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10 Top-Rated Things to Do in Hamilton, MT

Written by Brad Lane
May 21, 2021

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Hamilton is the largest community in the Bitterroot Valley of Southwest Montana. It’s also the county seat for the surrounding Ravalli County, and this significant status makes the town an excellent base camp for this mountainous region of Montana.

The iconic Bitterroot Mountains line the valley to the west, while the Swan Mountains border the east. These upright and rugged environments speak to Hamilton’s most prominent attraction: The Great Outdoors. Explorers from across the country travel to the Bitterroot Valley for bucket-list hiking, fishing, and all-around adventure.

Hamilton's population is less than 5,000 residents, but tens of thousands of tourists travel through the city each year. This influx of visitors lends to a surplus of restaurants, shops, and museums lining Main Street. Alongside this culture, the town's history is also on display at places like the 50-plus-room Daly Mansion, once home to Copper King Marcus Daly, the city's founder.

Enjoy one of the best small towns in Montana with our list of top things to do in Hamilton, Montana.

Note: Some businesses may be temporarily closed due to recent global health and safety issues.

1. Tour the Daly Mansion

Daly Mansion
Daly Mansion | SheltieBoy / photo modified

The historic Daly Mansion is a must-visit when spending time in Hamilton. This stately Georgian-Revival-style home once belonged to Marcus Daly. Daly was a “Copper King” and influential titan of the mining industry coming out of Butte in the late 1800s. Daly was responsible for the 585-foot-tall smelter stack that still stands in Anaconda today, 80 miles to the east.

Daly and his wife, Margaret, purchased the mansion property in 1886. Several renovations took place over the next two decades, with the property receiving its final upgrade in 1910 — a full decade after Mr. Daly’s untimely death. The mansion remained boarded up between 1941 and 1987 until the state purchased the vacant property.

Today, the Daly Mansion Preservation Trust offers public tours of the residence and maintains the grounds. Public tours span from mid-May through mid-October. They are the only way to see the interior of the 24,000-square-foot mansion, which has over 50 rooms filled with period-authentic decor.

Tours dive deep into the legacy of Marcus and Margaret Daly. Narration includes the lasting effects the mining industry has left upon modern Montana. Visitors are also welcome to tour the landscaped property that surrounds the home. These grounds host community events throughout the year, including Easter egg hunts and Mothers’ Day tea parties.

Address: 251 Eastside Highway, Hamilton, Montana

Official site: http://dalymansion.org/

2. Fly Fish the Bitterroot River

Lone fly fisherman on the Bitterroot River
Lone fly fisherman on the Bitterroot River

The Bitterroot River, flowing right next to the town, is one of the best places to fly fish in Montana. The Bitterroot has at least seven months of quality casting available. It is commonly known as a dry fly fishing paradise. Anglers from across the nation come to land the variety of trout teeming in the waters, including cutthroat, rainbow, brown, and the occasional bull trout.

If visiting the area for the first time or new to the sport, the best way to go about fly fishing from Hamilton is with a professional guide. Freestone Fly Shop, off Highway 93, is an excellent first place to visit for advice and equipment. This locally owned fly shop also offers guided trips on the Bitterroot and other nearby rivers, including the Clark Fork.

3. Explore the Bitterroot National Forest

Trapper Peak, Bitterroot National Forest
Trapper Peak, Bitterroot National Forest | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

The Bitterroot Mountains to the west and the Sapphire Mountains to the east comprise the Bitterroot Valley's elevated scenery. And the 1.6-million-acre Bitterroot National Forest encompasses these iconic mountain ranges. This abundance of beautiful public space lends to a wide variety of adventures near Hamilton.

Several of Montana’s best hiking trails span throughout the national forest. Some of the most popular trailheads include Blodgett Canyon, Bass Creek, and St. Mary Peak. The tallest Bitterroot Mountain, Trapper Peak, also offers a memorable hike with a trailhead less than 40 miles south.

