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MONTANA TRAVEL GUIDE
Welcome to the bigroads.com travel guide to Montana! Hopefully this page helps provide some inspiration and tips to help you plan your next trip to Montana.
Take note that I build and maintain this website as both a hobby and public service. I take joy in performing travel research and sharing my experiences and adventures. I do not make any profit from this website, and you will see no ads on it. Your constructive feedback about this site and its content is encouraged. Please email me if you have any suggestions or ideas for improvement.
5-STAR ATTRACTIONS IN MONTANA
Northwestern Montana (including Missoula and Glacier National Park)
✮ A Carousel for Missoula, Missoula - ride a hand-carved carousel; one of the finest old-fashioned carousels you can find anywhere
✮ Blackfoot Pathways: Sculpture in the Wild, Lincoln - Native America art sculptures
✮ Bob Marshall Wilderness ("the Bob") - world-class hiking, backpacking, and fishing
✮ Conrad Mansion, Kalispell - tour a beautiful 1895 estate
✮ Flathead Lake / Flathead Lake State Park - largest natural freshwater lake in the West
✮ Garnet Ghost Town - preserved 1890s gold-mining town
✮ Giant Penguin, Cut Bank - giant roadside attraction/statue
✮ Glacier National Park - stunning mountain scenery and beautiful lodges; scenic drives; world-class hiking and backpacking
✮ Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park - one of the most scenic drives in the United States
✮ Kootenai Falls & Swinging Bridge, near Troy - pretty and powerful waterfall, with nearby swinging bridge you can walk across
✮ Lake McDonald Lodge - historic lodge in Glacier National Park
✮ Many Glacier Hotel - historic lodge in Glacier National Park
✮ Miracle of America Museum, Polson - excellent and varied American history museum
✮ National Bison Range, Charlo - excellent wildlife watching opportunities
✮ Quinn's Hot Springs Resort, Paradise - arguably the best hot springs resort in Montana
✮ Whitefish Mountain Resort, Whitefish - world-class skiing/snowboarding
✮ Whitewater rafting on the Flathead River near Kalispell/Glacier National Park
Southwestern Montana (including Bozeman, Helena, and West Yellowstone)
✮ Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness, near Bozeman and Cooke City - world-class hiking, backpacking, and fishing
✮ American Computer & Robotics Museum, Bozeman - one of the finest technology-focused museums in the USA
✮ Bannack State Park, near Dillon in southwestern Montana - one of the best ghost towns in the U.S.
✮ Big Sky Resort, Big Sky - world-class skiing/snowboarding (the #1 best in Montana); mountain biking and other outdoor activities in summer
✮ Cathedral of St. Helena, Helena - visit a neo-Gothic cathedral completed in 1914
✮ Downtown Bozeman - great shops, restaurants, breweries, and bars in historic district
✮ Fly-fishing on any of Montana's famous fly-fishing rivers
✮ Granite Peak - the highpoint of Montana, and one of the best mountaineering adventures in the U.S.
✮ Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center, West Yellowstone - excellent wildlife park
✮ Lewis & Clark Caverns State Park, Whitehall - guided tours of a limestone cave
✮ Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail Interpretive Center, Great Falls - one of the best places in the U.S. to learn about Lewis & Clark's journey
✮ Lone Peak Tram, Big Sky - take a tram to the 11,166-foot summit of Lone Peak
✮ Montana Grizzly Encounter, Bozeman - intimate bear encounters in beautiful mtn setting
✮ Montana State Capitol Building, Helena
✮ Moonlight Basin, Big Sky - world-class skiing/snowboarding
✮ Museum of the Rockies, Bozeman - arguably the finest museum in Montana
✮ Old Montana Prison Complex, Deer Lodge - five museums inside of a historic prison
✮ Our Lady of the Rockies, Butte - 90-foot statue dedicated to the Virgin Mary
✮ Palisade Falls, near Bozeman - one of Montana's best waterfalls
✮ Playmill Theatre, West Yellowstone - great musicals & plays just outside of the western boundary of Yellowstone National Park
✮ Whitewater rafting on the Yellowstone River near Gardiner
✮ World Museum of Mining, Butte - one of the best mining museums in the U.S.
