The Bitterroot Valley’s sole sizable town, Hamilton (pop. 4,602) stands at the southern end of the valley, where US-93 and the Eastside Highway rejoin. Hamilton was laid out in the 1890s as a planned community by the multimillionaire “Copper King” Marcus Daly. His elegant 56-room Daly Mansion (406/363-6004, daily summer, $10) is now a museum, set in 50 acres of lushly landscaped gardens.
Hamilton’s other main draw is the large Ravalli County Museum (406/363-3338, Tues.-Sat., $3), housed in a 100-year-old former courthouse on the corner of 3rd and Bedford Streets, two blocks south of Main Street. Besides an above-average collection of fishing flies, pioneer clothing, and Native American artifacts, the museum has an entire room dedicated to Rocky Mountain spotted fever ticks—Hamilton, home of the Rocky Mountain Laboratories, was where spotted fever was discovered—and you owe it to yourself to study the two-foot-tall tick model and the diagrams tracing the tick’s life cycle.
Hamilton has some great places to eat, like the popular Coffee Cup Café (500 S. 1st St., 406/363-3822) on US-93. Great big half-pound burgers (“100% Montana Beef—Best in the Bitterroots”) and fresh-cut crispy fries are at Naps Grill (220 N. 2nd St., 406/363-0136), or for something more exotic, look for Spice of Life (163 S. 2nd St., 406/363-4433).
One of many highway motels in Hamilton, the City Center motel (415 W. Main St., 406/363-1651, $45-80) enjoys a quiet location off US-93. Besides its convenience as a stopover, Hamilton is also the gateway to outdoor activities (mainly hunting, fishing, and riding) in the Bitterroots. For full details on the huge variety of outdoor recreation hereabouts, contact the Bitterroot Valley Chamber of Commerce (105 E. Main St., 406/363-2400).