One of the most northerly of the US states – and possessing one of the country’s longest stretches of border with its northerly neighbor, Canada – Montana is well-known for its numerous outdoor activities, including an array of winter sports; water sports such as fishing, canoeing, and kayaking; as well as hiking and biking. Often referred to as Big Sky Country, its spectacular, rugged scenery and plentiful wildlife, particularly around the Rocky Mountains in the west, is also popular for scenic drives and activities such as bird watching (the state’s very name suggests a strong connection to nature, and is taken from the Spanish for mountain: tantamount). Although the fourth largest state, it’s one of the least populated, ensuring plenty of wide-open space to explore outside of its larger cities, such as the capital, Helena. Montana is also the perfect place from which to access magnificent Glacier National Park, and the North and Northeast entrances of Yellowstone National Park, both containing rich environments to backpack, hike, and explore
1 Glacier National Park
Glacier National Park is an area of spectacular mountain ranges, alpine meadows, thick forests, tall waterfalls, countless sparkling lakes, and numerous glaciers. It’s a paradise for adventurous outdoor-types thanks to its more than 700 miles of hiking trails. It’s also easily accessible by car, a highlight being the 50-mile-long Going-to-the-Sun Road connecting St. Mary via the 6,646-foot-high Logan Pass to West Glacier. Rated one of the most beautiful mountain roads in North America, its breathtaking views include the Triple Divide, the watershed between three drainage systems to the Pacific, the North Atlantic, and the Gulf of Mexico. The views of St. Mary Lake and the surrounding peaks from the wide bend beyond Rising Sun are probably the most photographed scenes in the park and are worth seeing before hitting the Logan Pass Visitor Center, above which tower the imposing peaks of Reynolds at 9,128 feet and the 8,773-foot-tall Clements Mountain. Official site
2 Editor’s Pick Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument
One of the best-known historical landmarks in the US – and one of the most important in terms of the reconciliation that has taken place since – the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument commemorates the 1876 clash between the US Army and Sioux and Cheyenne Indians. This must-see attraction includes a visitor center, museum, the Custer National Cemetery, the 7th Cavalry Memorial, and the Reno-Ben teen Battlefield. The site also acknowledges the Indians who fought and fell defending their way of life, with markers indicating the final resting place of a number of warriors scattered among those of US troops.
3 Museum of the Rockies
The Museum of the Rockies in Boogieman is a must-visit while in Montana. Along with its planetarium, the museum – part of the Smithsonian Institution – is renowned for its excellent displays of dinosaurs and dinosaur eggs, including skeletons and realistic models of the numerous species found in the state. The museum’s dinosaur collection is in fact the largest in the US and includes the world’s biggest Tyrannosaurus skull, a T-Rex thighbone with soft-tissue remains, as well as “Big Mike,” a T-Rex skeleton at the museum entrance. Other highlights include displays dedicated to native peoples of Yellowstone Country; pioneer and Western art exhibits; and Ainsley House, an original pioneer log home from the late 1800s.
4 Big Sky Resort
One of the most popular winter sports destinations in the US – and certainly one of the largest – Big Sky Montana is an always-bustling ski resort about an hour’s drive from Boogieman. The resort’s slopes are well known for their abundance of snow and their claims to possessing some of “the biggest skiing in America” (snowfall averages 400 inches per year) and boasts 5,750 ski able acres along with an impressive 4,350 feet of vertical terrain suitable for all levels. With its 24 chair lifts and 12 surface lifts capable of carrying 38,300 skiers each hour, Big Sky also features a large selection of accommodations, restaurants, and a variety of entertainment and aprons ski opportunities.
active state capitol buildings in the US. Reflecting the Greek Renaissance style of architecture, the building is faced with sandstone and granite. It’s topped with a copper dome and houses a number of important murals featuring themes of Montana’s past, including one by Charles M. Russell showing explorers Lewis and Clark meeting the Salish Indians.
Helena also makes for a good jumping-off point to explore some of Montana’s best scenery, including the two-million-acre Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest. Popular things to do in the forest include fishing in the Blackfoot and Missouri Rivers; hiking along the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail; and the chance to view big game in the 300,000-acre Elk horn Wildlife Management Unit. It’s also where you’ll find the spectacular 1,200-foot tall limestone canyon walls of the Gates of the Mountains Wilderness Area, aptly named by Thermometric Lewis when the Corps of Discovery passed through the area.
