefully after you check into a hotel room. Honorable mention: Stories I Tell Myself: Growing Up with Hunter S. Thompson by Juan Thompson Connecticut The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin Well, guess I need to see the 2004 movie starring Nicole Kidman now. Because, wow, what a book: When Joanna arrives in Fairfield County with her husband and kiddos from New York City an American horror classic ensues, from the same author as Rosemary’s Baby. Delaware And Never Let Her Go: Thomas Capano: The Deadly Seducer by Ann Rule This book has something for every kind of reader, true crime, politics, superb research, psychological nuances...the list goes on and on. You’ll stay up way past your bedtime finishing this one. Florida Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh Woman decamps from her busy life and heads to Captiva Island, off the coast of Fort Myers. Woman picks up various seashells and uses them as metaphors to reflect on life: work, relationships, struggles, joys. Turns out said woman is married to a Nazi (see: New Jersey), which ruins this poetic, rhythmic philosophical missive for me. Georgia Between Georgia Torn between two families, a husband and a best friend love interest, the tension is palpable in this Southern Drama with a capital D. As one reader referenced in the Amazon reviews, the saying "We don't hide crazy in this family. We sit it down on the front porch and give it a cocktail” was just made for this book. Hawaii The Descendants by Kaui Hart Hemmings You know a book is that good, when the George Clooney movie version doesn’t even hold a candle to it. There’s a wife in a coma and her extramarital affair, a husband forced to reckon with raising his two daughters alone and being heir to a ton of primo real estate, and so much more that will leave you unable to think about anything else for a couple of days. Idaho Idaho by Emily Ruskovich I’ll be the first to admit I picked this book up for the eye-catching floral design on the cover, but I couldn’t put it down for the pathos bleeding through every page. When a mother kills her child, so much more crumbles and is lost, but the beauty here is in all that is found, practically, philosophically, and otherwise. Illinois Searching for John Hughes by Jason Diamond When I was an editor at Men’s Journal in 2016, I sat in the cubicle next to Mr. Diamond (remember these things called offices) and this book encpatures so much of who he is: wise, writerly, idiosyncratic, and a touch grumpy. Enjoy the ride as he commences a quest for the filmmaker behind Home Alone, Sixteen Candles, and National Lampoon’s Vacation. Indiana The Fault In Our Stars by John Green I’m still crying, but to be fair, how could you not be crying after reading this novel about two kids who love like there are thousands of tomorrows despite the terminal cancer diagnoses with which they’re both reckoning. Iowa The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson 1950s-era Iowa is brought to life in this oft humorous memoir from the beloved travel writer. It really made this New York City kid feel like she was missing out on a quintessential childhood experience by never having attended a county fair. Kansas In Cold Blood by Truman Capote A true crime classic that revolves around the brutal slaying of four family members in a small town in Western Kansas and the detective work that ensues. The book was praised for utilizing novelistic techniques to describe the characters and their feelings, a trailblazer for the nonfiction genre. Kentucky Chasing Redbird by Sharon Creech Lockdowns have had me returning to tween books (don’t judge me), and I don’t regret the walk down memory lane in the least, especially in the company of the protagonist Zinny. The industrious youngster sets out into the woods and grapples with grief, blossoming love interests, and frustrating family dynamics along the way. Don’t we all? Louisiana Magic City by Yusef Komunyakaa Step inside 1950s Louisiana in Komunyakaa’s hometown of rural Bogalusa in this harrowing collection of poems. Within, the talented poet tackles racism, sexuality, and economic inequalities with a swift, vivid hand. Maine The Maine Woods by Henry Thoreau What I would give to escape this city jungle and take a walk in the Maine woods right about now. Thankfully, Thoreau’s quintessential naturalist account of three trips into the rugged woods with philosophical musings intertwined with the detailed physical descriptions of all that Thoreau witnesses. Pretty foreboding for the mid1800s: “the mission of men there seems to be, like so many busy demons, to drive the forest out of the country.” Maryland Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant by Anne Tyler Admittedly, I picked up this book because there was a tantalizing slice of pie on the cover. But I’m glad I did: Follow along for all that unfolds as one grieving Baltimore family learn