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You might picture the Rocky Mountains when you think of Montana. And you should — they’re incredible. But with 147,040 square miles, the fourth-largest state in the USA has much more to see than snowy peaks. So come for the mountains, but stick around and explore what the rest of state has to offer.

Whether you’re interested in sunrise bird watching, hiking, or sampling locally crafted whiskey made with handpicked sweetcorn, it’s all here. Then there are the powwows, the horseback adventures, and the scenic drives that will have you slowing to a crawl to take in the nonstop views.

There are a lot of great ways to experience Montana — so let’s get started.

This guide is proudly produced in partnership with the Montana Office of Tourism and Brand USA. All photos provided by the Montana Office of Tourism, except where noted.
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The National Parks

Montana is home to Glacier National Park and is a gateway to Yellowstone National Park, both among the finest parks in America. Take on a challenging hike or sip a drink in a historic hotel while looking out over a glacial lake — whatever your travel style, you need to experience the protected wilds of Montana.

On foot

Whether you’re in Glacier or Yellowstone, there are hundreds of miles of hiking trails…

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On foot

Whether you’re in Glacier or Yellowstone, there are hundreds of miles of hiking trails — trails that will take you into meadows, up to mountain peaks, alongside rivers…the terrain is up to you.

Looking for a challenge? Try the 17.9-mile Pitamakan Pass Trail on the east side of Glacier National Park, named for the only woman in the Blackfeet tribe ever to be given a man’s name (or so legend has it). But if calf-burning hikes aren’t your idea of a good time, try the easier 3.6-mile trek to Virginia Falls, also in Glacier — perfect for families with kids.

By boat

Boat tours are a great way to experience some of the country’s most scenic glacial lakes…

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By boat

Boat tours are a great way to experience some of the country’s most scenic glacial lakes. As you glide by forests of pine trees, guides will entertain and educate you with tales about the area — as well as point out the eagles, mountain goats, bears, moose, and deer often seen from the boat.

Popular lakes include Lake McDonald, Lake Josephine, and Swiftcurrent Lake, and tours are often conducted on historic wooden boats.

By bike

Glacier’s Going-to-the-Sun Road makes for a stunning drive, but is perhaps even more impressive on two wheels…

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By bike

Glacier National Park’s Going-to-the-Sun Road makes for a stunning drive, but is perhaps even more impressive on two wheels. On a bicycle, you’ll move at a slower pace, which allows you to fully appreciate the incredible views. Even better, you can take advantage of the spring biker season and pedal the road before it opens to vehicle traffic (in mid-to-late June). Experiencing this famous route in the quiet of a car-free environment is something you’ll never forget.

Tip: To make things easier, sign up for the guided rideavailable in the spring.

Photo: Glacier National Park Service

From the window of your historic hotel

The Great Northern Railway built several grand hotels and lodges…

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From the window of your historic hotel

The Great Northern Railway built several grand hotels and lodges near the turn of the last century. The Many Glacier Hotel and the Lake McDonald Lodge, for example, are full of rustic, Western-style charm. The latter dates back to 1913 and overlooks the largest lake in Glacier National Park.

From your car

Scenic drives on the Going-to-the-Sun Road and US-2 in Glacier National Park…

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From your car

Scenic drives on the Going-to-the-Sun Road and US-2 (on the southern border of Glacier National Park) mean you can wind your way over mountain passes and through sweeping valleys — on your own time.

Go at dawn or dusk and you’ll increase your chance of spotting wildlife, like bears or moose. No matter when you go, bring your camera. Every drive in or near Montana’s national parks is a scenic one.

Photo: Glacier National Park Service

Road Trip Musts

With its famously “big” skies and roads reaching to the horizon, Montana is perfect for road trips. Some of these routes will take you up and over dizzying mountain passes; others meander through meadows of wildflowers. All will have you pulling over and reaching for your camera.
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The Going-to-the-Sun Road

The Going-to-the-Sun Road is an absolute must for anyone visiting Montana in summer…

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The Going-to-the-Sun Road

The Going-to-the-Sun Road is an absolute must for anyone visiting Montana in summer. It’s 50 spectacular miles that take you up and over the Continental Divide in Glacier National Park. Rent a car, get on a shuttle, or join a red bus tour — however you do it, just be sure to make it to 6,647-foot Logan Pass.

Beyond the views, the road itself will be hard to forget. Hairpin turns and towering waterfalls will make you wonder how it was ever built. And it’s all the more impressive when you think that construction started back in the 1920s.

Photo: Glacier National Park Service

The Pintler Scenic Highway

Drive the road less traveled, and skip Interstate 90…

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The Pintler Scenic Highway

Drive the road less traveled, and skip Interstate 90. The Pintler Scenic Highway runs for 60+ miles from Drummondto Anaconda in Western Montana, tracing the path of Flint Creek.

You’ll drive through mountains covered in pine and fir (get out of your car and breathe that fresh, conifer-scented air) and dusty hills blanketed by tufts of sagebrush. Stop midway for a break at Georgetown Lakeand take in the views of three distinct mountain ranges: the Anaconda-Pintler, Sapphire, and Flint Creek. Philipsburg is another perfect pit stop, with several restaurants and cafes.

Old Highway 89

Why stop at one national park when you can see two?

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Old Highway 89

Why stop at one national park when you can see two? This is an exciting 360-mile road tripfrom Glacier to Yellowstone. Montana is where the peaks meet the plains, and you’ll experience plenty of both on this drive.

Along the way, you’ll pass through Great Falls, known as “the gateway to genuine Montana.” On Highway 89, you’ll find out what that really means. But it’s not all cowboy towns and saloon-style swinging doors. The town of Livingston, for example, has more than a dozen art galleries. And you’ll also pass a few different stops on the Montana Dinosaur Trail.

