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From ghost towns and glistening glaciers to majestic mountains and gushing geysers, Big Sky Country leaves no stone unturned when it comes to bucket list sites and adrenaline-pumping adventure. Whether you’re visiting with family, friends or vacationing solo, here’s how to make sure your itinerary is packed with all of the “good stuff”.
Montana is home to the first national park in the nation, the world’s most famous geyser, some of the best ski resorts and even a town with a population of just 12 people! Perhaps what makes Montana even more interesting is its rich culture and past history, numerous outdoor recreational opportunities, good eats and postcard-worthy views. With all that Big Sky Country has to offer, it’ll be difficult to decide exactly where and how to spend your time there. But with our list of the best places to visit in Montana, you’ll be on your way to taking in the best views and seeing all of the can’t-miss hot spots in no time.
Located in southern Montana, Bozeman has an historic, walkable and thriving downtown area. Its Main Street is filled with fun shops and restaurants as well as live music, theater and frequent events. Or hop on an ATV and adventure deep into the National Forest road system for gorgeous mountain views.
For something a little more low key, the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman is a fascinating and popular site to see. In addition to being filled with dinosaurs discovered in the region, its many exhibits and artifacts display just how Montana’s European and Native Americans lived. The Tinsley House just outside of the main building is a living house museum with costumed 19th-century homesteaders that will teach you how to weave on a loom!
2. Big Sky
Big Sky is located in the Rocky Mountains of southern Montana and is one of the best places to visit in Montana for adventurous outdoor recreation, especially for skiing.
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Big Sky is also known for Big Sky Resort, also known as the “Biggest Skiing in America.” With nearly 6,000 acres of skiiable terrain and steep, rugged descents, it is one of the best places to visit in Montana for thrill seeking ski lovers, snowboarders or mountain bikers looking for a bucket list challenge. But even if you’re not an expert, there is still plenty of beginner and intermediate terrain to perfect your technique. Hiking, ziplining and world-class golf are also features of the resort.
To the northeast of Big Sky, you’ll find the Gallatin River cutting through the Beartooth mountains and rugged Gallatin Canyon. A short drive away is Ousel Falls Park, offering a beautiful waterfall, picnic areas and scenic viewpoints. Yellowstone National Park sits just southeast of Big Sky.
SheBuysTravel Tip: If you’re heading to Montana in the winter, try one of these Montana ski resorts where the season is long and the snow is deep.
3. West Yellowstone
Located in southern Montana, West Yellowstone is mostly known for the Old Faithful Geyser and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. However, this big town packs much more to do and see for all ages.
In the historic Union Pacific Depot of West Yellowstone, the Yellowstone Historic Center uses photos, antique vehicles, ranger talks and films to explain Yellowstone Park history. If you’re feeling active, there are plenty of opportunities to do some hiking.
SheBuysTravel Tip: Sarah Ricks hiked the 4-mile round trip to Horse Butte Lookout with her family while enjoying views of Hebgen Lake and Henry’s Lake Mountains the whole time. However, while she recommends the hike for teens and tweens, she advises that it would be too difficult of a climb for younger kids.
Places to see in West Yellowstone:
Yellowstone National Park
Although Yellowstone National Park’s 3,500 square mile grounds stretch across three states (96% Wyoming, 3% Montana and 1% Idaho), it is still one of the most visited sites in the state of Montana, and for good reason. It is a national treasure and the best place to visit in Montana for unparalleled beauty and wildlife, filled with bison, bears, bighorn sheep, gushing geysers, soaring lodgepole pines, melting rocks, hot springs and dramatic canyons.
Yellowstone National Park is not only the first national park in America, but also the first national park in the world. It’s massive grounds make it impossible to see everything in one day. SheBuysTravel contributor Catherine Parker recommends giving Yellowstone at least four days to a week. She also recommends a visit to the Old Faithful Geyser, one of the park’s best and most popular attractions.
Another must-see while at Yellowstone is Mammoth Hot Springs, where the travertine rocks melt under the constant flow from the hot spring and gradually build cascading rock formations. The area is covered in easy to walk boardwalks that offer close up views from all sides.
Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center
If you’ve ever wondered what happens to an injured wolf, hawk or grizzly bear who is unable to live on their own in the wilderness, the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center is the best place to visit in Montana to learn the answer. Open 365 days a year, this nonprofit wildlife park and educational facility serves as a sanctuary to these injured animals, putting them in their natural habitat with waterfalls, ponds and plenty of ground to walk around and explore.
Sarah Ricks visited with her family and felt that the center did a great job at involving her kids, who enjoyed hiding treats for the grizzly bears and watching them overturn rocks and tree stumps while sniffing out the snacks.
Located in the Rocky Mountains of the northwest, Whitefish is a resort town and a gateway to Glacier National Park. With millions of acres of mountains, forests, lakes and rivers, there are numerous year-round opportunities to find fun and recreation.