about long-hidden truths and struggles to cope. Massachusetts Tuesdays with Morrie: An Old Man, a Young Man, and Life's Greatest Lesson by Mitch Albom I mean, what can I say about Tuesdays with Morrie? In this blockbuster memoir-cum-biography, a journalist visits his beloved former college professor at home as he dies of ALS. A five-star book (albeit, with some four-star writing). A beautiful biography of a life well lived, and a workaholic writer who’s outlook is changed because of his inspiring teacher’s example. Michigan The Deer Camp: A Memoir of a Father, A Family, and the Land That Healed Them by Dean Kuipers It was easy to fall in love with Kuipers’ elegant prose in a story about an estranged father and his three sons and what happens when said absent dad tries to make amends after buying 100 acres of hunting property in middle-of-nowhere Michigan. It’s a memoir I know I’ll be recommending for years to come. Minnesota Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich I had picked this book up because I was supposed to gather with a crowd of hundreds to see Erdrich speak at the 92nd Street Y this past month. Needless to say, that blessed packed auditorium never came to fruition, but I’m glad I still devoured this spooky, powerful account of a pregnant woman in a world where expecting mothers are held captive in hospitals. Honorable mentions: Freedom by Jonathan Franzen; The Good Girl by Mary Kubica Mississippi The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner I did it. I read a full Faulkner book. And while I probably would have understood more about this Deep South family and Dilsey, their black servant, had I read the SparkNotes, if only for the occasional heart-stopping quote like “Clocks slay time... time is dead as long as it is being clicked off by little wheels; only when the clock stops does time come to life.” Missouri The Broken Heart of America: St. Louis and the Violent History of the United States by Walter Johnson This Missouri native and now Harvard professor captures the oft overlooked history of St. Louis, tracing the city from Lewis and Clark’s 1804 expedition to modern times, with moving examples in each chapter. It’s a tough look at racism in our country from centuries past to the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson in 2014, but a look well worth taking. Montana A River Runs Through It and Other Stories by Norman Maclean So far, I’ve lost one friend to Big Sky Country since lockdowns commenced, and I can now totally appreciate why. Penned by a retired English professor who commenced his fiction career at 70, this novella and accompanying short stories will have you eager to fly-cast and play cribbage amidst a backdrop of trout streams, drunkards, and whores (maybe not the whores). Nebraska The Swan Gondola by Timothy Schaffert Venture to the 1898 Omaha World's Fair – filled with sinners and saints – as one ventriloquist stumbles upon a new love. The book has burlesque dancers, snake oil salesmen, and plenty of wild west drama and romance. In these strange times, what more could you want? Nevada Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson Like The Plot Against America (see: New Jersey) I didn’t think this stream of conscious book would be for me, so I was amazed that I polished it off in three evening reading sessions. Vegas is wild, life is wild, and it’s all gravy baby in this fast-paced (psychedelic) trip. New Hampshire Last Night in Twisted River by John Irving If this doesn’t make you want to traipse around New Hampshire (minus an accidental murder and an unfortunate sheriff), I don’t know what will. The inventive novel takes detours to Iowa, Vermont, and more, as you get to know three generations of men and a rotating cast of women and feel particularly drawn to say goodbye to your smartphone for a while and retreat to 1950s Coos County, New Hampshire. New Jersey The Plot Against America by Phillip Roth In this lengthy novel, Roth reimagines a world in which Nazi sympathizer Charles Lindbergh is President, creating fantasized historical fiction that has striking parallels to today’s dystopian America. The book focuses on Philip’s upbringing in Newark in the 1940s in a tight-knit Jewish community, with a brother desperate to leave and a cousin returning home from World War II missing a leg. Overall, this book a nice reminder for me that reading beyond your typical wheelhouse pays dividends. Check out the miniseries on HBO Max after you’re done. Honorable mention: Shore Stories: An Anthology Of The Jersey Shore by Richard Youmans (Editor) New Mexico House Made of Dawn by N. Scott Momaday After I told a friend in California about my little project, I was touched when this book arrived in my mailbox a few days later. This Pulitzer Prize novel by esteemed Kiowa journalist moved me in all the right ways during such a time of turmoil with the unforgettable Abel, a Native American