25 Best Places to Visit in Montana
Vast open spaces and wild and wonderful National Parks are the primary draw-cards which attract thousands of annual visitors to the sprawling northwestern state of Montana. If you are planning to visit the spectacular Glacier National Park and Yellowstone National Park you need to make enough time to sample all the other delights of the state including sensational snow sports in winter, pristine wilderness areas for hiking, biking, fishing and camping and some of the most outstanding scenic drives in the US. On top of all this you will find many interesting historic sites, hot springs, quaint arty towns and, of course, cowboys and cowgirls. Photo: Shane Cotee/Fotolia
»Glacier National Park
Featuring stunning glacier-carved mountain peaks which tower over river-bisected valleys, Glacier National Park covers over 1,500 square miles of wilderness in the heart of the Rocky Mountains, near Montana’s border with Canada. The park draws thousands of visitors who come to experience a wide variety of outdoor recreational facilities including camping, back-packing, hiking, cycling and wildlife viewing. You can explore the remarkable scenery on your own or join one of the many guided tours and activities on offer, including bus, boat and raft tours as well as guided hikes and horseback rides. Depending on how eager you are to get back to nature you can choose from comfortable hotel and lodge rooms, rent a cozy cabin or rough-it in a tent or RV.
»Yellowstone National Park
Established in 1872, Yellowstone National Park is the world’s oldest national park and a national treasure which attracts thousands of visitors every year – June to August is the busiest time and visitors need to plan ahead if they visit during this peak period when traffic can cause longer drive times and lodges and campgrounds fill early. Start your visit at one of the Visitors’ Centers and download the Yellowstone App to give you all the resources you need to fully enjoy your experience in the park. A few of the highlights of the park that you need to add to your itinerary include Old Faithful Geyser, the gurgling mud at Mud Volcano, wildlife watching in the Hayden and Pelican Valleys and the crystal-clear fish-laden waters below Fishing Bridge (unfortunately no fishing has been allowed for many years).
Photo: Markus S./Fotolia
Founded as a humble gold camp during the Gold Rush, Montana’s capital city Helena is ideally located between Yellowstone National Park and Glacier National Park. Besides providing the ideal base-camp for visitors wanting to explore these amazing parks, Helena offers several city attractions when you need a change of pace. Cyclists can look forward to exploring over 75 miles of cycling and mountain bike trails, many of which originate in downtown. History lovers can visit the Montana State Capitol Building, take a ride on the Last Chance Tour Train or go on a self-guided walking tour through the Westside Mansion District to admire the homes of the miners who struck it lucky. After a busy day you can relax in the rejuvenating waters of the natural hot springs at Broadwater Hot Springs. Things to Do in Helena
Photo: Henryk Sadura/Fotolia
Billings is the ideal town to call home while you explore all the wonders of the amazing Yellowstone National Park. Billings offers easy access to the Beartooth Highway, a 68-mile scenic drive which links the city to Yellowstone Park and offers easy access to many outstanding recreational areas for hiking, biking, kayaking and much more. After a busy day of exploring all the wonders of nature you can return to Billings to enjoy a self-guided walk through the brewery district and dinner at one of many excellent city restaurants. Take some time to visit ZooMontana, the Yellowstone Art Museum and the Wise Wonders Children’s Museum. Things to Do in Billings
Nestled in the heart of the Rocky Mountains, about 90-minutes drive from Yellowstone National Park, Bozeman is a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts. The town is surrounded by wonderfully scenic trails for hiking and mountain biking, and in winter you can explore many of these by snow-mobile. There are excellent opportunities for all manner of winter sports and in summer you can experience all the thrills and spills of white-water rafting. After a busy day in the mountains you can relax and unwind at one of two hot- spring resort spas. No visit would be complete without a visit to the Museum of the Rockies to see some of the best dinosaur exhibits in the US. a href="https://vacationidea.com/destinations/best-things-to-do-in-bozeman-montana.html">Things to Do in Bozeman
Located in southwest Montana, Bannack is a beautifully preserved historic ghost town where you can take a fascinating journey back in time to the wild days of the 1860’s gold rush. The deserted town became a State Park in 1954 and these days you can enjoy a variety of outdoor activities which include camping, fishing, hiking, biking and wildlife watching. Bannack Main Street has over 50 historic wooden buildings which you can explore at your own pace or by joining a guided tour (summer only). Spine-tingling Ghost Walks are presented each year in October and costumed actors bring the town to life on Bannack Days – usually held on the third weekend of July.
