When you think of vacation destinations in the USA, what comes to mind is probably beachy places like California and Florida, maybe Colorado for some skiing or a visit to Yellowstone Park. What usually doesn’t come up on the list is Montana. Which considering the fact that Montana is the 4th largest state in the United States with 147,000 square miles to explore, is a mistake.
Big Sky Country is home to a variety of breathtaking landscapes that include the Rocky Mountains, peaceful lakes, white water rapids rivers, snow capped peaks, lush prairies and beautiful national parks. Regardless of what you want out of your vacation, a quiet getaway or a week full of outdoor exploration, Montana can deliver a memorable trip.
Planning a trip now and got Montana in your sights? Well, take a deep breath before you plug “things to do in Montana” into your search bar because the results are outrageous! There’s enough to do in Big Sky Country to easily fill a month long retreat and still leave things unexplored. So to make things easier for you, we’ve compiled a list of must see places in Montana.
1. Glacier National Park
Glacier National Park is often called the “Crown of the Continent Ecosystem” and for good reason. This park has over 16,000 square miles of nature to explore and as the nickname implies, it’s home to a large variety of unique wildlife and plants. Not to mention, the views are breathtaking!
There are also hundreds of miles of hiking trails to explore that take you through the heart of the park and offer some stunning views of the area. Regardless of experience, there is a trail for everyone so whether you’re looking for a casual stroll through nature, or an intense hike that includes some rock climbing, you’re sure to find it here.
And because it borders Alberta and British Columbia, you can also hop across into Canada; provided you have a passport of course. But honestly with so much to do and see at this park, you probably won’t be tempted to leave.
Glacier National Park is home to a number of endangered and rare animals. Here you can find Canadian lynxes, grizzly bears, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, and more. The park also has rivers and lakes to explore as well as tons of trails.
2. Virginia City
One glance at the image above and it looks like the set of Westworld or Tombstone. You wouldn’t expect that you’d be able to visit this place much less find activities to do here, but Virginia City is actually a must visit tourist spot in Montana.
At one time, this was once the largest town in the inland Northwest with a population of around 10,000. Once a booming gold town (over $90 million was hauled from the area between 1863 and 1875), the city’s population dwindled after the gold rush.
Instead of letting time claim the town and letting it rot, preservation of Virginia City began in the 1960s. Those who started the process wanted to make sure that the town kept its authenticity and remained free of commercialism. In other words, you won’t find a Starbucks here. Now, the town is home to over one hundred historic buildings that come complete with period furnishings/mementos.
Painstaking care has been taken to insure Virginia City keeps its ghost town like appearance. You can also catch an authentic performance where the Virginia City Players dress in period clothes and put on a captivating performance at their opera house. You can also hop aboard a stagecoach for a ride.
You know all those rustic looking photos of Montana that you see with the mountains in the background, lush green grass, big beautiful blue skies and silky smooth lakes? Well, they’re probably images of Missoula.
Called the “Garden City”, Missoula is home to a variety of outdoor activities that draw in nature enthusiasts from around the world. You’ll find this gem tucked between the Rocky Mountains and surrounded by picturesque views. Three rivers run through the area and there are seven wilderness zones to explore.
Need a break from nature and looking for some evening activities? Well, Missoula aims to please. This cultural hub offers everything from opera to roller derby to some of the state’s top museums. Looking to do some shopping? Check out one of their three shopping districts for souvenirs of your trip.
This is a popular place for fly-fishing, swimming, hikes, bike riding through trails, kayaking, boating, and more. Visiting during the winter? Then you can enjoy snowshoeing, skiing, and snow filled hikes.
The short answer: everything.
4. Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park
If you know anything about Montana, then you’ve probably heard of Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park. Not only is it Montana’s best-known park, but it was also the first to be founded. The caverns are lined with impressive stalactites, stalagmites, columns, and helictites that make each room appear even more surreal than the last. Guided tours are also available for the caves if that’s your thing, but are only offered daily between May 1 and September 30.
Looking to spend more time here? Then check out the self-guided nature trail that takes place above ground to show you some of the cave’s impressive outer features or check out the ten miles of hiking trails that are also available. If you’re looking for a rustic stay, then check out one of their three campgrounds or plush cabins that are the reason the term “glamping” exists.
The caverns are home to some seriously impressive stalactites and stalagmites. Often touted as the “most elaborate limestone formations in the Northwest”, it’s easy to see from pictures why the caverns have earned that title.
Need to escape the heat? These caverns are naturally air-conditioned and will offer some much needed respite from the sun.
5. Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument
This park is one of the most visited places in Montana and for good reason. It stands as a memorial to one of the most famous battles in American history. In 1876, Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer and the Sioux and Cheyenne under the leadership of Sitting Bull collided. It was one of the last efforts made by Native Americans in order to protect their way of life. Now, the spot as well as Custer National Cemetery stand as a tribute to the lives lost and draws history buffs from all around the United States.
