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. Not to be missed is the drive along the 50-mile long Going-to-the-Sun Road, 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 historical U.S. 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. You will also want to take a hike on one more than 10 miles of available trails.
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 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 up 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.