man who returns to his reservation after fighting in World War II. New York The Catcher in the Rye by J.D Salinger In a time when it was easy to forget New York City’s boisterous splendor, it was comfort food to cavort around famed landmarks and reconvene with old Phoebs, Holden, and even pimply Ackley. As for “those ducks in that lagoon right near Central Park South,” I’m pleased to report they appear to be COVID-free and frolicking about even as hell and temperatures freeze over. Honorable mentions: A Walker in the City by Alfred Kazin; Here Is New York by E.B. White; Manhattan’45 by Jan Morris; An Unwanted Guest by Shari Lapena; The Island at the Center of the World: The Epic Story of Dutch Manhattan and the Forgotten Colony That Shaped America by Russell Shorto North Carolina Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens A haunting murder story with unforgettable characters, a moving love story, and evocative descriptions of nature’s wonders, all set in the marshlands of the Old North State. North Dakota The New Wild West: Black Gold, Fracking, and Life in a North Dakota Boomtown by Blaire Briody Part culture analysis, part travelogue, this book about the oil biz delivers on the premise of its title — especially on the wild front. Ohio Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance From page one to the end, try putting this book down as it simply yet poignantly captures the realities of growing up in a family riddled with addiction and drama. P.S. If you watched the stekkar new Netflix flick, you’ll definitely appreciate reading the original memoir. Oklahoma A Map of Tulsa by Benjamin Lytal Dubbed “a love letter to a classic American city,” this love story in a Tulsa that straddles the line between dusty and sparkling is unlike any other you’ve ever read. Oregon Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed Okay, so it also covers California and Washington, but since the author lives in Portland, we’ll give this unique, achingly beautiful memoir to her stomping grounds. Chronicling one woman’s quest to hike the PCT in the cradle of grief, this memoir will change your outlook on everything from nature to family. P.S. Reese Witherspoon stars in the 2014 movie adaptation. Pennsylvania Rabbit, Run by John Updike This was the first Updike book I read, but it won’t be the last. I think one Goodreads reviewer nailed it: “Have you ever seen something noted because it is a representation of a specific thing? For example, a building might be marked with a plaque as a perfect representation of a type of architecture. Well, this book should be marked with a plaque as a perfect prose example of America in the late 50s/early 60s.” It wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t progressive in its treatment of women, but man was it enthralling. Rhode Island The Islanders by Meg Mitchell Moore Get to know Anthony, Joy, and Lu, three strangers whose lives become intertwined on Little Rhody’s picturesque Block Island. They may call it a summer beach read, but I call it cozy quarantine perfection. South Carolina The Last Original Wife by Dorothea Benton Frank Set in Georgia and South Carolina, its a low-country love story that will leave you feeling Hallmark movie good. Also, the descriptions of towering trees, Sullivan’s Island, and Charleston restaurants, will help you indulge the armchair traveling spirit we all need right now. South Dakota Deadwood by Pete Dexter When the going gets tough, the tough head to Deadwood...at least in the 1870s if you’re Wild Bill Hickok or Calamity Jane. Expect searing grit. Booze, sex, betrayal, and murder in an action-packed work of fiction you won’t soon forget. Tennessee Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver A searing fictional narrative that grapples with the effects of climate change and draws you into the world of a young woman living on a farm in an isolated sliver of Tennessee. If you’re a lover of the mystical monarch butterflies, this is definitely for you. Texas God Save Texas: A Journey Into the Soul of the Lone Star State by Lawrence Wright Diverse chapters covering everything from hurricanes and guns to music and Texan heroes, get a taste of this big, beautiful, and oft contradictory state. (Which, by the way, is so much more than Austin) Utah Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness by Edward Abbey This best-seller reminded me of the understated, almost eerie grandeur of Utah (I once took a SUP yoga class in thermal waters within the Homestead Crater, a 10,000-year-old crater, about a half-hour outside of Park City, if that’s not enough trendy activities rolled int one) — and had me itching to return. Through Abbey’s elegiac prose, sourced from journals and reflections of his time spent as a ranger at Arches National Park outside Moab, you’ll yearn for the day when you can visit all of the natural wonders he describes for yourself, and