It’s no lie that Montana is considered ‘Big Sky’ country. There’s a lot of big, beautiful blue and sometimes moody sky in those parts. And, as it turns out, there’s also a lot of thrifting in the great Montana thrift stores. Recently, my friend Liz and I flew into Bozeman, rented a car via Priceline and headed west along Highway 90 to the bustling little town of Three Forks, Montana. There’s not a whole heck of a lot going on in Three Forks, but there is a beautifully restored place to stay ~ The Sacajawea Hotel.
If you drive into Three Forks, you can’t miss it – it’s the biggest place in the entire town and takes up an entire city block. The owners, the Folkvord’s, who also happen to own Wheat Montana – a popular bakery for locals and travelers alike – purchased the old hotel that had been vacant for several years and gave it a good spit shine. Now, it’s a lovely place to stay with an excellent restaurant. One of the best meals we ate in Montana we had at the Sacajawea’s own restaurant, Pompey’s Grill. Yummy wild salmon, wagyu beef, and of course the coup de grace – Wilcoxson’s ice cream, a Montana favorite.
Everything is slower paced in Montana and there’s a sense that you could get on the road and drive real slow like from one place to another and no one would really mind. So, that’s pretty much what we did for a few days – driving from Three Forks to Harrison to have lunch at Town Haul Diner, a local favorite that Liz’s brother John (a Helena resident) shared with us.
Then it was on to Pony, MT to check out this Victorian town that used to have over two thousand residents during the mining boom, but now has been shrunk down to a meager bar, a few homes and some large ranches. We stumbled upon an old estate which was for sale. Compared to Bay Area prices, the $595K for two houses on over 3 acres seemed like quite the deal.
After a brief fantasy about moving into this beautiful estate right next to a fresh stream that was aptly named Brookside, we ambled down the road and starting driving towards Ted Turner Country – the Red Peaks – right past Norris Hot Springs. But, something made us turn the car around, and luckily so because for the next 4 hours, we paid $1 to borrow a bathing suit and jump in the 100 degree water fed by a fresh spring. We hung out in the beautiful 80 degree weather, soaking up the fresh air and good nibbles and even soaked next to Andrew Gromiller of the band Andrew Gromiller and the Organically Grown who shared some of his family’s adventures fixing up the abandoned Norris Schoolhouse building just down the road that would soon become Mama’s Organic Pantry & More, as well as a music and theater venue. Andrew also clued us in on the Big Moon Rising music festival in Big Sky, although we never made it there.
The next day we got up early so that we could hit the road and go thrifting. We started at the Three Forks Thrift Store right down the road from our hotel. I just love thrifting in other places because those regional differences that make places unique really begins to show up. For example, I don’t think I’ve ever seen farming utensils at any of our local thrifts in the Bay Area – except maybe occasionally at a Sonoma or Petaluma thrift store. Surprisingly, there was a set of 9 astrological cocktail glasses that I was coveting, but common sense said it would be difficult to fit those in my suitcase, so I had to pass them up. Wah!
It was time to get back out on the open road to check out some more thrift stores. John guided us to Restore, the Habitat for Humanity Store in Belgrade, MT which turned out to be where Liz and I both found some good stuff. This store had a little bit of everything.
Off we went to do a little more thrifting while time allowed. We hit the Sacks Thrift Shoppe in Belgrade where we really could have filled our suitcases with more and more, but common sense prevailed. Although, I did encourage Liz to buy the gorgeous hand-embroidered runner that I’ve seen sold on the streets in Mexico for around $100. She got it for $6. Way to go Liz!
The next day we were on our own, as our illustrious tour guide, John had to return home. So, left to our own devices Liz and I set out to do some thrifting and to find some Wilcoxson’s Ice Cream. We did both. In the charming town of Livingston, Montana we admired the beautiful, historic buildings and stumbled onto the neat-as-a-pin thrift store that benefits the Senior Center. Lo’ and behold, it just happened to be kitty corner from a deli that sold our new favorite ice cream. Bonanaza!
The next day, on our way to Livingston, we felt compelled to stop in at the popular bakery, Wheat Montana, since they owned the Hotel Sacajawea where we had just spent the last three nights. However, being Gluten-free, there weren’t alot of options for us, so we opted for snapping some photos and heading out on the road.
Ice cream was a perfect exclamation point to a nearly perfect day! Fortunately, they don’t sell Wilcoxson’s ice cream in the Bay Area! As our trip winded down, we spent the last couple of days at Chico Hot Springs, reknown for being the place where Jeff Bridges met his wife. As the story goes, she was a waitress there while he was filming Rancho Deluxe. They met, he kept asking her out. She kept saying “no” and then finally relented. They’ve been together ever since. After all the wide open spaces and the natural beauty of Montana, it was a bit of a shock to get to Chico Hot Springs because it was a holiday week-end, and it felt like the entire state of Montana was there. I have a feeling it would have been a much different experience had we been there at a different time. In any case, the surrounding area of Paradise Valley, where John Mayer, Dennis Quaid, Meg Ryan and others have their ranches is absolutely gorgeous. The locals claim that the best time to be there is Winter. I’d like to go back during that season and sit in the boiling river in Yellowstone and perhaps give Chico Hot Springs another try.
It’s been so fun to write this post because it took me right back to Montana. I’d like to go back, perhaps in Winter and see that beautiful open sky again. And, this time, I’ll leave some room in my suitcase! And in one final note, thank you to Liz’s family for being such great Montana tour guides and enthusiasts. And, thank you for a great breakfast at Nova in Bozeman! Yum!
Montana Thrift Stores
Three ForksThree Forks Thrift Store 23 S. Main Street Three Forks, MT 59752 Belgrade Sacks Thrift Shoppe 31 E. Main Street Belgrade, MT (406) 388-7526 Grandma’s Closet Thrift Store 201 S. Weaver Street Belgrade, MT (406) 595-1223 Restore, Habitat for Hunanity Bruce Industrial Park 230 Arden Drive
Belgrade, MT 59714
(406) 388-2851 Hours: Wed. — Sat: 9 am-4 pm
LivingstonCommunity Closet Thrift Store 416 E. Park Street Livingston, MT (406) 222-6200 Mainstreeter Thrift
Where to StaySacajawea Hotel 5 N. Main Three Forks, MT 59752
(406) 285-6515 Chico Hot Springs 163 Chico Road Pray, MT 59065
Where to Eat
What to Read
Liz brought this book with her to read on our trip to Montana. I highly recommend it. It’s great reading, even if you’re not going on a trip…