15 Best Things to Do in Montana

Montana is well known as a haven for outdoor enthusiasts. Winter sports, water sports, biking, hiking, you name it. Those who have been there call it Big Sky Country because of the rugged otherworldly beauty. A scenic drive through the Rockies, or along one of the longest state stretches of border with Canada will leave you breathless. It also happens to be the fourth largest state and one of the most northerly. Its population is low, which means wildlife lovers and birders flock here year round. Montana certainly is a dream destination.

Lets explore the best things to do in Montana:

1. Glacier National Park

Glacier National ParkSource: flickr
Glacier National Park

This is one million acres of paradise on earth. The astounding list of facts is almost too numerous to fit in. Trek the over 700 miles of hiking and biking trails, drive down the 50 mile Going-to-the-Sun road, cross the 7,700-foot-high Logan Pass, see Reynolds peak at 9,100 feet, rest by one of over 130 lakes, and get lose in the wildlife dense park interior. Easily Montana’s most popular tourist attraction, you be amazed at every turn. It’s been called the Crown of the Continent Ecosystem, and there’s no doubt why. If this is on your list, and it should be, you’ll need to plan a second trip to do anything else because once you arrive, you won’t want to leave.

2. Flathead Lake

Flathead LakeSource: flickr
Flathead Lake

The largest natural lake in the Western US is Flathead. It has 200 square miles of water and 185 miles of shore. Thanks to the Swan and Flathead rivers, fishermen and water enthusiasts have made the lake a Montana destination spot. Part of the lake is on tribal reservation land and visitors must purchase a pass to visit this gorgeous stretch of the lake. If you’re arriving during Memorial Day, you can catch the annual Bigfork Whitewater Festival. In the middle of the lake is Wildhorse Island. Accessible only by boat, this 2000+ acre state park is a perfect place to spend an afternoon.

3. Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument

Little Bighorn Battlefield National MonumentSource: flickr
Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument

Perhaps one of America’s best known historic landmarks in the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument in Crow Agency, Montana. The memorial is made up of several components including a visitor’s centre, the Custer National Cemetery, a museum, the 7th Cavalry Memorial, as well as the Reno-Benteen Battlefield. The area serves to commemorates the Battle of Little Bighorn – one of the most infamous battles between the US government and the Sioux and Cheyenne American Indians.  Thousands died during the battle and the memorial has been a powerful aid in the reconciliation efforts since.

4. Ringing Rocks

Ringing RocksSource: flickr
Ringing Rocks

Just outside of Butte, Montana are the Ringing Rocks of the Boulder Batholith. These unique rock formations actually chime melodically when tapped with a mallet or similar instrument. These interesting formations are found in only a few places in the world. In addition to Montana, you can visit the Pyeongyang in Vietnam, Orissa, India, or the lithophones in Africa. Knowledge of these formations is as old as 2000 years. Though there are theories about why the rocks rings, there is actually no scientific proof as of yet. If you remove one of the boulders, the formation no longer rings.

5. The Museum of the Rockies

The Museum of the RockiesSource: flickr
The Museum of the Rockies

Located in Bozeman, Montana, the Museum of the Rockies is a ‘do not miss.’ An extension of the Smithsonian Institute, the museum is famous for all things dinosaur related. Including eggs, skeletons, and realistic models of several species. The collection also has the largest Tyrannosaurus skull and a T-Rex skeleton, affectionately known as “Bike Mike.” When you visit, you can also see artefacts of the Plains American Indians, pioneer exhibits, and Tinsely House, a preserved log cabin from the 19th century.

6. Lake McDonald

Lake McDonaldSource: flickr
Lake McDonald

One of those incredible 130 lakes in Glacier National Park is Lake McDonald. It’s ten miles long and almost 500 feet deep. The view of the Great Continental Divide from here is unsurpassed. Visitors come for hiking, wildlife viewing, birding, picnics, and photography. It’s common to see elk, bighorn sheep, black bears, and mountain goats. Lake McDonald is really the hub of the western portion of the park. Stay at the early 20th century lodge that makes for a perfect rest at the end of an incredible day. The glacial carvings that happened over thousands of years has left an indelible impression that everyone falls in love with.

7. The Garden of One Thousand Buddhas

The Garden of One Thousand BuddhasSource: flickr
The Garden of One Thousand Buddhas

It’s a bit surprising to come across the Garden of One Thousand Buddhas in the middle of Montana, but that’s part of the beauty. Located on an American Indian reservation, it was originally established as a centre for peace in 2000. Reaching 750 feet and laid out in a circular pattern, the layout represents the wheel of dharma and the Noble Eightfold Path symbolizing the cycle of life, death, and rebirth. In the centre is Yum Chenmo, the Great Mother. Each of the buddhas are made from white concrete and are placed symmetrically around the circle. It’s a moving sight that is a point of pride for the volunteers that have helped in its creation.