with new eyes. Vermont Stranger in the Kingdom by Frank Mosher It’s a real treat to get lost in fictional Kingdom County, Vermont, in this tale that centers around a small town, a murder, and life in New England. Dealing with difficult themes like racism, Mosher manages to weave in humor and moral lessons without being preachy. Virginia The Jezebel Remedy by Martin Clark What happens when a married couple who are partners in law in a small Virginia town encounter a mysterious death of their most eccentric clients will leave you surprised at each twist and turn. One of my first quarantine reads last spring, it’s a veritable page-turner and welcome distraction from the relentless news cycle. Washington Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson (Spoiler alert!) The last line of this courtroom drama regarding a case of a drowned fisherman on remote San Piedro Island was well worth slogging through the entire book for me: “Accident ruled every corner of the universe except the chambers of the human heart.” West Virginia Last Mountain Dancer: Hard-Earned Lessons in Love, Loss, and Honky-Tonk Outlaw Life by Chuck Kinder This Goodreads review just about summed it up: “At turns uproariously funny and break-my-goddamn-heart sad, Last Mountain Dancer started off good and ended even better, set in a world where Hank Williams occupies the same spiritual space as the ubiquitous Jaaaaaysus.” Suffice to say, I’m looking forward to the day when I get to visit these country roads for myself. Wisconsin Population: 485 — Meeting Your Neighbors One Siren at a Time by Michael Perry I’ve visited my fair share small towns in Wisconsin like outdoorsy Door County’s fly-speck gem, Sister Bay, and Elkhorn to see the Dave Matthews Band play the much-hyped amphitheater that is Alpine Valley, but I’ve never ventured to one quite like Perry’s hometown of New Auburn, rendered beautifully in this unforgettable memoir. Wyoming Wrapped and Strapped by Lorelei James I like Harlequin romance novels, so shoot me. Hippie vegetarian meets hunky cattle farmer in a raunchy stint at the ole Split Rock Ranch and Resort in this “Blacktop Cowboys” series mass market paperback hit. Now I definitely want to visit Wyoming for the, um, scenery.

Inspiration

5 perfect rentals for plant lovers

The home gardening trend that bloomed during the pandemic has planted roots for the long term, with nurseries continuing to report record sales as consumers test and refine their green thumbs. Plant-loving travelers looking to take their plant parentings skills to the next level will be rewarded with stays at these five botanical vacation rentals courtesy of Vacasa, the leading full-service vacation rental management company in North America. As an added bonus, there are parks, greenhouses, gardens and more nearby, offering plenty of additional opportunities to enjoy nature’s beauty in full bloom. Source: Vacasa Arcadian Gardens (Sequim, Washington) - It’s fitting that this vacation home is in The Evergreen State, where an indoor koi pond—and hot tub—are surrounded by an impressive display of tropical plants that create a jungle-like oasis. Spend an afternoon at Pioneer Memorial Park, a beautiful 4-acre park and arboretum located right downtown and maintained by the Sequim Prairie Garden Club. Home Run House (Warren, Vermont) - This custom-built vacation home uses greenery to soften the steely gray of its industrial-style interior architecture, with a two-story living wall of plants and a forest of potted trees. Nearby, the Von Trapp Greenhouse in Waitsfield has been growing all of its own plants from seeds, cuttings, or divisions for more than 40 years. Source: Vacasa Mellow Marsh (Folly Beach, South Carolina) - Wicker baskets and plant stands dot the living area of this beachside rental, proving that even with a view of palm trees from the deck, a fiddle leaf fig tree can really bring a space to life. Head about 20 minutes inland to Charleston and stroll through acres upon acres of romantic blooms at the popular Middleton Place or Magnolia Garden. Source: Vacasa Yellowtail Home in the Meadow (Big Sky, Montana) - This Big Sky sun porch, complete with skylights, is decked out with a container garden of trees that artfully brings the outdoors in, but will keep any chilly evening temps at bay. An abundance of wildflowers line area hiking trails nearby, including Beehive Basin and Cinnamon Mountain, but remember to leave the colorful buds rooted—picking them is against hiker (and plant enthusiast) etiquette. Tabor Treehouse (Portland, Oregon) - As a house in a plant, this vacation rental gives guests the true “one with nature” experience. If that’s not enough, nearby Leach Botanical Garden (which unveiled a $12 million renovation this spring) is home to a diverse collection of more than 2,000 plants across its 16.5 acres Source: Vacasa This content has been provided in partnership with Vacasa.

