20 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions & Things to Do in Montana
Written by Brad Lane Updated Mar 22, 2022
Montana is the American West at its best. This rugged state still has a touch of its wild past brimming from its cities and small towns and its massive unaltered natural spaces. National forest acreage outnumbers residents in Montana, the country's 4th largest state by land size and one of the least populated. These uncrowded spaces have enticed explorers, writers, and Big Sky enthusiasts to Montana over the last 100 years.
Adventure and the outdoors dominate many of the things to do in Montana. And adventures in Montana always come with remarkably beautiful and vast landscapes. From mountains glistening in Glacier National Park to the many wild rivers teeming with trout, the state is a foreign land to some, its wild places unmatched anywhere else in the country.
But it's more than just the opportunities for adventure that make the state worthy of a visit or long stopover. There's also a wild sense of the Old West that still lingers. The state capital, Helena, exemplifies this Western aura with its gold-digging past woven throughout its downtown district. This frontier history of Montana evokes a sense of exploration that feels like something new is around every corner.
Find out why the state is known as the Last Best Place with our list of the top attractions and things to do in Montana.
1. Glacier National Park
2. explore a national forest, 3. hit the slopes at big sky resort, 4. fly fish blue ribbon waterways, 5. meet the residents at the grizzly and wolf discovery center, 6. unearth history at the museum of the rockies, 7. visit yellowstone national park, 8. discover the richest hill on earth at the world museum of mining, 9. tour the state capitol in helena, 10. explore the shore of flathead lake, 11. go underground at lewis and clark caverns state park, 12. soak in one of montana's hot springs, 13. get inspired at the c.m. russell museum complex, 14. spot the smelter stack in anaconda, 15. drive the beartooth highway, 16. visit the moss mansion in billings, 17. indulge at the sweet palace in philipsburg, 18. ross creek cedars scenic area, 19. pay respects at the little bighorn battlefield national monument, 20. dive deep into the western heritage center.
Glacier National Park stands proudly as the Crown of the Continent in Northwest Montana. This outstanding scenic area comprises mountain ranges, alpine meadows, thick forests, tall waterfalls, countless sparkling lakes, and numerous glaciers. It's a real adventure paradise with iconic landscapes enticing repeat visitors for years to come.
The 50-mile-long Going-to-the-Sun Road is a marvel of engineering and the only paved route that navigates across the park. It crosses the Continental Divide at the 6,646-foot-high Logan Pass, connecting St. Mary to Apgar Village and West Glacier. This automobile route is worth a visit alone.
The national park is a magnet for adventure tourists, with over 700 miles of hiking trails. Some of the most iconic hiking routes include Grinnell Glacier, Ptarmigan Tunnel, and the incredible Highline Trail. While day hiking is the most common way to explore, overnight adventures are also popular within the park's extensive backcountry.
Accommodation: Best Places to Stay near Glacier National Park
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Montana is home to a remarkable seven national forests comprising nearly 20 million acres. This vast, wide-open space has come to define the Montana experience, and no visit is complete without trekking through these public lands. From the Kootenai to the Custer-Gallatin , the western half of the state is home to many of these national treasures.
At least five national forests are within a short drive of Missoula , home to the University of Montana. And Lolo National Forest surrounds the city. This proximity to public lands offers residents and visitors backyard access to adventure hot spots, like Rattlesnake and Blue Mountain National Recreation Areas.
Bozeman, home to Montana's other state university, is also an excellent jumping-off point for exploring national forests. While several public lands are within reach, the Custer-Gallatin National Forest draws the most interest. South of Bozeman, the Custer-Gallatin reaches past the adventurous town of Big Sky and connects to Yellowstone National Park.
Read More: Best Hiking Trails in Montana
Big Sky Resort, home to some of the "Biggest Skiing in America," is approximately an hour's drive south of Bozeman. The slopes are known for their abundance of snow, with an average of 400 inches per year. Thousands of skiers and snowboarders descend onto the resort come winter. Still, with 5,750 skiable acres, there's plenty of room to make some turns.
Visiting Big Sky provides the full resort experience. From the heated eight-person lifts to the energetic base of the mountain filled with events, restaurants, and après-ski entertainment, Big Sky offers the crème da la crème of a Montana downhill experience.
But Big Sky isn't the only ski destination worth visiting in the state – several of Montana's best ski resorts offer similar landscapes for downhill endeavors. Lost Trail Powder Mountain is a local favorite near the Idaho border. And up north, Whitefish Mountain Resort offers excellent views of the adjacent Glacier National Park. Other popular spots like Montana Snowbowl and Bridger Bowl are within easy reach from Montana's university cities.
Address: 50 Big Sky Resort Road, Big Sky, Montana
Official site: http://bigskyresort.com/
Read More: Top Things to Do in Big Sky, Montana
The 1992 movie, A River Runs Through It , starring Brad Pitt and directed by Robert Redford, made Montana synonymous with fly fishing. But anglers have been casting lines in the state for years prior, already aware of the surplus of mountain streams and rivers primed for a fly.
The movie, adapted from an iconic 1972 novella by Norman Maclean, takes place primarily on the Blackfoot River . But many of the most mesmerizing river scenes were filmed on the Gallatin River . These two rivers both offer productive seasonal hatches and some of the best mountain scenery in the sport.
And world-renowned fly fishing takes place throughout the state. Besides other major rivers like the Madison , Missouri , and Yellowstone Rivers , the state has thousands of mountain streams and creeks with plenty of action. One of the best ways to enjoy Montana fly fishing is by connecting with a local guide shop.
Undoubtedly the only time you'll be happy to see a bear or wolf up close, the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center is a must-see excursion when visiting Montana. It's in the town of West Yellowstone , near the western entrance of Yellowstone National Park.
Opened as a sanctuary for animals otherwise not fit to live in the wild, the center offers a chance to see giant grizzly bears and gray wolves in a natural habitat. It also encourages learning about their behavior, history, and population decline. Highlights include watching the bears forage for food, play in their ponds and with each other, as well as the chance to hear the haunting howls of the wolf packs (best in the mornings and evenings).
Address: 201 S. Canyon Street, West Yellowstone, Montana
Official site: www.grizzlydiscoveryctr.org
Read More: Top Things to Do in West Yellowstone, MT
The Museum of the Rockies adds to Bozeman's status as one of Montana's best cities . Along with its planetarium, the museum – part of the Smithsonian Institution – is renowned for its excellent displays of dinosaurs and dinosaur eggs . The collection includes skeletons and realistic models of numerous species found in the state.
The museum's dinosaur collection is one of the largest in the US and includes the world's biggest Tyrannosaurus skull. Other highlights include a T-Rex thighbone with soft-tissue remains and the T-Rex skeleton at the museum entrance known as "Big Mike." All these prehistoric monuments help share the region's history.
It's not all dinosaurs, however. The museum also features a dynamic display, welcoming people to Yellowstone Country. Other subject matters include native peoples of the region, Western art exhibits, and the Tinsley House – an original pioneer log home from the late 1800s.
Address: 600 W. Kagy Blvd, Bozeman, Montana
Official site: https://www.museumoftherockies.org/
Read More: Top Attractions and Things to Do in Bozeman, MT
Montana has two main entrances into Yellowstone National Park, the nation's first national park. These two openings, the West Entrance and the North Entrance , also feature gateway communities that are fun places to visit on their own. And it's a world of adventure once you're inside the park, with over two million acres to explore.
From the aptly named town of West Yellowstone , the West Entrance of Yellowstone dives deep into geyser country. After reaching the iconic Madison Junction 14 miles from the entrance, the road diverges, with top Yellowstone attractions either way. North of the Madison Junction is Norris Geyser Basin , home to Steamboat Geyser . The Lower, Midway, and Upper Geyser Basins are to the south, with big-name sights like Grand Prismatic and Old Faithful .
The North Entrance of Yellowstone is in Gardiner, Montana. This entrance is accessible via a beautiful 90-minute drive through Paradise Valley from Bozeman. Shortly after the park's gates, the Boiling River , another top attraction of Yellowstone, invites immediate exploration. Farther into the park, the Mammoth Hot Springs area offers stunning travertine terraces and a touch of the park's history.
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Butte, once known as the Richest Hill on Earth, is Montana's most historic city. It began in the late 1800s and flourished in the copper mining industry. It grew to be Montana's first major city and the biggest city between Chicago and San Francisco for a period in history.
Mining operations continued into the 1980s in Butte, though never reaching their early 1900s heydays ever again. Today, this history and the culture is still on full display, making Butte one of Montana's best places to visit . And one of the best places to dig into the city's mining history is the World Museum of Mining.
The museum centers around a restored mining camp with more than three dozen historic buildings and structures on display. It was part of the old community known as Hell Roarin' Gulch at the base of a now inactive silver and zinc mine. A highlight is the huge headframe – the winding tower at the mineshaft's head – along with underground tours of the mines.
Other mine-related highlights in Butte include the Copper King Mansion , constructed in 1888. This 24-room Victorian mansion features many of the original artifacts that reflect the prosperity of the Richest Hill on Earth. The Mineral Museum is also a fun place to visit, featuring more than 1,300 specimens, like a 27-and-a-half-troy-ounce gold nugget.
Address: 155 Museum Way, Butte, Montana
Official site: http://miningmuseum.org/
Read More: Top-Rated Things to Do in Butte, Montana
Montana's capital, Helena, once known as Last Chance Gulch after a group of disheartened gold-diggers decided to have one final dig before striking gold, possesses one of the most attractive state capitol buildings in the US.
The building reflects a Greek Renaissance-style of architecture with sandstone and granite composing much of the facade. It's topped with a copper dome and houses several eye-catching murals featuring themes of Montana's past. The iconic Montana artist, Charles M. Russell, has a mural in the building depicting Lewis and Clark meeting the Salish Indians.
It's not just the state capitol that makes Helena a pleasure to visit. The city has a distinct and vibrant culture tied to its gold-digging days of the past. Historical places like Reeder's Alley comingle in the downtown atmosphere with modern art galleries and hip storefronts nearby.
Helena is also a great basecamp for exploring the Montana countryside. The two-million-acre Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest surrounds the entire city. Popular things to do in the forest include fishing, hiking, backpacking, and big game viewing.
For an even closer adventure, the expansive Mount Helena City Park is within walking distance of downtown.
Read More: Top-Rated Attractions & Things to Do in Helena, MT
Flathead Lake is the largest natural freshwater lake in the American West outside of Alaska. It's in the northwest part of the state, approximately 25 miles south of Whitefish. The lake has over 160 miles of shoreline, meaning it takes a while to even drive the length.
Boating and boating activities tend to reign supreme at Flathead Lake. The lake is known for its crystal-clear water alongside its icy depths. And adventure extends from the shoreline, too, with hiking trails and parks operated by either Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks , or the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes .
Like Polson and Bigfork, small towns punctuate the shoreline with services like restaurants and boat rentals. Less than 15 miles north, Kalispell is another Montana city worth checking out, and a great spot to find a hotel to spend the night near Flathead Lake.
Read More: Top-Rated Things to Do near Flathead Lake, Montana
Lewis and Clark Caverns is between Butte and Bozeman. It's Montana's first state park and a popular spot to explore underground. And the only way to experience its depths is as part of a guided tour led by park staff . Three different tours are available during the summer that cater to different ability levels. And a special Winter Holiday Candlelight Tour occurs throughout the colder months.