The small historic town of Belt is located in the Great Falls metropolitan area of Cascade County. Belt started off as Montana’s first coal mining town back in the late 1800’s and there is still plenty of early coal-mining equipment and building dotted around the area. You can learn more about the early days in Belt on a visit to the Belt Museum, which now occupies the former town jail built in 1895. Most of the remaining buildings in downtown Belt are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. These days cattle ranching has taken over from mining and you can visit nearby ranches to get a feel of the real Wild West.
Photo: Jason Olstad/Fotolia
Nestled at the foot of the 11,166-foot Lone Mountain, the beautiful Big Sky Resort is a wonderfully scenic part of Montana, offering outdoor enthusiasts a year-round recreational playground. In addition, Big Sky is surrounded by the Gallatin National Forest and the Spanish Peaks Primitive Area, both of which offer the perfect antidote to city living. Winter-sport enthusiasts can enjoy over 5,888 acres of skiing and other winter sports, while summer visitors can choose from white-water rafting, hiking and biking (including backcountry hiking) horseback riding, rock climbing, golf and much more. In addition, Big Sky is just one hour’s drive from all the wonders of the Yellowstone National Park.
Picturesquely located along the shores of Flathead Lake, Big Fork offers year-round attractions and activities for adventure seekers. Summer visitors come to enjoy camping, fishing, boating, kayaking and paddle-boarding, white-water rafting and a variety of concerts and live music. In spring and autumn you can enjoy hiking, biking, golfing, trick-or-treating, farmers markets and the annual Oktoberfest. In winter Big Fork attracts winter-sport enthusiasts who come to enjoy everything from down-hill skiing to dog sledding. Regardless of when you plan to visit you will find plenty of outdoor activities combined with year-round cultural events and festivals. A wide variety of restaurants, bars, coffee shops and bakeries will ensure that foodies have a great time in Big Fork.
Photo: Bigfork Area Chamber of Commerce
Columbia Falls is a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts, located just minutes away from several of Montana’s most popular attractions including Glacier National Park and Flathead Lake. In winter you can experience the adventure of a lifetime with Glacier Adventure Guides, who will lead you into the heart of the park to indulge in any number of thrilling activities including ice climbing. In summer the emphasis changes to hiking, biking, fishing and boating around Flathead Lake. Other outdoor activities include thrilling rides at Glacier Zip Lines, water fun at the Big Sky Water Park and scenic drives and tours through the remarkable landscape. Railroad enthusiasts will enjoy a visit to Depot Park.
Beautiful glacier-fed Flathead Lake covers over 200 square miles, surrounded by over 185 miles of scenic shoreline. This sensational freshwater lake can be accessed from thirteen public access sites dotted around the shoreline. You can take a scenic drive around the lake on Highways 35 and 93, rent a boat and experience a day on the crystal-clear waters or take a cruise with Pointer Scenic Cruises, based in Big Fork. You can go on a kayaking excursion with See Me Paddle Kayaking Tours (one option includes the chance to visit Wild Horse Island for a self-guided hike). If you want to linger for a few days you can hire a lake-side cabin or bring your tent or RV to one of several campgrounds. Trout fishing is rumored to be fantastic.
Photo: Shane Cotee/Fotolia
Nestled in the heart of Yellowstone’s Northern Range, Gardiner is the official northern gateway to the amazing Yellowstone National Park. Surrounded by miles and miles of wilderness areas to the east and west, Gardiner is an ideal base for visitors who love the Great Outdoors and provides year-round road access to Yellow National Park. Just a few of the outdoor activities you can look forward to include fishing, zip-lining, hiking, mountain- biking and white-water rafting. Several outfitters offer guided tours into Yellowstone National Park for year-round wildlife safaris including the chance to go on a grizzly bear hike or a wolf-tracking adventure.
Located in the heart of Montana, Great Falls offers visitors an ideal mix of excellent outdoor adventures combined with interesting and informative cultural city activities. Also known as Montana’s Museum Capital, the city is proudly home to a collection of diverse museums to suit all tastes – highlights include the Charles M. Russell Art Museum, the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center and the hands-on Children’s Museum of Montana. Outdoor fun activities include hiking and biking (try the River’s Edge Trail along the Missouri River), boating, fishing, golfing, bird watching and a variety of winter sports. After a busy day you can visit some craft breweries before savoring a delicious dinner at one of many restaurants.