And it’s so much more than hiking in the Bitterroots. A few other popular activities include boating, fishing, horseback riding, and mountain biking. Intrepid explorers can also access the beginning of the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness within the forest. This wild country spans millions of acres with some of the most rugged, untouched landscapes in the lower 48.

4. Swim in Lake Como

Lake Como
Lake Como

Lake Como is a massive reservoir approximately 13 miles south of Hamilton. The water is a central spot for recreation throughout the year. The eastern banks are highly developed with parking, campgrounds, and a sprawling swimming beach.

Boating is one of the most popular activities come summertime. The sandy beach has an expansive shoreline to put a non-motorized boat on the water. A public boat launch is also available for motorized vessels. Picnic tables and places to put out a blanket also punctuate this sandy area.

Hiking is also popular at Lake Como, particularly on the Lake Como National Recreation Trail. This seven-mile loop circles the lake with excellent views the entire way. The trailhead is near the Lake Como Campground, also known as the Lower Como. This campground and another one nearby, Three Frogs Campground, offer spaces for tents and RVs.

5. Ski at Lost Trail

Lost Trail Ski Area
Lost Trail Ski Area | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Lost Trail Ski Area, one of Montana’s best ski resorts, is a scenic 45-mile drive south through the Bitterroot Valley. This favorite local resort has over 1,800 acres spread across two different mountains. And with an average annual snowfall of over 325 feet, it’s also known as Lost Trail Powder Mountain.

Lost Trail welcomes all downhill abilities. Plenty of groomers cater to anyone new to the sport or looking for a smooth ride. And generous glades for tree skiing border these easier runs. And with more than 60 named routes, there’s more to explore than can be seen in a day.

What also makes Lost Trail fun to visit is its laid-back vibe. The resort is right on the Montana and Idaho border. While it does receive crowds from either state, outrageous lift lines are rarely an issue. And the Lodge at Lost Trail, with a cozy fireplace area and cafeteria-style dining, is a lively place to hang out between making turns.

Official site: https://losttrail.com/

6. Grab a Bite to Eat in Hamilton

Main Street in Hamilton
Main Street in Hamilton | Audie Ortiz / photo modified

Hamilton is a central spot in the Bitterroot Valley for local restaurants. Casual cafés and upscale eateries line Main Street, and stopping in for a meal is a quintessential part of any visit.

A few local favorites include Nap’s Grill and the Filling Station Grille. These local establishments offer casual fare perfect for after a day of hiking or other adventures. Visiting the Filling Station Grille is an experience on its own, with Americana plastered across much of the dining room.

Hamilton also offers more upscale dining for a romantic date or celebratory dinner. Taste of Paris is one such fine dining establishment with a full French menu. For a more upscale lunch menu, Bouilla is a sandwich shop that specializes in made-from-scratch entrees. Bouilla is also open in the evenings, Wednesday through Saturday.

7. Road Trip from Hamilton

Mount Jumbo in Missoula, an hour south of Hamilton
Mount Jumbo in Missoula, an hour south of Hamilton | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

As the largest community within the Bitterroot Valley, Hamilton is an excellent base camp for exploring the region. To the north and south, great Montana adventures line Highway 93. And several communities within the Bitterroot Valley are worth a road-trip detour.

North of Hamilton, communities like Victor, Stevensville, and Florence offer their own unique flavor with local restaurants and attractions. Farther north still, just outside of the Bitterroot Valley, the many things to do in Missoula encourage several day trips. From Hamilton to Missoula, it’s an hour-long drive.

South of Hamilton is the picturesque Western town of Darby, also within Ravalli County. The Idaho border is less than 50 miles south of Hamilton, crossed near Lost Trail Ski Area.

Beyond the border, the adventurous town of Salmon, Idaho also invites exploration less than two-hours away.