Lewis and Clark Caverns are one of the largest limestone caverns in the world. They host colossal cave features, handrails, and resident bats. Tours follow a concrete walkway the entire way and never navigate through tight spaces. For those not affected by claustrophobia, the state park does offer a unique three-hour Wild Cave Tour that does include some crawling.
Outside the cavern, the park's aboveground area has hiking trails and a visitor center with interpretive information about the caves. The cavern's campground is also above ground, with cabins, tipis, and group campsites available.
Address: 25 Lewis & Clark Caverns Road, Whitehall, Montana
Official site: http://stateparks.mt.gov/lewis-and-clark-caverns/
Among its many natural features, Montana has several hot spring facilities that inspire a soak. Many of Montana's mainstream hot springs are developed, meaning it's usually a pool of some sort with natural hot water piped in. These hot springs vary in size and are mostly found in the state's western half.
One of the best hot springs in Montana is Quinn's Hot Springs Resort , located next to the Clark Fork River in Paradise, Montana, an hour's drive northwest of Missoula. This beautiful hot spring resort recently added more natural outdoor pools to its landscaped grounds. The resort also offerings lodge rooms, cabins, and the decadent Hardwood House Restaurant.
The most historic hot spring, Chico Hot Springs , is another fun one to visit. Alongside a large open-air pool, it's the ambiance of this historic resort, established in 1900, that makes for a memorable visit. That and its prime location within Paradise Valley , close to the Yellowstone River and a short scenic drive to Yellowstone National Park.
Other notable soaking spots include Lolo Hot Springs near the Idaho border and Elkhorn Hot Springs in the Pioneer Mountains. And Yellowstone Hot Springs , 30 miles south of Chico Hot Springs, is a relatively new hot spring with one of the state's best outdoor pools.
In Great Falls , the C.M. Russell Museum celebrates the life and work of famed US artist Charles M. Russell, perhaps best known as the Cowboy Artist. The museum includes numerous documents and artifacts relating to the artist's career spanning the end of the 19th and the early 20th centuries and an extensive collection of original paintings .
A highlight is a chance to visit the original Russell House and Studio , now designated a National Historic Landmark. Also of interest is the museum's Russell Riders Sculpture Garden with its statues of area wildlife.
The city of Great Falls itself offers several other things to do to tack onto a long weekend. The Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center is a great place to learn about a different slice of regional history. Natural spaces also line the city, many of which connect to the River's Edge Trail .
Address: 400 13th Street N., Great Falls, Montana
Anaconda is a historic town in Western Montana, dating back to the copper mining days of the late 1800s. This history is on display throughout the town, including a preserved smelter stack towering on the horizon. Today, it's a vacation destination for its modern but rustic attractions and its easy access to the great outdoors.
A few fun things to do in Anaconda include hot spring adventures and skiing at the nearby Discovery Ski Area . Anaconda is also home to the Jack Nicklaus Old Works Golf Course . This unique 18 holes sits upon an old refinement site and features black "slag" bunkers – a byproduct from the smelting days.
Anaconda sits near the end of the Pintler Veteran's Memorial Scenic Highway. This 64-mile route offers a beautiful alternative for I-90 and a recommended course for adventure when traveling from Yellowstone to Glacier. The Scenic Highway is also a launching point for adventures into the surrounding Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest.
The Beartooth Highway is in southwest Montana and leads into Wyoming. It is an All-American Road and a true marvel of engineering. Comparable to the Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park, but less crowded, this 68-mile route switchbacks up and over a mountain pass for fantastic views.
The route begins south of Red Lodge , one of Montana's best small towns . The road then climbs over 5,000 feet to reach Beartooth Pass (elevation 10,947 feet) on the other side of the Wyoming border. The highway then proceeds west throughout Shoshone National Forest to the northeast entrance of Yellowstone National Park .
It's truly a bucket-list drive, even though it's not as well-known as some other Montana adventures. The highway is typically open between Memorial Day and Columbus Day (May through October), weather dependent. And with hiking trails, campgrounds, and stunning landscapes lining the way, plan for ample time driving the 68-mile route.
Read More: Top Things to Do in Red Lodge, Montana
One of the most important landmarks in Billings, the Moss Mansion Historic House Museum, is a large red sandstone manor that dominates its neighborhood. Renowned New York architect Henry Janeway Hardenbergh designed the 28-room mansion in 1903. His previous works included the Waldorf Astoria, Plaza, Willard, and Copley Plaza hotels.
The mansion features original draperies, fixtures, furniture, Persian carpets, and artifacts. It's like stepping back in time when going inside. Guided and self-guided tours are available . The site also hosts temporary displays and exhibits, including seasonal events and festivals.
Address: 914 Division Street, Billings, Montana
Official site: www.mossmansion.com
Read More: Top Attractions and Things to Do in Billings
In Phillipsburg, on the Pintler Veteran's Memorial Scenic Highway , the Sweet Palace is a candy lover's dream come true. Rows and rows of candy jars line this old-fashioned candy shop, offering all types of flavors and confectionary styles. Visitors add to their bag as their shopping, with most candies costing the same per pound.
The Sweet Palace is only one of many things to do in Philipsburg . The main drag, where the Sweet Palace is centrally located, has several other local shops and attractions worth a full afternoon of perusing. This includes places to shop for and sluice out the city's most precious resource: Montana sapphires.
Ross Creek Cedars Scenic Area is a notable point of interest in Kootenai National Forest. This ancient grove is in the far northwest part of the state, near the border with the Idaho Panhandle. And within its approximately 100 acres, a tall world awaits.
Some of the cedars in this scenic area have been growing for over 1,000 years. Today, visitors crane their necks at these long-living hardwoods along a 0.9-mile interpretive path. Take some time on this wide and accessible path, listening to the sounds of Ross Creek rumbling nearby.
Expect some crowds on the weekends and throughout summer at Ross Creek. It's a bit of a drive on a dirt road to access the scenic area. Downloaded GPS coordinates are helpful when visiting for the first time.
The Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument commemorates the 1876 clash between the US Army and Sioux and Cheyenne Indians. It is one of the best-known historical landmarks in the US – and one of the most important in terms of the reconciliation that has taken place since. This must-see attraction includes a visitor center, museum, the Custer National Cemetery , the 7th Cavalry Memorial, and the Reno-Benteen Battlefield.
Address: Interstate 90 Frontage Road, Crow Agency, Montana
Official site: https://www.nps.gov/libi/index.htm
Another Billings attraction worth a visit is the Western Heritage Center. Housed in the old Parmly Billings Memorial Library built in 1901, the center features a diverse collection of more than 17,000 artifacts . Highlights include more than 6,000 photos covering the history and culture of the Yellowstone River region .
Opened in 1971 and now affiliated with the Smithsonian Institution, the museum also houses a broad collection of materials focusing on the history of the Northern High Plains and Yellowstone River Valley. It also has a special focus on the preservation of the histories of the Cheyenne and Crow Indians . Other highlights include lectures, educational programs, and workshops.
Address: 2822 Montana Ave, Billings, Montana
Official site: www.ywhc.org
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10 Best Places to Visit in Montana
Last updated on October 3, 2023 by Vanessa Holmes - Leave a Comment
Known as Big Sky Country, Montana is an amazing destination for all those who appreciate the beauty of the great outdoors. Primarily rural, Montana is home to national parks, miles of open country, an abundance of wildlife and spectacular scenery.
However, there are also a number of vibrant cities with a flair for cowboy culture. As you plan your upcoming getaway to this state, don’t miss out on any of these unforgettable places to visit in Montana.
10. Great Falls
In the very center of Montana is Great Falls, a destination that is also known as the Electric City. Great Falls is often considered a stopping point when diving across Montana or when exploring nearby national parks, but the city also offers a lot in its own right. You could, for example, spend a day visiting the Ryan Dam, which boasts miles of surrounding hiking trails and is where the Electric City got its nickname.
You might also want to walk along the banks of the Missouri River, feed the trout and get to know more about American history at the Giant Springs State Park and the nearby Lewis and Clark National Interpretive Center.
The second largest of Montana’s cities is Missoula, the home to the sprawling campus of the University of Montana. Missoula used to be a hub for rail travel, and you can still see the historic and preserved railroad stations around town. History lovers might also want to check out the iconic Caras Park Carousel, the Missoula Art Museum and the iconic Roxy Theater.
The Clark Fork River flows through the center of Missoula and is a hub for recreation, so you could also try rafting down the river or strolling along the waterfront Kim Williams Trail. Head Downtown for a number of local breweries, excellent independent restaurants and boutique shops perfect for snagging unique souvenirs.
8. Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park
The oldest and perhaps most impressive state park in Montana is the Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park, located just outside of Three Forks. The caverns are made from limestone, and they boast interesting columns, stalactites and stalagmites.
Guided tours of the caverns themselves cover a substantial amount of ground, and they take you down 600 steps until the air becomes noticeably cooler. Aside from the caverns themselves, which are open throughout the summer, the state park offers the opportunity to hike, enjoy a scenic picnic, go canoeing or spot wildlife in their natural habitats.
7. Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument
Arguably one of the most famous military battles in American history took place at the Little Bighorn Battlefield. This is where Custer’s Last Stand took place in 1876 between the United States and Native American tribes like the Dakota, the Lakota, the Northern Cheyenne and the Arapaho.
To this day, a big draw to the area is the reenactments that typically happen on an annual basis. You can tour the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, and you can also head into the nearest town, Crow Agency, for dining, shopping and water sports.
Many people begin their Montana adventures in the city of Helena, which is the state’s capital as well as a hub in the heart of Gold West Country. The main attraction in the city is the Montana State Capitol Building, which is available for guided tours throughout the week.
You’ll also want to check out the Gates of the Mountains of the Missouri River, a collection of cliffs that open up to the river and were famously named by the explorers Lewis and Clark. Helena is also home to the historic mining district known as Reeder’s Alley, the beautifully hand-carved Great Northern Carousel and the 19th century Old Fire Tower.
Just north of Kalispell, a city known for being the gateway to the Glacier National Park, is the charming resort destination of Whitefish. Located in Flathead Valley, Whitefish was created by glacier activity, and there is an abundance of freshwater in the surrounding area, dotting the landscape with pristine lakes and stunning streams.
Most of the attractions in Whitefish are natural, and opportunities for outdoor activity abound. You may want to fish from Whitefish Lake, ski at the Whitefish Mountain Resort, kayak along the Flathead River or tee off at one of the great local golf courses in the area.
4. Flathead Lake
Just 15 minutes south of the city Kalispell is Flathead Lake, which is officially the largest natural freshwater lake west of the Mississippi River. Formed by glaciers, Flathead Lake is a connection to the past for Montana, but it also serves as a hub for sightseeing and recreation in the 21st century. Just north of the lake, you can try hiking or even horseback riding.
During the summer, fresh cherries are readily available at farmer’s markets around Flathead Lake. Sailing is also growing in popularity, and rentals as well as lessons are available from several spots along the perimeter of Flathead Lake in Montana.
3. West Yellowstone
Much of the famed Yellowstone National Park is located within the bordering state of Wyoming , but some of the entrances are actually located in Montana. One of the most commonly used is known as West Yellowstone. As the name suggests, this is the western entrance to the Yellowstone National Park.