Whitefish’s convenient location makes it easy to access several breathtaking sights and attractions such as the well-known and must-visit Whitefish Mountain Resort as well as Whitefish Lake, where you’ll find the sandy Whitefish City Beach and Whitefish Lake State Park. Its downtown area and Central Avenue are lined with locally-owned shops, galleries, restaurants, bars and cafes. Live music, festivals and performances are always taking place in the Whitefish streets.
Places to see in Whitefish:
Whitefish Mountain Resort
When you mention the town Whitefish, many know it for its popular ski resort, Whitefish Mountain Resort. With more than 300 inches of snow annually over 3,000 acres, Whitefish Mountain Resort is the best place to visit in Montana for skiers of all ages. But the fun doesn’t stop at skiing and snowboarding. Even when the snow melts there’s tons for all ages to enjoy including an aerial adventure park, mountain biking trails, ziplining, fly-fishing, horseback riding and rafting.
Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park
With 10 miles of hiking trails, campgrounds, cabins, picnic sites and caverns, the Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park is one of the best places to visit in Montana for camping and enjoying the outdoors. The 3,000 acre park is the state’s first and best-known parks with one of the most beautiful limestone caverns in the Northwest USA.
Below ground, explore naturally air conditioned caves full of spectacular columns, stalactites, stalagmites and helictites. Above ground, hike the self-guided nature trail to explore the park’s natural surroundings. And for campers and RVers, the park provides all you need for a great outdoor experience including firewood, toilets, showers, drinking water and an RV dump station. There’s also a food/beverage and gift concession for your convenience!
5. Glacier National Park
Known as the jewel of the continent, Glacier National Park sits along the border of Canada and Montana and is one of the most visited parks in the USA. It is known for having some of the last glaciers in the lower 48 states as well as its beautiful Going-to-the-Sun road. In fact, Catherine Parker considers the Going-to-the-Sun road one of the park’s must-do activities.
It’s the glacier-carved peaks and valleys of the Rocky Mountains in addition to the abundant wildlife and extensive system of lakes, rivers and streams that makes Glacier National Park a draw for visitors to Montana. Its waters drain into three major watersheds: West of the Continental Divide water flows into the Flathead River Basin, the Clark Fork River and the Columbia River before making its way into the Pacific Ocean. East of the Continental Divide the water enters the Missouri River and makes its way to the Atlantic Ocean via the Gulf of Mexico. The third major drainage is via the South Saskatchewan River in the north.
One interesting way to learn the history of the park and get familiar with the area is to take an interpretive tour on the famous historic Red Buses. You can also explore the park yourself via hiking, biking, backpacking and camping. Lake McDonald, the largest lake in the park, is great for canoeing. Or, if you’re feeling extra adventurous, you can explore the park via water with a fun guided rafting trip.
Missoula, also known as the Garden City, is located in the Northern Rockies of Montana. Surrounded by seven wilderness areas and three rivers, it is one of the best places to visit in Montana for outdoor activities and picturesque vistas. Hiking, canoeing, kayaking and fishing amongst its plentiful peaks, forests and waterfalls isn’t uncommon in the Rattlesnake National Recreation Area & Wilderness, or while on one of its many rugged trails.
There’s also plenty of fun and interesting things to do indoors while in Missoula. The Montana Museum of Art & Culture, housing one of the oldest collections in the Rocky Mountain Northwest, features sculptures, ceramics and paintings. The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation Visitor Center features hands-on conservation and hunting heritage exhibits for all ages, including a Lewis and Clark display, a western wildlife diorama and a state-of-the-art conservation theater.
Meanwhile, the Rocky Mountain Museum of Military History offers a variety of programs and exhibits on wars and military conflicts such as the World Wars, Vietnam War and Desert Storm – as well as peacetime service. And if you want to learn about an unusual and dramatic, yet demanding occupation, you’ll want to make a visit to the Smokejumper Visitor Center, the largest smokejumper base in the country.
Helena, the “Queen City of the Rockies” is the capital of Montana, originally founded as a gold camp during the Montana gold rush. Because of the gold rush, it is historically known as a wealthy city marked by 19th-century mansions, historic Last Chance Gulch businesses and restored pioneer dwellings.
No matter what you’re into, Helena has it. Outdoor lovers can hike or bike the National Recreation Trail, or head to one of the nearby lakes and rivers for fishing, swimming, camping, water-skiing and boating. The Holter Museum of Art is a great place to visit for art lovers, with 17,000 square feet of contemporary and historical art.
Or, head to the state capitol itself to discover its history, art and classical architecture as the seat of Montana’s government. The historic 1902 building is an architectural gem. Self-guided tour booklets are available at the first floor information desk anytime during Capitol hours.
Montana’s 5th largest city, Butte is a colorful and historic town marked by Victorian architecture and mansions. It was once the largest city in the Rocky Mountains and also known as “the richest hill on earth” due to its huge mining activities of gold, silver and copper.
