Known as Big Sky Country, Montana is an amazing destination for all those who appreciate the beauty of the great outdoors. Primarily rural, Montana is home to national parks, miles of open country, an abundance of wildlife and spectacular scenery. However, there are also a number of vibrant cities with a flair for cowboy culture. As you plan your upcoming getaway to this state, don’t miss out on any of these unforgettable places to visit in Montana.
In the very center of Montana is Great Falls, a destination that is also known as the Electric City. Great Falls is often considered a stopping point when diving across Montana or when exploring nearby national parks, but the city also offers a lot in its own right. You could, for example, spend a day visiting the Ryan Dam, which boasts miles of surrounding hiking trails and is where the Electric City got its nickname. You might also want to walk along the banks of the Missouri River, feed the trout and get to know more about American history at the Giant Springs State Park and the nearby Lewis and Clark National Interpretive Center.
The second largest of Montana’s cities is Missoula, the home to the sprawling campus of the University of Montana. Missoula used to be a hub for rail travel, and you can still see the historic and preserved railroad stations around town. History lovers might also want to check out the iconic Caras Park Carousel, the Missoula Art Museum and the iconic Roxy Theater. The Clark Fork River flows through the center of Missoula and is a hub for recreation, so you could also try rafting down the river or strolling along the waterfront Kim Williams Trail. Head Downtown for a number of local breweries, excellent independent restaurants and boutique shops perfect for snagging unique souvenirs.
The oldest and perhaps most impressive state park in Montana is the Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park, located just outside of Three Forks. The caverns are made from limestone, and they boast interesting columns, stalactites and stalagmites. Guided tours of the caverns themselves cover a substantial amount of ground, and they take you down 600 steps until the air becomes noticeably cooler. Aside from the caverns themselves, which are open throughout the summer, the state park offers the opportunity to hike, enjoy a scenic picnic, go canoeing or spot wildlife in their natural habitats.
Arguably one of the most famous military battles in American history took place at the Little Bighorn Battlefield. This is where Custer’s Last Stand took place in 1876 between the United States and Native American tribes like the Dakota, the Lakota, the Northern Cheyenne and the Arapaho. To this day, a big draw to the area is the reenactments that typically happen on an annual basis. You can tour the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, and you can also head into the nearest town, Crow Agency, for dining, shopping and water sports.
Many people begin their Montana adventures in the city of Helena, which is the state’s capital as well as a hub in the heart of Gold West Country. The main attraction in the city is the Montana State Capitol Building, which is available for guided tours throughout the week. You’ll also want to check out the Gates of the Mountains of the Missouri River, a collection of cliffs that open up to the river and were famously named by the explorers Lewis and Clark. Helena is also home to the historic mining district known as Reeder’s Alley, the beautifully hand-carved Great Northern Carousel and the 19th century Old Fire Tower.
Just north of Kalispell, a city known for being the gateway to the Glacier National Park, is the charming resort destination of Whitefish. Located in Flathead Valley, Whitefish was created by glacier activity, and there is an abundance of freshwater in the surrounding area, dotting the landscape with pristine lakes and stunning streams. Most of the attractions in Whitefish are natural, and opportunities for outdoor activity abound. You may want to fish from Whitefish Lake, ski at the Whitefish Mountain Resort, kayak along the Flathead River or tee off at one of the great local golf courses in the area.
Just 15 minutes south of the city Kalispell is Flathead Lake, which is officially the largest natural freshwater lake west of the Mississippi River. Formed by glaciers, Flathead Lake is a connection to the past for Montana, but it also serves as a hub for sightseeing and recreation in the 21st century. Just north of the lake, you can try hiking or even horseback riding. During the summer, fresh cherries are readily available at farmer’s markets around Flathead Lake. Sailing is also growing in popularity, and rentals as well as lessons are available from several spots along the perimeter of Flathead Lake in Montana.
Much of the famed Yellowstone National Park is located within the bordering state of Wyoming, but some of the entrances are actually located in Montana. One of the most commonly used is known as West Yellowstone. As the name suggests, this is the western entrance to the Yellowstone National Park. In addition to serving as the entry point to one of the world’s most incredible national parks, which is home to attractions like Old Faithful, West Yellowstone boasts the extensive collections of the Yellowstone Museum. You can also snag interesting souvenirs from the shops located along Yellowstone Ave or head to Faithful Street for some affordable local cuisine.
Bozeman is one of the most popular cities in Montana for travelers, because it serves both as the home of Montana State University and as the gateway to the Yellowstone National Park. Although natural scenery is a big draw to Bozeman, there is also a large emphasis on culture, history and art. Start your visit to the city by checking out attractions such as the Pioneer Museum, the Museum of the Rockies, the Emerson Center for Arts and Culture and the unexpected but impressive American Computer Museum. The Gallatin River runs through Bozeman and provides opportunities for swimming, fishing and even kayaking, or you could get active by walking between the many bars and breweries Downtown in what is known as the Barmuda Triangle of Bozeman.
For those in search of dramatic landscapes and breathtaking scenery, there are few destinations more appealing than Glacier National Park. On the border with Canada, and connected to the Canadian Waterton Lakes National Park, Glacier National Park is an incredible place to visit in Montana to see unparalleled flora and fauna. Shuttles and guided tours are readily available, but the best way to see the beauty of the park is on your own two feet. More than 700 miles of hiking trails are available, with some of the most popular paths being the Trail of the Cedars and the Huckleberry Mountain Trail. Within the park, you can also go fishing, mountain biking or horseback riding, and there are opportunities for boating on Waterton Lake as well as Lake McDonald.