8. Cross-Country Ski at Chief Joseph Pass

Chief Joseph Pass in winter
Chief Joseph Pass in winter | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

The Bitterroot Valley doesn’t go dormant during wintertime. The surrounding forestland takes on a heavy coat for other types of recreation. Aside from downhill endeavors at Lost Trail Ski Area, one of the most popular ways to enjoy the winter weather is cross-country skiing.

Chief Joseph Pass, an hour’s drive south near Lost Trail, is a top spot from Hamilton for Nordic pursuits. Twenty-four kilometers of cross-country ski trails stem from this plowed parking area operated by the U.S. Forest Service. The Bitterroot Cross-Country Ski Club grooms the trails weekly.

For Nordic activities closer to town, Lake Como, 20 miles south, also features groomed cross-country ski trails. Because of their lower elevation, the trails at Lake Como have a shorter season. The Skalkaho Snowpark also offers a small set of trails, east of Hamilton on Highway 38.

9. Dive into the Past at the Ravalli County Museum and Historical Society

In the historic Ravalli County Courthouse, this detailed museum houses thousands of artifacts from throughout the Bitterroot Valley. Exhibits span from the era of indigenous cultures to Lewis and Clark and the pioneering that followed. It's an excellent place to visit for some context in this rugged region of the country.

Galleries are split between two floors at the museum. The ground floor houses permanent exhibits relating to early cowboys, trappers, and miners in the area. Ground floor exhibits also reflect the time spent in Ravalli County by the Corps of Discovery.

The top floor dives deeper into the natural history of the region, as well as technological advancements in the valley, including the advent of gas-powered automobiles. The museum also regularly rotates exhibits on display for something new to see with each visit.

The Ravalli County Museum & Historical Society also regularly engages with the community. A few signature events at the museum include a Bitter Root Day in June and an Annual McIntosh Apple Day in October.

Address: 205 Bedford Street, Hamilton, Montana

Official site: https://ravallimuseum.org/

10. Enjoy the Outdoors at Kiwanis Park

For the rare moments of feeling restless in Hamilton, the city maintains several charming public parks that vie for attention. Every city park in Hamilton is free to visit and offers an excellent place for a picnic or time spent outdoors.

Kiwanis Park is always a popular choice, at the west end of Madison Street near the Bitterroot River. A verdant green space comprises much of this park, alongside access to stellar views of the mountain-studded riparian landscape. Kiwanis connects to the adjacent River Park and Trail for more outdoors to explore. Wildlife sightings, including moose, take place at either park.

Claudia Driscoll Park is also a popular public space in town, especially for families with young children. That’s because Claudia Driscoll is home to a colossal playground set with several modern obstacles to climb over. The adjacent Skatepark also tends to be popular with the youth.

Where to Stay in Hamilton, Montana for Sightseeing

While camping in the surrounding Bitterroot National Forest is a popular option to spend the night, Hamilton also has a handful of excellent hotels to sleep in comfort. Many of these places to stay line Highway 93 on the north side of town, and all feature incredible views for the value.

  • Bitterroot River Inn & Conference Center: This family-friendly hotel is near the Bitterroot River banks on the north side of town. Alongside ample conference space, including a popular wedding venue, the hotel also features rooms and suites with a subtle yet comfortable decor.
  • Quality Inn: The Quality Inn provides a reliable night’s sleep on the north side of town. It’s a popular choice for all types of travel, with extra features like a pool area and sauna. The hotel also offers a complimentary full breakfast with items like eggs, meats, and waffles.
  • Deer Crossing Bed and Breakfast: One of Hamilton's most charming stays occurs at the Deer Crossing Bed & Breakfast. This family-owned establishment is kid- and pet-friendly and surrounded by a beautifully landscaped property. It’s also touted as “Barn & Breakfast” because guests get the chance to meet the resident horses.
  • Super 8 by Wyndham Hamilton: This budget-friendly hotel offers clean and comfortable rooms at a great value. The Super 8 features free internet, free parking, and a complimentary light breakfast in the morning. It’s also on the north side of town.
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