In addition to serving as the entry point to one of the world’s most incredible national parks, which is home to attractions like Old Faithful , West Yellowstone boasts the extensive collections of the Yellowstone Museum. You can also snag interesting souvenirs from the shops located along Yellowstone Ave or head to Faithful Street for some affordable local cuisine.
Bozeman is one of the most popular cities in Montana for travelers, because it serves both as the home of Montana State University and as the gateway to the Yellowstone National Park.
Although natural scenery is a big draw to Bozeman, there is also a large emphasis on culture, history and art. Start your visit to the city by checking out attractions such as the Pioneer Museum, the Museum of the Rockies, the Emerson Center for Arts and Culture and the unexpected but impressive American Computer Museum.
The Gallatin River runs near Bozeman and provides opportunities for swimming, fishing and even kayaking, or you could get active by walking between the many bars and breweries Downtown in what is known as the Barmuda Triangle of Bozeman.
1. Glacier National Park
For those in search of dramatic landscapes and breathtaking scenery, there are few destinations more appealing than Glacier National Park . On the border with Canada, and connected to the Canadian Waterton Lakes National Park, Glacier National Park is an incredible place to visit in Montana to see unparalleled flora and fauna.
Shuttles and guided tours are readily available, but the best way to see the beauty of the park is on your own two feet.
More than 700 miles of hiking trails are available, with some of the most popular paths being the Trail of the Cedars and the Huckleberry Mountain Trail. Within the park, you can also go fishing, mountain biking or horseback riding, and there are opportunities for boating on Waterton Lake as well as Lake McDonald.
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Montana , Inspiration
26 bucket-list places to visit in montana (+ map).
Montana is one of the most scenic and diverse states in the US. These are the best places to visit in Montana – a mix of cities, nature, parks, and more!
These Montana destinations offer something for everyone – some of the places in Montana are well-known, like Glacier National Park, and others are lesser-known (like Anaconda).
We hope that you have found some incredibly beautiful places to put on your Montana bucket list ! Let us know which places we failed to mention in the comments. Thanks!
In this post...
Montana Destinations Map
1. bighorn canyon national recreation area, 2. glacier national park, 3. hyalite canyon , 4. whitefish, 5. virginia city , 6. chinese wall, 8. missoula, 9. elkhorn (ghost town), 10. makoshika state park, 11. choteau, 12. bozeman, 13. big sky, 14. hamilton, 16. west yellowstone, 17. anaconda, 19. flathead lake, 20. philipsburg, 21. lewis and clark caverns state park, 22. little bighorn battlefield national monument, 23. billings, 24. livingston, 25. gardiner, 26. great falls, additional places in montana resources, pin this montana bucket list guide.
To add this map to your Google Maps account, click the ‘Star’ icon next to the map name. You can then view it on your cell phone or computer by heading to your Google Maps account, click the menu and add it to ‘Your Places’.
Best Places to Visit in Montana
One of the five largest canyons in the United States, Bighorn Canyon stretches across the border of Montana and Wyoming.
The recreational area spans over 120,000 acres and features extraordinary canyon landscapes, vast forests, valleys and deserts, wetlands, and the famous Bighorn Lake.
The lake stretches nearly 71 miles across Montana and Wyoming , from where 55 miles pass through the canyon itself. This dry and rocky land was created about five million years ago by the rise of mountains and was eroded by the Bighorn River.
Today, it has become a favorite destination for hikers to hike, camp, and admire the rocky landscape!
This place is thought to be one of Montana’s treasures and is a gem regardless of whether you visit Glacier National Park in winter or in summer!
Located in the Northern Rocky Mountains , Glacier National Park covers more than a million acres of forests, lakes, alpine meadows, glacial-carved valleys, etc.
This park is home to more than seventy species of mammals and that is one of the main lures of tourists to the park. It is a pristine and raw place and is one of the most visited national parks in the United States , as a result.
According to data, the park has managed to welcome over 100 million visitors throughout the years.
It has over 700 miles of hiking trails, promising some outstanding scenic views . If you’re a fan of enjoying picturesque spots, then make sure to visit the largest (and most famous) lake in the park – Lake McDonald.
Located in the gorgeous Custer Gallatin National Forest, Hyalite Canyon is a unique place to enjoy recreational activities in Montana. It is the perfect Montana weekend trip for all ages and there is plenty to keep occupied with!
The canyon is brilliant and quite remarkable and Hyalite Canyon is considered the most popular National Forest area in Montana.
Hikers, bikers, and road trippers will fall in love with the natural area and the best time to visit is between late June and early November.
Visitors are free to take their dogs with them and should try to keep them on a leash (but don’t be surprised if you see some running around freely).
Hyalite Canyon has four excellent trails, plus two great wheelchair-accessible trails to its waterfalls.
Located near Glacier National Park, Whitefish is a charming place in Flathead County and it is one of the most beautiful small towns in Montana !
There are many reasons to visit and plenty of things to do in Whitefish and most people end up there in conjunction with a trip to Glacier National Park.
Apart from the many things to do in the town, hiking is also a favorite activity for locals and visitors. The Viking Creek Wetlands Interpretive Trail and Whitefish Trail are some of the most visited trails. Both have moderate to easy difficulty and require about half a day to hike them.
In addition, there are some fantastic options for places to stay in Whitefish – from cabins to loft apartments and more!
Virginia City is known as the most colorful pioneer mining camp to ever exist! It is just 85 miles west of Yellowstone National Park ; it is a surprisingly well-preserved West Victorian gold-mining area.
When the gold ran out, the town was frozen in time. So, today people can visit this place to become familiar with the Old West.
Many people, especially art and music enthusiasts, will appreciate a visit to the Virginia City Opera House, where the only remaining Cremona Player pianos in the world are located.
If you want to feel like you’re time traveling, then pay a visit to the Thompson-Hickman Museum, where you can see some unique artifacts like rare guns, an Indian Treaty, oddities, and more.
The Wall of China is a large ledge located in the Bob Marshall Wilderness Area in Montana.
The Chinese Wall forms part of the Continental Divide, which is the place in North America that determines which ocean water and streams flow into.
The wall is usually accessed through the Benchmark Trailhead. It usually takes hikers several days to reach the wall, which is about 18 miles from the previous trail.
The Continental Divide route runs directly under the wall. Campgrounds are banned right along the wall to protect the relatively fragile ecosystem from overuse.
Located between Yellowstone National Park in the South of Montana and Flathead National Forest in the North, Helena was founded as a gold camp during Montana’s gold rush period.
Helena is widely loved by those who love the great outdoors. There’s plenty to see and do there, from outdoor activities like hunting and fishing to skiing and cycling. There are around 75 miles of mountain biking and hiking trails there, as well.
Some of the best attractions in Helena include the Neo-Gothic styled cathedral of St. Helena, Mount Helena City Park, awe-inspiring landscapes of Gates of the Mountains Wilderness, and more!
With beautiful flora and trees saturating the city’s streets, Missoula is also known as The Garden City of Montana. The number of things to do in Missoula is endless and you can find something for everyone in this famous university town.
Beer lovers might find Missoula a little bit exciting as there are many places where you can drink some of the most renowned craft beer in the United States .
Another thing that Missoula is known for is the world’s largest gold nugget that was mined in the area – it sold for $19,000 at the end of the 19th century!
There are a few ghost towns that you can visit as day trips from Missoula and you can even find some gold-mining tours in the nearby vicinity. If you’re looking for a place to stay – there are many options for accommodation in Missoula .
Elkhorn is a small, abandoned town in Montana. About a decade ago, only 10 people were reported living there. During its peak, Elkhorn usually had about 2500 residents and there were schools, hotels, churches, and shops.
In 1889, the city received a railway connection (Northern Pacific Road). In the years that followed, the silver rush faded, as did the prosperity of Elkhorn.
In addition, the city was struck by an epidemic of diphtheria which resulted in many deaths, especially children. In 1931, the railway connection to Elkhorn was discontinued and only a small part of the population remained in the city.
Nowadays, a handful of families live in the city, both in modern houses and in renovated buildings from the late 19th century. It is one of the most interesting places to visit in Montana.
The name of this state park comes from the Dakota and it means “bad, barren lands”. Makoshika State Park is a park that spans over barren landscapes in Eastern Montana.
Travelers who visit are mesmerized by its obscure beauty. The badlands formed under the influence of wind erosion and rain showers and will appear before travelers as an array of different colors of clay rocks. You’ll see black, red, grey, and orange rocks (among many other hues).
Choteau is famous for its fossil and dinosaur discoveries, which you can see at the Old Trail Museum. But this is not just a city for paleontologists!
Take some time to browse local downtown shops and walking trails nearby. The Choteau is affectionately referred to as the “front wing of the Rocky Mountains”.
If you love skiing, you can stay at Choteau to access the Teton Ski region. The Choteau also offers a charming city center with a traditional Western Flair and local shopping.
Popular with visitors exploring the Dinosaur Trail, this Old Trail Museum is one of 14 stops on the Montana Dinosaur Trail. It features dinosaur exhibits, fossils, Native American artifacts, and information on the diverse and colorful local history.
The community is also a starting point for nearby recreational activities such as hiking, mountain biking, rafting, blue trout fishing, and skiing.
Bozeman is a city and the county seat of Gallatin County in Montana. Known by the name of “the most livable spot,” this city enjoys world-famous fly fishing, dramatic mountains for hiking, mountain biking, hunting, skiing, rock climbing, exploring the backcountry, and wildlife. In addition, Yellowstone National Park is nearby!
Apart from its outdoor attractions, Bozeman also has some vibrant “arts and culture” experiences to offer, from symphonies and theaters to street festivals, farmers’ markets, community centers, and museums.
In the event that you’re curious to check out an extensive collection of dinosaur fossils, the Museum of the Rockies (MOR) is your go-to, especially if you’re near Bozeman!
The place holds a wide range of scientific insights into the Rocky Mountain region so it is a great destination to take kids to so they can learn more about the region.
Big Sky is an outstanding mountain town where outdoor lovers will find their paradise! Because of its high elevation and rugged mountains, Big Sky has a great abundance of hiking, biking, skiing, golfing, rafting, sightseeing, fishing, and more.
One of the most exciting activities in the town are the hikes. One of the most famous hiking spots is Ousel Falls Park, which is located outside of the Meadow Village area of Big Sky. In Ousel, you will find an adventurous 1.6-mile hike that is popular.
Other great ways to explore Big Sky can be horseback riding, spending a day at Lone Mountain Ranch, rafting the Gallatin river, etc.
Hamilton is another favorite small town in Montana and is located in the western part of the state. It is located in the Bitterroot Valley between the mountain ranges and is growing rapidly.
Hamilton is also easily accessible from other places in Montana and is a great place for adventurers. There are many public lands covered with forests and excellent hiking opportunities.
History buffs also love Hamilton because of its significant buildings like Dali’s Mansion. You only need to drive about an hour south of Missoula to check Hamilton in a day.
One interesting Montana fact is that many famous writers have found inspiration in Hamilton, including Norman McLean!
Tucked away in the northwestern corner of the state near the Idaho border, in a valley carved by the Kootenay River at the foot of the Kabinet Ridge, Libby is a small community offering a variety of stunning scenery.
Despite once being renowned solely for its mountainous landscapes, today the city of less than 3,000 is popular for its many other things.
