Fun in the Great Outdoors: Things to Do in Montana in the Summer

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Things to do near Yellowstone National Park include Montana hiking, towns, museums.
A road trip though Yellowstone includes these waterfalls. Photo credit: Sarah Ricks

The summer months are ideal for exploring Montana’s great outdoors. Check out natural wonders like Glacier National Park or Yellowstone National Park, with their abundant hiking trails, mountain biking or wildlife sightings. Or spend your days on the Missouri River kayaking, rafting or canoeing. Plus the small towns throughout Montana are charming with historic places you can visit too.

Montana, aka the Treasure State, was once comprised of mining towns. Now it has many ghost towns created when the mines closed and people left, almost overnight. But it also has many lively small towns and some magical hot springs.

The state is so big that even the most popular tourist attractions usually have room for everyone. There are so many things to do in Montana all year round that you couldn’t possibly see or do everything in one trip.

Summer in Big Sky Country is short, just July and August. And even then, you might be snowed out of certain outdoor adventures. This is why Montana ski resorts have such long seasons.

But don’t worry; in summer months, sun and blue skies are just around the corner.

For beginners visiting Big Sky Country, these are the top things to do in Montana in the summer.

Grand Prismatic Springs at Yellowstone Naitonal Park
The colorful Grand Prismatic Springs at Yellowstone National Park. Photo credit: Pixabay

Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park is ideal for both avid hikers and more sedentary tourists. You can drive from West Yellowstone and see both the Old Faithful geyser and the waterfalls at Grand Canyon. Or take a guided hike through the backcountry to see waterfalls and lakes. Bozeman and Billings are near two of Yellowstone’s five entrances.

If you like to travel with your dog, note that to protect wildlife, you can’t take your pet on trails or into the backcountry. But if you are driving through, a dog can be in the car.

SheBuysTravel Tip: If you are not using a guided tour, make sure you read about safety precautions when hiking in Yellowstone’s grizzly bear territory and near geothermal hot springs.

The charming (and world famous) Beartooth Cafe in Cooke City, Montana, just outside Yellowstone National Park.
There are plenty of places to eat near Yellowstone National Park, including the charming (and world famous) Beartooth Cafe in Cooke City, Montana Photo credit: Cindy Richards

Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park, in Montana’s Rocky Mountains, has an astonishing 700 miles of hiking trails! Unsure where to start? Sign up for a guided hike with the Glacier Institute. The Glacier Institute offers family and adult day hikes, some focusing on the wildlife in Glacier National Park and others looking for wildflowers.

You can also take a guided raft trip through the park. You can go on mountain bike rides too.

Read More: 19 National Parks You NEED to See

St Mary’s Lake is the second largest lake at Glacier National Park.
St Mary’s Lake is the second largest lake at Glacier National Park. Photo credit: Keri Baugh

Beartooth Highway

Yes, a road is a huge tourist attraction in Montana. But Beartooth Highway is not just any road. This 68-mile road along the border of Montana and Wyoming, is generally open Friday of Memorial Day weekend through mid-September. But even then, with its high elevation and crazy switchback turns, Beartooth Highway still experiences summer closures.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Do not drive this road with a child (or adult) who gets car sick easily. I’m someone who still gets nauseated on drives like this, though I find that when I drive, I get less car sick.

Going-to-the-Sun Road

Going-to-the-Sun Road is also an only-in-summer drive. This slightly less nauseating but equally thrilling 50-mile drive in Glacier Park cuts across the Continental Divide. Stop to see wildflowers, most abundant in July, and check out scenic overlooks.

Vehicle reservations were required in 2022; the National Park Service is evaluating requirements for 2023. Check info here when planning your trip.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Bring layers, including a raincoat. The weather is predictably unpredictable along Going-to-the-Sun Road. The road might be partially closed due to snow, even in summer.

Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center in Montana welcomes bears unable to live in the wild
Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center in Montana welcomes bears unable to live in the wild. Photo credit: Sarah Ricks

Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center

Grizzly bears are a must on any trip to Montana. At the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center you can see grizzly bears and wolves every day of the year. Not only can you view wildlife but also learn about conservation efforts.

The Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center is near the west entrance to Yellowstone National Park in West Yellowstone.

Montana Grizzly Encounter

This Grizzly Bear Rescue & Education Sanctuary in Bozeman, Montana is a sanctuary for rescued grizzly bears. The grizzly bears get to live in a natural setting and visitors can see them up close.

Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center

The Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center, in Great Falls, MT has hands-on exhibits about the explorers. There are walking trails, best enjoyed in summer.

Chico Hot Springs

The family-friendly Chico Hot Springs Resort & Day Spa offers overnight guests free use of two gigantic open-air natural mineral hot springs pools. And if you just want a nice warm soak, you can buy a day admission.

Fun fact: In summer months, cold water actually has to be added to ensure the hot springs aren’t too warm.

The resort has an intro to fly fishing course for beginners and guided fly fishing for more experienced fishers. There is also horseback riding, whitewater rafting, guided tours by kayak and mountain biking. Take guided tours of the gardens in summer, which provides the resort with produce, flowers and honey.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Hot springs are not recommended for children under 2 years old. And horseback riding is for kids ages 8 and up; children ages 4-7 can have a pony experience.

spend time in Big Sky Country in summer
The blues are even bluer in Big Sky Country. Photo credit: Cindy Richards

Big Sky Resort

This mecca for skiers has an abundance of outdoor adventures in the summer months. On site, Big Sky Resort offers a bounty of thrills including:

  • zipline
  • guided hikes
  • a bungee trampoline
  • a giant swing
  • a climbing wall

There are plenty of mountain biking trails, for beginners to experts. For the less adventurous, there is gemstone mining, mini-golf and scenic rides on the chairlifts.

