Montana Travel Guide: Plan Your Perfect Trip

Written by Brad Lane
Updated Sep 24, 2021

Montana is ideal for vacations and extended travel. Whether looking for uncrowded space in the Great Outdoors or searching for the spirit of the American West, let PlanetWare help your Montana travels become a reality. Through our guides on the state's great cities, hiking trails, and places to stay, planning a trip to Montana has never been easier. And whether it's a first-time visit or a return to the Treasure State, prepare to meet landscapes unmatched throughout the rest of the country.

Inspirational Ideas for a Trip to Montana

Saint Mary Lake in Glacier National Park
Saint Mary Lake in Glacier National Park

Montana is a big state, offering several types of vacations. When planning a trip, it helps to have an overview of everything the state has to offer. Our articles on the top attractions and best places to visit in Montana are recommended to start planning a trip. From there, dive into the natural spaces, resorts, and beautiful areas of Big Sky Country.

Best Time to Visit Montana

Summer wildflowers at the Chinese Wall, Bob Marshall Wilderness
Summer wildflowers at the Chinese Wall, Bob Marshall Wilderness | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Summer: The state has fantastic attributes at all times of the year, but summer is the best time to visit Montana. Snow melts from high mountain passes, the days are long, and adventures are aplenty. The summer is also the best time to visit Glacier National Park, when the Going-to-the-Sun Road is fully accessible. Expect other visitors this time of year, and more competitive booking at area hotels, resorts, and campgrounds.

Fall: September and October are beautiful months to visit Montana. Scorching summer temperatures tend to settle down, adding a lovely crispness to the mornings and evenings. Several of Montana's top attractions shine throughout September, often with fewer crowds. October ushers in Montana's colder season but still provides access to snow-free activities like mountain biking, camping, and hot springs.

Winter: Montana activity doesn't go dormant in the winter. Outdoor enthusiasts flock to ski resorts and winter destinations across the state between November and March. The ski season begins as early as Thanksgiving at some resorts, but the most consistent conditions occur after the New Year.

Spring: Spring is a magical time in Montana. Melting snow reveals area hiking trails beginning in March, and the rivers are teeming with trout throughout the season. A general air of excitement accompanies spring, alongside a mix of weather, including rain, occasional snow, and intense sunshine. Spring is also the time when a fervent rush to enjoy the increasingly nice weather pervades the community.

Guide to Visiting Glacier National Park

Morning at Swiftcurrent Lake, Glacier National Park
Morning at Swiftcurrent Lake, Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park, also known as the Crown of the Continent, defines many Montana vacations. And rightfully so, as its eye-catching mountain landscapes offer some of the most stunning high-alpine scenery in the United States.

It pays to plan a visit to Glacier ahead of time. The park has recorded over three million annual visitors in years past, and two-thirds of those visits occur between June and August. While these snow-free months are arguably the best time to visit, resources such as campgrounds and hotels are in high demand.

Plan your adventures in Glacier National Park, including what hiking trails to discover.

Exploring the Montana Outdoors

Backpacker in Glacier National Park
Backpacker in Glacier National Park

For many, a Montana vacation means exploring the Great Outdoors. The state is absolutely brimming with outdoor adventure in almost every category. And within a state where national forest acreage outweighs the number of residents, Montana's outdoor activities tend to be bigger, less crowded, and backdropped by stunning natural surroundings.

A few popular activities to include in a trip to Montana include fly fishing, backpacking, and hot spring soaking. Other popular summertime activities include car camping and white-water rafting. And come the winter months, skiing dominates the slopes of several local mountains.

Hiking Trails:


Other Outdoor Adventures:

Best Cities in Montana

Aerial view of Missoula, Montana
Aerial view of Missoula, Montana

Big city is a relative term in Montana. The state's overall population barely tops one million, and its state capital, Helena, has roughly 32,000 residents. Still, these cultural centers emanate a big-city feel compared to the surrounding wilderness areas. And every one of Montana's biggest cities offers a springboard into Big Sky adventures.

Small Towns in Montana

Polson, Montana
Polson, Montana

Every small town in Montana has one thing in common: easy access to the Great Outdoors. What separates the small towns, however, is each one's unique sense of community and its attractions. And from the national park surroundings to ski resort getaways, every small town in Montana offers friendly faces and unforgettable adventures.

Interesting and Fun Facts about Montana

Grizzly Bear in Glacier National Park
Grizzly Bear in Glacier National Park

What is Montana Best Known For? Montana has many sparkling attributes but is perhaps best known for its wide-open spaces. These significant landscapes include wild rivers, prominent mountains, and one of the largest freshwater lakes west of the Mississippi River in the lower 48 states. And these outdoor meccas offer activities like backpacking, boating, and fly-fishing, which are also commonly associated with the state.

Montana is also well known for its Western history, much of which is still on display throughout the state. Helena, the capital city, blossomed from the Montana Gold Rush in the second half of the 1800s and still has these remnants in the downtown corridor today. And Butte, once known as the Richest Hill on Earth, extended its mining legacy all the way to 1983.

Population of Montana: Montana is the fourth largest state in the U.S. and has one of the smallest populations. It covers over 94 million acres, with just over one million people residing in the state. For many, this lack of density is a significant appeal of visiting or residing here.

Sports Teams in Montana: Montana has no professional sports teams, which puts a heavier emphasis on college and high school sports. The two most celebrated college teams come out of the state's university cities: Missoula (University of Montana Grizzlies) and Bozeman (Montana State Bobcats). Basketball and football are the two events that draw the biggest crowds. Specifically, Montana Grizzly Basketball at Dahlberg Arena offers notably electric appeal throughout the season.

Where Was A River Runs Through It Filmed? The 1976 story A River Runs Through It, written by Norman Maclean, solidified Montana's legendary status as a fly-fishing destination. And the subsequent 1992 blockbuster movie, directed by Robert Redford and starring Brad Pitt, helped viewers see the world described by Maclean's artful prose.

For those enchanted by the wild rivers and high canyons of the book or movie, these locations remain as beautiful today as ever. While the book takes place primarily on the Blackfoot River near Missoula, much of the movie was filmed closer to Bozeman and Livingston. Specifically, Brad Pitt can be seen fly casting on the Upper Yellowstone, Gallatin, and Boulder Rivers.

Why is Montana Known as the Treasure State? Montana is known as the Treasure State, thanks to the many rich minerals found beneath its soil. Modern Montana stems from the gold and silver first excavated in the 1800s, and cities like Butte, Philipsburg, and Anaconda flourished with copper mining throughout the rest of the century.

Today, Montana's most valuable underground asset is sapphire, which is also the state's official gemstone. Montana produces nearly every sapphire mined from the ground in the United States. These brilliant and hard gemstones were once thrown to the side during the Montana Gold Rush. Today, however, they are highly coveted for their beauty and excellent use as jewelry stones.

Perhaps the most famous Montana sapphires, the rare Yogo Sapphires, come from one specific spot in Montana; Yoga Gulch. Other popular sapphire mining locations are near Philipsburg and Anaconda.

Montana State Wildflower and Other State Symbols: The Montana State wildflower is the bitterroot. Despite the sour name, it's a beautiful perennial plant that blooms in the spring and summer, particularly in the west and southwest part of the state. The flower also has a significant history with indigenous cultures in the area.

The state animal is the grizzly bear, as Montana is home to the largest population of these massive mammals in the lower 48 states. Other unique symbols include the Western Meadowlark (state bird), Blackspotted Cutthroat Trout (state fish), and the Ponderosa Pine (state tree).