Visit Ross Creek, Ancient Western Red Cedar Sanctuary or Libby Dam, the Kootenay River, and Kootenai Falls- the largest waterfall in Montana where you’re traveling to Libby.
There are also many camping options in and around Libby. One of the most amazing views in town can be seen by walking along the swinging bridge over the waterfall.
This town is nestled at the West Entrance to Yellowstone National Park. A lot of the best accommodation near Yellowstone National Park is located here.
Nature, forest, and wildlife enthusiasts will surely appreciate the beauty of this area. The beautiful lake of Hebgen and wild animals like moose, bison, pelicans, and bald eagles are what make this town worth a visit!
Scenic drives are yet another way to experience the best of West Yellowstone while also avoiding the mass crowds around the park.
The visitors there also have a unique chance to get acquainted with West Yellowstone’s long-lived traditions, like a rodeo. Take into account that rodeos do sell out, but there are five per week. So, be sure to make the booking online before your visit.
West Yellowstone is a great place to stay regardless of whether you’re visiting Yellowstone in winter or summer.
Anaconda was founded in 1883 by Marcus Daly, and the unusual name of the town comes from Daly’s mining company, which had the same name.
In the past, the city had copper smelting and phosphate goods production as its primary economic activity. These days, Anaconda is known for having something for everyone.
To see an impressive quantity of relics from Montana’s past, visitors should consider visiting Anaconda’s Old City Hall Copper Village Museum and Art Center.
When it comes to exploring the hills and mountains, the Montana town offers scenic routes, hiking and backpacking locations, camping, golfing, and more.
Butte is yet another town in Montana that was once established as a gold and silver mining camp. This one, however, even was at one time called ‘the richest hill on Earth’.
The town’s vibrant past can be seen in the Victorian Uptown business district and stately mansions.
Historical tours, natural hot springs, ranch holidays, camping, boating, resort cabins, river floats, hunting, horseback rides, fishing, golf, cross-country and downhill skiing, snowmobiling are all guided services and activities for this area.
In Butte, you can find the World Museum of Mining, which is one of the few museums in the world to be housed in an actual mine yard. This is a place where you can feel like you’re stepping way back into the past!
Flathead Lake is one of the cleanest lakes in the world and the largest natural freshwater lake in the western US outside of Alaska . It is located in the northwest region of Montana.
If you’re planning to visit the lake and surrounding area, note that there are six units within Flathead Lake State Park. In these areas, visitors are welcome to enjoy their time while having picnics, boating, sailing, fishing, camping, hiking, and swimming.
Also, golf fans can take advantage of the two local golf courses that offer some spectacular views and well-maintained courses.
The historic town of Philipsburg was, at its prime, a mining town in the second half of the 19th century. Today, it offers a range of attractions, from mining sapphires, Vaudeville performances at the 1891 Opera House, and the Granite County Museum, which offers an excellent overview of silver mining operations.
The Museum features exhibits about the history of the pioneer and backyard-era, old photographs, and real mining equipment.
Nearby, you can explore the ghost town of Granite, part of the Montana State Park System, which contains relics left behind such as the Miners Union Hall and the Granite Mine Manager’s home.
Located between Butte and Bozeman, Lewis and Clark Caverns Park is a popular open space for exploring the underworld! The first designated state park in Montana gives visitors the opportunity to experience the caverns as part of a guided tour led by the park’s staff.
Three different tours are available during the summer months at the caverns. A special Winter Candle Festival takes place during the colder months, also.
Lewis and Clark Cave is one of the largest limestone caves in the world, with colossal caverns, handrails, and resident bats. Outside the cave, the area above ground in Lewis and Clark Cave State Park is interesting to explore, with many hiking trails, a visitor center, and a camping site where you can book cabins and group campsites.
The Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument commemorates the US Army’s 7th Cavalry and the Lakotas and Cheyennes in one of the last armed attempts by the Natives to maintain their way of life.
In 1876, Lt. Col. George A. Custer and more than 260 soldiers died here while battling several thousand Lakota and Cheyenne warriors.
The monument is located in southeastern Montana. It shows battle history exhibits, weapons of the time, archaeology, Native life in the Plains, and more.
Custer National Cemetery is also located nearby. Please note that the museum is accessible by wheelchair and it can definitely be on everyone’s Montana bucket list.
Billings is excellent with its recreation areas, tasty food, and super nice parks – it is the most populous city in the state and one of the best places to visit in Montana.
The city is also the getaway route to Montana’s highest peaks – the Beartooth Mountains, which offer endless terrain for alpine enthusiasts to explore.
Billings has 45 miles of trails that are quite convenient for biking, dog walking, running, and more.
Another perk of visiting Billings is that the city is never too crowded. Most tourists flock to the western part of Montana and leave the east unexplored… which is a shame because there is so much to see no matter what part of the state you visit!
Livingston is a place where the true spirit of cowboys, ranchers, and wealthy and famous artists can be felt.
This historic late 19th-century city offers year-round attractions including art, music, activities, and more. Located on the Yellowstone River in southwest Montana, Livingston’s Old West heritage blends well with the local artists who now call this Montana city home.
Livingston is an hour’s drive from Yellowstone National Park and right down the road from Grand Teton National Park , but you don’t need to leave Main Street to enjoy the spectacular sights of this Rocky Mountain region.
Restaurants, art galleries, and a vibrant cultural life now define this Old Western city, as well as wide access to fly fishing, hiking, and hot springs. The most famous Marlboro ad was also shot there!
Serving as the original entrance to Yellowstone National Park, the small town of Gardiner is located in southwest Montana. The area spans over 10 million acres of land and is one of the best places to stay near Yellowstone .
Surrounded by some of the most beautiful landscapes in the country, the area is famous for its past of trappers, hunters, farmers, and mountain men, including prominent western characters such as Jim Bridger and Calamity Jane.
Gardiner is also home to a vast array of wildlife, including bison, bighorn sheep, pronghorn, elk, grizzly bears, black bears, and wolves. Some o the most beloved activities there include fishing, hiking, horseback riding, hot springs, ziplining, and more.
Located on the Missouri River in downtown Montana, Great Falls is a city where you can experience the true, authentic side of Montana. This is a great base from which to explore the lush gardens, freshwater springs, and mountain views in a rugged part of the state.
The main attraction for tourists there is Giant Springs State Park, one of the largest freshwater springs in the country, which also includes Missouri’s Great Falls, a stunning set of four waterfalls.
What are the best places to visit in Montana , in your opinion? And did we fail to mention any fantastic destinations in Montana on this list?
Let us know in the comments! Thanks!
- Glacier National Park in winter
- Best places to visit in Montana
- Things to do in Whitefish
- Places to stay in Whitefish
- Places to stay in Missoula
- Small towns in Montana
Megan is a travel blogger and writer with a background in digital marketing. Originally from Richmond, VA, she now splits her time between Frankfurt, Germany and Arctic Finland after also living in Norway, Armenia, and Kazakhstan. She has a passion for winter travel, as well as the Nordic countries, but you can also find her eating her way through Italy, perusing perfume stores in Paris, or taking road trips through the USA. Megan has written for or been featured by National Geographic, Forbes, Lonely Planet, the New York Times, and more. She co-authored Fodor’s Travel ‘Essential Norway’ and has visited 45 US states and 100+ countries.
16 thoughts on “ 26 Bucket-List Places to Visit in Montana (+ Map!) ”
Recheck distance between Yellowstone and Virginia City
Corrected! Thanks for the catch :)
I believe the river near Libby is spelled like the national forest there, Kootenai and the mountains there are the Cabinet mountains. .
How could you leave off Red Lodge?
Ahhhh thank you! Yea, definitely need to get back there and explore a bit more for sure. Red Lodge is on that list! Thank you!
Been to almost all of these locations. I suggest a few better ones.
Twin Bridges Pompeii’s Pillar White Sulphur Springs Three Forks of the Missouri Quake Lake Belt /Big&a little Belt Mountains
So many other places to spend time.
Thank you so much!!! As a non-resident, it is hard to get to see all of the places like a local! Just means a trip back is necessary :)
Medicine Rocks State Park Carter County Museum
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Best Things to Do in Montana in November (Updated 2023)
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1 . Glacier National Park
2 . Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center
3 . West Yellowstone Fly Shop
4 . Top Hat
5 . Bridger Bowl Ski Area
6 . Many Glacier Hotel
7 . Downtown Bozeman
8 . Lake McDonald
9 . Avalanche Lake Trail
10 . Lost Trail Ski Area
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Home > Road Trip Itineraries > Rocky Mountains > Great American West > Best Things to Do in Montana: Places to Visit in Big Sky Country
Best Things to Do in Montana: Places to Visit in Big Sky Country
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Montana , also known as Big Sky Country , is one of the large states belonging to the Great American West , a vast area that also includes Wyoming, Idaho, and North and South Dakota. It features grand mountain landscapes, with snow-capped peaks, glacial valleys, immense forests, and crystal-clear lakes. The epitome of nature’s creativity in Montana is in the area near Glacier National Park , close to the border with Canada. However, the things to see in Montana go beyond just nature. Here in the many ghost towns , there are still traces of a history of gold miners, outlaw bandits, and cowboys. So let’s take a look at the state’s main attractions.
Things to Do in Montana
Yellowstone national park, glacier national park, bighorn canyon, beartooth highway, makoshika state park, lewis & clark caverns state park, national bison range, flathead lake, gates of the mountains wilderness area, montana’s ghost towns, little bighorn battlefield national monument, parks and natural attractions.
Yellowstone National Park is one of the most important and famous parks in North America as well as one of the 54 parks in Montana . It extends into Wyoming and Idaho, but a major part of the park is, in fact, right here in the fourth largest state in the United States. Of the five entrances to Yellowstone National Park , three are located in Montana: the west entrance (from West Yellowstone ), perfect for visiting the geyser area and usually one of the recommended entrances; the northeast entrance, near the beautiful Lamar Valley that can be reached via one of the most beautiful scenic mountain roads in the West, the Beartooth Highway ; and the north entrance, which is ideal if you wish to visit the area around the striking Mammoth Hot Springs .
The best way to visit the park is by car along Loop Road , a 140 -mile road connecting the five entrances. To visit the park, I recommend you plan for at least 3 days. If time is a constraint, however, we also have a Yellowstone itinerary that can be adjusted to be completed between 1 and 4 days so that you can best organize your time and not miss the main attractions.
- Read our guide to Yellowstone National Park
Located in northwestern Montana, Glacier National Park covers 1,583 square miles near the border with Canada. The terrain makes it one of the most beautiful parks in the state, and it is a must-see attraction also because, unfortunately, due to global warming, part of its 25 glaciers are melting at an ever-increasing rate. Before your eyes are not only majestic glaciers, but splendid waterfalls, streams, imposing mountain peaks and green valleys that seem endless.
Within Glacier National Park is the famous Going to the Sun Road , a 50-mile road which traverses the park from east to west at an elevation that reaches 6,646 feet above sea level at its highest point, Logan Pass . It takes about 2 hours to complete it, but it is virtually impossible not to stop and admire the various landscapes and take a few pictures. Therefore consider at least a whole day or so to fully enjoy the magnificence of this national park.
