There's a reason Montana is known as Big Sky Country. This sparsely populated state is one of America's most majestic, with natural, rugged beauty and abundant wildlife. Considered a mecca for outdoor enthusiasts, Montana offers visitors gorgeous natural scenery and some of the best access to outdoor recreation. If civilization is needed, you can explore the art and culture of cities like the capital Helena or Missoula. With access to two of America's most famed National Parks, visitors can revel in nature's beauty at a destination that's both active and relaxing.
Called "Disneyland for nature-loving adults" by one Google reviewer, Glacier National Park is more than a million acres of nature in its most breathtaking form. Hiking and camping are simply the tip of the iceberg of activities you can experience at the "Crown Jewel of the Continent Ecosystem." Take in the soaring mountain peaks and vast stretches of pine and fir trees from a historic boat tour on one of the park's glacial lakes. There are also short or all-day hikes that showcase the abundant wildlife. The drive along the 50-mile long Going-to-the-Sun Road is not to be missed, complete with stunningly scenic views of St. Mary Lake and the Rising Sun peaks, two of the most photographed park vistas.
Let your inner dinosaur-lover run wild at the Museum of the Rockies, home to the most extensive collection of North American dinosaurs anywhere in the United States. You'll be greeted by Big Mike, the first Tyrannosaurus Rex found in Montana. Kids and adults alike will also find much more than dinosaurs to explore; the museum features special, interactive events and activities. There is also the Taylor Planetarium, which lets visitors experience the cosmos close up with a brilliant light, color, and motion display.
Considered one of the most important historic US landmarks, the Little Bighorn National Monument commemorates the Battle of Little Bighorn, also known as Custer's last stand. The site is a memorial for the Sioux, Cheyenne, and Arapaho Native Americans who died fighting during the 1876 battle. Begin your trip at the visitor center, where you'll watch an orientation video. Attend the Park Ranger talk, then take either a self or guided tour of the 765-acre park, stopping along spots like Deep Ravine to see the markers remembering the final resting places of both Native Americans and US troops.
Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park is the oldest park in Montana and home to one of the most intricate and awe-inspiring caves in the United States. The caverns are accessible by guided tours from May through September, with special candlelit holiday tours during December. Get your fill of the geological wonders with options for everyone, from beginner spelunkers to advanced caving explorers. Bring a picnic lunch or grab a bite at the cafe or extend your visit with an overnight stay at the campground. Other ways to explore include the two state-of-the-art visitor centers or the numerous outdoor excursions, including canoeing or fishing on the Jefferson River.
Nestled at the foot of Mount Helena is Montana's capital. Boasting an impressive number of parks and sites of natural and architectural beauty, Helena is a must for any trip to Montana. Begin your visit with a stop at the State Capitol building, where granite columns frame an impressive example of Greek neoclassical architecture. Inside, you'll marvel at notable artwork, including Montana's Charles M. Russell's painting of Lewis and Clark meeting the Salish Native Americans. Explore Helena's historic Reeder's Alley. Originally constructed to house miners looking to get in on the Montana gold rush, the red brick buildings are now home to local businesses, including eclectic shops and restaurants. There's also plenty of regional as well as national, and international art to be found at the Holter Museum.
The gateway to Yellowstone National Park, West Yellowstone, has earned many accolades for its breathtaking scenery and numerous activities. Winter is the perfect time for snowmobiling or skiing among the frozen waterfalls and snow-covered trees. Your camera is a must for snapping pictures of the wildlife. Fishing enthusiasts will find no better place to catch trout than on the picturesque streams and crystal-clear mountain lakes.
West Yellowstone is as much fun to visit in the spring as it is winter, spring, or fall. Spring is ideal for watching newborns in the wild. Summer offers long days for hiking, biking, and kayaking. There are also numerous activities during the summer months, such as the Yellowstone Museum, weekly rodeos, and live music. Adventurers can get their fill here with a choice of white water rafting, horseback riding, or helicopter tours; there is something for everyone.
Within West Yellowstone is the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center, where you can get close to Grizzly bears, wolves, and other wildlife. Open year-round, the Center is home to six Grizzly bears, five wolves as well as raptors and the latest addition, river otters. There are a number of talks or tours you can join. There is a new riparian exhibit that features aquariums, playful otters, and a simulated wetland environment.
If skiing or other winter outdoor activities interest you, you won't want to miss Big Sky Resort. Considered one of the biggest skiing spots in America, it offers more than 5,000 skiable acres. If skiing's not your thing, the resort offers every imaginable winter activity. You can take the famed Lone Peak Tram that rises more than 11,000 feet in elevation for views of the surrounding states and National Parks. Afterward, enjoy a massage or soak at the Spa and grab a hot meal at the onsite restaurant.
Montana is also home to the Buddhist spiritual sanctuary, Garden of a Thousand Buddhas. The 1,000 Montana-made Buddhist statues spaced evenly along the eight spokes of the dharma wheel and encircling a sculpture of the Buddhist goddess Tara create a feeling of peace and tranquility. Considered an International Peace Center, it is free and open to the public and people of all faith.
