From highway truck stops to small-town restaurants, huckleberries can be found seemingly everywhere during the Montana summertime, mixed into just about everything: ice cream and skin cream, syrup and soap.
Plucked high in the mountains from thicketed caches that are guarded as family secrets, these tiny sweet-tarts typically ripen in early August, inspiring a weekslong, statewide flurry of baking, canning and good old eating by the handful.
Over the years, they’ve also inspired no small number of festivals in their name.
Every summer in Whitefish, the verdant Depot Park in downtown Whitefish turns into a sea of white canvas as vendors from all over the region set up their tents for a three-day celebration of Montana’s most beloved fruit.
Reflecting the rich cultural fabric of Western Montana’s most affluent resort town, the Huckleberry Days Art Festival tends to be more art than huckleberries, with vendors offering everything from handmade guitars to pottery and paintings.
Look around and you’ll also find plenty of manifestations of Montana’s quasi-mystical, thoroughly delectable fruit: huckleberry jams, teas, soaps, lotions, salad dressings, even lip balms.
But if you want a Huckleberry Festival that features bucketloads of real, unadulterated huckleberries, you’ll have to drive much farther afield, into the northwestern reaches of the Treasure State. There, near the banks of the Clark Fork River, you’ll find the Trout Creek Huckleberry Festival.
A tradition for more than three decades, the Trout Creek Huckleberry Festival has grown to become the signature summertime event of this sparsely populated region of Montana, drawing hundreds of visitors and vendors to the tiny town for three days of music, games, dog acrobatics and one of the most lusciously quaint parades you’ll find anywhere in America.
Of course, vendors line the parade route, selling gallon-sized Ziploc bags fat with berries. And, of course, there are the processed versions to be had: cheesecake and pies, huckleberry lemonade and even “Huckleberry Pizza Pie."
It might be a long drive from Missoula or any other Western Montana population hub, but it’s worth the trip. The extra effort simply makes the berries that much sweeter.