- Read our guide to Glacier National Park
Bighorn Canyon is located inland near the Bighorn National Forest , a mountainous area of breathtaking scenery on the Montana-Wyoming border . In fact, the Bighorn River originates in the Rocky Mountains in Wyoming. However, the upper part of the river, before it enters Montana, is called the Wind River . It only becomes the Bighorn River just after the rapids of Wind River Canyon.
Just past the border, the river enters Bighorn Canyon and then flows into Yellowtail Dam, which forms Bighorn Lake . This spectacular canyon and wild landscapes are part of the North District, an area that is part of the Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area. Walk along the North District trails or rent a canoe at Ok-A-Beh Marina to see the canyon up close.
- Read our guide to Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area
The Beartooth Highway, the section of U.S. 212 from Red Lodge to Cooke City, is one of Montana’s most spectacular scenic roads. Keep in mind that you can travel on it only during good weather, from Memorial Day through October, as heavy snowfall on the pass often blocks the road or otherwise makes it dangerous to drive on. The westernmost point of the road is the North-East entrance to Yellowstone, and that is perhaps part of the reason the road is so well known.
As you travel along Beartooth Highway, you will see majestic peaks and pass through various ecosystems, from verdant forests to alpine tundra. Among the mountains here, there is Montana’s highest peak, Granite Peak , at 12,807 ft. Grizzly bears, brown bears, elk, deer, mountain lions and red lynx live in these parts, and it is not uncommon to see them. The area is also famous for its numerous lakes that make the landscape even more picturesque.
Gullies, natural arches and hoodoos are what you will find in Makoshika State Park . It spans over 11,500 acres, making it Montana’s largest park. I suggest you start your visit to the park by stopping at the Visitor Center to learn not only what scenic beauty awaits you, but also the history of the many dinosaur fossils found among these rocks. The permanent exhibit is quite interesting.
If you love hiking, the park offers plenty of trails of varying difficulty to allow you to discover up close the sublime masterpiece created over time by weathering, which has formed the park’s unique rock formations in a slow and continuous process.
- Read our guide to Makoshika Park
Big Sky is popular among tourists and mountain lovers. It is located in Gallatin and Mason Counties in southwestern Montana. Big Sky is known as the largest ski area in the United States with territory spanning as many as four mountains. Whether you are coming come from Bozeman or West Canyon, you will travel along the Gallatin River within Gallatin Canyon with incredible scenery.
The valleys and mountains in this area are equally picturesque. In summer you can go horseback riding or mountain biking, golfing, camping, rafting, and fishing, and even visit Yellowstone . In winter you’ll love going on the many ski and snowboard trails, and all the other activities like riding dog sleds or horse-drawn carriages or going on one of the several discovery tours throughout the area.
Lewis & Clark Caverns State Park is located about 20 miles from the small town in Jefferson County called Whitehall in Jefferson County. The park includes two visitor centers, a camping area, hiking trails and striking limestone caves, among the largest in the American Northwest. The Lewis & Clark Caverns area can only be visited on a guided tour and with the purchase of admission. There are two tour options available for both adults and children. The easiest one is the Paradise Tour, which lasts about 90 minutes, while the Classic Cave Tour is somewhat more difficult and lasts about 2 hours.
The bison is one of the most iconic symbols of the United States. If you wish to admire this imposing mammal, which can weigh as much as 900 pounds, you need only travel to the National Bison Range in Montana . This nature reserve protects between 400 and 500 American bison . There is a visitor center and directions for the two scenic roads that lead to outlooks over areas where the animals often pass through. In addition to bison, this reserve is home to coyotes, brown bears, elk, squirrels, muskrats, and even the North American cougar.
In northwestern Montana, you find Flathead Lake , a glacial lake fed by the Flathead River and the Swan River that is renowned among fishermen. At its widest point, it stretches about 15 miles while the maximum length from one end to the other is almost 31 miles. The average depth is 164 ft although the deepest point reaches 370 ft. Precisely because of its origin and size, this is one of the cleanest lakes in the world .
The mountains surrounding the lake make it a perfect place to take unforgettable souvenir photos. You can rent boats, kayaks, dinghies and other equipment at Arrowhead RV Park and Marina, Bigfork Marina, Big Arm Lake Marina or Marina Cay Resort. Salish Point Beach along the south shore is ideal for a swim, although the water is really ‘ice cold’!
You won’t find the snow-capped peaks of Glacier National Park in this vast 44 square miles of beautiful land. In Gates of the Mountains Wilderness Area, gentle verdant mountains and dry gorges carved over time by water and wind are the main protagonists. And if you love to hike this is the place for you. There are plenty of trails and none of them are particularly difficult or dangerous.
Among the most famous trails is Refrigerator Canyon Trail from North York to Meriwether along the Missouri River and through a very narrow, cold gorge. Another renowned spot is Bear Prairie, a large meadow where it is also possible to spend the night. From here you can also climb Candle Mountain for spectacular views of the Helena Valley and Rocky Mountain Front.
Taking a boat tour down the canyon in Gates of the Mountains is the best way to relive the emotions that explorers Lewis and Clark felt when beholding the majesty of the imposing cliffs that tower over the Missouri River.
Montana is also home to many ghost towns, which are particularly popular attractions for fans of westerns but also for tourists who are curious to discover what life may have been like in the late 1800s in this part of America. The Gold Rush that characterized that period gave rise to many small towns near mines and deposits where prospectors and their families flocked, hoping to find fortune and have a better future.
Bandits and outlaws were drawn here too, creating havoc and legends that are still passed down today. By the early twentieth century, most of these towns were gradually abandoned, although some of them are now lively tourist destinations. Several can be found in Montana, and some are along or near the Vigilante Trail .
The three must-see ghost towns in Montana in my opinion are:
- Virginia City and Nevada City : Just about a mile separate these picturesque towns. Virginia City is a true Wild West-themed tourist town with more than 60 historic buildings and multiple activities that will make you relive the Gold Rush. Nevada City, accessible by car or even by taking a historic train from Virginia City, is more of an open-air museum and will give you a more authentic feel than its ‘neighbor’.
- Bannack is among the first towns created in Montana by gold miners, and in 1864 it also became the state capital. The last resident died in 1970. Don’t miss Bannack Days during the third week of July when the town comes back to life and hosts events and performances. During the celebration, there is no shortage of gold panning, horseshoes, wagons, and, of course, shootouts. A similar event called Bannack Living History is held in September.
Best Cities in Montana
Helena is the capital of Montana, and with its population of 32,000, it is the fifth least populous capital city in the United States . Its appeal lies in the fact that it is a modern city without betraying its historic soul as a town born in the days of the Gold Rush. It was precisely the discovery of the deposit of gold at Last Chance Gulch that led to its rise at the foot of Mount Helena in 1864. Among the things to see in the historic downtown in Helena are the Montana State Capitol, the Cathedral of St. Helena, the Original Governor’s Mansion, Reeder’s Alley, and its main street, Last Chance Gulch. Helena is also the perfect starting point for visiting Gates of the Mountains, Blackfoot Pathways and the caves at Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park.
- Read our guide to Helena, Montana .
Missoula is at the heart of five valleys and five mountain peaks. The town is located in western Montana and is far larger than the capital city of Helena. It was founded in 1860 to provide a place to rest for pioneers traveling along the Mullan Road . With the arrival of the railroad, the town grew considerably richer and became an important economic and cultural center, so much so that Montana’s first university was established here in 1863.
Today the city is vibrant and full of things to do and see, from art galleries to water parks, from clubs along the Clark Fork River to the main square Caras Park, from golf to rafting in Alberton Gorge or hiking along the Riverfront Walking Trail, the Lewis and Clark Trail or on Mount Sentinel. And if you love hot springs, there are several around for you to visit.
Bozeman is Montana’s fourth-largest city and is continually expanding given its rapid economic and population growth. The town is named after its founder John M. Bozeman , who is also responsible for the Bozeman Trail. From Bozeman, you will easily reach both Virginia and Nevada City, ghost towns we talked about earlier that are definitely worth visiting, as well as the northern entrance to Yellowstone Park.
Among the things to see in Bozeman, I recommend the MOR, or Museum of the Rockies , with its rich collection of dinosaur fossils and a planetarium, Main Street, the American Computer and Robotics Museum, and the Gallatin History Museum. Then stroll through Burke Park or reach nearby attractions, like Montana Grizzly Encounter, Bridger Canyon, Glen Lake Rotary Park, Custer Gallatin National Forest, and, of course, Yellowstone.
Billings is Montana’s largest city, with a population of about 120,000, and has its own major international airport . Located on the banks of the Yellowstone River in southern Montana, Billings is famous for its spectacular surrounding terrain and numerous well-maintained trails. Among the things to see in Billings are Moss Mansion Historic House Museum , an elegant mansion dating back to 1903, the Western Heritage Center with its 35,000 artifacts that help to understand the history of this area, the Yellowstone Art Museum , the Alberta Bair Theater, as well as Riverfront Park and Danwalt Gardens.
There are also countless nature attractions near this town. Besides the famous Yellowstone and Bighorn Canyons, there are Lake Elmo State Park, The Rimrocks, and Pictograph Cave State Park with its cave paintings that are over 2,000 years old.
This small town in northwestern Montana is famous for skiing and the many outdoor activities on offer. You can spend the day at Whitefish Lake , relax on Whitefish City Beach, go boating, canoeing or do other water sports. For hikers, I recommend the Whitefish Trail.
Because it is located about 40 miles from the western entrance to Glacier National Park and also not far from Flathead National Forest , Flathead Lake, Kalispel, and Hungry Horse Dam , one of the tallest dams in the United States, Whitefish is an excellent starting point for discovering the scenic beauty of northern Montana.
Butte , which we have already told you about in our article on the Vigilante Trail , is one of Montana’s most important historic towns, and its history began as a gold and silver mining center in 1872. Later on, beginning in the early 1900s, copper made it rich and popular.
Although today it has a population of about 30,000 people, this beautiful town has preserved its late nineteenth-century soul with fascinating and beautiful historic sites to see, for example, Copper King Mansion, the World Museum of Mining , and the Mother Lode Theater at the Berkeley Pit. Nearby you can easily travel to visit the aforementioned Lewis and Clark Caverns, or the magnificent statue of Our Lady of the Rockies .
Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument is a memorial to the battle called the Battle of Little Bighorn that occurred on June 25 and 26, 1876 between the U.S. Army and the Sioux and Cheyenne tribes. At this site, not far from Crow Agency, Montana, young men on both sides lost their lives.
Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument is now one of the most famous national monuments in the United States. In addition to the visitor center, you will find a museum, the 7th Cavalry Memorial, the Reno – Benteen Battlefield, and the large Custer National Cemetery . The memorial is located at Interstate 90 Frontage Road, Crow Agency, Montana.
Warning: Operating hours can change and closures for extraordinary events can occur, so we strongly suggest to check the venues official websites.
I am a translator and teacher. I love to travel, meet new people and cultures and never cease to be surprised by the beauty of our planet.
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18 Top Things to Do in Montana
From museums to national parks, Montana has something for everyone.
Known as "The Treasure State," Montana offers a plethora of travel treasures, such as beautiful national and state parks, unique museums, historical monuments and more. (Getty Images)
Montana is the fourth-largest state in the U.S. by landmass, measuring 147,040 square miles. The Treasure State is also home to some of the most beautiful natural wonders in the world, including Glacier National Park , Yellowstone , the largest natural freshwater lake west of the Mississippi and more than 300 mountain peaks standing more than 9,600 feet tall.
