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There is this place where the sky is big (part two)

Exhilarating and intriguing activities in and around Missoula, Montana

Michael and Charlie Cleveland learn how to slow down on a zip line at Snow Bowl Montana located near Missoula. Photo credit: Marguerite Cleveland

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Our family trip was nonstop fun, and a week is not enough time to see and do all Missoula has to offer. Plan to spend lots of time outdoors, so pack the sunscreen and drink tons of water.

The National Bison Range (NBR) is one of the oldest refuges in the United States and provides a safe place for the American bison. It is about an hour drive from Missoula and truly lets you know what Big Sky is all about. Even my video game-loving teenagers were captivated by the bison and other wildlife. The one-way Red Sheep Mountain Drive is a must-do at the refuge. Anticipation builds as you drive the switchbacks and curves. You never know what you will see around the next bend. Insider Tip: Visit the town of St. Ignatius on the Flathead Indian Reservation when you head home, and stop into the historic St. Ignatius Mission built by American Indians and Jesuit missionaries. The church has 58 hand-painted murals by the self-taught Brother Joseph Carignano. The murals are endangered, so see them while you can.

National Bison Range, Front Gate, 6:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., daily; Visitor Center, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., daily, 58355 Bison Range Rd., Charlo, Montana, 406.644.2211

Montana River Guides -- This is my favorite rafting trip ever.  A great location that is about a 30-minute drive from Missoula. The magnificent scenery of the Alberton gorge had me humming "America the Beautiful" under my breath, especially when we floated by the purple cliffs. The white water was great -- Class II and III rapids, perfect for family travel, rough enough to be exciting for the kids, but not as dangerous as IV and Vs. It was high adventure on the nature side as right before we hit the best rapids on the trip, a bald eagle flew right over our impending drop into the white froth. Surviving the Tumbleweed rapid, we watched in awe as a hawk attacked the bald eagle and took a chunk out of its feathers. The two continued to battle as we floated away.

Montana River Guides owner Mike Johnston is also the cofounder of the Whitewater Rescue Institute, which teaches and certifies Swiftwater Rescue Training, so you are with a super, safe group of river guides. Insider Tip: For the more adventurous, try River Boarding. It's like boogie boarding, but on a river.

Montana River Guides, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., daily, 138 Big Bend Ln., Alberton, Montana, 406.722.7238

Big Sky Breakout -- An entertaining escape room adventure that is located in a historic, circa 1910 home. Owners Jaime Rauch and Ralph Waters left the Hollywood scene where they worked in the industry for a simpler life in Missoula. Our family of four completed the "Through the Looking Glass" room with 21 seconds to spare. Each room has cameras and sound. In our case, Rauch observed us and typed in helpful clues which we could view on a monitor.  The hints kept the game moving and the excitement high.  Well worth a trip. Insider Tip:  The "Through the Looking Glass" room is the biggest.

Big Sky Breakout, noon-10 p.m., Monday-Wednesday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Thursday-Sunday, 307 N. 2d St. W., Missoula, Montana, 406.493.0528

Snow Bowl Montana -- Summer activities include Zip Line Tours, chairlift rides, mountain biking (bring your own bike), Folf (disc golf), and Diggler Scooter rentals. The Last Run Inn is open for lunch and early dinner and is a local favorite for hand-tossed, wood-fired pizza, and famed for its Bloody Marys. Insider Tip: Snow Bowl is a small, family-run business and does not have a dedicated person to answer the phone. Make reservations for a Zip Line Tour online or just drive up and check it out.

Snow Bowl Montana, 11:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., Thursday-Sunday, hours vary depending on activity, Snow Bowl Rd., Missoula, Montana (Check website for directions), 406.549.9696,

Military life makes it difficult to plan vacations involving flights and often nonrefundable deposits. Missoula is just eight hours away and a terrific vacation destination. Put it on your bucket list.

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