Sitting atop the active Yellowstone Caldera supervolcano, the park contains fully half of the world's known geothermal features, and standouts including Old Faithful Geyser and Mammoth Hot Springs are popular tourist attractions. Geologically, the park encompasses lakes, canyon's rivers, and mountain ranges. Yellowstone Lake is one of the largest high-altitude lakes in North America. The Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River, at 308 feet, is the tallest of the park's 290 waterfalls.
Biologically, Yellowstone National Park anchors the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, the largest intact northern temperate ecosystem on the globe. Sixty species of mammals live in the park, including gray wolves, lynx, grizzly bears, black bears, bison, elk, moose, mule deer, white-tailed deer, mountain goat, pronghorn, bighorn sheep and mountain lions. Wildlife management, especially of the nation's largest public herd of bison, has been controversial.
Eighteen species of fish call Yellowstone home, including the highly prized Yellowstone cutthroat. Many waters inside the park are open to fly-fishing only, and native species are restricted to catch and release fishing. A Yellowstone-specific fishing license is required. Hunting is not permitted in the park.
Recreational opportunities in Yellowstone include cycling, cross-country skiing, hiking on more than 1,100 miles of trails, snowmobiling, lake canoeing and kayaking, and wildlife watching. The park contains nine hotels and lodges with 2,238 hotel rooms and cabins for rent; twelve road-accessible campgrounds offer more than 2,000 campsites; backcountry campsites accessible by foot or horseback require permits.
July is typically the park's busiest month, accounting for almost half of Yellowstone's 2 million annual visitors. During high season, crowds concentrate around Old Faithful and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. For the most relaxed experience, the fall season offers the best combination of weather and elbow room. But even on the most crowded summer day, peace and quiet can usually be found by taking a short walk down any trail. Be advised that Yellowstone Park is one of the last strongholds of the grizzly bear in the lower 48 states, and the usual precautions apply in dealing with bears, bison, and all of the park's wild creatures.
The Lolo National Forest encompasses 2 million acres surrounding Missoula and includes portions of the Selway/Bitterroot, Rattlesnake, Welcome Creek, and Scapegoat wilderness areas.
Flora and fauna include 1,500 plant species, 60 species of mammals (including grizzly, black bear, mountain goat, bighorn sheep, elk, moose and mule deer), 20 varieties of fish, and 300 species of birds (including bald and golden eagles, trumpeter swan, herons, and 30 kinds of duck).
About 700 miles of hiking trails, a dozen developed campgrounds, and a dozen more backcountry cabin and fire lookout rentals provide access the forest's more than 100 named lakes and five rivers, including the Flathead. Eight cross-country ski and four snowmobile areas open the forest to winter recreationists. Mountain bikers and road cyclists both are accommodated, and as are ATVers. The Savenac Historic Tree Nursery, founded in 1907, now hosts a visitor center, cabin camping, and arboretum.
Centered around the population center of Missoula, home of forest headquarters, the Lolo sees heavy use. Happily, there's enough to see and do that visitors don't have to see it as well.
The Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge—established in 1963 and re-named for the late U.S. Senator and Stevensville native Lee Metcalf in 1978—is a 2,800-acre riparian habitat along the eastern bank of the Bitterroot River between Stevensville and Florence.
Migratory birds are the refuge's primary inhabitants, with 238 species documented. Archery hunting for deer, waterfowl hunting, and catch-and-release fishing are permitted—contact the refuge for regulations. Refuge staff also provide a variety of seasonal educational programming for kids.
A 160-acre wildlife viewing area encompasses ponds, sloughs, and river-bottom woodlands. Two nature trails of less than a mile each, and a half-mile, wheelchair-accessible trail provides access from the parking lot to a picnic area. County road Wildfowl Lane traverses the refuge and provides scenic vistas and wildlife-viewing opportunities. The Lee Metcalf Wildlife Viewing Trail is a designated National Recreation Trail. Wildlife-viewing and fishing structures, restrooms, benches and an information kiosk round out the amenities.
The Blackfeet call it the backbone of the world. White explorers dubbed it the crown of the continent. Now named for the spectacular, glacially carved topography and remnant ice clinging to the high-elevations, Glacier National Park encompasses over 1 million acres of rugged alpine terrain.
The park is widely regarded as one of the best hiking and backpacking destinations in the United States, but most people stick closely to the 50-mile long Going-to-the-Sun road, which transects the park from West Glacier to St. Mary, crossing the Continental Divide at Logan Pass. Popular day hiking destinations for first-time visitors include Avalanche Lake, Haystack Butte, Hidden Pass, and Grinnell Lake. But you don't have to look very hard to find countless possibilities for adventure. Be advised that Glacier National Park is grizzly bear country, and all the familiar cautionary notes apply.
In 1932 Glacier National Park and Waterton Lakes National Park, across the border in Canada, were designated Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, celebrating the longstanding peace and friendship between the two neighboring countries. Both parks have since been designated as an International Biosphere Reserves and together were recognized in 1995 as a World Heritage Site.