If you love the outdoors, Montana has so much to offer, from hiking and camping to skiing and fishing. But it's also an excellent place to learn about the history of its inhabitants, particularly the Native American tribes, as well as the wildlife that roam the region.
The state also has the third-lowest population density in the nation, and plenty of wide-open spaces, making it a great place to go if you want to avoid crowds. Read on to learn about all of the best things you can do as a visitor in Montana.
(Note: Some tours and excursions may be affected by the coronavirus pandemic. Capacity restrictions, mask mandates even closures may be in effect. Check with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and local tourism boards before making plans.)
Glacier National Park
Established in 1910, Glacier National Park is sometimes referred to as the Crown Jewel of the Continent. Here, you'll find 26 glaciers, 762 lakes, 563 streams, hundreds of species of animals and thousands of species of plants. It also includes roughly 746 miles of hiking trails, making it a paradise for avid hikers. Some of the more iconic routes include the Trail of the Cedars to Avalanche Lake, the Grinnell Glacier Trail and the Highline Trail . Just be sure to look up trail conditions and difficulties before you set out.
While you're visiting, you'll also want to add Going-to-the-Sun Road to your itinerary. The 50-mile road that crosses the Continental Divide is an engineering marvel, passing glaciers, valleys, waterfalls, alpine meadows covered in wildflowers and more. Just keep in mind that the upper portion of the road past Lake McDonald Lodge closes during the winter months.
Visitors hail the park as one of the most beautiful places they've been to, citing stunning views and clear blue glacier water that's almost unreal. Get out on the water in a canoe, kayak, paddleboard, raft or half- or full-day whitewater rafting tour.
Depending on what kind of experience you're looking for, you can camp at one of the park's many campgrounds, or you can stay at a lodge, hotel or bed-and-breakfast. If you're considering more formal accommodations, the Lake McDonald Lodge and Belton Chalet should be on your list of options.
[See more of Glacier National Park: Things to Do | Hotels | When to Visit | Photos . ]
Yellowstone National Park
Only 3% of Yellowstone National Park resides in Montana, but the state is home to three of the park's five entrances. Near the north entrance of the park, you'll find Mammoth Hot Springs , which has been said to look like a cave that's been turned inside out. The large terraces are formed by limestone that's dissolved by the hot, acidic water that rises from the chambers below, then reforms after it's above ground. If you decide to enter through the west entrance, located just across the Wyoming and Idaho borders in West Yellowstone, you'll be a quick drive away from several geyser basins, which include both geysers and hot springs.
Some of the more popular attractions in this area include Old Faithful , Grand Prismatic Spring , Fountain Paint Pot and more. Finally, the northeast entrance, which is closed during the winter months, gives you the best access to the park's famous Lamar Valley , which is where you'll be able to observe grizzly bears, black bears, bison and wolves. Visitors to Yellowstone National Park have called it a piece of heaven on Earth, a breathtaking experience and nature at its best.
Depending on where you're coming from, there are plenty of lodging options for each entrance. In West Yellowstone, the ClubHouse Inn West Yellowstone and the Alpine Motel are top-rated. If you're coming from the north entrance in Gardiner, Montana, Yellowstone Village Inn and Yellowstone Riverside Cottages have great reviews. And if you're coming from the northeast, consider the Elk Horn Lodge or Alpine Motel in Cooke City. If you're interested in a guided experience, consider a private Yellowstone tour .
For an especially unique experience in Yellowstone National Park, get out on the water. You can go fly-fishing, kayaking and boating on Yellowstone Lake or take a half- or full-day whitewater rafting tour.
[ See more of Yellowstone National Park : Things to Do | Hotels | When to Visit | Photos .]
Soak in one of the state's many hot springs
The Treasure State is home to dozens of hot springs perfect for enjoying a relaxing soak. One of the top options is Quinn's Hot Springs Resort in Paradise, Montana, which is about 70 miles northeast of Missoula. At the resort, you can take a dip in five natural hot spring pools. You can also stay in one of the resort's cabins or lodges. Past guests called the resort a relaxing experience, with some making repeat visits.
For a unique experience, check out the Boiling River in Yellowstone near Mammoth Hot Springs. It's one of the few areas where you can legally soak in the national park, and it features a mix of hot water from the spring and cold water from the Gardner River. Before you go, be sure to check the park's website , as the area does close due to varying water conditions. Visitors can access the spot via a short half-mile walk from the parking lot.
You can bed down at the Yellowstone Village Inn or Yellowstone Riverside Cottages in nearby Gardiner. Some travelers have called the Boiling River a highlight in the park, but recommend bringing sandals to walk in the river and a towel to dry off afterward. Other favorite hot springs to visit in the state include the Chico Hot Springs, Bozeman Hot Springs, Norris Hot Springs and Elkhorn Hot Springs.
Visit the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman
(Courtesy of Museum of the Rockies)
The museum is a Smithsonian affiliate and offers an incredible array of exhibits. For starters, it has one of the world's largest collections of North American dinosaur fossils, including T-Rex, one of very few mounted Tyrannosaurus rex skeletons on display in the U.S. It also offers exhibits about the history of Yellowstone National Park and the American Indians who lived on the Northern Plains and near the Rocky Mountains, among other topics. There's also an exhibit dedicated to children 8 years and younger, where they can explore and learn about the science of Yellowstone. Every year, the museum also showcases three to five temporary exhibitions. There's also a planetarium, where you can watch shows about the cosmos.
The museum is rated as one of the top things to do in Bozeman. Past visitors call out the dinosaurs, in particular, as a major draw. If you're looking for accommodations in Bozeman, consider staying at the RSVP Hotel or the SpringHill Suites Bozeman .
Address: 600 W. Kagy Blvd., Bozeman, MT 59717
Check out the World Museum of Mining in Butte
(Josie Trudgeon/Courtesy of World Museum of Mining)
This is one of the few mining museums in the world that's located on an actual mine yard called the Orphan Girl Mine. It's home to 50 exhibit buildings and 66 primary exhibits in the mine yard itself. With a visit here, you'll learn about the history of hard-rock mining in Butte, which was home to one of the most productive copper mines ever. You'll also get the chance to take an underground mine tour of Orphan Girl, which includes a 100-foot descent to the mine's original shaft station. There, you'll be able to touch the rock and hear stories about the people who worked there.
Past visitors highly recommend the mine tour and praised the tour guides' knowledge and presentation. Reviewers say you'll want to bring a jacket, because the museum is primarily outdoors and the mine is chilly year-round. Some of the best-ranked accommodations in Butte include the Copper King Convention Center, Ascend Hotel Collection and the Hampton Inn Butte.
Address: 155 Museum Way, Butte, MT 59701
Visit the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center in Great Falls
The Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center offers a look into the history of the famous 19th-century expedition, with a focus on the Corp of Discovery's time in Montana. When you first walk in to the center, you'll see a two-story diorama depicting the portage of the Missouri River's five falls. The museum, which was developed in partnership with the U.S. Forest Service, features exhibits, hundreds of artifacts and art collections, all of which help tell the story of the residents and travelers over the course of hundreds of years in the Great Falls region.
Past visitors say that even for travelers who know the basics of the story of the Lewis and Clark expedition, there's a lot more to learn. Others highlight that it's a family-friendly activity. If you're planning to stay in Great Falls, some of the top options for accommodations include the Historical Hotel Arvon and the Best Western Plus Riverfront Hotel and Suites.
Address: 4201 Giant Springs Road, Great Falls, MT 59405
Learn about the cattle industry at Grant-Kohrs Ranch in Deer Lodge
Originally established in 1862 by Canadian fur trader John Grant, then expanded by cattle baron Conrad Kohrs, this ranch was once the headquarters of a 10-million-acre cattle empire. Now a historic site, the ranch serves as a commemoration of the Western cattle industry from the mid-1800s through recent times. It's also still a working cattle ranch, so travelers can witness some live demonstrations. Visitors can also walk through 88 historic buildings, hike nearly 10 miles of ranch roads and trails and take a tour of the ranch house.
Grant-Kohrs Ranch is located in Deer Lodge, which sits 37 miles northwest of Butte. Many travelers say they stopped by the ranch on their way to somewhere else and describe the historic site as a worthy detour.
Address: 266 Warren Lane, Deer Lodge, MT 59722
Enjoy an all-inclusive dude ranch experience at the Resort at Paws Up
(Courtesy of The Resort at Paws Up)
Montana is home to a number of all-inclusive dude ranches , which give travelers the chance to experience Western culture (think: horseback rides, nightly campfires and fly-fishing) in a luxurious setting. For example, The Resort at Paws Up , located about 30 miles northeast of Missoula in Greenough, is home to 28 luxury homes and 36 luxury glamping tents . The resort offers more than 50 activities for travelers to enjoy on its 37,000-acre cattle ranch. Options include backcountry tours, canoeing, dog sledding, fly fishing, geocaching, snowshoeing, photography and more. The rate includes all meals and more than a dozen activities that can be enjoyed solo, and more than 50 guided activities for an additional charge. Travelers describe the resort as "unreal," "intimate" and a "once-in-a-lifetime experience."
Other top-rated all-inclusive dude ranches in Montana include the Ranch at Rock Creek , Blacktail Ranch, the Hawley Mountain Guest Ranch and Elkhorn Ranch.
Address: 40060 Paws Up Road, Greenough, MT 59823
Drive the Hi-Line
The northernmost route in the state traveling east to west, U.S. Highway 2, is called the Hi-Line by locals. If you're visiting Glacier National Park, the western edge of the roughly 650-mile highway is close by. As you drive the Hi-Line, you'll come across small towns that will make you feel like you've stepped back in time. The farther you get from glacier country, the landscape morphs into great rolling plains with isolated volcanic peaks, which are sacred to the local Native American tribes. Keep going, and you'll come across reservoirs, rivers, historic homes and shops, breweries and distilleries and so much more.
Travelers say you can easily spend a week exploring all of the places you come across along the way. Depending on how far you plan to travel along the highway, check local towns for lodging options.
Visit Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument
Located in southeastern Montana, Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument memorializes the Battle of Little Bighorn, which is also known as Custer's Last Stand. The battle was between the U.S. Army and the Sioux and Cheyenne tribes. The monument includes a visitor center and a museum, where you can learn about the battle and some of the prominent men who fought there. You'll also discover what it was like for Native Americans living on the plains. You can take a 4.5-mile self-guided tour between two battlefields, the Custer Battlefield and the Reno-Benteen Battlefield, with parking lots at each site.
Some travelers describe visiting the monument as a solemn experience, but also an important one to learn the real history of the events that took place. The nearest major city to the national monument is Billings, which is 65 miles northwest.
Address: I-90 Frontage Road, Crow Agency, MT 59022
Pick your own fruit at Bozeman's Rocky Creek Farm
Montana has many farms where you can pick your own fruits and vegetables. If you're in Bozeman, Gallatin Valley Botanical at Rocky Creek Farm is a great place to find fresh berries and apples. Berry season kicks off in late June with strawberries, and continues with raspberries and aronia berries in the later summer months and early fall. You can pick apples from the farm's orchard between late August and November, and even request to have your apples pressed into custom cider. During your visit, stop by the farm stand in the blue barn, where you can buy vegetables, herbs, flowers, meats, eggs, honey and more, all of which are grown at the farm. According to reviewers, the farm also offers activities for children, such as farm school and summer camps.