Visitors to Butte have a number of ways to pass the day while learning about the town’s deep history. During the summer, the Butte Trolley tours various historic sites. The World Museum of Mining is definitely a must-visit. It is one of the view museums located on an actual mine yard, which has been named the “Orphan Girl Mine.” With more more than 50 exhibits and artifacts, visitors can learn about the town’s deep history via an underground mine tour, or by simply spending a couple of hours exploring the streets of the Hell ‘Roaring Gulch.
There are also several outdoor recreational activities to take part in including hiking, boating, camping, hunting, fishing, horseback riding, skiiing and snowmobiling. After a busy day outdoors, relax and soak in one of Butte’s many hot springs.
Located in southern Montana on the Yellowstone River, Billings is one of the best places to visit in Montana to be close to all of the action. Known to be a regional hub for commerce, Billings has just about everything you need for a fun Montana getaway.
Those looking to relax and enjoy Montana’s stunning nature and wildlife can easily spend the day exploring the winding trails and plains, hiking the mountains or fishing in a local lake. Those looking for a little more action can take up hunting or catch a rodeo.
History and art buffs will also find much to do in town. Find local historical artifacts on display at the Western Heritage Center, or head to the Moss Mansion Museum to get a taste of early 20th century interiors. The Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument is a popular historic tourist attraction, honoring the famous site of Custer’s Last Stand. The Yellowstone Art Museum is the largest contemporary art museum in Montana.
10. Elkhorn (Ghost Town)
If small, secluded ghost towns are your thing, Elkhorn needs to be a must-do on your Montana “must visit” list. Nestled in the Elkhorn Mountains, the town of Elkhorn has a population of just 12 people as of 2022! It has now been considered “dead” for three-quarters of a century.
As you drive down the backcountry roads into the town, you’ll feel yourself transported back into a 19th century mining town that once produced millions of dollars in gold and silver. Two of its buildings from its early mining days are currently preserved as Elkhorn State Park and have been recorded in the Historic American Buildings Survey. Elkhorn State Park is not just a great place to learn about the history and heritage of Elkhorn, but also wonderful for viewing wildlife, hiking, biking and photography.
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Located north of the Yellowstone National Park on the Yellowstone River, Livingston is a quaint, historic small town known for its remarkable and picturesque scenery. It is often the subject of artists and has been featured in “A River Runs Through It” and “The Horse Whisperer.” It is definitely one of the best places to visit in Montana for taking scenic snapshots and enjoying the great outdoors.
Known as the “Original Gateway City to Yellowstone National Park,” Livingston is surrounded by four mountain ranges and is great for year-round outdoor adventure. You can easily spend a day hiking, horseback riding, fly fishing, cross-country skiing, whitewater rafting and even dogsledding. If adventure sports aren’t your thing, the town itself is great for taking it easy with a number of museums, art galleries and restaurants to explore.
12. Great Falls
Known as the “electric city,” Great Falls is one of the best places to visit in Montana to get a taste of Montana’s history, traditions and cultural activities that all ages can enjoy. Not only is it home to the shortest river in the world and the largest freshwater spring in the USA, but it is also one of the historic sites where Lewis and Clark explored during their expedition of 1805-1806.
A visit to Great Falls can be spend at the CM Russell Museum, known for its display of images of the American West. The Lewis and Clark National Interpretive Center is a great place to visit to learn more about the explorers’ journey through Great Falls and the adjacent Giant Springs Park. The Great Falls area is also known for its festivals, restaurants and craft breweries, which give visitors a taste of Montana’s true western charm.
13. Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area
Out of all of the beautiful places that Montana has to offer, the Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area is one of the best places to visit in Montana for a true taste of beauty and serenity. It is America’s 3rd largest canyon by water and home to the picturesque Bighorn Lake and Yellowtail Dam.
With more than 70,000 acres that straddle the Montana and Wyoming borders, the Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area is one of those “secret” treasures in Montana with the most breathtaking scenery and wildlife. Those in search of outdoor recreation will find plenty of opportunities to go sightseeing, boating, fishing, ice fishing, camping and hiking.
14. Flathead Lake
Flathead Lake is one of the best places to visit in Montana if water sports and recreational activities such as sailing, swimming, kayaking, fishing and camping are on your agenda. Located in northwest Montana, it is the largest natural freshwater lake in its area and a remnant of the ancient glacial Lake Missoula.
During the summers, those headed to the lake will also find roadside stands along the east shore selling a variety of locally grown fruit such as cherries, apples and plums. With thirteen public access sites around the lake, it’s pretty easy to get to and spend the day especially if coming from Kalispell, Bigfork or Polson. Some of the access sites have boat launch and camping areas, picnic facilities and restrooms. There are also motels and rental cabins around the shoreline if tent camping isn’t your thing. Guided tours from Glacier National Park are also available if you only have a couple of hours to spend at the lake.