Epic Road Trip 2017 (Day 10)

Published on September 1, 2017

Today, I depart Columbia Falls and start my journey back to the desert. My wife’s flight back to the Valley of the Sun wasn’t until afternoon, so I rode with her driving in tow as far as Missoula.

We enjoyed the scenery of Flathead Lake, stopping at one of the many cherry stands for some Lambert’s and Rainier cherries and strolling for a short while through a family-owned cherry orchard. We stopped in Polson for coffee and to sit and enjoy the sunshine (and the cherries) for a while before continuing on to Missoula for lunch.

After lunch, we went our separate ways: her to the airport and me riding through a very smoky Bitterroot Valley. I saw many of the Forest Service vehicles filled with firefighters trying to contain several blazes burning in the Bitteroot Range and that seemed to be just over the closest mountain.

Highway 93 is relatively tame south of Missoula, until you reach the town of Sula, Montana. There, it begins to climb into the mountains toward Lost Trail. It twists and turns as it climbed out of the valley to the Idaho border and again as it descends to the Salmon River Valley. The Salmon River Valley is mostly grassy-topped hills, with large stands of, first, evergreen and, later, elm, aspen, and oak trees along the banks of the river.

I ended up seeing more of the valley today than planned because the campground I had been planning to stop at had closed. I found a set of cabins less than a half-mile further along, but nobody was around to rent and there was only a phone number. For that reason, I continued south on Highway 93. Luckily I had plenty of gas and a mere 30 miles later found the Cottonwood Campground with an open tent site just feet from the Salmon River. It was perfect.

What I Learned

Bighorn sheep are once again thriving in the Bitterroot and Sawtooth Mountains thanks to a series of reintroductions since the 1990s. Idaho had a population of hermits living in the Salmon River Valley (who knew?!). Sometimes, it's just easiest to ride, eat, and sleep.

Whitefish Lake
Bitterroot Valley
Burned forest
Salmon River
Salmon River Valley
Salmon River Valley sunset