8. Big Sky

Big SkySource: flickr
Big Sky

You want skiing? Big Sky, Montana is your best choice. One of the largest and most popular ski resorts in all of the US, Big Sky is always busy thanks to an average 400 inches of snow per year and almost 6,000 acres of skiable land. There is something for all levels here. At peak season, the lifts carry 29,000 ski lovers per hour. Luxury accommodations, fantastic restaurants, and plenty of entertainment make a visit to Big Sky a win win. If you talk with some of the locals, you’ll hear a number of stories from people who came for a visit and never left. The town itself is quaint and rustic with the perfect blend of modern amenities and escapism.

9. West Yellowstone

West YellowstoneSource: flickr
West Yellowstone

Shortly after the US congress created Yellowstone National Park (the first national park) in the late nineteenth century, tourists started flocking to see this incredible and largely undiscovered area. The gateway to the park began to build up into a settlement and is now home to about 1200 residents today. West Yellowstone hosts over four million people annually and caters to the parks visitors. Check out the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Centre to see live wolves, grizzly’s, and raptors. West Yellowstone has an IMAX theatre, tons of local crafts, all the outdoor gear you can imagine, and every type of dining experience you could want. Enjoy a touring snow coach and spot incredible wildlife while learning about the history of the town and park.

10. Castle Ghost Town

Castle Ghost TownSource: flickr
Castle Ghost Town

Montana is home to a number of towns established and then later bankrupted by the silver rush in the late 19th century. Castle is one that you can visit today. In less than seven years, almost 1000 sites had been claimed by prospectors, and Castle, Montana was born. At its peak, Castle boasted a school, a jail, several shops, 14 saloons, and seven brothels. Needless to say, it was a rollicking good town. Calamity Jane (Martha Jane Cannary Burke) stayed in Castle for a short time while running a restaurant. The town lived a short life, no more than 50 years. Abandoned in the 1930’s visitors can see the remains of the town – including Minnie’s sporting house.

11. Helena

HelenaSource: flickr
Helena

Montana’s capital city was once called Last Chance, thanks to a small group of down-on-their luck prospectors who decided to dig one last time and literally struck gold. Helena’s capital building is a stunning example of Greek Renaissance architecture with murals throughout representing various historical moments that happened in Montana. A stay in Helena makes for a perfect basecamp to explore much of what’s great about the state. Visit Helena National Forest, hike the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail, and stop by the Elkhorn Wildlife Management Unit to see some wonderful big game. Don’t miss the Cathedral of St. Helena, the Holter Museum, and take a walking tour of the historic district

12. Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Centre

Grizzly and Wolf Discovery CentreSource: flickr
Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Centre

If you stay in West Yellowstone (and you should) you really can’t miss the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Centre. It’s a sanctuary for the animals that grow comfortable around humans or were orphaned. See impressive grizzly’s and majestic gray wolves in their natural habitat. You can also get up close and personal with the cubs while you’re there. The visitors centre shares information about the animal’s behaviour, history, and population decline. The bears really love a good time and you can watch them play in their pond and fish. Early morning visitors are treating to the haunting calls of the wolf packs.

13. The Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail

The Lewis and Clark National Historic TrailSource: flickr
The Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail

Almost 4,000 miles long, the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail runs from a small town in Illinois, to the start of the Columbia River in Astoria, Oregon. It connects 11 states, including Montana, as well as several American Indian reservations. Established in the late 1970’s, visitors follow the approximate trail of the Corps of Discovery. Lewis and Clarks epic journey helped to define and expand America.

14. Earthquake Lake

Earthquake LakeSource: flickr
Earthquake Lake

Without digging deeper, you might see the lake and think that it’s a perfectly nice, and perfectly average, lake. The mountains frame the scenery and the water is serene and a gorgeous blue. But there is something beneath the surface there. In 1959, a 7.3 earthquake hit the area and sent an unbelievable 80 million tons of earth hurtling down into the canyon at over 100 miles per hour. The earthquake also disturbed the existing lake, sending a tsunami sized wave and strong winds down the canyon as well. Scarps jutted up from the earth, geysers erupted, and the ground dropped 19 feet in a matter of seconds. When it was over, 28 lives were lost. Scientists are still baffled by events and the area has a mysteriously beautiful quality to it. For nature lovers, it’s a must see. You’re able to get a real sense of what Mother Nature is capable of.

15. The Western Heritage Centre

The Western Heritage CentreSource: underrinermotors
The Western Heritage Centre

Located in Billings, the Western Heritage Centre can be found in the Parmly Billings Library – more than a century old. There are over 16,000 artefacts at the centre. Visitors are treated to 1,000 photos that show the culture and development of the Yellowstone River region. Connected to the Smithsonian Institute, the centre focuses on preserving the history and heritage of the Crow and Cheyenne American Indians. Before going, check their website for special lectures, programs, and workshops

Where to stay: Best Hotels in Montana (MT)
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15 Best Things to Do in Montana:

  • Glacier National Park
  • Flathead Lake
  • Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument
  • Ringing Rocks
  • The Museum of the Rockies
  • Lake McDonald
  • The Garden of One Thousand Buddhas
  • Big Sky
  • West Yellowstone
  • Castle Ghost Town
  • Helena
  • Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Centre
  • The Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail
  • Earthquake Lake
  • The Western Heritage Centre