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While Montana is one of the largest states in the country in terms of area, it has a sparse population of only about a million people. Instead, it’s jam-packed with wide open spaces, mountain ranges, nature and wildlife.
Adventurous souls who love to explore will find meditative landscapes and jaw-dropping scenery in Montana, along with city centers and culture. The capital of the state, Helena, sits near the middle of the state, but the most populated city is Billings.
If you’ve never been to Montana (or even if you have only scratched the surface of its 147,000-plus square miles) there is much to experience in Big Sky Country. Museums, ski resorts, great food, national and state parks, small towns, outdoor activities and more must-see checkpoints await you for a Montana getaway.
You might even pass an eerie ghost town along the way.
Visit Glacier National Park
Glacier National Park is one of a kind; if you tell someone you’re going to visit Montana, they are likely to say, “Are you going to Glacier?” And you should.
Think of the most expansive, sweeping landscape with waterfalls, mountain ranges, beautiful backcountry and maybe even a grizzly bear (a safe distance away) and that’s Glacier National Park. Thousands of acres of wildlife and plant life are nourished by hundreds of lakes and more than two dozen glaciers. It’s a stunning site from top to bottom.
- Take the iconic 50-mile Going-to-the-Sun Road across the Continental Divide, and don’t forget to check the weather conditions.
- Stay in historic Kalispell, which is north of Flathead Lake, or Whitefish, a thriving resort town with tons of outdoor activities. Kalispell is about 45 minutes from the park entrance and Whitefish is roughly 35 minutes away.
- Packed with tourist attractions like shopping and sweet treats, both of these small towns are great places to start and use as your home base.
Sleep Under the Stars at Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone National Park became the first national park in 1872, when President Ulysses S. Grant signed into law the bill to establish the park as protected land.
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While it’s mainly situated in Wyoming, the confines of the park—2.2 million acres! —stretches into parts of Idaho and Montana.
- Adventurous souls may want to try ziplining across the park in one thrilling motion.
- Old Faithful, one of the most popular attractions in the Rocky Mountains, is an incredible sight. When the geyser erupts, it shoots up to 130 feet of water into the air like a natural version of the water show at the Bellagio in Las Vegas.
- Grand Prismatic Spring, one of the largest hot springs pools in the world, features rainbow waters a handful of miles north of Old Faithful. While you’re there, take a dip in the Boiling River, near Mammoth Hot Springs.
- Book a guided tour for the most comprehensive way to see the area.
Anyone with even the tiniest bit of music in their heart will want to check out the Ringing Rocks, which ping and sing when you tap them with a mallet. Located just outside of Butte and within two hours of Big Sky, the Ringing Rocks site is an unusual rock formation you’re not going to want to miss.
Get Your Heart Pumping
Fitness buffs can get their endorphins going all over the state, from casual strollers to serious cyclists. Highlights:
- Fourteen state parks offer bike trails and five parks host bike campgrounds with potable water, bear-resistant food lockers, tent pads, fire rings and more.
- Downhill skiers will want to take a look at Big Sky Resort, Whitefish Mountain Resort and Montana Snowbowl for great runs down the mountains.
- Hiking trails are even more plentiful, with established routes in dozens of state parks alone. One place to explore on foot is the Beartooth Mountains and Beartooth Glacier in the southern half of the state to see how the region has changed in the last several hundred years.
- In the winter, zigzag across well-groomed trails on snowmobiles, cross-country skis or snowshoes.
- The lower Yellowstone River is a wonderful place to watch birds and wildlife from a kayak.
You’ll find opportunities to engage in adventurous activities like these:
- Mountain Biking
- Cross-country skiing
- Horseback riding
Catch Your Breath
Take a soak in one of Montana’s hot springs pools
Dozens of mineral-rich hot springs are found all over Montana, filled with soothing waters that many find to be meditative.
Some of the most popular and highly-rated spots include Quinn’s Hot Springs Resort in Paradise, a little over an hour from Missoula and close to the Idaho border. Bozeman Hot Springs, Chico Hot Springs and Fairmont Hot Springs Resort are also terrific stops on your Montana tour.
Grab a fishing pole at Flathead Lake
- Whether you prefer spin cast or fly fishing, you’re going to appreciate the pristine beauty of the largest freshwater lake west of the Mississippi River.
- Kalispell is nearby, along with several other entry points to the northern half of the lake. The southern half is within the boundaries of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes Flathead Reservation, which requires a special permit.
- And when you’re ready to put your pole up for the day, quench your thirst at one of the many breweries on Flathead Lake, like Glacier Brewing Company, Tamarack Brewing Company or the aptly-named A Sip of Montana.
- In the Flathead Indian Reservation north of Missoula, Montana and south of Flathead Lake, 1,000 Buddha statues look over a peaceful botanical garden. Montana may seem like an unusual place for a Buddhist Institute, but the gorgeous scenery lends itself perfectly to the chance to slow down for a moment.
- The Garden of One Thousand Buddhas would pair well with a restorative trip to one of Montana’s many hot springs attractions for a cleansing experience for your mind and body.
Absorb the Culture
Museum of the Rockies
Established in 1957, the Museum of the Rockies is a wonderland of history and recreated natural habitats. As you walk in the door, you and the kids will marvel at the Big Mike, the bronze life-size Tyrannosaurus rex.
Stop in at the Living History Farm, which depicts typical life in the late 19th century in the Wild West. And don’t miss the incredible planetarium and shows like “Black Holes: The Other Side of Infinity” year-round. We promise the giant T-Rex won’t bite.
World Museum of Mining
The tour guides are the stars at this unique mining museum, one of only a few of its kind in the world. Learn about mining and mining towns and the engineering, the science and the history at the outdoor World Museum of Mining. Don’t forget to bring a sweater in case it gets chilly.
A highlight of this site is an underground tour of the Orphan Girl Mine, 100 feet below the surface.
Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument
Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer waged war against Lakota Sioux and Cheyenne warriors in 1876. The tribes, under Sitting Bull, banded together to keep the soldiers off their land and prevailed, marking a significant and difficult period in Old West history.
The National Park Service established this monument to remember the Native American people as well as the US Army troops under Custer. While it’s a battlefield site, it’s also a place where wildlife thrives and contributes to the area’s health.
Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center
The visitors center at this tourist site is chock full of interactive activities for kids and adults of all ages in the spirit of its intrepid namesake explorers. Located in Great Falls on the banks of the Missouri River, the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center would be a beautiful place to host a family reunion or wedding.
This museum was developed in partnership with the U.S. Forest Service and features an extensive historical collection and is steeped in knowledge about the exploration of Montana.
Note that the center is closed on Mondays, as well as Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day.
Charles Marion Russell (1864-1926) was a talented artist who captured the American West through oil paintings, watercolors, bronzes, clay models, illustrated letters, drawings and more. You’ll find this museum in Great Falls, near the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center and in the middle of Montana.
Art lovers will appreciate the mastery of the various mediums Russell used to depict the landscapes and still life of the state, and history buffs will enjoy seeing the creative expression of the passage of time. Over 200 pieces of art by C.M. Russell Museum are on display, alongside several other artists’ contemporaries.