14 Top-Rated Places to Visit in Montana
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Whether you're visiting Montana for the first time or you're a long-term resident of the state, Big Sky Country offers unique landscapes found few other places in North America. From glaciated lakes to towering headframes still seen in mining towns, Montana has a distinct flavor that is only experienced by visiting. But visitor beware, once a taste of the wild adventure and wide-open spaces of Montana hits, it's hard to live anywhere else.
Mountainous backdrops define much of Montana, especially the western half, where the Continental Divide protrudes with Rocky Mountain grandeur. This rugged region has several desirable places to visit, including the world-renowned Glacier National Park, also known as the Crown of the Continent.
But Glacier is just the tip of Montana's adventures. The state is also home to some of the most extensive wilderness tracts in the country and millions of acres of national forest. And among these big wide-open spaces, several notable Western cities, like Missoula and Bozeman, entice with other cultural offerings.
Plan your visit to Big Sky Country with our list of the top places to visit in Montana.
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1. Glacier National Park
Glacier National Park, in Northwest Montana, is accurately nicknamed The Crown of the Continent. It shares this title with Waterton Lakes National Park of Canada, connected at the border. Spanning the Continental Divide, the park contains headwaters for three major North American watersheds. It also tops the list as one of Montana's best state and national parks.
A combination of massive snowfalls and millennia-old glaciers carved this Rocky Mountain region into a surreal alpine landscape of U-shaped valleys, ice-cold lakes, and scenic mountain peaks. The main thoroughfare transporting visitors through Glacier is the Going-to-the-Sun Road, spanning 50 miles and connecting many of the park's best places to see.
When considering where to go in Glacier National Park, a few suggestions include Lake McDonald, Logan Pass, and St. Mary - the western terminus, middle, and the eastern terminus of the Going-to-the-Sun Road. These areas are all prominent stops on the park's free shuttle system. Several trailheads and campgrounds line the route, as well as a few historic chalets.
Hiking, backpacking, fishing, boating, camping, and simply enjoying the views define much of the summer fun at Glacier, and more solitary opportunities for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing occur in winter. The peak season at Glacier is between Memorial Day and Labor Day, with an estimated three million visitors this time of year.
Accommodation: Best Places to Stay near Glacier National Park
Bozeman, in southwest Montana, is a university city with great access to the outdoors. Places like Bridger Bowl Ski Area and Custer Gallatin National Forest backdrop this charming western town, offering quintessential Montana adventures throughout the year. This ease of access to wild environments makes Bozeman a hot spot for hiking, fishing, and skiing.
Bozeman also has a distinct academic appeal as the home to Montana State University. This adds a scholarly touch to the historic Main Street running through downtown and a constant flow of young people, especially on the weekends.
Among the other educational opportunities, the city is also home to the widely recognized Museum of the Rockies, with one of the largest dinosaur fossil collections in the country. And the American Museum of Robotics is a few blocks away, offering a visible timeline of technology.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Bozeman
The university city of Missoula is well worth the visit or long-term stay. The Clark Fork River runs right through the center of town, connected to a historic downtown district and railroad depot. With a healthy college population and local community, the city offers several outlets for culture and entertainment.
Alongside the University of Montana campus, other fun city attractions include the Missoula Art Museum, a lively music scene, and A Hip Strip of local storefronts. Adjacent to the river, the Clark Fork River Trail is the main pedestrian corridor that connects several attractions and things to do.
Adjacent to the city, places like the Rattlesnake National Recreation Area and Montana Snowbowl offer hiking trails and ski slopes. And several national forests surround the city, offering deeper dives into iconic Montana landscapes. The summer and shoulder seasons offer the best weather to enjoy Missoula, but winter offers its own kind of frosty enjoyment.
Accommodation: Best Hotels in Missoula
Read More: Best Campgrounds in Missoula
Whitefish is a prominent stop on the Empire Builder Amtrak line in far Northwest Montana. It's a resort community thanks to the adjacent Whitefish Mountain Resort, also known as Big Mountain. It's also a jumping-off point for adventures in Glacier National Park, with the western Apgar Entrance approximately 30 minutes away.