✮ Yellowstone Hot Springs, Gardiner - one of the best hot springs resorts in Montana
✮ Yellowstone National Park - arguably the U.S.'s best national park; world-class scenery, hiking, and backpacking
✮ Beartooth National Scenic Byway (US-212) - many consider this paved road to be the most beautiful scenic drive in the U.S.; open seasonally
✮ Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area, south-central Montana - awesome fishing, boating, camping, and hiking; gorgeous canyon scenery
✮ Downtown Red Lodge - historic downtown with many shops and restaurants
✮ Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, Crow Agency - the location where George Custer and his troops made their "last stand"
✮ Makoshika State Park, Glendive - impressive geologic rock formations/badlands
✮ Medicine Rocks State Park, Ekalaka - impressive geologic rock formations
✮ Natural Bridge Falls, Big Timber - waterfall pouring out through a natural bridge
✮ Pompeys Pillar National Monument, Pompeys Pillar - explorer William Clark (of Lewis & Clark fame) carved his name here
Outstanding fly-fishing rivers and guest ranch vacations can also be found throughout many areas of Montana. There are too many to mention, and so I am not going to attempt to list them all.
Are you aware of any other 5-star attractions in Montana? If so, please email me at email@example.com.
TOP 10 ATTRACTIONS IN MONTANA
✮ Use West Yellowstone as a base camp for exploring Yellowstone National Park
✮ Drive the seasonal Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park (note: reservations are likely needed)
✮ Head to Bozeman to explore the city and surrounding mountains (including Big Sky)
✮ Go skiing or snowboarding at Big Sky Resort and Moonlight Basin
✮ Stay on one of Montana's famous guest ranches (although it cost a ton of $$$$$$$)
✮ Throw a line on one of Montana's outstanding fly-fishing rivers (e.g. Yellowstone River)
✮ Go backpacking in one of Montana's legendary national forests or wilderness areas (e.g. Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness)
✮ Drive the seasonal Beartooth National Scenic Byway (US-212), often called the #1 scenic drive in the U.S.
✮ Soak in one of Montana's hot springs resorts
✮ Go whitewater rafting on the Flathead River
If I could pick only one place to visit in Montana, I would choose either the Bozeman/Big Sky area or Glacier National Park.
If I had a full week to spend in Montana, I would spend 3-4 nights in the Bozeman/Big Sky area and then 3-4 nights in the Glacier National Park area.
BEST TOWNS & CITIES TO VISIT IN MONTANA
✮ Big Sky - skiing/snowboarding; mountain scenery; hiking; mountain biking; other outdoor activities; less than an hour from Bozeman, MT
✮ Bozeman - historic buildings; mountain scenery; hip culture; fly-fishing; skiing/snowboarding; breweries; hiking trails
✮ Cooke City - fly-fishing; hiking; horseback riding; gateway to Yellowstone National Park
✮ Red Lodge - historic buildings; mountain scenery; skiing/snowboarding; hiking trails
✮ West Yellowstone - fly-fishing; horseback riding; gateway to Yellowstone National Park (I would argue Yellowstone's best)
✮ Whitefish - historic buildings; mountain scenery; skiing/snowboarding; gateway to Glacier National Park
Gardiner and Kalispell are also of some interest to travelers. Gardiner is a great option if you like hot springs and/or whitewater rafting.
I like combining a visit to Bozeman/Big Sky with a trip to Yellowstone National Park. If you have more time to spend, also consider adding Grand Teton National Park and Jackson, Wyoming.
If you are staying in West Yellowstone, consider a day trip to Upper Mesa Falls, a waterfall in Idaho that is one of the USA's best. It's an hour drive to the trailhead, and then a short walk to the falls.