This unique part of Route 212 has been dubbed "the most beautiful drive in America." The dramatic scenery along the Montana Wyoming border, with breathtaking views of lakes, forests, valleys, and waterfalls, makes this section of the highway a destination in itself. There are several places where you can stop and appreciate the views before you reach the Beartooth Corridor, where there's an abundance of fun, outdoorsy things to do, such as hiking, skiing, fishing, and camping.
The old mining town Bannack was founded in Beaverhead County founded in 1862 but later abandoned in the 1970s. Today, Bannack is a ghost town, and as such, its attracting visitors from all over the world. Visiting this Wild West town is a truly unique experience; it's almost like time has frozen as you walk around among the over 60 authentic buildings that remain. If you're even the slightest interested in the Old West history of America, Bannack is a must-visit.
Visiting the lake in Whitefish, known as City Beach, is a definite must while in Montana. About seven miles long, it feels more like an ocean than a lake, and with its sandy beach and shaded grass areas; it's a perfect setting for a picnic day. Swim in the clear water, relax on the sandy shore, or go kayaking with the mountains as a beautiful backdrop. If you get hungry, head on over to the visitor center, where you can buy snacks and refreshments.
Ousel Falls Park is named after the small ouzel birds that live in the area. This park is a favorite among locals and visitors alike, as it offers visitors a variety of things to see and do. Here you'll find a waterfall, beautiful areas for picnicking, and you can hike along the Gallatin River. The Ousel Falls Park Trail of 2.6 kilometers is popular among hikers of all skill levels. If you follow the trail, you will be rewarded with beautiful scenery and nature experiences. The trail meanders along the Gallatin River and entails three bridges before you reach the stunning waterfall.
Yellowstone Hot Springs is a popular tourist attraction located in the Yellowstone National Park. The hot spring pools are mineral-rich from the underlying volcanism, and a soak in the warm water is sure to wash away your stress and worries. Relaxing in the water and enjoying the mountain view, watching the eagles soar in the Montana sky, is a truly memorable experience. No need to make any reservations; you can just show up and get in the water. And if you get hungry, there are snacks and refreshments readily available.
During your trip to Montana, find some time to spend in Glacier National Park, one of the state's most famous attractions. While you're in Glacier, be sure to take some time to explore Lake McDonald. This is the largest lake in the park and one of the most beautiful in the nation, in our opinion. With a stunning backdrop of the Rocky Mountains reflected off the surface of the water, Lake McDonald should be a required stop for anyone with a half-decent camera. Stay at the Lake McDonald Lodge to take full advantage of the horseback riding and hiking opportunities in the area.
Also known as Montana's Museum, the Montana Historical Society Museum is a Wild West history buff's dream. You'll find this museum near Montana's state capital, Helena. Their collection includes a wealth of archaeological and ethnological artifacts that help tell the story of Montana's original inhabitants. You'll also find fine art depicting scenes from the state, as well as plenty of items of historical significance from the area's first colonists. Those interested in Native American and state history should make a point of visiting Montana's Museum.
Head south from Helena to get to the Tizer Botanic Gardens & Arboretum near Jefferson City. This 6-acre collection of gardens is beautifully maintained, featuring sections dedicated to roses, vegetables, herbs, wildflowers, shade plants, and more. Swing by the butterfly and hummingbird garden in Montana's springtime (which may happen much later than you're used to). Refresh your mind in the meditation garden. If you bring a camera, make sure it has plenty of space or film for more photos before you enter this verdant destination.
Keep heading south from Helena to get to Butte and then make your way to the World Museum of Mining for a unique look into an important part of southwest Montana's history. Explore Butte's heritage of copper mining by studying the 50 exhibit buildings and plenty of artifacts. If you pay a little extra, you can go underground into a real decommissioned mine to get an idea of what a day of work was like for the miners of Butte.
If you find yourself in Billings, consider visiting the Moss Mansion. This turn-of-the-century estate is a handsome display of antique architecture and a testament to one of the most successful families of Montana's history. You can take a self-guided tour during the off-season or enjoy a private guided tour if you call a couple of days ahead of time.
Billings is also home to one of Montana's best zoos. ZooMontana is perfect for animal lovers and those traveling with family. This zoo specializes in animals from Montana and Earth's 45th parallel, which means you'll get the chance to meet species such as wolverines, lynxes, grizzly bears, tigers, river otters, and much more. Most of the animals in this sanctuary are rescues that now call Montana home.
If you've love beautiful antique home tours, you should make your way to the Conrad Mansion Museum in Kalispell as well. This 1895 home is full of classic postbellum furniture in 26 rooms that you can explore. Pretend as though you've stepped into the past by walking through the mansion during a guide-led or self-led tour.
C.M. Russell is arguably one of the most influential artists to ever capture life in the west around the turn of the 20th century. The C.M. Russell Museum in Great Falls is the largest collection of its namesake's watercolor and oil paintings that depict grand western landscapes, Native American culture, and the lives of cowboys. Whether you're an enthusiast of western history or of art, this museum should be high on your to-do list as you travel through Montana.