Wild and wonderful things to do in Montana

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Are you dreaming of a getaway that combines breathtaking landscapes with a touch of the past? From sprawling national parks to historical sites, there are many things to do in Montana that promise an adventure as grand as Big Sky Country itself.

Sunset over a tranquil mountain lake in Montana with vibrant orange skies and silhouetted peaks.
Saint Mary Lake at Glacier National Park. Photo credit: Depositphotos.

Montana is a dream destination for anyone who loves the outdoors. It’s packed with spacious national parks, abundant wildlife and impressive bits of history everywhere. From Yellowstone’s geysers to the towering mountains of Glacier National Park, Montana is all about getting close to nature and diving into the past, so get ready for an unforgettable trip to the Treasure State.

Exploring Montana’s national parks

Often referred to as Big Sky Country, Montana is full of natural beauty, particularly within its awe-inspiring national parks. Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks are some of the most visited in the nation, with stunning landscapes, diverse wildlife and plenty of outdoor fun.

Stone archway standing alone in a field with mountains and a cloudy sky in the background.
The Roosevelt Arch in Gardiner, Montana, was the first major entrance to Yellowstone National Park. Photo credit: Sage Scott.

Yellowstone National Park

Straddling the borders of Montana, Wyoming and Idaho, Yellowstone National Park is a volcanic hotbed renowned for its geothermal wonders and diverse ecosystems. Two of the park’s entrances — the north entrance in Gardiner, accessible via a scenic drive from Bozeman through Paradise Valley, and the Northeast entrance in Cooke City, accessible via the Beartooth Highway from Red Lodge — are in Montana.

Recommended sights and experiences at Yellowstone National Park:

  • Old Faithful Geyser: Witness the iconic eruption of this famous geyser.
  • Grand Prismatic Spring: Be amazed by the vibrant colors of the largest hot spring in the United States.
  • Lamar Valley: In this serene valley, often called America’s Serengeti, you can spot a wide range of wildlife, including bison, wolves and elk.
  • Mammoth Hot Springs: Explore the terraced limestone landscapes created by mineral-rich hot springs.
  • Yellowstone Lake: Enjoy the tranquil views at one of the largest high-elevation lakes in North America.

“I love going to Yellowstone National Park with its geysers, waterfalls and, most importantly, wildlife. The park can get very busy during the summer, and that’s why I believe visiting Yellowstone in September is the optimal time to go. With fewer people around, the animals aren’t quite so skittish.”

— Corinne Vail, Roving Vails

“I love going to Yellowstone National Park with its geysers, waterfalls and, most importantly, wildlife. The park can get very busy during the summer, and that’s why I believe visiting Yellowstone in September is the optimal time to go. With fewer people around, the animals aren’t quite so skittish.”

Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park is the Crown of the Continent, nestled in the Rocky Mountain Range of Western Montana. Spanning over a million acres of pristine wilderness, it is home to more than 700 miles of hiking trails and Going-to-the-Sun Road.

Recommended sights and experiences at Glacier National Park:

  • Going-to-the-Sun Road: Drive or take a shuttle along this spectacular route that offers stunning views of the park’s rugged terrain, especially around Logan Pass.
  • Lake McDonald: Enjoy the serene beauty of the park’s largest lake, perfect for kayaking, canoeing and capturing stunning sunset photos.
  • Grinnell Glacier: Hike to one of the park’s most accessible glaciers. It offers dramatic views of the surrounding peaks and vibrant glacial waters.
  • Highline Trail: This thrilling hike along the Continental Divide provides panoramic views and opportunities to spot wildlife, including mountain goats and bighorn sheep.
  • Many Glacier: Explore this less crowded area known for its incredible hiking trails, abundant wildlife and beautiful scenery.
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Other outdoor adventures in Montana

Montana’s charm doesn’t stop at its national parks. From thrilling ski slopes to a day at the lake, here are more things to do in Montana.

Two people ziplining through a forest.
Ziplining at Whitefish Mountain Resort. Photo credit: Sage Scott.

Whitefish Mountain Resort

Located near the charming Northwestern Montana town of Whitefish, Whitefish Mountain Resort is a year-round destination that caters to outdoor enthusiasts of all abilities. During the winter, it’s a snowy paradise with a wide range of ski slopes. In the summer, the area transforms into an adventure hub with activities that let you experience the beauty of Montana in new ways.

Recommended sights and experiences at Whitefish Mountain Resort:

  • Skiing and snowboarding: Hit the slopes with options for every skill level, from beginner to expert.
  • Go ziplining: Experience the thrill of flying through the Montana sky with breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains and forests.
  • Summer adventures: Take a ride on the alpine slide, enjoy the thrill of summer tubing and explore more family-friendly activities that make the most of the warm weather.

Flathead Lake

Not far from the peaks of Whitefish, Flathead Lake is the largest natural freshwater lake west of the Mississippi River, excluding Alaska. Surrounded by lush forests and cherry orchards, the lake’s 185 miles of shoreline offer endless opportunities for adventure and relaxation. Polson and Bigfork are charming lakeside towns offering essential amenities, including boat rentals and cozy cafes.

