Bitterroot Valley Montana: Things to Do in Hamilton, Stevensville, Darby, and Beyond
The Bitterroot Valley has some of the most epic scenery in Montana. Making it even more alluring is its remote feeling. Despite being just an hour’s drive away from Missoula, the Bitterroot Valley still feels like a wild, untamed portion of western Montana.
We love this hidden gem in Montana and think you will, too! To help you plan your trip to the Bitterroot Valley, we’ll share our insider tips on what to see and do while there.
But first, where is the Bitterroot Valley?
To get to the Bitterroot Valley, you’ll drive south down the Route 93 corridor from Missoula (or take the long way over the mountain passes from Dillon, MT, or Central Idaho) and pass through tiny towns with old west flair while mountains soar in seemingly every direction.
Whether you’re visiting the Bitterroot Valley just for the day or using it as a base for your Montana vacation, we recommend visiting these three towns: Stevensville, Hamilton, and Darby.
Read on for what to do in each of those towns, plus more tips on activities to do and things to see around this gorgeous valley.
Things to Do in Stevensville: the Gateway to the Bitterroot Valley From the North
Stevensville’s historic center is often referred to as the birthplace of Montana (a tagline it shares with Fort Benton…so I guess twins were involved with the birth of Montana? 😉
Stevensville is a lovely sleepy little town where you can tour the peaceful grounds of an old mission or hike along a heavily flowing creek. Here are a few of our favorite things to do in Stevensville.
St. Mary Mission
St. Mary Mission is located in Stevensville’s historic center and has a gorgeous view of the mountains framing the valley. But even more intriguing is its history: St. Mary Mission was founded in 1841 and is known as the place “Where Montana Began.” It was founded by Fr. Pierre DeSmet and was later led by Fr. Ravalli.
The Mission itself is simplistically beautiful inside while on the perimeters of its grounds you can view the cabins of Fr. Ravalli and Chief Victor. There are also teepees set up in the little DeSmet Park and garden, and an Indian burial ground behind the cemetery.
Also on site is a museum talking more about the history of the mission and its relationship to the pioneers and Native Americans of the Bitterroot Valley.
The tree with the fence around it is an apple tree planted by Fr. Ravalli in 1869. Despite its age, the tree still bears fruit.
Address: 315 Charlos St, Stevensville
Hours: Tues-Sat, 11 am-3 pm (grounds are typically open to walk around all day)
Fort Owen State Park
Fort Owen State Park has preserved much of the history of the pioneer era of the Bitterroot Valley.
It is named after Major John Owen, who built the fort and trading post in 1850 for trading with the local Native American tribes and immigrants that moved to the area. The fort helped attract even more people to this part of the Bitterroot Valley, which became home to the first permanent white settlement in Montana, resulting in many of Montana’s “firsts.”
Some of those firsts include Montana’s first Catholic Church (that would be St. Mary Mission), first sawmill, first grist mill, and the first school for settlers. You can tour some of the buildings and view machinery used in the late 1800s during your time in Fort Owen Park.
Fort Owen State Park is located just a few minutes drive (or a 20-minute walk) from the historic center of Stevensville. It is a small state park at just under two acres, so it can be visited in under an hour, but it is worth it to spend the whole hour there to read the many informational signs around the park about the park’s history.
Address: 99 Fort Owen Ranch Rd, Stevensville
Cost: $4 for walk-in or bike-in, $8 for vehicles (Montana residents who have a registered vehicle that includes the annual state parks fee are free to enter.)
Hours: Daily 9 am-6 pm from March through October; Closed in winter.
Lewis and Clark Park
Just down the road (Charlos St. to be exact) from St. Mary Mission is Lewis and Clark Park. This park has a small, but fun playground and is a good place for your littles to get some wiggles out. The park also has a covered picnic area.
Just past the playground is the Stevensville Skate Park if you happen to be traveling with skateboards.
Address: Charlos Street and West 2nd Street
The Bitterroot Valley is known for its dedication to the arts, and in Stevensville, you’ll find the Stevensville Playhouse. The Stevensville Playhouse is a great spot to catch some local community theater. It’s located right on Main Street.
You can check if there are any performances happening while you’re in town here.
Address: 319 Main Street
Kootenai Creek Trail
If you want to get into nature while in Stevensville, turn off Highway 93 onto Kootenai Creek Road (shortly before you get to town), and drive to the very end of the road where you’ll find a small parking lot and the trailhead for Kootenai Creek Trail. My paternal grandparents lived on this road before I was born and my dad used to do this hike while visiting them and told me about it.
I took my daughters when we were there last summer, and we didn’t go too far, but we were still immediately enshrouded in beauty!