Pictured above, you can see the iron tribute to the Plains Indians, which is one of the most popular photo ops and spots in the park. You can also get a glimpse of the Crazy Horse Memorial that is currently being built in South Dakota (it’s very close to the state line so you won’t have to drive to see it.) The Crazy Horse Memorial is the world’s largest mountain carving in progress and will be considered the 8th wonder of the world upon its completion.
This expansive park has plaques that talk about the battle, graves, tipis, and breathtaking views of the stunning prairie lands. You can also visit the museum, which holds a number of exhibits related to the battle, Custer, Plains Indian life, archaeology, and more.
Chances are if you’re visiting Big Sky Country, you’re an outdoor enthusiast; after all, Montana is home to some of the most spectacular nature sites in the world. Like many of Montana’s parks, there are a number of activities to do. Fly-fishing, skiing, swimming, and hiking are just some of the things you can do here. The wilderness areas have flat plains with gorgeous views making them perfect for camping and gazing up at the stars at night.
So what makes Bozeman different from the rest of the gorgeous national parks? Well, for starters it’s located in easily one of the most eclectic cities in the state. Bozeman is home to Montana State University but the town has worked hard to maintain its Old West flair so the two have come together for a truly unique city. There’s plenty to do in the city if you check out the unique features/activities listed below.
The Museum of the Rockies is a must visit. It’s easily one of the most entertaining museums within the state and boasts a large collection of dinosaur bones, early American art and artifacts, living-history outdoor section, laser planetarium shows, and a well known brewery if you’re looking to grab an evening drink.
7. Big Sky
Big Sky is another one of those most visit places in Montana and like many of the other parks; it offers stuff to do year round regardless of the weather. The small town of Big Sky is about 45 miles southwest of Bozeman if you’re planning your trip out. The area is located high in the mountains, nestled by timberland forests, Spanish Peaks Primitive Area, and the Gallatin National Forest. In other words, there’s a lot to do and see here.
While it’s best known for its powder soft snow and crowd-free skiing, there is a lot to do in the summer. This scenic area offers a variety of outdoor activities that include whitewater rafting, blue ribbon trout fishing, backcountry hikes, empty trails that aren’t full of other tourists, horseback riding, mountain biking, and more. If you’re looking for somewhere that has everything you could possibly want and then some as far as outdoor activities goes, then Big Sky is a must stop.
The area is also a gateway to Yellowstone National Park and following a trail will put you less than an hour from its West Entrance. Many tourists often opt to explore Big Sky during the early hours and follow the trail into Yellowstone Park since it’s so close.
Big Sky features more than 5,800 acres of skiable terrain. These areas are spread across four towering mountains and are one of the best-known ski areas because of their powder-soft snow and minimal lines. In other words, you’ll spend more time on the slopes and less time in line.
8. West Yellowstone
If you’re going down our list, then you’ll end up in West Yellowstone should you stay on the trails in Big Sky. West Yellowstone is the gateway to Yellowstone National Park and from here, it’s a short journey into Yellowstone itself. And if you’re not interested in dealing with the crowds at Yellowstone Park, this area is perfect for experiencing some of the cool features of Yellowstone without the other tourists.
Here you can enjoy fly-fishing, hiking, four-wheeling, camping, swimming, horseback riding, and mountain biking in the summer. Visiting during the winter months? Hope aboard a snowmobile to tour the park or enjoy some cross-country skiing that the area is well known for.
Looking to experience some of Yellowstone’s features? Then check out the active hydrothermal areas. Here you’ll find hot springs, fumaroles, mudpots, travertine terraces, and geysers. You’ll also find Old Faithful, the most famous geyser on Earth, here in West Yellowstone. Of course, this area is densely populated so if you’re looking to avoid crowds, you’ll want to steer clear. Hungry or looking to do some shopping? The boardwalks of West Yellowstone can take care of you.
West Yellowstone is home for a variety of wildlife. Bears, moose, bison, wolves, elk, and even pelicans call this area home so if you’re looking for some interesting animals to photograph along your way, then you’ll want to make a stop here.
Is Big Sky Country on your “must visit” list?
With so much to do and see in Montana, we’d be surprised if this gem hasn’t wiggled its way onto your bucket list and into your hearts. We know it has for us! Montana is a nature lover’s paradise that’s really catered to its roots. The state has been left largely untouched and the historic areas have been painstakingly preserved to inspire and wow us for generations to come.
So what spot sounds the best to you? Feel free to tell us which places on the list sounded like “must sees” and if we left out your favorite little secret area, let us know! We’d love to hear all about it.