Inspiration

Why you have to see Georgia's 'Little Grand Canyon'

A steady flow of water runs through the bottom of Georgia’s Providence Canyon, but unlike other canyons, that’s not what carved it out of the earth. Formed by enslaving plantation owners who improperly managed the land about 200 years ago, it’s now a state park with hiking and camping options. Known as “Georgia’s Little Grand Canyon,” it’s been such a popular spot during the Covid-19 pandemic that the park has had to limit car access for day hikers who aren’t staying at one of the six primitive campsites. Even with vaccinations underway, outdoor vacations close to home remain a great option for safely getting out of the house. If you’re in the southeast U.S., you don’t have to travel far to feel like you’re in the American West. Providence Canyon is a geological wonder of its own. Located about 150 miles southwest of Atlanta near the Alabama border, the canyon sits in one of Georgia’s least-populated counties. It’s named for the Providence Methodist Church, which was swallowed by the newly forming canyon gorges in the 1800s. A new church was constructed across the road after the chasms started to form. From observation decks near the parking lot, you can see the islands of remaining ground-level earth with a few pine trees that dramatically drop off into the canyons below. But to really experience Providence Canyon, you’ll want to take a hike along the canyon floor. Walking down into the gullies is like entering another world. After a short tree-lined descent, you’re on a flat plane looking up at the layered pink, yellow, and purple canyon walls. You’re now more than 100 feet below where you started. The ground has eroded away so much that it’s hit the water table, so rain or shine, there’s a stream of water pulling silty soil along the floor of the canyons. You’ll want to wear ankle-height hiking shoes and be prepared for that iconic Georgia clay dirt to get on your shoes, pants, and inexplicably other parts of your clothes or body where you didn’t expect to find it. From the main loop trail, you can fork out into individual paths to nine canyon walls. A backcountry trail through the shallow creek leads to the primitive campsites. The canyons were formed in the early 1800s, after the Muscogee (Creek) indigenous people were forced from their land and plantation farms growing cotton took over the area. The plantation model of agriculture, reliant on enslaved labor, didn’t take precautions to prevent erosion. They couldn't have been prepared for how quickly and dramatically the land would change. Year after year, the cotton and other crops washed away along with clay and topsoil every time it rained. Within 20 years, enough of the ground had sloughed away that gullies four feet deep had formed. This erosion continued over time, and the gullies are now as yawning as 150 feet deep and 350 feet wide. The canyons are still evolving today. Every year, rain and erosion wear away another two to five feet of land. Their sandy sides are fully exposed, so there’s not much the park staff can do to stop it from continuing to slough off. Most of the erosion these days is horizontal, widening the gullies: the canyon floor now has pine trees and other vegetation that keeps the soil from running off, and there’s not much deeper it could go. In the 1930s, the local paper in nearby Columbus, GA, started to make Providence Canyon a national park, hoping to bring tourists driving in to see “the natural wonder and beauty. . .instead of having it principally a discussion of erosion.” But despite the newspaper campaign emphasizing the “natural wonder,” its unnatural origins kept Providence Canyon off the national parks list. Georgia made it a state park in 1971, and it’s presented as the human-created formation that it is. Although Providence Canyon wasn’t naturally formed, it reveals parts of the natural world that are normally hidden. There are 43 different shades of sand that create sunset-like patterns along the canyon’s walls. The shades come from four base colors created by minerals in the soil. In addition to the classic red Georgia clay, which gets its pigmentation from iron, there’s white from kaolin, yellow from limonite, and purple from manganese. Above the canyon walls, there are other unnatural features: walk up the loop trail and you’ll emerge to the ridgeline where a small collection of cars has been slowly reclaimed by nature. The cars date back to the ‘50s, and only the rusted-out bodies remain — no glass, no tires. Leaves cover the interior, and root structures grow in the tire wells. The park managers have determined that it would be more harmful to the wildlife to remove the cars than to leave them as they are, slowly becoming a part of their surroundings. The canyons are a reminder that everywhere on earth has been shaped by humans in one way or another. Whether by plantation farming practices or pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere or moving plants from one continent to another, human life has completely altered the planet. Providence Canyon just makes that impact more visually obvious. It’s a state park for the Anthropocene, and a fantastic day trip.