Recommended sights and experiences at Flathead Lake:

  • Water sports: Rent a kayak, paddleboard or jet ski to explore the lake’s vast waters. For a more adrenaline-fueled experience, try wakeboarding or water skiing.
  • Lakeside dining and drinking: After a day on the water, unwind at one of the lakeside eateries or wineries. Enjoy fresh, local cuisine while the sun sets over the lake, and be sure to try a huckleberry Flathead Lake Gourmet Soda. 
  • Cherry orchards: Visit during the summer to taste some of the sweetest cherries you’ll ever try. 
  • Wild Horse Island: Accessible only by boat, this state park is home to wild horses, bighorn sheep and bald eagles. It’s a fantastic spot for hiking, wildlife photography and picnicking in a truly unique setting.

Medicine Rocks State Park

On the vast, open plains of Eastern Montana, Medicine Rocks State Park is a hidden gem that offers a glimpse into the ancient and the infinite. As a designated International Dark Sky Sanctuary, it attracts astronomers and night sky enthusiasts.

Recommended sights and experiences at Medicine Rocks State Park:

  • Stargazing: Under one of the darkest skies in the world, witness the Milky Way, countless stars, planets and meteor showers with unparalleled clarity. 
  • Explore the rocks: Wander among the mysterious sandstone formations, discovering the nooks, crannies and ancient petroglyphs that tell the stories of the land’s original inhabitants.
  • Camping: Camping sites are available for those who want to fully immerse themselves in Medicine Rocks’s tranquility. Spend a night or two to experience the serene beauty of the park after dark and the peaceful dawn chorus at sunrise.

Historical and cultural attractions in Montana

Montana isn’t just about jaw-dropping landscapes — it’s also a canvas rich with historical and cultural narratives. From the echoes of booming mines to the trails blazed by Native American warriors and pioneers, Montana is a treasure trove of stories waiting to be discovered.

The Berkeley Pit

The Berkeley Pit in Butte is a testament to human ambition and its environmental impacts. Once a bustling open-pit copper mine, it has transformed into a toxic water body, presenting a vivid, albeit cautionary, spectacle for visitors.

Lewis and Clark Historic Trail

Winding across Montana, the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail offers a glimpse into the daring expedition of the early 1800s. Following this trail, visitors can retrace the steps of the Corps of Discovery, led by the legendary duo and their invaluable guide, Sacagawea. Not to be missed is Pompey’s Pillar, where William Clark etched his signature into the rock, leaving a tangible mark of their journey through what is now Montana.

Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument

Marking the site of the Battle of the Little Bighorn, a defining clash between the U.S. Army and Northern Plains tribes, this monument is a somber reminder of the tumultuous history of westward expansion. It offers visitors a chance to reflect on the complexities of American history through detailed exhibits and poignant memorials that honor both sides of the conflict.

Pictograph Cave State Park

At Pictograph Cave State Park, visitors can connect with the ancient inhabitants of Montana through over 100 pictographs dating back over 2,000 years. The park’s loop trail, complemented by educational displays, offers a window into the lives of prehistoric hunters and gatherers. Visiting this park is one of the key things to do in Montana if you want to understand the region’s human history.

Wildlife encounters

Montana offers a front-row seat to wildlife, boasting the highest number of native mammal species in the U.S. While it’s likely you’ll see many amazing animals in the wild, these sanctuaries and reserves guarantee the chance to get up close and personal with the diverse animals that call Big Sky Country home.

A large brown bear standing in front of a rock surrounded by grass.
Grizzly bear at Montana Grizzly Encounter near Bozeman, Montana. Photo credit: Sage Scott.

Montana Grizzly Encounter

Just outside Bozeman, Montana Grizzly Encounter allows you to watch grizzly bears in a setting that mimics their natural habitat. This sanctuary focuses on rescue and education, providing a haven for grizzlies that cannot survive in the wild. Visitors can learn about grizzly bear conservation and the importance of coexistence with these majestic animals through educational programs and up-close encounters. It’s a unique opportunity to gain insight into the lives of grizzly bears and support efforts to protect them and their natural environments.

Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center

Located in West Yellowstone, this not-for-profit wildlife park provides a sanctuary for grizzlies and wolves unable to live in the wild. Visitors can observe these animals up close, learning about their behaviors, their importance to the ecosystem and how to coexist with them. An intriguing aspect is the center’s unique program, where grizzlies become product testers for bear-resistant containers, offering a fascinating insight into their intelligence and strength. This experience educates and highlights the center’s commitment to wildlife conservation and human-animal cohabitation.

National Bison Range

Northwest of Missoula, you can spot bison, elk, deer and bighorn sheep in their natural glory at the National Bison Range. In addition to the magnificent land grazers, watch the big sky for peregrine falcons and bald eagles soaring overhead. This cherished wildlife refuge, nestled within the heart of the Flathead Indian Reservation, the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes are stewards of this 18,000-acre sanctuary.

Montana moments to treasure

From the steamy geysers of Yellowstone and the serene expanse of Flathead Lake, Montana showcases nature in its most majestic form. There are plenty more things to do in Big Sky Montana; it’s a haven for anyone craving adventure, history or just a moment of peace in the great outdoors.

Sage Scott was bitten by the travel bug as a preschooler when her family moved abroad for the first time. Now settled in America’s Heartland, Sage is a travel writer, world wanderer and photographer whose favorite color is golden hour. Follow her adventures at Everyday Wanderer.

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