In case you were wondering what downtown historic Prescott, Arizona is like—it’s charming, clean, friendly and fun. Lots of historic buildings, galleries, shops, restaurants, hotels and old time saloons. I’m sure glad my road trip took me here. I had a blast exploring the area—hiking and mountain biking in the nearby Prescott National Forest by day and kicking up my heels on the saloon dance floors by night. As a solo woman traveler, I felt completely safe my entire trip. (Though it appears some don’t—lol. The concealed carry handbag in the picture below was featured in one of the store windows.)
Nightlife – yes! Live Music – yes! Dancing – yes!
Stay tuned for my top picks of places to stay and eat and for more of my active escapades in and around Prescott.
A designated national natural landmark and wilderness study area, Hell’s Half Acre Lava Field is a basaltic lava plain found in the desert ecosystem of the Snake River Plain of Idaho. It consists of about 150 sq miles of other-wordly terrain created by a lava flow from about 4,100 years ago. There’s a 1/2 mile trail marked by blue poles, you can follow those to the red poles that lead you out 4.5 miles to the central vent, where the lava broke through the surface thousands of years ago (9.4 mile round trip).
Hiking across a lava field is not for everyone, especially not for the tender footed. It’s cool, but the novelty wears off fast. While the trail is flat and easy, the terrain itself is tough and unforgiving. Lava rock is extremely sharp – like glass shards- and fragmented and the field is a trap of open cracks, gaping holes, jagged rocks and uneven, tortuous footing. It’s slow and treacherous going. One misstep can land your foot or your body in a hole. And if you trip, you’re likely to be broken, bruised or bleeding. Sneakers are not enough, the lava will eat them up. I’d recommend sturdy hiking shoes even for the short stroll. Also, it’s easy to get lost in the vast monotonous beauty of the lava field, you really have to look for those trail pole markers. Not a hike to set the kids loose on. Do not attempt the long hike in the summer as this place gets hot as hades.
Normally, I’m up for a hiking challenge, but I was happy to keep it short here, especially when I heard the rednecks firing shotguns close by…(sigh).
If you’re heading to Butte from Missoula or visa versa, the 64 mile Pintler Veterans Memorial Scenic Highway is a great alternative to Interstate 90. It starts in Drummond, a not at all scenic, 1-horse town (population 309) that bills itself as the “Biggest Bull Shippers” in the country. I “ship” you not. We stopped for gas and nothing else there.
Our next stop was historic Phillipsburg, a charming 19th century mining town in the heart of Montana sapphire country (population 820 as of 2010). We strolled up and down the short main street in about 5 minutes, grabbed a coffee and indulged in some Montana bbq for lunch.
We enjoyed the lovely views Georgetown Lake and Silver Lake (see top feature picture) along the way. Georgetown Lake is famous for its fishing in the summer and ice fishing in the winter. Unfortunately, the sky didn’t clear for a good pic at Georgetown Lake.
We didn’t stop in Anaconda, nearly named Copperopolis, it was named after the Anaconda Copper Mining Company and at one time this small town was the world’s largest supplier of copper, just as electricity became ubiquitous.
Overall, it’s a pleasant drive with a backdrop of conifer-carpeted mountains and sage-brushed hills along Flint Creek.
If you’re into historic mining towns, ghost towns (3), and a sapphire mine this is your route. (There’s a waterfall out here somewhere too.) In any event, it’s certainly more interesting than Interstate 90. If you have the time to spare, just do it.
A busy itinerary demands some time on the road today. Reluctant to leave Glacier National Park. It’s not goodbye; I’ll be back. This is just a teaser whirlwind trip from Spokane through Idaho and Montana.
A highlight was the sparkling town of Big Fork, an affluent community where the Swan River flows into Flathead Lake, the largest natural freshwater lake West of the Mississippi with more than 180 miles of shoreline. (See featured top image.)
The scenery along the 35 East includes horse ranches, cherry orchards, spectacular Flathead Lake, and so much more.
Then it was on to the awe dropping mountain ranges.
Got a tip from a coffee purveyor in Sandpoint to take the scenic route route 200 and 56 to Libby, Montana before jumping on the 2 to Kalispell, Whitefish, and beyond. After all, aren’t road trips all about the scenic route?
Scenery was fantastic along the way and Kootenai Falls is a must stop. Breathtaking views and a cool suspension bridge just a short, easy stroll off the freeway!
The bridge and the rushing turquoise waters remind me of New Zealand.
Next stop was Kalispell, which I found a bit underwhelming. It seemed unremarkable, caught between old historic and the not so nice of new (chain retailers). Perhaps I was expecting too much as I’ve always fantasized about these storied Montana towns, and after all, what can live up to ones imagination?
Whitefish, on the other hand, closely matched my expectations. I was surprised by the lake – an added bonus of this idyllic western ski resort town. Drove up Big Mountain, an easy 6 miles from downtown. Tiny in comparison to CA ski resorts, but so accessible.
After a brief drive through and pit stop in Coeur d’alene , we pushed on to the next town.
To be fair, we saw CDA through the lens of a rainy dusk and a long day, but nothing compelled us to stop and stay a while. My impression was that it’s a high-end resort town with lots of restaurants and shops, not unlike what we have in California. Granted we don’t have that lake and the mountains as a backdrop, but CDA was a little too polished / manicured for what I was seeking on this first timer’s exploration of Idaho and Montana.
The next “big town”, Sandpoint, wasn’t even on our radar, but oh, my – what a charming little gem. Even in the dark, I could tell there was something special about this community.
We grabbed a bite at a local brewery where the locals were having a “snow making” party – cutting snowflakes and drinking the local IPA. Passed a wine shop filled with Halloween costumed oenophiles raising their glasses to toast each other.
In the morning, we strolled the town and the beach along the scenic shore of Lake Pend Oreille, Idaho’s largest lake (148 square miles surface area and 43 miles long) and the nation’s 5th deepest (1,150 feet ) and 38th largest in the country.
Sandpoint was mostly a ghost town in the “early” morning. It’s the shoulder season -shops don’t open until 10:30 and the locals sleep in. Stopped at a coffee shop and spoke with the owners, a couple who moved here in 2001 after living around the country. They love Sandpoint and say that the weather is nice and temperate from about May until October, when Indian Summer usually hits. Apparently, the current cold front (30-40 degrees) was an anomaly.
Rand McNally must have a crush on Sandpoint as they named it the most beautiful small town in America in 2011 and #1 ski town in 2012. It’s easy to see why this town has earned so many accolades as an outdoor paradise. Summer sports galore – swimming, SUP, hiking, biking – and it’s also on the famous road biking International Selkirk Loop. (Sounds like I need to add that to my “to do” list too.)
Apparently, the ski season invigorates the town as Schweitzer Mountain Resort (downhill & cross-country) is just a stones throw away. On our stroll, we ran into an avid skier from New York on a quest for coffee. He scouted this place for his ski club and liked it so much he came back to try it out for a month. Hmm, sounds like a good idea to me. I think I feel a crush coming for my Idaho 1 night stand charmer, Sandpoint…Definitely deserves a repeat.