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6 great outdoor activities in Puerto Rico

1. Take a Tour of Old San Juan While Castillo San Felipe del Morro is closed until further notice, there are still plenty of interesting things to do in Old San Juan, whether you decide to go solo with one of GPSmyCity’s audio tours or with a group. Covid-compliant historical walking tours are available through Viator from $41 per person. San Juan Food Tours aims to keep patrons safe on its three-hour Flavors of Old San Juan tour (from $94 per person) and two-hour Rum Runners Craft Cocktail Tour (from $49 per person), while Spoon has similar health and safety protocols in place for its food and cocktail themed walking tours, ranging from $75 to $99 per person. To see San Juan from the water, East Island Excursions offers tours from $79 per person for daytime sailings or $95 per person for sunset sailings as long as guests fill out a health questionnaire before boarding. Misty jungle path through the El Yunque National Forest in Puerto Rico. ©Dennis van de Water/Shutterstock 2. Get Back to Nature in El Yunque National Forest El Yunque National Forest is open but you’ll need to reserve an entry ticket online for $2 per vehicle ahead of time to visit the La Mina Recreation Area on Rd 191. Time slots between 8 a.m. and 11 a.m. or 12 p.m. and 3 p.m. can be booked up to 30 days in advance. Note that La Mina Falls and Big Tree Trail will be closed for construction until 2022. Remember to keep your mask on and stay at least six feet from anyone outside your group. 3. Hike to Cueva Ventana (Window Cave) If you’re staying on the western side of the island or looking for an easy day trip from San Juan, Aventura Cueva Ventana (or Window Cave) near Arecibo is a fun place to go hiking, see petroglyphs and stone carvings left behind by Puerto Rico’s earliest inhabitants and check out the views from the cave’s window-esque opening. Tickets are $19 per person and there’s a $2 discount if you visit Wednesday to Friday. All visitors must comply with stringent hand-washing, mask-wearing and social distancing measures at all times. ©watcherFF/Getty Images 4. Explore Bioluminescent Bay by Kayak On the eastern end of the island, Island Kayaking runs guided tours (from $53 per person) to Bioluminescent Bay near Fajardo. You’ll be organized into kayaks per group—as in, you won’t be seated with strangers—masks must be worn throughout the tour and anyone with a temperature over 100.4 won’t be allowed to join. Their two-hour Glowing Bay Adventure tour takes you through a mangrove forest out to the bay, where tiny creatures called pyrodiniums bahamenses light up all around you whenever you move your paddle and kayak. 5. Visit a Rum Distillery While the Bacardi Rum Factory has halted its tours now, another historic rum distillery, Ron de Barrilito, is open. Rum tasting tours and mixology classes, available from $80 per person, must be booked ahead of time online as the number of guests will be limited to allow for social distancing. 6. Head to the Beach or Condado Lagoon If you’re a fan of sunbathing, surfing, boogie boarding, swimming, paddle boarding, kayaking or other recreational beach activities, it really boils down to this: stay with your own group, remain at least six feet from others and keep your mask on whenever you’re not in the water. Military tank left behind on Culebra Beach. ©Tinapat Kotumrongsak/Shutterstock