My fiancé Renie and I blew down Interstate 90 to the Pintler Scenic Route on a Friday night in late June, making the drive from Missoula to Philipsburg in an easy, lead-footed hour after our workday ended. Ostensibly, we'd come for fly fishing glory on nearby Rock Creek, planning our arrival for the peak of the June salmon fly hatch. But the real objective was romance. With our wedding coming up a short six weeks later, I wanted to bask for a weekend together on the blissful precipice. We packed a bottle of Grand Cru burgundy for the occasion.
Visitors to Philipsburg can't miss the honest effort. Cuter than Bigfork, refreshingly unvarnished compared to Whitefish and Big Sky, and a much more comfortable distance from the grubby plains than Red Lodge, the historic settlement in the panoramic Flint Creek Valley has clearly inspired its citizens with a collective desire to make their town the niftiest little mountain getaway in the state. What's more, they're succeeding.
Once a booming center of mining activity back in the days of sidearms and saloons, Philipsburg now trades on its past with a collection of gaily painted vintage storefronts lining its main street. The Broadway Hotel, a lovingly restored 1890s landmark, stands out among them as a delightful anchorage in the heart of town. Arriving near dark, we found our key in an envelope tacked to the back door, a homey gesture reinforced by the hospitality of owner Sue Jenner, whom we found preparing for a movie night with a couple of her friends in the hotel's comfy lounge. After showing us to our quarters in the spacious, ski-themed Discovery Room, Jenner invited us to join them for the show—a chick flick, she said. But we had designs on steak at the Philipsburg Cafe just down the street, where we put that burgundy to good use.
The weather had turned unusually cold and gray for late June, but Rock Creek was running clear, and we knew the salmon flies had been popping on the lower section for a while. With hopes that a halfway decent day would push the hatch upstream, we made for Rock Creek's upper reaches the next morning with our guide Adam Spenner, who launched the raft where the headwaters meet Skalkaho Road.