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Ideally located between the Glacier National Park and Flathead Lake in northwest Montana, the city of Kalispell is an ideal vacation destination for adventurers of all kinds. A beautiful 32-mile scenic drive will deliver you to Glacier National Park where you can enjoy hiking through the beautiful alpine trails and admiring the snow-capped glacial mountain peaks. Be on the lookout for grizzly bears and plenty of other wildlife. Back in the city you can take a self-guided tour through the beautifully restored Historic Downtown to admire many building dating back to the 1800’s including the Conrad Mansion which features authentic period furnishings. A visit to the Museum at Central School will enlighten you about the early days in Kalispell while art lovers should not miss Hockaday Museum of Art, showcasing Montana artists.
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»Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument
Every visitor to Montana should make a pilgrimage to the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, to learn about the notorious Battle of the Little Bighorn (aka Custer’s Last Stand) which took place in 1876. You should start your visit by watching the orientation video at the Visitor’s Center, before setting off to explore. There is a lot to see and reflect on as you drive the 4.5 mile tour road (cell phone audio tour available) or join a guided tour. Along the way there are several stops including the National Cemetery, the Reno-Benteen Battlefield and Last Stand Hill. You can also take a walk along the Deep Ravine Trail and see many historic photographs in the museum.
Contact: Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, Crow Agency, MT 59022-0039
Photo: Zack Frank/Fotolia
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Occupying a scenic location along the banks of the Yellowstone River in southwestern Montana, Livingston is a delightful arty city as well as a Mecca for outdoor enthusiasts. The city is just 125 miles from the Yellowstone National Park making it the ideal base for visitors who would like to visit the park on a daytrip (or multi-day tour). Livingstone is known to offer outstanding trout fishing – you can rent everything you need at various city outfitters. Other summertime adventures include hiking several outstandingly scenic trails, horse-back riding excursions and rafting expeditions. In winter the area is transformed into an alpine wonderland, offering excellent skiing, snow-shoeing and dog-sledding. Art lovers can spend hours exploring the many galleries and studios dotted around the city.
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If you want to experience the ambiance of a true western town, complete with horse-drawn carriages, livestock auctions and cowboys, you need look no further than Miles City. You can get a glimpse of what daily life was like in the old days by visiting the interesting Range Riders Museum, while the Waterworks Art Museum (housed in the old water treatment plant) is bound to please all art lovers. For something really different you can attend one of the regular weekly livestock auctions and then take a drive out to the Tongue River Winery to taste some of their delicious produce. Camp 21 offers private local history tours of the area.
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Picturesque nestled in Montana’s Northern Rockies, Missoula is a modern bustling city which also happens to offer outdoor enthusiasts the chance to explore no less than seven outstanding wilderness areas. Hikers are spoiled for choice with over 60,000 acres to choose from – you can try a new trail every day of your vacation. Water sports are also very popular in Missoula and you can even go kayaking, rafting or tubing through the city downtown or try your hand a fly fishing. Cyclists have over 20 miles of biking routes through the city and a multitude of trails through the wilderness areas. A short walk through the downtown area will lead art lovers to several galleries and studios including the Montana Museum of Art and Culture.
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A friendly Montana community is waiting to welcome visitors to Polebridge, a quaint little village which lies at the northwestern gateway to the Glacier National Park. You can rent a cabin and make Polebridge your base for exploring extensive surrounding wilderness areas or simply stop by on your way to enjoy lunch at the historic Polebridge Mercantile, which is famous for baked goods and sandwiches. Home Ranch Bottoms is a campground and restaurant/bar located right outside Glacier National Park – you can enjoy authentic ribs and there are hot showers available for campers. If you are planning some recreational activities in the park or in the Flathead National Forest you can rent equipment from North Fork Recreational Rentals.
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Surrounded by some of Montana’s highest mountain peaks, Red Lodge is a must-visit little town which provides easy access to Yellowstone National Park via the scenic Beartooth Highway. Red Lodge is surrounded by some of Montana’s most remarkable scenery and offers outdoor enthusiasts a range of year-round activities including snow sports in winter and hiking, biking, rock climbing, rafting, fishing, camping and horse-back riding in summer. You can choose from a variety of accommodation options which include hotels/motels, rental cabins and Lazy E L Ranch, a genuine working cattle ranch. Art lovers can browse through several galleries and studios while history buffs can head to the Carbon County Historical Society and Museum.