The hike goes alongside a large creek and at the beginning, you’re high above it, but can still hear the rushing sound of the water below. If you continue for the entire trail, you’ll be taken past scenic vistas with mountain views and waterfalls.
Definitely don’t do this trail without bear spray. Due to the turns and loud water, you’ll want to be very bear-aware on this hike. Click here for more info on bear spray.
Top Things to Do in Hamilton
Hamilton is a charming Bitterroot Valley town known for its artsy vibe and natural beauty. Hamilton is stunningly framed on its western edge by the towering mountain.
Hamilton has a long Main Street lined with an assortment of shops and restaurants, plus some cool attractions on the outskirts of town.
The impressive Daly Mansion is a sprawling estate with a long tree-lined driveway. It was built by Marcus Daly, one Montana’s “copper kings,” who made his riches off the mining industry at the turn of the 19th century.
The interior of the mansion is available to see by guided tour, while the expansive grounds can be walked around during open hours with no ticket necessary.
Tip: To learn more about Montana’s mining industry, also plan a visit to Butte, MT!
My daughters and I especially liked walking around the Children’s Garden, which was a kid-friendly, hands-on garden that Daly’s wife, Margaret, planned and nurtured. The property has lovely views of the surrounding valley.
Insider Tip: The tree-lined driveway is especially gorgeous when the leaves change color during Montana’s stunning fall season.
Address: 251 Eastside Hwy, Hamilton
Hours: Self: Open seasonally from mid-May through early October – Guided Tour Times: 11 am, 1 pm, and 3 pm, Guided Tour Times: 12 pm and 2 pm, Grounds open daily from 9 am to 5 pm.
Tour Cost: $15 for Adults, $14 for Seniors (60+) or Military, $8 for children ages 6-17, Children 5 and Under are Free
Ravalli County Museum
Learn more about the history of Hamilton and the rest of the Bitterroot Valley at the Ravalli County Museum. The museum showcases a number of collections about the local Native American heritage and history, including the Nez Perce, Kootenai, and Salish tribes.
There is also an exhibit about the establishment of the first white settlement in Montana. Many of the artifacts in the museum have been donated over the years by local families.
Address: 205 Bedford, Hamilton
Hours: Tuesday – Wednesday and Friday: 10 am to 4 pm, Thursday – 10 am to 8 pm, Saturday – 9 am to 1 pm, Sunday and Monday – Closed
Cost: Free on Thursday and Saturday; other days are $3 for adults, $1 for seniors and students, or $6 for families.
Montana Bliss Artworks
Montana Bliss Artworks is a local art studio and gallery in Hamilton that features the artwork of sculptor Barbara Liss and painter Leisa Lewis (both of who have studios onsite) as well as other regional artists and creations. Featured artwork rotates, but generally includes concrete and clay sculptures, kiln-fired glass, ceramics, custom-designed jewelry, woodwork, metalwork, paintings, and more.
Address: 101 South 7th and 701 Main, Hamilton
Hours: 11 am to 3 pm; Closed on Wednesday and Sunday. Also may be opened during other hours if Barbara or Leisa are onsite.
Big Sky Candy
This is a family-run candy shop that has a large assortment of homemade fudge, chocolate, toffee, licorice, and other candies, many of which are sold by the pound. If you have a sweet tooth, don’t miss a stop at Big Sky Candy, located right on Main Street.
Address: 319 W Main St, Hamilton
Hours: Monday – Friday: 10am – 5pm, Saturday: 10am – 3pm, Closed Sunday
Water Activities in the Bitterroot Valley
The Bitterroot Valley also has water things to do. You can find relaxing fun at the lake or epic fly fishing on the river.
After Hamilton, if you continue south, you’ll come to Darby, but first, make a detour west to serene Como Lake. This gorgeous lake has a fun day-use area. It’s the perfect place to base yourself for some paddling on the lake or a refreshing swim on a hot summer day.
The north-flowing Bitterroot River will accompany you on your trip throughout the Bitterroot Valley. This moderate-sized river is an excellent source of the rainbow, cutthroat, and brown trout which makes it a popular fishing destination.
Fishing outfitters that also offer guided fishing tours are located in Darby and Hamilton.
Things to Do in Darby
Darby is a hot spot these days since it’s a filming location for the hit TV show, Yellowstone. It’s also the closest town to Lake Como. Therefore, we thought it deserved its own post!
Enjoy Your Time in the Beautiful Bitterroot Valley!
Hope this article helped you plan out the perfect day in the Bitterroot Valley. You may find yourself wanting to stay even longer. If you do, and you’re looking for a romantic vacation in Montana, we definitely recommend Triple Creek Ranch in Darby.