18 Things to Do in Montana
By Janet Benoir – December 21, 2023
Spanning a vast 147,040 square miles, Montana stands as the fourth-largest state in the U.S., offering a spectacle of natural grandeur, including the iconic Glacier National Park and Yellowstone. Beyond these renowned landmarks, you’ll find Flathead Lake—the most sizable natural freshwater lake west of the Mississippi—and an array of towering peaks that exceed 9,600 feet in elevation, crafting a skyline that’s nothing short of majestic.
As a haven for outdoor enthusiasts, Montana presents a rich tapestry of activities ranging from hiking trails woven through pristine landscapes to the adrenaline rush of skiing down powder-covered slopes. For those with an affinity for history and culture, the state serves as a living museum chronicling the legacy of its Native American tribes, while its sprawling, open spaces, bolstered by one of the lowest population densities in the nation, offer a serene escape from the bustle of crowded destinations.
Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone National Park, largely sprawled across Wyoming, touches Montana with a mere 3% of its area yet hosts three key gateways for explorers. If your journey begins at the park’s north entrance, you will encounter the Mammoth Hot Springs, striking terraced formations created by limestone dissolved and re-deposited by the acidic thermal waters emerging from deep underground chambers. To the west, in West Yellowstone, scenic geyser basins beckon.
In contrast, the northeast entrance offers a path to the famed Lamar Valley, a prime spot for wildlife viewing, including grizzly and black bears, bison, and wolves. Known for its ensemble of natural elements, visitors often describe their encounters with the park as an awe-inspiring interaction with nature’s artistry.
Glacier National Park
In the heart of Montana’s Rocky Mountains lies Glacier National Park. This sprawling wilderness hosts a treasure trove of natural wonders including 26 magnificent glaciers and over 760 lakes, interspersed with 563 meandering streams. The park is home to a plethora of animal wildlife and a diversity of plant species. An extensive network of trails, totaling about 746 miles, awaits hiking enthusiasts, offering routes like the forest-clad Trail of the Cedars and the scenic path to Avalanche Lake.
Adding to the allure of your journey, the Going-to-the-Sun Road is a 50-mile engineering feat that cuts across the Continental Divide, showcasing the park’s most breathtaking features, such as glaciated valleys and alpine meadows blooming with wildflowers. Embrace the serene ambiance by gliding over the waters in a canoe, kayak, or paddleboard, or feel the thrill of a whitewater rafting expedition.
Big Sky Resort
Spanning an impressive area of 5,850 acres with access via 39 aerial lifts, Big Sky Resort offers a diverse range of slopes to accommodate skiers of every skill level. Navigate your way to the summit of Lone Peak for an exhilarating descent with a vertical drop of 1,450 feet, where proficient skiers can savor a challenge reminiscent of heli-skiing expeditions.
As the seasons turn, the resort continues to bustle with activity, offering a suite of summer adventures which include hiking trails, a golf course, mountain biking, and the rush of whitewater rafting. The resort’s picturesque environment captivates visitors year-round. Accommodation options within the resort include a choice of four distinct hotels, plus the Whitewater Inn located a convenient 15-minute journey away.
Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center
This educational refuge offers a unique glimpse into the habitats of North America’s grizzlies and wolves. Established three decades ago, the facility is devoted to fostering a deeper understanding and respect for these magnificent creatures. It provides a safe haven for not only bears and wolves but also for river otters, birds of prey, and ground squirrels. You’re invited to observe these animals up close and engage with a variety of hands-on exhibits, educational films, and live demonstrations.
Strategically positioned at the gateway to Yellowstone National Park, the center is an ideal starting point or final highlight of your park journey. Many visitors endorse the center as a worthwhile visit, praising its potential to enrich your overall experience, especially if your park adventures didn’t bring you as close to the area’s wildlife as you had hoped.
Montana Hot Springs
Montana offers numerous thermal spring destinations ideal for a serene soaking session. At Quinn’s Hot Springs Resort in Paradise, located roughly 70 miles from Missoula, the allure lies in five naturally heated pools. Visitors have the option of accommodating themselves in rustic cabins or more expansive lodges, with many guests praising the serene ambiance, some even returning for another round of relaxation.
Venture to Yellowstone’s Boiling River, close to Mammoth Hot Springs, for an authentic thermal bathing adventure. It’s a rare spot within a national park where soaking is permitted, blending the heat of the spring with the cooler currents of the Gardner River. Checking Yellowstone National Park’s website is necessary for updates on accessibility due to changing aquatic conditions. A brief stroll from the parking area allows you to reach this location.
Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center
At the heart of Great Falls, you discover an immersive portal to the past: the Interpretive Center dedicated to the famed exploration duo Lewis and Clark. This educational facility provides an in-depth look at the expedition, especially their journey through Montana. Imagine stepping in and being greeted by a stunning two-story recreation showing the herculean effort of moving over the Missouri River’s cascades.
This institution, a collaborative creation with the U.S. Forest Service, houses an array of exhibits and a trove of over hundreds of historical pieces and artistic interpretations. These diverse collections chronicle the stories of both indigenous inhabitants and explorers across centuries in the Great Falls area. Previous visitors have found unexpected depths to the expedition’s narrative here, regardless of prior knowledge, and many recommend it as a spirited destination that appeals to all ages.
Museum of the Rockies
Your exploration of the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman reveals a treasure trove of North American dinosaur fossils, making it one of the largest such collections globally. Notably, it boasts a striking Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton. In addition to the prehistoric displays, you’ll find rich narratives about Yellowstone National Park’s history and the Native American tribes from the Northern Plains and the Rockies.
The venue is ideal for families, featuring a space where children under the age of eight can immerse themselves in the science behind Yellowstone. To keep the experience fresh, the museum rotates between three to five special exhibitions annually. For astronomy enthusiasts, the onsite planetarium offers enlightening shows detailing wonders of the universe.
The Resort at Paws Up
Nestled about 30 miles northeast of Missoula in the scenic beauty of Greenough, Montana, you’ll find a distinctive blend of rustic adventure and luxury living at the Resort at Paws Up. Covering 37,000 acres, this cattle ranch offers you the chance to immerse yourself in a host of outdoor activities. Choose from a diverse array of over 50 recreational pursuits ranging from serene fly fishing and scenic backcountry tours to more adrenaline-spiking endeavors such as dog sledding or geocaching.
The accommodations include 28 luxury homes and 36 well-appointed glamping tents, ensuring your stay is nothing short of comfortable. Included in the rate are all meals and a myriad of activities to venture on your own or enjoy accompanied by a guide for an additional fee. Past travelers have often referred to their time at this resort with adjectives like “intimate” and proclaim it to be a once-in-a-lifetime adventure.
Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument
In the southeast of Montana, you can visit the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, a site commemorating the renowned 1876 clash known as Custer’s Last Stand. Here, the forces of the U.S. Army sustained a historic defeat at the hands of the Sioux and Cheyenne warriors. The venue offers a museum and a visitor center that provide insights into the battle and profiles of significant figures who participated.
As you walk through the grounds, you have the opportunity to embark on a 4.5-mile self-led tour encompassing the Custer Battlefield and the Reno-Benteen Battlefield. Both of these sites feature designated parking areas for your convenience. This tour allows you a deeper understanding of the lives of Native Americans on the plains and the pivotal moments of the conflict.
World Museum of Mining
Located on the premises of the actual Orphan Girl Mine, the World Museum of Mining is an unparalleled repository that offers a comprehensive glimpse into Butte’s significant mining heritage, specifically emphasizing the area’s prolific copper mining industry. Within the grounds of the museum, there are over 50 structures dedicated to exhibits and an impressive array of 66 displays that illustrate the intricacies of hard-rock mining.
When you embark on the underground adventure that the Orphan Girl Mine tour offers, you’ll descend 100 feet to reach the original shaft station. This immersive experience allows you to physically interact with the mine environment, giving you a tactile connection to the site’s history. You’ll hear riveting anecdotes about the miners who once operated in these depths, all conveyed by knowledgeable guides whose storytelling enhances the authenticity of the encounter.
C.M. Russell Museum
Nestled in the heartland of Great Falls, Montana, at 400 13th St. N., the Russell Museum offers a comprehensive archive of Western art, including an extensive collection from the renowned artist Charles Marion Russell. As you explore the museum, you’ll encounter over 3,000 pieces encompassing the vibrant heritage of the American West, featuring 16 exhibit halls, an outdoor sculpture garden, and an insightful research center.
Here, you will have the unique opportunity to step into a historical tapestry showcasing Russell’s vivid interpretations of cowboy and Native American lifestyles, embracing the stirring panoramas of Montana’s expansive skies. Notably, the museum was once the personal residence and workspace of the artist, with his original home and log studio dating back to the early 1900s. These walls now serve as a narrative gateway, where Russell’s own artistic journey—a full third of the museum’s collection—is intimately chronicled.
Pictograph Cave State Park
Nestled within the confines of Billings, the Pictograph Cave State Park hosts a trio of caves where ancient hunters once resided. These caves are silent historians, bearing over 100 pictographs—rock paintings—that offer a window into millennia past, with the oldest works dating back over 2,000 years. A walking trail less than a mile in length guides you past educational exhibits discussing these ancient artworks, the park’s ecology, and geological characteristics.