My favorite city in Montana is Bozeman - I recommend that first-time visitors spend at least 2-3 nights here, which includes spending some time in nearby Big Sky
My favorite small town in Montana is West Yellowstone - I recommend that first-time visitors spend at least 3-4 nights here, assuming you plan to use the town as a gateway to Yellowstone National Park; If you can't stay within the national park, West Yellowstone is the next best thing in my opinion
If you like breweries, visit Billings, Bozeman, Helena, or Missoula.
If you like skiing, visit Big Sky, Bozeman, Red Lodge, or Whitefish.
If you want to go whitewater rafting, visit Gardiner or West Glacier.
If you want to visit Yellowstone National Park, stay in the actual park or in nearby West Yellowstone.
If you want to visit Glacier National Park, stay in the actual park or in nearby West Glacier or Whitefish.
Click here if you'd like to see a complete list of towns and cities that I find interesting across the entire U.S.
WHAT IS MONTANA FAMOUS FOR?
✮ big skies
✮ buffalo jumps
✮ Flathead cherries
✮ fly-fishing (e.g. Madison River, Yellowstone River, Gallatin River, Smith River, Boulder River, Blackfoot River, Bitterroot River, etc.)
✮ ghost towns (e.g. Garnet Ghost Town, Bannack State Park)
✮ grizzly bears
✮ hot springs / hot springs resorts
✮ lakes (e.g. Flathead Lake, Lake McDonald)
✮ Lewis & Clark attractions
✮ log cabins
✮ mining history
✮ national forests
✮ national wildlife refuges
✮ ranches / dude ranches
✮ wilderness areas
Click here if you'd like to learn what other U.S. states are famous for.
NATIONAL PARKS IN MONTANA
✮ Glacier National Park
✮ Yellowstone National Park (only a very small portion of the park is in Montana; most is in Wyoming and a sliver is in Idaho)
✮ Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument
✮ Pompeys Pillar National Monument (currently closed as of 2022)
✮ Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument
National Recreation Areas
✮ Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area
✮ Rattlesnake National Recreation Area
✮ Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest
✮ Bitterroot National Forest
✮ Custer Gallatin National Forest
✮ Flathead National Forest
✮ Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest
✮ Kootenai National Forest
✮ Lolo National Forest
National Historical Parks / National Historic Trails / Other National Parks
✮ Big Hole National Battlefield
✮ Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site
✮ Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site
✮ Ice Age Floods National Geologic Trail
✮ Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail
✮ Nez Perce National Historical Park
Glacier National Park is one of the finest national parks in the U.S.. You do have to carefully plan your trip there though, as lodging sells out well in advance and there is a permit system to drive the famous Going-to-the-Sun Road. Hikers and backpackers will appreciate Glacier National Park the most, since the trails there are world-class and offer some of the finest views in the United States. Try to visit Glacier between mid-July and mid-September if you can since all or nearly all roads and trails should be open during that time (unless there are closures due to grizzly bear activity). I would stay in a national park lodge or in a gateway town (like Whitefish) for at least 3-4 nights if you've never been to Glacier.
You can use West Yellowstone, Gardiner, or Cooke City as gateway towns in Montana to visit Yellowstone National Park. I prefer West Yellowstone over the other two since it offers more services. Before you plan a trip to Yellowstone, make sure that you understand the opening and closing dates of the roads that lead into Yellowstone (especially if you are staying in Cooke City).
For more information on Montana's national parks, visit the Montana page of the National Park Service. For an overview of all U.S. national parks, click here.
STATE PARKS IN MONTANA
Flagship / Premier State Parks:
✮ Bannack State Park - one of the finest ghost towns in the U.S.