The downtown district of Whitefish is filled with local shops, restaurants, and art galleries. It features lively entertainment throughout the year, including the winter, when skiers and snowboarders at Whitefish Mountain Resort fill the streets. And several other attractions, like Whitefish Lake and the surrounding Flathead National Forest, also draw interest to this mountain town.
Whitefish is also an excellent home base for other scenic places to visit. Alongside Glacier to the north, the city is also within a quick driving distance of Kalispell and Flathead Lake to the south. Similar to Whitefish, Kalispell offers a small-town charm and western appeal.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Whitefish
5. Yellowstone National Park
The northern tip of Yellowstone National Park is accessible via Gardiner, Montana, at the southern end of the aptly named Paradise Valley in the southwest part of the state. Visitors to this park entrance immediately encounter the Boiling River and the colorful travertine terraces of Mammoth Hot Springs. Also on-site are the Albright Visitor Center and the historic Fort Yellowstone.
Mammoth Hot Springs is well worth the visit alone. This steamy part of the park offers campgrounds, dining, and several boardwalk trails. And the near 3,500 square miles of Yellowstone invite further exploration from this unique and aromatic side of the park. This includes a multitude of geothermal features and places to see.
A few more notable places to visit within Yellowstone National Park include Yellowstone Lake, Grand Prismatic Spring, and the Upper Geyser Basin, including Old Faithful. Wildlife such as the park's native bison are commonly spotted from vehicles, as are other large animals, including black and grizzly bears, grey wolves, and elk.
Campground and lodge reservations often fill up fast during the summer season, and colder months attract winter enthusiasts from around the world.
In western Montana, near the junction of Interstate 90 and Interstate 15, Butte provides an authentic Montana experience and place to visit. Once regarded as the "Richest Hill on Earth," Butte has a long history in the mining industry still apparent on the streets today.
The Berkeley Pit bordering the city provides a colorful testament to this past, as does the World Museum of Mining, set atop the retired Orphan Girl Mine. One of the best ways to experience Butte's history is by hopping on one of several guided tours throughout the town. Old Butte Historical Adventures provides some of the most popular narrated excursions, including a classic Underground City Tour.
The surrounding Rocky Mountain landscape provides adventure opportunities throughout the year, including access to the Continental Divide Trail. The adjacent town of Anaconda also provides outlets of enjoyment from Butte.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Butte
Read More: Top Things to Do in Butte, Montana
Once known as Last Chance Gulch and the state capital since Montana's statehood in 1889, Helena has a long history steeped in the Montana Gold Rush. Much of that gold-panning past can be experienced in Helena today, particularly within Reeder's Alley near downtown, complete with a preserved Pioneer's cabin.
For more history on a Helena vacation, the ornate State Capitol building is lined with interpretive information and historical paintings. Free self-guided tours are available anytime the capital building is open, which offers the perfect chance to enjoy the massive murals inside at leisure. Next door, the Montana Historical Society also displays a collection of state-inspired art and interpretive information.
Mount Helena is the defining backdrop of the city, and the city park of the same name provides great hiking trails and excellent vistas close to downtown. For families looking for where to go in Helena, the ExplorationWorks Plaza hosts an engaging science museum and the adjacent Great Northern Carousel. A piece of architecture easy to appreciate in Helena, the century-old Cathedral of St. Helena towers impressively near the city center.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Helena
8. Flathead Lake
Flathead Lake is an incredible expanse of water in Northwest Montana. As one of the largest lakes in the American West outside of Alaska, it encompasses over 180 miles of shoreline. Just driving the length of the lake takes at least 45 minutes, and that's without stopping at the seasonal roadside cherry stands.
Boating and accessing the water are among the most popular things to do at Flathead Lake. The water is notorious for its flat surface and good fishing conditions. Several boat ramps and public access points line the shores, including different Flathead Lake State Park units.
One of the most adventurous units of Flathead Lake State Park is the aptly named Wild Horse Island. Feral horses still roam this largest island in the lake, which is only accessible to visitors via boat. Communities on the west side of the lake near Wild Horse Island offer ferries, kayak rentals, and powerboat rentals.