At the park’s visitor center, a collection of relics excavated from the caves is showcased for public viewing. The premier cave, known as Pictograph Cave, showcases discernible images of fauna, fighters, and firearms inscribed on its walls. To enhance your viewing experience, bringing binoculars is advisable, as some pictographs have succumbed to the elements and are rather faint. Be mindful that your path to the Pictograph Cave involves a somewhat arduous ascent that might challenge occasional walkers and young explorers.
Located 18 miles east of Butte lies an unusual geological attraction where rocks create melodic tones when struck with a light hammer. This auditory marvel is the result of the unique composition and erosion patterns that affect how the stones are conjoined. The ringing property of the rocks ceases once they are dislodged from the cluster they belong to.
Approaching this area may be challenging, as the terrains can be harsh on vehicles not equipped with four-wheel drive. Depending on where you park, you might face a short trek to reach the stones. Conveniently, hammers are provided near the site’s entrance, so there is no need to purchase one beforehand for this experience.
Garden of One Thousand Buddhas
Nestled among Montana’s scenic vistas, the Ewam Sang-ngag Ling sanctuary offers a tranquil retreat on Flathead Indian Reservation, a stone’s throw north of Arlee. Within its boundaries are a thousand buddhas meticulously hand-crafted, encircling the prominent Great Mother statue, symbolizing ultimate wisdom. Your visit here is intended to invoke a sense of serenity and awaken compassion, a common reflection shared by those who’ve wandered its paths before.
Should you seek this haven of mindfulness, the journey leads you 26 miles north of Missoula, to 34756 White Coyote Road, Arlee, MT 59821. This remarkable setting provides a unique spiritual experience in Western Montana’s peaceful embrace.
Approximately 25 miles to the northwest of West Yellowstone, you’ll discover Quake Lake, a body of water forged by seismic forces. In 1959, a potent earthquake with a 7.2 magnitude shook the region, triggering an immense landslide which deposited an estimated 80 million tons of rock into the Madison River Canyon, effectively damming the river and creating the lake. This natural disaster sadly claimed the lives of 28 individuals.
Today, Quake Lake serves as a sought-after destination for anglers. Stocked annually with brown and cutthroat trout, the lake offers rich fishing potential. Caution is advised when venturing out onto the water, as submerged timber from the landslide remains, presenting potential hazards for the unwary.
As you traverse along U.S. Highway 2, known affectionately by residents as the Hi-Line, the journey begins in proximity to Glacier National Park on its western end. Covering an impressive distance of roughly 650 miles across the northern tier of the state, this route ushers you into quaint towns, seemingly suspended in a bygone era.
Navigating eastward, the terrain unfolds into expansive plains punctuated by occasional volcanic peaks, revered by Indigenous tribes. Along your trip, expect to encounter an array of natural features, including serene reservoirs and meandering rivers, complimented by cultural touchstones such as historic dwellings, local artisan shops, and an inviting selection of breweries and distilleries.
Rocky Creek Farm
At Rocky Creek Farm in Bozeman, you’ll discover a bounty of fruits ripe for picking directly from their branches. Starting the season with strawberries in late June, the farm transitions through the summer offering raspberries and the lesser-known aronia berries. Come late summer to early fall, the orchards are ready for apple picking, spanning until November. Unique to this farm is the option to transform your harvest into bespoke cider.
Nestled in the charming blue barn, the farm stand presents an array of produce ensuing from the farm’s rich soil. Here, you’ll find a selection of vegetables, aromatic herbs, vibrant flowers, along with locally raised meats, fresh eggs, and honey. Rocky Creek Farm also caters to young visitors with engaging offerings such as educational farm schools and fun-filled summer camp programs.
Established in the 19th century, Grant-Kohrs Ranch was initially the business endeavor of John Grant, a Canadian fur trader, and was subsequently enlarged by Conrad Kohrs, an influential cattle magnate. This expansive property once stood as the command center for an extensive 10-million-acre cattle operation. Today, the ranch stands as a historic monument, honoring the legacy of the Western cattle enterprise from its heyday in the 1800s to the present.
Located at 266 Warren Lane in the town of Deer Lodge, just a 37-mile journey northwest of Butte, the ranch invites you to experience a slice of pastoral life with its operational cattle endeavors and live presentations. You have access to explore 88 authentic structures, tread on nearly 10 miles of pastoral roads and pathways, and embark on guided tours through the well-preserved ranch house.