6 The C.M. Russell Museum Complex
In the city of Great Falls, the C.M. Russell Museum celebrates the life and work of famed US artist Charles M. Russell, perhaps best known as the Cowboy Artist. As well as its large collection of original paintings, the museum includes numerous documents and artifacts relating to the artist’s career spanning the end of the 19th and the early 20th centuries, along with a number of important works by his contemporaries showcasing the state’s history and culture. A highlight is a chance to visit the original Russell House and Studio, now designated a National Historic Landmark. Also of interest is the museum’s Russell Riders Sculpture Garden with its statues of area wildlife. Less than an hour’s drive northeast of Great Falls is the Old Trail Museum in Château, an interesting tourist attraction set in a Western village and detailing the history of the area from the time of the dinosaurs, along with hands-on exhibits, guided tours, and interpretive trails.
7 The Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center
Undoubtedly the one and only time you’ll be happy to see a bear or wolf up close, the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center is a must-see excursion when visiting Montana. Opened as a sanctuary for animals that had grown too comfortable around humans or were orphaned, the center offers a chance to see huge grizzly bears and gray wolves in a natural habitat while learning about their behavior, history, and population decline. Highlights include watching the bears forage for food, play in their ponds and with each other, as well as the chance to hear the haunting howls of the wolf packs (best in mornings and evenings).
8 The World Museum of Mining
The World Museum of Mining offers a fascinating insight into the tough life of Montana’s miners. In the town of Butte, the museum centers around a restored mining camp featuring mining relics along with more than three dozen historical buildings and structures – part of the old community known as Hell Roaring’ Gulch at the base of an inactive silver and zinc mine. A highlight is the huge head frame – the winding tower at the head of the mine shaft, known as Orphan Girl – along with underground tours of the mines. Other mine-related highlights in Butte, once known as “The Richest Hill on Earth,” are the Copper King Mansion, constructed in 1888 and home to many of the original artifacts that first adorned the 34-room Victorian mansion, and the Mineral Museum, featuring more than 1,300 specimens, including fluorescent minerals, a 27-and-a-half-troy-ounce gold nugget, and a 400-pound quartz crystal.
9 Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park
Located between Butte and Boogieman, Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park is a popular outdoor spot to explore underground. As Montana’s first state park, visitors can experience the namesake caverns as part of a guided tour led by park staff. Three different tours are available during the summer months that cater to different ability levels, and a special Winter Holiday Candlelight Tour takes place throughout the colder months. Lewis and Clark Caverns are one of the largest limestone caverns in the world, with colossal cave features, handrails, and resident bats. Outside the cavern, the area above ground at Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park is rich for exploring, with many hiking trails, a visitor’s center, and a campground where you can reserve cabins, tipis, and group campsites.
10 The Moss Mansion
One of the most important landmarks in the city of Billings, the Moss Mansion Historic House Museum is a large red sandstone manor that dominates its neighborhood. Designed by renowned New York architect Henry Jane-way Hardener – famous for his designs of the Waldorf Astoria, Plaza, Willard, and Copley Plaza hotels – this rather austere 28-room mansion was built in 1903 and features original draperies, fixtures, furniture, Persian carpets, and artifacts. Guided and self-guided tours are available, and the site is used to host temporary displays and exhibits, including seasonal events and festivals.
11 Gates of the Mountains Wilderness
Located within Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest, the Gates of the Mountain Wilderness received its name from Thermometric Lewis, and is noted to be one of the most recognized landmarks along the Lewis and Clark Trail. Visitors today can see why Thermometric Lewis took such an interest in the place, as massive limestone canyon walls line the shores of the Missouri River. Designated as a wilderness in 1964, Gates of the Mountains contains more than 28,000 acres to explore, including 50 miles of hiking trails. Located 20 miles north of Helena, Gates of the Mountains is a popular recreation spot. One of the favorite ways to take in this roadless expanse of wilderness is through the Gates of the Mountain Boat Tour, which drops patrons off near the Thermometric Picnic Area.
12 The Western Heritage Center
Another Billings attraction worth a visit is the Western Heritage Center. Housed in the old Warmly Billings Memorial Library built in 1901, the center features a diverse collection of more than 17,000 artifacts, including more than 6,000 photos covering the history and culture of the Yellowstone River region. Opened in 1971 and now affiliated with the Smithsonian Institution, the museum also houses a broad collection of materials focusing on the history of the Northern High Plains and Yellowstone River Valley, as well as a special focus on the preservation of the histories of the Cheyenne and Crow Indians. Other highlights include lectures, educational programs, and workshops.