✮ Flathead Lake State Park - swimming, boating, fishing, camping
✮ Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park - guided tours of one of the largest limestone caves in the Pacific Northwest
✮ Makoshika State Park - geological features (e.g. badlands); hiking; dinosaur fossils/paleontology; mountain biking; camping
✮ Medicine Rocks State Park - geological features; hiking; wildlife viewing; camping
Other Notable State Parks:
✮ First Peoples Buffalo Jump State Park
✮ Giant Springs State Park
✮ Pictograph Caves State Park
✮ Sluice Boxes State Park
✮ Wild Horse Island State Park
I love geological features, and so Makoshika and Medicine Rocks are probably my two favorite state parks in Montana.
To see my list of the top 100 state parks in the country, click here.
BEST WATERFALLS IN MONTANA
✮ Apikuni Falls in Glacier National Park
✮ Bird Woman Falls in Glacier National Park - visible from the Going-to-the-Sun Road
✮ Natural Bridge Falls in Custer Gallatin National Forest near McLeod
✮ Holland Falls in Flathead National Forest near Condon
✮ Kootenai Falls off US 2 in Libby
✮ Ousel Falls in Custer Gallatin National Forest near Big Sky
✮ Palisade Falls in Hyalite-Porcupine-Buffalo Horn Wilderness Study Area near Bozeman
✮ Running Eagle Falls in Two Medicine Valley within Glacier National Park
✮ Saint Mary Falls & Virginia Falls in Glacier National Park
For a listing of all known waterfalls in Montana, visit the World Waterfall Database website.
BEST SCENIC DRIVES IN MONTANA
✮ Beartooth Scenic Byway (US 212) - 68-mile paved route from Red Lodge to Cooke City in southeastern Montana; open seasonally
✮ Going-to-the-Sun Road - 50-mile paved route through Glacier National Park; open seasonally and entry permits are likely to be required
Both of these roads are contenders for most beautiful scenic drive in the U.S.. The Beartooth Scenic Byway connects with the northeast entrance of Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, and tops out at 10,947 feet.
BEST AMUSEMENT PARKS / THEME PARKS IN MONTANA
✮ Big Sky Water Park, Columbia Falls
✮ Splash Mountain, Missoula
BEST MUSEUMS IN MONTANA
✮ American Computer & Robotics Museum, Bozeman
✮ Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail Interpretive Center, Great Falls
✮ Miracle of America Museum, Polson
✮ Museum of the Rockies, Bozeman
✮ Old Montana Prison Complex, Deer Lodge
✮ World Museum of Mining, Butte
BEST DAY HIKES IN MONTANA
Glacier National Park
✮ Avalanche Lake / Trail of the Cedars
✮ Cracker Lake Trail
✮ Grinnell Glacier Trail
✮ Grinnell Lake Trail
✮ Hidden Lake Trail
✮ Highline Trail
✮ Iceberg Lake
✮ Ptarmigan Lake / Ptarmigan Tunnel
✮ Siyeh Pass
✮ St. Mary Falls & Virginia Falls
The rest of Montana
✮ Beehive Basin Trail - near Big Sky
✮ Hyalite Peak - Custer Gallatin National Forest
✮ Lava Lake Trail (Cascade Creek) - Custer Gallatin National Forest
✮ Mount Aeneas - near Bigfork
✮ Mount Wright - Bob Marshall Wilderness
✮ Ousel Falls Trail - Custer Gallatin National Forest near Big Sky
✮ Palisade Falls - Hyalite-Porcupine-Buffalo Horn Wilderness Study Area near Bozeman
✮ Sacagawea Peak - Custer Gallatin National Forest
✮ Storm Castle Peak - Custer Gallatin National Forest
✮ Trapper Peak - Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness / Bitterroot National Forest
Recommended (relatively) easy day hikes in Glacier National Park: Avalanche Lake, Grinnell Lake Trail, Hidden Lake Overlook, St. Mary Falls & Virginia Falls
Recommended moderate/hard day hikes in Glacier National Park: Grinnell Glacier Trail, Hidden Lake, Highline Trail, Iceberg Lake, Ptarmigan Lake / Ptarmigan Tunnel, Siyeh Pass
If you go hiking or backpacking in Montana, you need to be aware of grizzly bears. If you are entering grizzly bear habitat, carrying bear spray is highly recommended. Take note that some trails in Glacier National Park are often closed due to grizzly bear activity. Unless you are hiking in a large group, I recommend hiking with bear spray in Glacier National Park. You can rent bear spray within the national park.
