The northwest corner of Montana is the mythological Montana, the one you probably envisioned when you set out for the Big Sky. This is the country of snowcapped mountains and dense forests and crystal lakes. It's a land of barely explored wilderness and steel-toed lumberjacks, a land peopled with the ghosts of trappers, mountain men, and Blackfeet Indians.

It's also a booming recreational area. The geographic center of the region is Flathead Lake, which boasts the somewhat cumbersome distinction of being the "largest natural freshwater lake west of the Mississippi." The lake was gouged during the last glaciation about 12,000 years ago. It is very deep in places -- 386 feet out toward the middle -- with 128 miles of shoreline, much of it taken up by vacation homes. Anglers will appreciate the fact that trophy trout, salmon, perch, and whitefish populate the lake's depths. And vacationers seeking a quiet getaway will be pleased by the fact that despite the busy summer season on Flathead Lake, it doesn't feel crowded, and there are plenty of places to get out of earshot of everyone.

Besides the lake, the area from Whitefish to Missoula offers plenty of opportunities for hiking, biking, fishing, boating, golf, parasailing, and nearly every other outdoor activity known to man. In winter, you'll find fine alpine ski areas, excellent cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, snowboarding, and inner-tubing.

Also here is the nation's largest wilderness complex, the Bob Marshall-Great Bear-Scapegoat Wilderness, which includes some of the most rugged, beautiful, untrammeled country in the Lower 48 states. The magnificent Chinese Wall, a vast monolith on the spine of the Continental Divide, is a symbol of wilderness in Montana, as is the grizzly bear, the king of the wild even when humans venture in for a visit.