Should we cancel our Montana vacation due to the wildfires and smoke?
August 10, 2017 7:44 PM   Subscribe

My partner and I are planning to spend a little over a week in Missoula, Glacier National Park, and the Columbia Falls/Whitefish area starting this Saturday, 8/12. Our plans include a lot of outdoor activities, but I'm increasingly worried about the air quality. Is it still worth going on the trip?

Our itinerary is as follows: Fly into Missoula this Saturday and spend a couple days there. Spend much of next week (8/14-8/17) at Glacier National Park while lodging near Columbia Falls/Whitefish. Return to Missoula for the last weekend of the trip (8/18-8/20).

We're staying with family members who are locals and used to summer wildfires. So I'm less worried about getting trapped in the path of a blaze and more concerned about the smoke and air quality. We want to spend much of our time outside, including a lot of hiking. But it's starting to sound like going outside might not be enjoyable or even safe. I'm sure we could fill a day or two with indoor activities in Missoula, but I'm not sure what we would do after that. We'll have access to a car, so we could drive to other regions of the state if needed.

With those details in mind, should we keep our plans or cancel the trip?

If we do go, is there any short- or long-term risk to our lungs or health? We are both in our early thirties and in good health.

(If it makes a difference, our backup plan is to keep our flight to our layover city, San Francisco, and spend the week with family in the Bay Area. We would still have to buy a one-way return ticket, which will cost a little under $200 per person. I'm assuming the airlines won't let us cancel or modify our tickets free of charge due to the fires.)

Thanks in advance for any guidance.
posted by oiseau to Travel & Transportation around Montana (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I have spent many days outdoors in the summer Montana smoke. I have hiked many long hikes in it. No ill effects were ever suffered. It is the best time of tear to visit, and I'd guess the smoke would have minimal impact on two healthy adults. If you have no extreme sensitivities, this is similar to someone up the street grilling.
posted by Kalmya at 7:59 PM on August 10, 2017 [4 favorites]

We were in Kalispell and Whitefish this past weekend. The haze from the smoke was noticeable looking up at the mountains on about half the days we were there, and you could occasionally catch a whiff of it on the nose, but we never felt like it hampered our outside time, other than making the view from the chairlifts at Whitefish Mountain a little less spectacular.
posted by firechicago at 8:21 PM on August 10, 2017 [2 favorites]

Some of us here in the west live in the west where it's the west and fires and smoke are common this time of year. Especially in the valleys where smoke seems to pack in until mid-afternoon until the monsoonal storms break the cycle.

Which is to say, if you've got doctors advice to avoid the area, you should follow that. But, for a regular adult, it's some scratchy eyes and extra snot, but otherwise not super bad. Winter inversions are actually far worse.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 8:28 PM on August 10, 2017 [2 favorites]

I was just in Glacier and Missoula last week, visiting with locals. Everyone is talking about how smoky it is, but as a not-especially-sensitive outsider, I didn't notice much degradation in air quality beyond haziness obscuring the views somewhat. I spent several days outside, including a 9+ mile day hike in Glacier, and basically forgot about the smoke until I looked up.

If you've ever traveled to China... the air quality in the cities is regularly much worse than how smoky Montana is right now.

Also, the smoke tends to get better as the summer wears on (says my partner, who was born and raised in Missoula). I found it perfectly bearable at the beginning of August and I think it's only going to get better by the time you're there.
posted by serelliya at 8:54 PM on August 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

If you are otherwise not air sensitive (allergies, asthma, etc.) then it's probably fine. Or if you have not had any problems previously with air quality, smog, inversion, etc.

Even when there was ash falling in Missoula a few years back the recommendation was mostly targeted as people with breathing problems to stay indoors. The worst I got was some pretty bad eye allergies, but I knew some people with asthma, etc who had more breathing problems.

Here's the MT air quality site which includes a smoke forecast link.

From Billings, college in Missoula, now live in Salt Lake.
posted by Crystalinne at 8:56 PM on August 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

Unless you have respiritory issues I wouldn't cancel. The smoke is very visible, and you can certainly smell it, but besides that, no particular issues with it.

While it will 'ruin' some views, just appreciate the weird otherworldly fog for what it is. I always revel in the few weeks when the smoke is bad. The color of the sun is incredible, sunsets are beyond the pale and it often feels like you're on the surface of an alien planet. (Missoulian here.)
posted by so fucking future at 10:42 PM on August 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone--you've put my mind at ease. Now I can focus on packing!
posted by oiseau at 5:27 AM on August 11, 2017 [2 favorites]

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