Address: 34297 Frontage Road, Bozeman, MT 59715
Relax in the Garden of One Thousand Buddhas
It's not where you'd expect to find a shrine to the Buddha, but the Flathead Indian Reservation just north of Arlee, Montana, is home to the Ewam Sang-ngag Ling Garden of One Thousand Buddhas. Here, you'll find 1,000 hand-cast Buddha statues, all arranged around the central figure of the Great Mother, or Yum Chenmo, who is the manifestation of the perfection of wisdom. It's hoped by those who have built the shrine that those who visit feel peacefulness and compassion. And that's exactly what past visitors say they experienced when describing their time in the garden. Located in western Montana, Arlee sits just 26 miles north of Missoula.
Address: 34756 White Coyote Road, Arlee, MT 59821
Ski at Big Sky Resort
(Courtesy of Big Sky Resort)
Considered one of the top ski vacations in the U.S. , Big Sky Resort is home to 5,850 skiable acres and 39 lifts. There are runs for skiers of all experience levels, including a 1,450-foot vertical ride up to Lone Peak, giving seasoned skiers an experience similar to heli-skiing. After you're done skiing for the day, hit the spa or one of the many restaurants for après-ski or dinner. There are also a handful of retailers if you want to upgrade your ski uniform. Other winter activities include cross-country skiing, ziplining, snowshoeing, dog sledding, sleigh riding and more.
During the summer months, the resort remains open with a variety of outdoor activities, such as golfing, ziplining, hiking, disc golf, whitewater rafting and more. Visitors talk up the resort's beautiful setting, both in the winter and the summer. If you're staying at the resort, there are four hotels to choose from. There's also the Whitewater Inn, which is a short 15-minute drive from the resort.
Address: 50 Big Sky Resort Road, Big Sky, MT 59716
[Read: The Top Ski Resorts in Montana .]
See rock paintings at Pictograph Cave State Park
(Andy Austin/Courtesy of Pictograph Cave State Park)
Within Billings city limits, Pictograph Cave State Park is an area with three caves, which were home to generations of prehistoric hunters. Those hunters left behind artifacts and more than 100 rock paintings, or pictographs. The oldest painting dates back more than 2,000 years, while the most recent are from 200 to 500 years ago. To reach the caves, there's a three-quarter-mile loop with displays providing more information about the pictographs, as well as the vegetation and natural features of the area. You can also enter the visitor center to see some of the artifacts that were collected from the caves. The deepest of the three caves, Pictograph Cave, is where the rock paintings of animals, warriors and rifles are still visible.
It's recommended that you bring binoculars to properly view the paintings. Some visitors describe the pictographs as too faded, but binoculars may help solve that concern. Others warn that there's a steep climb to Pictograph Cave that may not be suitable for small children and casual hikers.
Address: 3401 Coburn Road, Billing, MT 59101
Marvel at the Ringing Rocks in Whitehall
(David Abrams/Courtesy of Western Montana BLM)
Roughly 18 miles east of Butte, there's a unique geologic area where the rocks actually chime with the light tap of a hammer. Experts believe that this phenomenon was caused by a combination of the rocks' composition and the joining patterns that have developed during the natural course of erosion – if one of the boulders is removed from the pile, it no longer rings. Some visitors note that the road leading to the rocks can be tough on smaller vehicles without four-wheel drive. There may also be a hike, depending on where you stop your car. Reviewers say that there are hammers near the entrance, so you don't have to worry about buying one at the local hardware store before you go.
Aside from Montana, you'll find a similar experience at Ringing Rocks County Park in Pennsylvania, one of the state's most unique attractions .
Visit the C.M. Russell Museum in Great Falls
(Courtesy of CM Russell Museum)
Charles Marion Russell was an American artist whose works centered on the Old West. His work, which includes paintings, sculptures and drawings, portrays the daily life of cowboys and Native Americans, as well as the landscapes of Big Sky Country, through the lens of his personal experiences. Russell's home, which was built in 1900, along with his log studio, which was built three years later, were both converted into a museum that houses the largest collection of the artist's art and memorabilia. The C.M. Russell Museum contains more than 3,000 works of Western art across 16 galleries, an outdoor sculpture garden and a research center. Nearly a third of the works on display were created by Russell himself. The museum is rated among the top things to do in Great Falls. Many visitors are impressed with the sheer volume of work showcased here, saying it gives you a feeling like you're stepping back in time to the artist's life.
Address: 400 13th St. N., Great Falls, MT 59401
Witness the destructive power of nature at Quake Lake
About 25 miles northwest of West Yellowstone is Earthquake Lake, called Quake Lake for short. The lake in the Madison Canyon River Area was formed in 1959 when an earthquake struck the area. The seismic activity created a landslide of roughly 80 million tons of rock, halting the water flow in the Madison River Canyon gorge. Tragically, 28 people were killed as a result of the landslide. The 7.2 magnitude earthquake was so devastating that it altered the geyser patterns in Yellowstone National Park and was felt as far away as Salt Lake City, which is 330 miles away. Today, Quake Lake is a popular fishing spot, with authorities stocking it each year with brown and cutthroat trout. Just watch out for the timbers below the surface that were brought down in the landslide.
See the wildlife in West Yellowstone at the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center
Located in West Yellowstone, the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center opened in 1993 with the mission to give visitors a better understanding and appreciation of grizzly bears. The center acts as a sanctuary for bears, wolves, otters, birds of prey and ground squirrels. Visitors will not only get the chance to see some of the wildlife that's housed at the center, but they'll also be able to learn about the animals through interactive exhibits, films, displays and demonstrations.
The Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center can be a great way to begin or end a trip to Yellowstone National Park. The center is highly recommended by travelers, with some saying it's worth a stop even if you only have a little time to spare. Others say that it can be a great way to get close to the wildlife if you didn't get that opportunity in the national park.
Address: 201 S. Canyon St., West Yellowstone, MT 59758
You may also be interested in:
- Amazing Montana Vacations
- The Best U.S. National Parks
- The Best Places to Hike in North America
- The Best Places for National Park Camping
- The Top Things to Do in Colorado
- The Top Things to Do in South Dakota
- The Top Restaurants in Jackson Hole, Wyoming
- The Top Restaurants in Colorado Springs
- The Top Restaurants in Omaha, Nebraska
- The Best Tourist Attraction in Every U.S. State
Tags: Travel , Montana Vacations , US Vacations , National Parks , U.S. West Vacations
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22 Best Places to Visit in Montana
Written By: The Planet D
Updated On: June 28, 2023
If you are looking for a memorable US getaway , visiting the state of Montana is the perfect plan. Montana is full of interesting places and has some of the country’s best art galleries and national parks. Montana uniquely balances cultural attractions for history buffs and culture lovers and outdoor activities for thrill-seekers. Immerse yourself in old traditional western flair or head out for a day of hiking trails and rock climbing.
But what are the best places to visit in Montana? Do you head to Eastern Montana or Western Montana? To Glacier National Park or to the town of Great Falls? This guide will break down the very best places to visit in Montana. Let’s get straight into it.
Table of Contents
Best towns and cities to visit in Montana
Some of the best places to visit in Montana are its towns and cities. You’ll find many tourist attractions, cultures, and communities in these places – perfect for getting a real feel of Montana living. These are our top eleven best towns and cities in Montana.
Helena is Montana’s capital city. If you want action, culture, and a lively but friendly atmosphere, Helena is where to visit in Montana. The city is packed with art galleries, museums, and historical architecture. You’ll spend a lot of time on your feet, be it walking Reeder’s Alley or through the exhibits at the Montana Historical Society.
Helena was originally a gold camp in the Montana gold rush. Its glitzy history is recognizable thanks to the city’s wealth today, and visitors can enjoy wandering the elegant historical buildings – especially in the downtown district.
Of course, you can’t visit a state capital without visiting the State Capitol Building either. Montana State Capitol is well worth visiting for its architectural and political history.
Have you heard of Big Sky Country? If not, Big Sky is a small ski town in the Rocky Mountain region of Southwest Montana. The town is most famous for Big Sky Resort and is one of the best places to visit in Montana for a winter getaway.
According to Forbes, the town is surrounded by ‘5,850 skiable acres. Whether you want to learn to ski or are already a pro, you’ll love the fierce winter sports culture. Visiting Big Sky in winter means a lot of snow, skiing, and après ski. For a winter wonderland experience, you really can’t do better. Plus, Big Sky is just an hour’s drive from the western entrance to Yellowstone National Park.
If you are visiting Big Sky in winter, make sure to grab your ski rentals here before you go. It makes things much more convenient.
Philipsburg is small but mighty. First and foremost, it is a mining town. Philipsburg has kept an industrial, old west atmosphere that makes it a fantastic place to visit. The tiny town is no shy wallflower on Montana’s tourist scene either and has scored the title of the most beautiful small town in Montana. If you like immersive history and small towns, look no further.
Granite County Museum is a great place to discover Philipsburg’s old mining industry, while Granite Ghost Town State Park is another gem to visit. The abandoned town is the remnants of the region’s golden years during the mining boom of the late 19th century. Immerse yourself in Philipsburg and its surrounding area’s distinct characters.
Garryowen gets its name from an old Irish marching song. The town itself has strong military links, and it was formed as a cavalry station. One of the town’s best attractions, Custer National Cemetery, is a military graveyard marked by the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument. Visitors can walk to mass burial sites marked by white memorials and visit the visitor center and museum on-site.
Nowadays, Garryowen is located on Crow Indian Reservation. If you are interested in 19th-century American history or military history in general, Garryowen is a great place to visit. You can learn about the town’s history, pay respects to local Native American culture, or visit the Little Bighorn National Monument.
5. Great Falls
Great Falls is a stunning riverside city located in central Montana. Great Falls is known as somewhat of a cultural hub, and you’ll find museum after museum in the city. You can spend your days visiting the C.M. Russell Museum, Paris Gibson Square Museum of Art, or the Children’s Museum of Montana. There’s even the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center, which follows the story of the Lewis & Clark western expedition with unique exhibits, films, and displays.
Great Falls is an excellent choice if you want an interesting cultural base in central Montana. It has a lively city atmosphere and is only a two-hour drive from Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest and Giant Springs State Park – home to one of the largest natural hot springs in the US.
Want a pleasant stay in Montana? Bozeman is considered the most liveable place in the state, making it one of the best places to visit in Montana for a laidback getaway.
In the city center, there are more attractions than you can count. Bozeman itself is located just outside of the mountainous region around Big Sky, with plenty of small towns and areas of natural beauty to explore on a day trip. If you don’t mind a two-hour drive, there’s Yellowstone to your south and Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest to your north.
Bozeman is also home to Montana State University, giving the city a sociable, friendly atmosphere. You can head to the trendiest eateries, soak in Bozeman Hot Springs, or make the most of the city’s fantastic location for day trips in nature. Bozeman is the perfect compromise between city living and access to natural wonders.
Like Big Sky, Whitefish is a little resort town that floods with skiers every winter. The town is one of the best places to visit for outdoor fun and adrenaline sports. Whitefish is scenically situated on the outskirts of Glacier National Park and has stunning alpine views – perfect for beautiful scenery while cross-country skiing. There’s also a vast freshwater lake, where you can enjoy a dip or spend some time fly fishing in summer.
