After a night in Wyoming, we got to Missoula just in time for my sister Sara's birthday dinner, joined soon after by our friends Rob and Sarah who we were staying with that week. Not to downplay my sister's birthday, but I was really way more excited about getting to meet my niece Sky for the first time. It was actually nice to have so many kids to play with that week, between my niece and Rob & Sarah's three kids. Good thing they all got along so well!
Missoula is really growing on me. Between the rivers and the incredible hiking, there was no shortage of outdoor fun to be had. Add in a bunch of good breweries, wineries, and restaurants (including some of the best ice cream ever), and even rainy days are a lot of fun. One of my favorite things was how kid-friendly the businesses were, as we went to two bars, three breweries, a winery, and a distillery with at least one small child, and nobody seemed to think twice about it. Definitely a good place for active parents to be, though even they need their rest sometimes.
Our first full day there was spent floating down the river, something I need to do more often. It was Emily's first time on a stand-up paddleboard, and I don't think a day has passed since then that she hasn't talked about buying one. While I had been on a board before, I'd never been on a raft or kayaked on fresh water, so there were plenty of new experiences all around. The trip was even more fun since Rob brought his two boys, who were naturals out on the river. They live in the right place for it!
Whatever hiking I missed out on in Colorado, the couple days we spent in the Bitterroot Mountains made up for it. It's amazing to me that mountains that seem at first so unremarkable from the road are actually so extensive and impressive. Whether hiking up steep canyons or across open peaks, I'm continually surprised by how much there is to see, especially since the terrain is often what I associate with being about 3000 feet higher up, based on my experience in Colorado. Plus, any hike is made better when there are huckleberries growing along the trail!
On our last day, we hiked up St. Mary's Peak, and I started to understand just how vast the Bitterroot area was. It's also the most accessible peak in the range, which made it a perfect choice for a hike with three kids. After a couple miles through forest and flowers, the views finally opened up a bit.
Then they opened up a lot!
It was crazy to think that we were at the same elevation that we were used to starting our hikes at further south. After a few more minutes, we reached the top and were invited into the fire tower to rest and warm up. Can't say I minded stopping for a bit...
It's good for me to have another mountain range that I want to explore as much as those in Colorado that I'm already more familiar with. It's good to be reminded that mountains are mountains. And it's good that the next day we were back on the road to find more of them.