Whitefish Mountain Resort

Whitefish Mountain Resort, near Glacier National Park, has many of the summer outdoor adventures you think of, from zipline tours to an Aerial Adventure Park.

But it adds unique activities, including:

  • Strider Bike Park to teach kids ages 2-6 how to balance on pedal free bikes
  • Spider Monkey Mountain climbing tower for little kids
  • summer tubing
  • alpine slides for kids of all ages

There are daily ranger-led nature discovery walks in July and August and a Summit Nature Center where you can get hiking and bear safety tips.

Little Big Horn
The visitors center at Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument offers special programs in summer. Photo credit: National Park Service Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument

Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument

Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument honors the site of one of the most famous battles in American history, the Battle of the Little Bighorn.

You can see the site of Custer’s Last Stand, where the 7th Cavalry fought native Americans. Ranger programs are offered daily in summer at the visitor center. Drive a self-guided tour to the Reno-Benteen Battlefield and walk the Deep Ravine trail.

Yellow Bay State Park

Yellow Bay State Park, also known as Flathead Lake State Park, has plenty of adventures without the national park crowds:

  • canoeing
  • kayaking
  • fishing
  • lake swimming

SheBuysTravel Tip: If you like cherries, you are in luck: Montana sweet cherries are in season in summer. You can spend a few hours picking cherries or buy them at roadside stands.

Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park

Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park has two visitor centers, 10 miles of hiking trails and biking trails, a campground and limestone caverns.

Guided tours of the cavern, the sole way to see the caverns, are only offered in summer months. They actually feel air conditioned!

Butte National Historic Landmark District

Tour the Butte National Historic Landmark District with its summer-only trolley tours. These two-hour tours, great for the whole family, explore the copper mining history of Butte.

You will see 19th century mansions, the World Museum of Mining and Victorian neighborhoods. You can also see The Berkeley Pit from a viewing stand. The open pit copper mine, decommissioned and filling with water, is only open from March to November.

Museum of the Rockies

The bronze sculpture Big Mike, a life-size Tyrannosaurus rex, greets you at the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman.

While there is plenty to see indoors, including a planetarium, make sure you see the outdoor exhibit Living History Farm, open only in summer months. There is an 1890s Montana homestead with a historic house and surrounding gardens, orchard and fields.

SheBuysTravel Tip: The Children’s Discovery Room at the Museum of the Rockies has a Yellowstone exhibit. It is a good way to introduce young kids to Yellowstone National Park before a visit there.

Helena: More Things to Do in Montana in the Summer

best things to do in Montana in summer - explore a small town
One of the most scenic state capitols is Helena, Montana. Photo credit: Montana Office of Tourism

Montana State Capitol

On a hot day, take a self-guided tour of the historic 1902 building that houses the Montana State Capitol. There is also a Lewis and Clark scavenger hunt.

This is all free and then you can walk around the 10 acres that surround the capitol building.

Helena Mountain Biking

Take a free shuttle from Women’s Mural on Broadway and Last Chance Gulch up to the trailhead of the National Recreation Trail. You can bike or hike; the shuttle has bike racks.

The shuttle runs on weekends, June to September. Unless you are on a road trip with bikes attached to your vehicle, you find plenty of bike rentals in town, too.

Things to Do in Montana in the Summer: Missoula

free in Montana - walking around a small town is a Montana summer activity
Explore small towns like downtown Missoula when the sun shines in summer months. Photo credit: Montana Office of Tourism

Elk Country Visitor Center

The Elk Country Visitor Center of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation offers hands-on conservation and hunting heritage exhibits. The Visitor Center in Missoula also includes a Lewis and Clark display, a western wildlife diorama and a state of the art conservation theater.

The University of Montana

The University of Montana in Missoula includes the free Montana Museum of Art & Culture. The campus is also filled with outdoor public arts, so be sure to stroll around.

Rocky Mountain Museum of Military History

The Rocky Mountain Museum of Military History at Fort Missoula has exhibits on wars and military conflicts. It is open daily in summer; much more limited times the rest of the year.

daily tours at the Smokejumper Visitor Center is one of the bet things to do in Montana in summer months
Learn about this adventurous profession at the Smokejumper Visitor Center in Missoula. Photo credit: Visit Montana

Smokejumper Visitor Center

The Smokejumper Visitor Center, at the largest smokejumper base in the country, offers free tours which include the Smokejumper loft, the ready room and the National Smokejumper memorial. In summer, there are daily tours, plus Smokejumper aircraft are on site. Don’t miss the 1930 fire lookout tower.

Winter Paradise for Skiers and More

After exhausting all the amazing things to do in Montana in the summer you might want to plan a winter adventure here. Dog sledding, skiing, snowboarding and snowshoeing are just some of the winter outdoor adventures waiting for you.

Judy Antell is an empty-nester mother of 3 who spends a lot of time visiting her daughters. Why don’t they live in Brooklyn? Judy and her husband love to travel, by bike, car, or plane, whether to see their kids or have friend or couple adventures, mostly centered around vegetarian food.
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