Whitefish’s famous ski resort is Whitefish Mountain Resort. If you want a holiday full of outdoor activities and winter sports, Whitefish Mountain Resort is a fantastic place to stay with a ton of facilities, equipment rentals, and shuttles.
This is a great place to base yourself for a visit to Glacier National Park. This private full-day tour has something for everyone!
Choteau might seem off the beaten track and unassuming. However, the town is one of the best paleontology sites in the world. Exciting, right? If you love everything fossils and geology, then a visit to Choteau should be on the cards. In fact, its nearby Egg Mountain was used as a breeding ground for dinosaurs millions of years ago. In nearby Bynum, you can participate in fossil digs at the Montana Dinosaur Center.
Old Trail Museum is the major attraction in Choteau itself. The museum covers everything from dinosaurs to teepees. Old Trail Museum is a perfect stop-off and place to spend an hour or two, especially if you like your museums eclectic.
Missoula has become known as a natural retreat, despite its city status. The city is divided into two by the Clark Fork River, famed for its Blue Trout (take note if you love fishing). Situated in Western Montana, Missoula is right next to the Idaho border and is within driving distance from Lolo and Flathead National Forests. Missoula is a beautiful place to visit if you want to base yourself in Western Montana.
Of course, the city also has a lot of its own attractions, including the Missoula Art Museum. While history lovers can learn more at Missoula Natural History Museum and the Historical Museum at Fort Missoula.
Butte was once a gold and silver mining camp. A couple of centuries later, Butte is now one of the best places to visit in Montana and one of the state’s most booming cities. Butte is somewhere to appreciate Montana’s past while enjoying the present moment. The city has great historical attractions and a fantastic entertainment scene.
You can discover the city’s humble beginnings at the World Museum of Mining. You can also peer into Berkeley Pit (an old copper mine) from a viewing stand within easy walking distance from the city center. Alternatively, have a flutter by visiting Richest Hill. Richest Hill is Butte’s casino and the center of its nightlife and partying scene – great if you want to let your hair down.
11. Virginia City
Virginia City is one of our absolute favorite places in Montana. The town is a complete time capsule, from log cabins to old western street signs. Get ready to be transported back to 19th-century Montana.
The town has a small museum called the Thomas-Hickman Museum. You can also catch a performance at the Virginia City Opera House. However, the main draw of Virginia City is to just walk the traditional town main street and soak up the old western architecture and atmosphere. Virginia City is easily the most authentic place to visit in Montana. You’ll love it, especially if you love immersive history.
Best natural places to visit in Montana
Now that we’ve covered the best towns and cities, let’s look at the best natural places to visit in Montana. From national parks to state parks, these are our top ten recommendations.
12. Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone is a celebrity amongst US national parks. You’ll find the world’s largest collection of geysers, including Old Faithful. There are also more hot springs, mountains, and animals than you’ll be able to count. If you want a national park that will provide lifelong memories, Yellowstone National Park is the one.
Yellowstone actually straddles Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana. While the largest section of the park is in Wyoming, you can experience some parts in Montana – or just allow time to cross the borders and see as much as possible. Some attractions, like the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center (near the West Yellowstone entrance) and the Museum of Yellowstone, are in Montana. Others, like Old Faithful, are located in Wyoming, so you’ll need to allow extra travel time.
If you are interested in hiking don’t miss our recommendations for the Best Hikes in Yellowstone , complete with difficulty ratings and elevation.
In West Yellowstone, you’ll find the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center. The animal refuge center has resident grizzly bears, grey wolves, and birds of prey. It is an excellent place to visit if you want to support a local not-for-profit and don’t manage to spot animals in the wild.
Fancy an adrenaline rush? Go whitewater rafting down Yellowstone River. Yellowstone River snakes through the national park’s center with many exciting sections of rapids – perfect for an adventurous day out.
13. Flathead National Forest
How does 2.4 million acres of mountain forests sound? In winter, you can zip through Flathead National Forest on snowmobiles and skis. In spring and summer, you’ll have hiking trails galore and no shortage of space for camping and multi-day treks. Flathead National Forest is an excellent natural place to visit in Montana, regardless of the season.
The forest is home to many animals, including black bears and grizzlies. You’ll see bighorn sheep, elk, moose, and mules. And, if you keep your eyes on the skies, you may get lucky and catch sight of an eagle or owl. Flathead National Forest is one of the most rewarding natural places to visit in the state of Montana.
14. Gates of the Mountains Wilderness
Just outside of Helena, the Gates of the Mountains Wilderness is one of the most accessible places of natural beauty to visit in Montana. It is also one of the most exciting to explore since the best way involves hopping on a boat.
The nature preserve is situated along a section of the Missouri River that winds through a jaw-dropping mountain park. Sailing up the river, you can admire and be humbled by the scale of the mountain range surrounding you – definitely bring a camera.
You can take a guided tour or rent water sports equipment to appreciate the Gates independently. The Gates of the Mountains Wilderness is best visited in warm, dry weather, as sailing can get extremely cold with the strong breeze and exposure to the elements. We recommend visiting in late spring or summer for the best experience. Plus, the mountains will be covered in beautiful greenery during these months.
15. Giant Springs State Park
The name Giant Springs State Park speaks for itself. The park is home to one of the US’s largest freshwater springs, and the Giant Springs produces an incredible 156 million gallons of water daily. It is said that water takes approximately 26 years to reach the springs from its origin in the Little Belt mountains – a fascinating concept.
Aside from viewing this natural phenomenon though, visitors can make the most of river activities like fishing, swimming, and boating. There are also trails for mountain biking and horseback riding if you want to explore a little differently than on foot. The park was first discovered on the Lewis & Clark Expedition in 1805 and is an important location in the early mapping of Montana.
Giant Springs is the best place for you if you like natural attractions with a large network of trails and a historical backstory.
16. Lewis & Clark Caverns State Park
Lewis & Clark Caverns State Park is an excellent natural place to visit in Montana. The 3,000-acre park is best known for its limestone caverns, named the Clark Caverns. Visitors can take guided tours into the Clark Caverns for an ultimate caving experience. Allow just under two hours for a tour of the caverns, but a whole day to experience the best of the park.
The park is an exciting place to witness underground beauty and explore beautiful hikes in the sunshine above ground. It is undoubtedly one of the most unique places to visit in Montana if you want to experience natural beauty.
17. Flathead Lake State Park
Flathead Lake is split into six different park sections, so choose which area you want to visit wisely (our favorite is West Shore). The park is situated around Flathead Lake, making it ideal for fishing, swimming, and water sports activities. The park is the best place to spend a lake-side holiday and is dreamy in late spring and summer.
Flathead Lake is a good option if you are looking for great camping spots in Montana. The park has many well-established campgrounds with plenty of facilities, which is excellent if you want a relaxing, entry-level camping experience.
18. Spring Meadow Lake State Park
Spring Meadow Lake State Park is a cheeky addition to our list of natural beauty spots. The 61-acre park has an artificial lake – so technically, it is a manmade area of beauty. However, it is so stunning we just had to add it to the list.
The park is best for those who want clear trails and purpose-made walking paths. You can follow the paths, stop for a bite to eat on one of the picnic benches, or enjoy some water activities. Spring Meadow Lake State Park is a popular spot for kayaking and paddle boarding, and you can hire equipment on-site if you don’t have your own to bring along.
The best part about Spring Meadow Lake State Park is that it is located just outside of Helena. The park is less than a ten-minute drive from Helena’s center and a great way to get some time in the outdoors during a city break.
19. Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area
Have you ever seen a wild horse? If not, Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area is where you just might. With a bit of luck, you’ll spot herds of wild horses when exploring the area’s hiking trails. There are also plenty of ranches where you can saddle up to see the wild horses on horseback.
Located on the Montana-Wyoming border, the area is centered around Bighorn Canyon itself, which is definitely worth visiting. You can drive to scenic overlooks or hike to the most remote yet rewarding viewpoints – it is totally up to you. Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area is full of surprises and exciting things to see.
20. Makoshika State Park
Meet the largest state park in Montana. Makoshika State Park is overflowing with fossils, and dinosaur lovers will be ecstatic at seeing the fossil remains of dinosaurs like Tyrannosaurus Rex and Triceratops. Families note this park down for your little ones. But adults don’t miss out on the fun either – Makoshika State Park impresses all ages.
Start your visit at the visitor center, where you can admire a series of interpretive exhibits and the best dinosaur fossils. Then you can hike the Montana Dinosaur Trail for the ultimate paleontology experience. Allow a whole day to visit as there is so much to see, and you don’t want to rush.
21. Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument
Now the Missouri River is the longest river in the US, so, unless you want to sail the length of it (which would be an exciting adventure), you’ll have to choose a small section to visit. The river cuts through Montana east to west, passing multiple riverside towns and cities. However, our favorite place to enjoy the river is the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument.
Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument is a 377,000-acre national park and the ideal spot for a riverside adventure. You can kayak, swim, or hike. To experience the Missouri River, the national park is the best and quietest place in Montana.
Of course, you can also indulge in a river rafting experience to pump your adrenaline or sit along the river banks for some relaxing fly fishing. North Montana is also full of different attractions like Bear Gulch Pictographs and the Phillips County Museum that you can combine with visiting the park.
22. Glacier National Park
Glacier National Park is beautiful. There’s no denying it. In particular, its hiking is renowned as some of the best in the US, and you can read our complete guide on the best hiking trails in Glacier National Park here . The park is sure to impress no matter the season and no matter your interests.
If you are in a rush, we recommend visiting Lake Mcdonald and Logan Pass. Lake Mcdonald is the park’s largest lake and is a picture-perfect alpine destination with still water and mountainous views. Logan Pass is a dramatic elevation pass on the Continental Divide, with gorgeous scenery and lots of mountain goats to spot. You can’t go wrong with a visit to Glacier National Park.
Montana is incredible. The state has a dreamy mix of natural wonders and historic towns and cities to explore. By visiting Montana, you’ll be visiting some of the best places in the US – get ready to start ticking off your bucket list.
If you have the chance, try to visit as many of these places as possible for the ultimate Montana experience. We hope you have a fantastic trip.
Plan Your Nest Trip to Montana With These Resources
- 46 Best Places to Visit in the US
- 9 of the Best Glacier National Park Hikes
- 21 Best Winter Vacations in the US For 2022
Travel Planning Resources
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Flights: Start planning your trip by finding the best flight deals on Skyscanner
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Find Apartment Rentals: You will find the cheapest prices on apartment rentals with VRBO .
Travel Insurance: Don't leave home without it. Here is what we recommend:
- Allianz - Occasional Travelers.
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Need more help planning your trip? Make sure to check out our Resources Page where we highlight all the great companies that we trust when we are traveling.
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About The Planet D
Dave Bouskill and Debra Corbeil are the owners and founders of The Planet D. After traveling to 115 countries, on all 7 continents over the past 13 years they have become one of the foremost experts in travel. Being recognized as top travel bloggers and influencers by the likes of Forbes Magazine , the Society of American Travel Writers and USA Today has allowed them to become leaders in their field.
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2 thoughts on “22 Best Places to Visit in Montana”
Would love to visit Yellowstone someday.
Very beautyfoul places i would live there