The hiking season for Montana is generally July through September. Many roads and trails are closed from October through June. Some roads and trails may not open until mid-July in some years, especially those in Glacier National Park.
The highpoint of Montana is Granite Peak (12,807') in the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness. Reaching this summit requires a difficult mountaineering effort. While some superfit climbers will reach the top in a day, most do it as an overnight trip.
To find more hikes in Montana or to learn more about the hikes I've listed above, I recommend purchasing hiking guidebooks on Amazon (or from your local retailer). Another option is using alltrails.com, but you have to be very careful when using that website as its information is often wrong or incomplete. Published hiking guidebooks will likely always be significantly better than the information you find online.
BEST BACKPACKING TRIPS IN MONTANA
Glacier National Park
✮ Bowman-Kintla Loop in Glacier National Park
✮ Cracker Lake in Glacier National Park
✮ Granite Park Chalet in Glacier National Park
✮ Gunsight Pass in Glacier National Park
✮ Highline Trail in Glacier National Park
✮ Many Glacier Loop in Glacier National Park
✮ North Circle Loop in Glacier National Park
✮ Sperry Chalet in Glacier National Park
✮ St. Mary to Lake McDonald in Glacier National Park
The rest of Montana
✮ Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness - there are many different options/routes available
✮ Bob Marshall Wilderness - there are many different options/routes available
✮ Custer Gallatin National Forest - there are many different options/routes available
✮ Lee Metcalf Wilderness - there are many different options/routes available
✮ Lewis & Clark National Forest - there are many different options/routes available
✮ Rainbow Lake / The Beaten Path - near Cooke City
The national forests and wilderness areas of Montana offer near-unlimited on and off-trail hiking and backpacking opportunities. You likely won't find great information about these routes online; instead, you'll likely need to purchase some guidebooks and/or talk to folks that have experience with them. I promise the rewards will be worth the research effort.
CLASSIC OUTDOOR ADVENTURES IN MONTANA
✮ Backcountry skiing in/near Big Sky
✮ Backcountry skiing in/near Cooke City
✮ Backcountry skiing in/near Red Lodge
✮ Backpacking the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness
✮ Backpacking the Bob Marshall Wilderness
✮ Backpacking in Custer Gallatin National Forest
✮ Backpacking in Glacier National Park
✮ Backpacking the Lee Metcalf Wilderness
✮ Backpacking in Lewis & Clark National Forest
✮ Cycling the Beartooth Scenic Byway
✮ Cycling the Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park (typically opened exclusively to cyclists on select days in the spring)
✮ Cycling the North Pathway
✮ Day hiking Cracker Lake in Glacier National Park
✮ Day hiking Grinnell Glacier Trail in Glacier National Park
✮ Day hiking Hyalite Peak in Custer Gallatin National Forest
✮ Day hiking Highline Trail in Glacier National Park
✮ Day hiking Iceberg Lake in Glacier National Park
✮ Day hiking Sacajawea Peak in Custer Gallatin National Forest
✮ Day hiking Siyeh Pass in Glacier National Park
✮ Ice-climbing in Hyalite Canyon
✮ Ice-climbing in/near Cooke City
✮ Ice-climbing in/near Whitefish
✮ Mountain biking in Helena (e.g. Mount Helena Ridge Trail)
✮ Mountain biking the Bangtail Divide Trail near Bozeman - designated by IMBA as an "epic" mountain biking trail