9. Great Falls
Great Falls is home to a growing collection of world-class museums, restaurants, and genuine Montana experiences. It's also the site of significant history, spanning back to Cowboy Artists, the Corps of Discovery, and indigenous populations roaming the region. And today, it offers several things to do and great places to visit.
The C.M. Russell Museum and the Paris Gibson Square Museum of Art and highlight some iconic work in modern and Western art. And the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center provides further insight on the city's storied past.
The River's Edge Trail is the main pedestrian corridor spanning the city on both sides of the Missouri River. It connects several stunning outdoor attractions, including Giant Springs State Park, home to one of the large natural freshwater springs in the country. For more outdoor appeal, just west of Great Falls is First People's Buffalo Jump State Park and the site of ancient buffalo hunting grounds.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Great Falls
Read More: Top Things to Do in Great Falls, Montana
10. Philipsburg and Anaconda
Philipsburg and Anaconda are two historic towns turned tourist destinations in Southwest Montana. The 64-mile Pintler Veterans Memorial Scenic Highway connects the two towns, also known as the Anaconda-Pintler Scenic Highway. And the stunning Beaverhead Deerlodge National Forest spans much of the drive.
Approximately an hour east of Missoula, Philipsburg is a charming 19th-century mining town with a lively main street that's fun to wander. Just a few attractions lining the street include art galleries; old-fashioned soda shops; and one of the best candy stores in the country, aptly named The Sweet Palace. The downtown area also features opportunities to mine for Montana sapphires and other Western gems.
Anaconda is on the other end of the byway, just 20 minutes from Butte, and with a history tied to the neighboring "Richest Hill on Earth." This history is most visible from the towering Anaconda Smelter Stack rising above the city. Other attractions include a historic theater; a hot spring resort; and the Old Works Golf Club, complete with black slag bunkers.
Livingston is on the Yellowstone River in southwestern Montana. Its Old West mixes well with the resident artists who now call this western town home. The city is an hour's drive from Yellowstone National Park, but you don't have to leave Main Street to enjoy the impressive sights of this Rocky Mountain region - the towering Livingston Peak provides postcard views from the sidewalk.
Restaurants, art galleries, and a vibrant cultural scene now define this Old West town, as well as abundant access to fly fishing, hiking, and hot springs. It's a common stopover on Yellowstone vacations and a fun weekend trip from Bozeman, located 25 miles west. The town is also home, or second-home, to a growing number of past and present celebrities.
12. Virginia City
Virginia City was once the most vibrant Gold Rush locale in the state, but today, few precious minerals remain in this now ghost town just west of Yellowstone National Park. What has endured over the years is the unmistakable air of an Old West gold-mining town.
As one of the best-preserved ghost towns in the state, Virginia City attracts tourists and families to take a fun step back in time. Live performances at the Virginia City Opera House are great for historical interest, as are the various guided tours and costumed characters roaming the streets.
13. Little Bighorn National Monument
The site of "Custer's Last Stand," this national monument commemorates the Battle of Little Bighorn and the many men who lost their lives fighting in 1876. Visitors to the battlefield today learn more about the events on the battlefield and the cultural elements that culminated in warfare. Some of the unique places to visit at the monument include the Custer National Cemetery and Deep Ravine Trail, and the 7th Cavalry and Indian Memorial. Guided and self-guided tours are available.
Address: I-90 Frontage Road, Crow Agency,Montana
Official site: https://www.nps.gov/libi/index.htm
Billings, in the south-central part of the state, is the largest city in Montana. With a population topping over 100,000 residents, the town sits on the Yellowstone River and invites several outlets for exploration. Magnificent sandstone cliffs known as the Rimrocks divide the city and offer a preview of its rugged Western landscapes.
The Great Outdoors is a major attraction of Billings, and the city is sometimes better known as Montana's Trailhead. The Yellowstone River offers major in-town outdoor attractions, as do Lake Elmo and Pictograph Caves State Parks. And heading south from Billings, the world-renowned Beartooth Highway navigates alpine terrain for 68 miles to reach Yellowstone National Park.
And it's the Billings culture, too, that warrants a visit. Museums, restaurants, and historic mansions line the downtown district, and the city's larger population keeps the pavement busy. Other Billings attractions include seasonal gardens and a wildlife zoo.
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