There are few states that are as diverse or as beautiful as Montana. From snow-covered mountain ranges to rainbow geothermal pools, the state is home to some of the most breathtaking landscapes in the country. And let’s not forget the bustling cities and small towns. While natural wonders reign supreme, Montana’s rich history and lively culture are also worth exploring.
Big Sky is a skier or snowboarder’s paradise. Located in the Rocky Mountains in southern Montana, Big Sky sees more than 400 inches of snow a year and boasts almost 6,000 acres of skiable slopes. No wonder it’s considered “the Biggest Skiing in America”!
While skiing is one of the most popular activities, Big Sky has plenty of warm-weather-related options for visitors as well. Golfing, fly fishing, hiking, and white-water rafting are just a handful of fun things you can do in the area.
Big Sky is also centrally located in between two other big Montana attractions – Bozeman and Yellowstone National Park. Therefore, it’s a great jumping-off point for nature lovers and city dwellers looking to explore this part of the state.
Glacier National Park
With snow-capped mountains, alpine lakes, and cascading waterfalls, Glacier National Park is one of Montana’s most spectacular gems. While the park once contained over 150 glaciers, although that has rapidly dwindled down to a mere 25 today. Despite this, Glacier National Park is still a specular destination where you can soak in the best of Montana’s varied landscapes.
The area is also rich with wildlife. Moose, mountain goats, grizzly bears, wolverines, and several hundred species of birds call this park home. In addition, almost all the flora in the park is native, meaning it’s been virtually untouched for centuries.
The “Crown of the Continent” has plenty to offer in terms of outdoor activities. There are over 700 miles of hiking trails over 700 individual lakes to explore. If you’re short on time, then the 50-mile Going-to-the-Sun Road is a must. It’s considered one of the most scenic drives in the whole country.
Not far from Glacier National Park sits Whitefish, a charming resort town known for its beautiful scenery. Framed by the glacial valleys and mountainous peaks, Whitefish is centrally located next to many landmarks that attract outdoor enthusiasts. The most notable attraction is Whitefish Mountain, a ski resort with over 100 different trails.
If you’re visiting outside of ski season, you can spend your days hiking, cycling, fly fishing, and even paddleboarding instead. Whitefish Lake is just a short walk from downtown and features a beach and state park.
Speaking of downtown Whitefish – the picturesque town center is also worth a short stopover. Here, you’ll find quaint coffee shops, art galleries, and small boutiques where you can easily spend a few hours.
Montana’s capital is a mix of history, culture, and stunning natural beauty. Founded as a gold mining town in the mid-1860s, Helena quickly became one of the most affluent cities in the country.
Most of the mining activities happened around Last Chance Gulch, the historic center of Helena. This pedestrian-only neighborhood is dotted with historic buildings, boutique shops, and great restaurants. History buffs can also visit Reeder’s Alley, the first settlement in the city.
Helena is also centrally located next to many outdoor hiking trails. Mt. Helena City Park, Casey Peak, and Mount Ascension Park are just a few popular places where you can stretch your legs around the city.
Yellowstone National Park
The 2.2-million-acre Yellowstone National Park is a must-see for visitors traveling through Montana. With enormous canyons, tree-covered valleys, and erupting geysers, the park is as geographically diverse as it is beautiful.
Two of the biggest attractions in the park are the Grand Prismatic Springs and Old Faithful Geyser. However, visitors also love Lamar Valley for bison watching, Yellowstone Canyon for hiking, and Yellowstone Lake for boating and kayaking.
While most of the park is in Wyoming, it also spreads across the border into Montana and Idaho (the north entrance is located near the Montana-Wyoming border). While camping inside the park is allowed, it’s also possible to visit Yellowstone as a day trip from Big Sky and Bozeman.
Nestled between the towering cliffs of the Gallatin Valley sits Bozeman. This laid-back town is known for its hip city center, which is filled with craft breweries, gourmet restaurants, and locally-owned shops. It’s also worth stopping by the Museum of the Rockies to see the largest dinosaur bone collection in the country.
Bozeman is also a great jumping-off point for exploring some of Montana’s most beautiful outdoor destinations. You can ski the slopes of Big Sky, hike the wilderness of Custer Gallatin National Forest, or soak in the soothing waters of the Bozeman Hot Springs.
Located at the center of five different mountain ranges, Missoula has rightfully earned the nickname the “Hub of Five Valleys”. While this makes Missoula one of the most scenic cities in the state, it also provides the backdrop for endless outdoor opportunities.
Mount Sentinel and Blue Mountain are ideal for hiking and cycling. It’s also possible to go stand-up paddleboarding on the Clark River or white water rafting through the Albert Gorge. Fly fishing is also incredibly popular (rainbow, brown, and cutthroat trout swim abundantly through the rivers).
After a day of adventure, head into town for shopping and dining. Missoula is also a cultural hub for artists, so you’ll also find many theaters, bookshops, and art galleries in the area.
Lewis & Clark Caverns State Park
One of Montana’s most fascinating attractions is actually located underground. Lewis & Clark Caverns State Park is home to one of the largest limestone cave systems in the country. During your tour, you’ll walk past hanging stalactites, colorful flowstones, and babbling underground streams that have existed for millions of years.
The caves are also home to a colony of endangered Townsend big-eared bats. If you’re lucky, you might see a few bats and pups hanging from the ceiling as your tour the rooms.
In addition to hiking the cave, you can also hike and camp inside the park. There are over ten miles of outdoor trails, which can trek before or after your cave tour.
Flathead National Forest
Flathead National Forest is often overlooked for its more popular neighbor, Glacier National Park. But with over 2.4 million acres of untouched wilderness, this park is equally as impressive in terms of natural beauty.
Points of interest include the 564-foot tall Hungry Horse Dam, the 22-mile long Chinese Wall, and the 1-million-acre Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex. During the winter, skiers come to hit the snowy slopes of the Whitefish Mountain Resort, which is also located in the forest.
There is also an abundance of wildlife roaming around this area. Grizzly bears, timber wolves, big-horn sheep, and bobcats are just a few creatures you might spot during your visit.
If you’re looking for an off-the-beaten-path attraction, then head south of Montana to Bighorn Canyon. Cradling the might Bighorn River, the canyon’s steep cliffs are nearly 1,000-feet high and over five million years old.
For the best view over the craggy canyon walls, trek to the top of Devil’s Canyon. Trout fishing, boating, and kayaking are possible on the river, although the nearby Bighorn Lake is also a great destination for outdoor adventures.
Montana is an excellent destination for outdoor enthusiasts, nature lovers, and history buffs. With so much to see within its borders, you could easily spend years here and barely scratch the surface of what this fascinating state has to offer.