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»Saint Mary Lake
Located along the Going-to-the Sun Road in the east of the spectacular Glacier National Park, Saint Mary Lake is a must-see attraction on any Montana travel itinerary. There are a variety of accommodation options including hotels/motels, lodges and a campground where you can base yourself during your visit. The outstanding scenery along the shores of the 10-mile lake can be explored on foot along the Granite Park Trail, the Trail of the Cedars and John’s Lake Loop. You can also hike up to see St. Mary’s Falls and the 100-foot Virginia Falls. A great way to see the superlative scenery is to take a scenic cruise of the lake with Glacier Park Boat Company (June to September).
Photo: Sean Xu/Fotolia
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Surrounded by beautiful mountain scenery, the small town of West Glacier stands at the west entrance to the Glacier National Park on US Highway 2. Although the town is mainly used as a spring-board to all the attractions of the Glacier National Park, it could warrant a visit in its own right for visitors who are eager to enjoy hiking and the many water activities on near-by Lake MacDonald and the Flathead River, where you can go trout fishing, white-water rafting, and wildlife watching. West Glacier offers a variety of accommodation options including campgrounds and there is also a golf course in the town. You can reach West Glacier by Amtrak train all year round.
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The bustling small town of West Yellowstone welcomes thousands of Yellowstone National Park visitors every year. Most people simply use the town as their gateway to the park but those in the know tend to linger for a few days or make West Yellowstone their base camp for enjoying a huge variety of outdoor activities and exploring the Park. The town is home to several outfitters where you can hire snow mobiles, fly-fishing gear and ATVs – most also offer escorted hiking, snowmobile and rafting tours as well as snow-coach tours. Other attractions include the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center, the Yellowstone Historic Center and the West Yellowstone IMAX.
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Picturesquely nestled on the edge of the Glacier National Park in Montana’s Northern Rocky Mountains, the small town of Whitefish is a great destination to relax and unwind either before or after your adventure in the Glacier National Park. The town is popular among cyclists who come to enjoy the remarkable scenery along the 42-mile Whitefish Trail – don’t miss the Dollar Lake Loop for exceptional views of Whitefish Lake. After a busy day of hiking or cycling you can relax at the Great Northern Brewing Company where you must try the local specialty brew – Huckleberry Wheat. After sunset you can enjoy live music and theatre at the Whitefish Theatre Company.
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25 Best Places to Visit in Montana
- Glacier National Park, Photo: Courtesy of Maks_Ershov - Fotolia.com
- Yellowstone National Park, Photo: Courtesy of Markus S. - Fotolia.com
- Helena, Photo: Courtesy of Henryk Sadura - Fotolia.com
- Billings, Photo: Courtesy of Neal - Fotolia.com
- Bozeman, Photo: Courtesy of krisnacs5 - Fotolia.com
- Bannack, Photo: Courtesy of Robert - Fotolia.com
- Belt, Photo: Courtesy of Jason Olstad - Fotolia.com
- Big Sky, Photo: Courtesy of ronniechua - Fotolia.com
- Big Fork, Photo: Bigfork Area Chamber of Commerce
- Columbia Falls, Photo: Courtesy of Cliff - Fotolia.com
- Flathead Lake, Photo: Courtesy of Shane Cotee - Fotolia.com
- Gardiner, Photo: Courtesy of Richard - Fotolia.com
- Great Falls, Photo: Courtesy of David - Fotolia.com
- Kalispell, Photo: Courtesy of Ulf - Fotolia.com
- Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, Photo: Courtesy of Zack Frank - Fotolia.com
- Livingston, Photo: Courtesy of bonniemarie - Fotolia.com
- Miles City, Photo: Courtesy of joeycheung - Fotolia.com
- Missoula, Photo: Courtesy of jonbilous - Fotolia.com
- Polebridge, Photo: Courtesy of SNEHIT - Fotolia.com
- Red Lodge, Photo: Courtesy of jkraft5 - Fotolia.com
- Saint Mary Lake, Photo: Courtesy of Sean Xu - Fotolia.com
- West Glacier, Photo: Courtesy of Steve - Fotolia.com
- West Yellowstone, Photo: Courtesy of SNEHIT - Fotolia.com
- Whitefish, Photo: Courtesy of davidmarx - Fotolia.com
- Cover Photo: Courtesy of Shane Cotee - Fotolia.com
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