Whitefish photographer Chuck Haney has been chasing light in his beloved Montana for over two decades. This pursuit has lead him to travel and explore nearly every road and small town and allowed him to capture the true essence of the Treasure State. Chuck Haney has become Montana’s quintessential photographer with a highly successful career that boasts over a dozen coffee books and 200 published covers, including many images of Montana found throughout magazines and advertising campaigns.
Check out some of Chuck’s favorite Montana photographic locations.
Makoshika State Park in Glendive
If you like badlands and prairies bathed in dramatic light, then don’t miss this gem of a state park conveniently located off Interstate 94 in Glendive, just 25 miles west of the North Dakota state line. The artful designs of erosion are evident at every corner of the park. While there are road side shots available, I suggest lacing up the hiking boots and getting out on the trails to get to know the terrain better and find your own personal sandstone formation that will inspire a great composition. I like the Diane Gabriel, Kinney Coulee and Vista Trails. There are great photos to be had along these routes. Visit in June when the prairie grasses are green and the soaptree yucca plants are in bloom. In the summer, thunderstorms frequently roll through the area and if you’re lucky the skies will be dramatic. After the sun goes down, there are several high vistas that could yield lightning shots from incoming or outgoing storms. Alternatively, try your hand at night-time shots with a formation and stars glittering behind. While in the area, also check out the swiss cheese rocks at Medicine Rocks State Park which is located about a half hour south near Ekalaka. For more information check out the park’s website: http://stateparks.mt.gov/makoshika/
Bowman Lake in Glacier National Park
The shore at this most scenic spot is my personal favorite vista in Glacier National Park. Tucked away in the remote northwestern corner of the park, you definitely earn your photo op as the infamous North Fork Road can be downright rough and tumble as you drive from civilization to the tiny off-the-grid outpost of Polebridge. The old time Mercantile is worthy of a stop and a few photos. They have an award winning bakery with fresh baked aromas to entice you in. From the Polebridge it is six miles up along a bumpy and narrow road to the most amazing view in the park. There is a really nice campground located here, where you can enjoy the scenery, build a campfire and wander down to the lakeshore near sunset. Here, impressive snow-capped mountains from peaks like Rainbow and Numa loom over the calm and very reflective lake. Though great in summer, I prefer to visit in autumn when the area feels more serene. Often, the third weekend of October is spectacular with a forest of tamarack, aka, and larch trees that transform the landscape and the still water into a magical gold. I like to kayak with friends, spend the night camping and usually come home with spectacular images. Don’t put away your camera after the sun sets as the northern lights and starry skies above the lake make for magical events on lucky evenings.
Logan Pass in Glacier National Park
I have so much reverence for this amazing high alpine location. I even named my son Logan, as I was so blown away during my first visit many moons ago. It’s a very short season to access Logan Pass and the weather, even in the middle of summer, can be downright brutal at times; but when conditions are right, it is literally a Garden of Eden. By mid-July and into August the high alpine meadows are often carpeted by an amazing array of wildflowers. First, comes the yellows of glacier lillies that emerge with the melting snow. Then, comes a kaleidoscope of color as indian paintbrush, aster, lewis monkeyflowers and many other species that burst with life during the short growing season at 7,000 feet. You can shoot right from the one and half mile boardwalk and trail that leads to the Hidden Lake overlook. For wildlife photographers, there are many opportunities to capture mountain goats, bighorn sheep, big mule deer bucks with velvet antlers, hoary marmots and even a colony of pikas in the red rocks near the Hidden Lake stop. Get up early and make it for sunrise or come up near sunset as the parking lots fills up in summer months by 8-9am. Also, please respect the fragile environment by staying on the designated trails.
The Missouri River Breaks in central Montana
I discovered this magical region by going on numerous canoe trips with friends over the years. We would either depart from Coal Banks Landing near tiny resort town of Virgelle and float for approximately 50 miles through the famed white cliffs area, taking out at Judith River. There is another option, to begin at Judith River and paddle east to the Fred Robinson Bridge on Highway 191. Both sections are really remote. No cell phone service here my friends! West, are the dramatic and stunning White Cliffs with Eagle Creek (the former Eye of the Needle site) and Hole in the Wall, while east is a more rugged section featuring a brown landscape with many fascinating features. This area is called the Missouri Breaks. My favorite stop in the east is the Bullwhacker Creek area which is littered with caprocks and unique sandstone formations and a nice campground. This is primarily river access, although I did find a very adventurous route driving my Subaru Outback almost to the river edge at Bullwhacker Creek from the town of Big Sandy. I have explored the river both in summer and autumn. If you are going in the summer, hopefully you will beat the arrival of mosquitoes which turn up around the middle of June. They can be torturous along the river. My preferred time to go is mid-October when the stately cottonwood groves turn yellow and gold and there are no bugs left! There are several outfitters that you can arrange trips with.
This is a trip that every Montanan should do at least once in their lifetime.
The Rocky Mountain Front Range near Choteau
The front range is the dramatic transition zone where the Rocky Mountains meet the short grass prairie. The area is beloved by Montanans for its sheer beauty and wildness. It is a place where grizzly bears still wander out of the mountains onto their ancestral prairie grounds. The best time to photograph along the front is sunrise when the snow-capped peaks catch the day’s first light. By late May, there are vast fields of arrowleaf balsomroot wildflowers that brighten the landscape with their vibrant and big yellow flowers. I like to base myself out the town of Choteau or camp near the mountains. Some of my favorite spots to shoot include the entrance to Blackleaf Canyon when wildflowers put on a showy display in June. Further south, the Sun River Game Preserve is another great wildflower haven. The Dearborn River is really scenic and the three mile hike to Devils Glen is a must.
Ear Mountain and Sawtooth Ridge make great backdrops for amazing wide angle landscapes. Get the Montana Gazetteer and explore the gravel roads leading to the base of the mountains. Another Front Range destination is Freezeout Lake Wildlife Management, located between the small towns of Choteau and Fairfield. During the last week of March the spring bird migration is in full force here. If your timing is right, there can be up to 100,000 snow geese and tens of thousands of ducks and tundra swans present. The mass liftoffs of the snow geese at dawn is a moment that you will never forget! It can be a bit overwhelming at first with sights and sounds of thousands of birds flying directly overhead with the dramatic Rocky Mountain in the background. I would suggest spending several days and follow the birds out into the nearby barley fields as they feed during the day. There will be numerous opportunities as the flocks move from one field to another before returning to the ponds or heading north.
The Mission Valley
This another special region that makes Montana so wonderful. The dramatic relief of the Mission Mountains impressively towers over a valley full of ponds that reside in the Ninepipe Wildlife Management Area. The wetlands are not only a great place for bird photography but make for great spots to capture reflections on calm days. Evenings are the preferred shooting time as the Mission Range is to the east of the valley. Driving around the refuge with a big lens handy is a good strategy as the refuge is home to many owls and large raptors. There are several great vistas where I have had great luck: drive down from Ronan to the Sloan Bridge area where a little hiking along the river will reveal a spectacular vista of the Flathead River with a Mission Mountain backdrop. There are also numerous bluebird nest boxes after crossing the bridge along a gravel road on the southwest side of the river. These can yield great images in spring and summer if one is patient. While you are in the Mission Valley, be sure to visit the National Bison Range in Moiese where there are plenty of birds and wildlife to keep any photographer happy. The scenic vistas aren’t bad either, especially in the evening. The Red Sleep Drive is open from mid-May through autumn. The arrowleaf balsomroot wildflowers are outstanding in May and June. This is also when the park’s animals have their young. Look for tawny colored bison calves and pronghorn antelope fawns.