Scenic white-capped mountains, wildlife at every turn, fresh air, and carved wood sculptures are just a few of the memories that come to mind from a recent Montana family vacation. Montana’s nickname is The Treasure State, thanks to its rich mineral reserves, but the treasures reach well beyond gold and silver as we found out.

My husband Jeff describes our trip as the “best family vacation possible” and for good reason.

There’s something special about spending time in an environment surrounded by nature, crossing paths with elk and trumpeter swans, and knowing a grizzly bear could be spotted any moment.

Our weeklong destination was Flathead Lake Lodge, an all-inclusive luxury retreat set on the picturesque shores of Flathead Lake less than two miles south of Bigfork. It is the largest natural freshwater lake in the west with 185 miles of shoreline.

Never before have we felt safe letting the kids “run free,” meaning unsupervised, but here it was okay. They had their first true horseback riding lesson and a highlight for everyone was witnessing the birth of a foal. By day two, the children discovered a newfound sense of independence while we as parents found a new-to-us comfort level.

While they were off gallivanting with some new friends they’d made, my husband and I realized we could take advantage of our freedom, indulging in a moment of solitude. We decided to borrow one of the resort’s canoes and explore the lake. It was that ride where we finally experienced the magnificence that is Montana. As we paddled along the shore watching cliff diving teenagers splash in the water, bald eagles soared overheard. In the far distance we could see a backdrop of mountains with remnants of winter snow still hanging around. The massive lake made us feel small yet carefree.

Later in the week, we headed in the direction of those very mountains with a day trip to Glacier National Park. Bucket list, dream trip, must-see… whatever you call it, this is one National Park worth adding to your list.

Before venturing up the mountain we stopped and took a peek at Lake McDonald from Apgar Village and did a little souvenir shopping. I can’t recall a more scenic view since Alaska. From our perspective, the shimmering lake ahead revealed the reflection of the looming mountains across the water.

Even though the entire Going-to-the-Sun Road wasn’t open, we were still able to access the beauty of the park from the West Entrance. Not letting that deter us, we settled on a trail and started exploring. Our youngsters didn’t have the stamina for a long trek so we opted for the Running Eagle Falls loop. Although my husband and I would have loved to take-on one of the more challenging trails, this one-mile loop is perfect for families. The path was clear, well marked, and there were restrooms at the trailhead. We loaded our backpacks with water bottles and stopped often for photos.

Tummies were beginning to rumble so before headed back to the lodge, we embarked on a mission to find the best local restaurant in town. We ended up at Huckleberry Patch and after a hearty lunch we indulged in, you guessed it, fresh huckleberry pie as the perfect ending to a successful day. Our entire trip to Montana (aka nature’s playground) was a success and had us saying, “We’ll be back soon!”