✮ Mountaineering to Granite Peak (state highpoint)
✮ Rock climbing near Bozeman or Big Sky
✮ Skiing at Big Sky Resort
✮ Skiing at Moonlight Basin
✮ Skiing at Whitefish Mountain Resort
✮ Sky diving in Bozeman
✮ Sky diving in Kalispell
✮ Sky diving in Whitefish
✮ Snowmobiling in Yellowstone National Park (from West Yellowstone)
✮ Snowmobiling on any of Montana's 4,000 miles of trails
✮ Whitewater rafting the Blackfoot River
✮ Whitewater rafting the Clark Fork River-Alberton Gorge
✮ Whitewater rafting the Flathead River-Middle Fork
✮ Whitewater rafting the Flathead River-North Fork
✮ Whitewater rafting the Gallatin River
✮ Whitewater rafting the Madison River
✮ Whitewater rafting the Yellowstone River (book a trip with one of the rafting guide companies in Gardiner, Montana)
BEST SKI RESORTS IN MONTANA
Premier Ski/Snowboard Resorts:
✮ Big Sky Resort in Big Sky - 150+ trails; 4,350ft vertical drop; 11,166ft summit
✮ Moonlight Basin in Big Sky - 101 trails; 2,720ft vertical drop; 11,166ft summit
✮ Whitefish Mountain Resort in Whitefish - 111 trails; 2,353ft vertical drop; 6,817ft summit
Other Notable Ski/Snowboard Resorts:
✮ Bridger Bowl
✮ Lost Trail Ski Area
✮ Montana Snowbowl
✮ Red Lodge Mountain
Most folks would probably agree that the best ski resort in Montana is Big Sky Resort. Moonlight Basin is very close to Big Sky, and is an excellent ski resort in its own right. You can easily visit both on the same trip. Big Sky Resort is often ranked as a top 10 ski resort in the United States.
MONTANA TRAVEL TIPS
UNIQUE / SPECIALTY FOODS TO TRY IN MONTANA
✮ Flathead cherries
✮ huckleberry ice cream
✮ huckleberry pie
✮ pork chop sandwiches
✮ Rocky Mountain oysters
For a list of unique foods and mom-and-pop type eateries and restaurants in Montana (or any other U.S. state), visit the Roadfood.com website.
For a list of unique foods to try in each of the 50 U.S. states, click here.
For a list of the top-rated beers to try in Montana (or any other U.S. state), visit the Beer Advocate website.
OTHER KEY MONTANA INFORMATION
Major airports = Billings, Bozeman, Great Falls, Kalispell/Glacier Park, Missoula (take note that many people fly into Salt Lake City, UT and then drive into Montana)
Largest cities = Billings (119,706), Missoula (74,829), Great Falls (60,830), Bozeman (56,495), Butte (34,688), Helena (32,871)
Primary U.S. interstates = I-15, I-90, I-94
State highpoint = Granite Peak (12,807'); a challenging mountaineering effort is required to reach the summit (this is not a "hike")
Professional sports teams = none
Take note that in general this travel guide intentionally excluded restaurants, lodging/hotels, breweries, wineries/vineyards, and certain other types of attractions (like arcades, ax-throwing, bowling alleys, and escape rooms). These types of places tend to come and go, and keeping up with that would be too challenging. I encourage you to use Google Maps, Tripadvisor, Yelp, and other travel sites that have reader reviews to find the latest and greatest places that I haven't covered here.
Beefburgers in Livingston, Montana
Red Bus tour vehicle in Glacier National Park, Montana
Avalanche Lake, Glacier National Park, Montana
Museum of the Rockies, Bozeman, Montana
(photo courtesy of Katherine Varn Hawkins)
Grinnell Glacier Overlook, Glacier National Park, Montana
(photo courtesy of Katherine Varn Hawkins)
Highline Trail, Glacier National Park, Montana
(photo courtesy of Katherine Varn Hawkins)
near Siyeh Pass, Glacier National Park, Montana
(photo courtesy of Katherine Varn Hawkins)
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