Flathead Lake

The massive Flathead Lake in northwestern Montana has a whopping 185 miles of shoreline…

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Flathead Lake

The massive Flathead Lake in northwestern Montana has a whopping 185 miles of shoreline, and you can make a full loop around it by road. When you want a break from the car, stop at one of the 13 public access points around the lake and go for a swim, have a picnic, or even pitch your tent and camp for the night. And in summer, make sure to look for the fruit stands along the east shore, where you can stock up on Flathead cherries and other locally grown treats.

The Beartooth Highway

This 68-mile drive will let you explore some of the best of Montana…

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The Beartooth Highway

This 68-mile drive will let you explore some of the best of Montana — and dip into Wyoming — at elevation. The Beartooth Highway peaks at nearly 11,000 feet, which makes it the highest paved highway in the Northern Rockies.

You’ll see glaciers on the north side of almost all of the tallest peaks, and the mountain climate means you’ll drive past alpine meadows full of flowers and krummholz — a German word meaning “crooked wood.” These trees are gnarled and twisted from their tough existence in the alpine.

History & Culture

Indigenous peoples have lived in this part of the USA for thousands of years — and they still do; Montana has seven reservations and 12 different tribes. Add to that the more recent cowboy traditions, historic battles, and the countless tales of boom-and-bust life on the plains, and you have no shortage of history and culture to explore in Montana.

Cultural centers

The Museum of the Plains Indian and the People’s Center are both great places to get to know the rich indigenous history of Montana…

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Cultural centers

The Museum of the Plains Indian in Browning and the People’s Center in Pablo are both great places to get to know the rich indigenous history of Montana. You’ll find Blackfeet sculptures; arts and crafts by Salish, Kootenai, and Pend d’Oreille peoples; and beadwork and murals by the dozen. Plan ahead when you visit the People’s Center and you can take a beadworking class yourself.

Powwows

Powwows are one of the main highlights of summer in Montana…

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Powwows

Powwows are one of the main highlights of summer in Montana. Attend one and you’ll be immersed in a celebration that brings together sensational dress, delicious traditional foods (try the fry bread or an Indian taco), and extremely energetic and graceful dancing — all to the beat of a drum that pounds with your heart.

Tip: Check out the Fourth of July Chiefs Powwow of the Northern Cheyenne for one of the best.

Horseback riding

If you want to feel like you’re living in the Old West, find a horseback riding experience…

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Horseback riding

If you want to feel like you’re living in the Old West, find a horseback riding experience. Outfitters will take you on multi-day trips complete with songs by the campfire and cowboy coffee, or you can head out for a gentler afternoon trail ride. You and your horse will access places no car can: into meadows dotted with wildflowers, across babbling brooks, and into areas of total silence under those big skies Montana is famous for.

If this sounds particularly appealing to you, consider a Montana ranch vacation. Getting into the saddle will be just the beginning of your cowboy/girl adventure.

Photo: Elements Mixed Media

Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument

Go on a self-guided tour or have a ranger show you around this monument…

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Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument

Go on a self-guided tour or have a ranger show you around this monument, which commemorates a battle between the United States Seventh Cavalry Regiment, led by Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer, and the Sioux and Cheyenne under Sitting Bull. Few American battles are as storied as this one, and you’ll learn all about it at the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument. Find it on the present-day Crow Indian Reservation in southern Montana, near Billings.

Ghost towns

Go on a self-guided tour or have a ranger show you around this monument…

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Ghost towns

Montana’s history is full of booms and busts. Evidence of the harsh realities of frontier life can still be seen today in the ghost towns that dot the state, many of which are open to the public. GarnetBannack State ParkGranite Ghost Town State Park — you can zigzag across Montana exploring what life was like in these once vibrant towns that, for one reason or another, fizzled out.

Wildlife

Montana has a greater variety of wildlife than anywhere else in the continental US, so keep your eyes peeled. All you need is a bit of patience and a few good tips to plan your own wildlife-viewing adventure. Those over-eager people who leave the hotel at 5am with their binoculars? They’re on the right track.

Mountain goat hotspots

This sure-footed alpine climber can be hard to spot in most areas, but not so in Glacier National Park…

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Mountain goat hotspots

This sure-footed alpine climber can be hard to spot in most areas, but not so in Glacier National Park. You may even see them from your car at Logan Pass or Goat Lick Overlook on Highway 2.

Want an even more personal experience? Hike along the Highline Trail for a near-guaranteed sighting. And never stop scouring cliff sides for little white specks — mountain goats and their babies have specialized hooves to get them to high-up, seemingly impossible nooks and crannies.

Photo: Glacier National Park Service

National Bison Range

The National Bison Range near Moiese is home to hundreds of North America’s largest land mammal…

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National Bison Range

The National Bison Rangenear Moiese is home to hundreds of North America’s largest land mammal — male bison can weigh up to 2,000 pounds. You’ll also have a decent chance of seeing bighorn sheep, deer, pronghorn antelope, black bear, and coyotes in this 18,500-acre reserve. It was established more than 100 years ago, meaning the animals have had plenty of time to make their home on the range.

Guaranteed sightings

Sometimes spotting wildlife is possible only with a stroke of luck or hours of dedication…

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Guaranteed sightings

Sometimes spotting wildlife is possible only with a stroke of luck or hours of dedication. But it doesn’t have to be that way. If you know where to go, you can catch some truly magnificent creatures living out their lives right before your eyes, every time.

At the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center in West Yellowstone, you’ll be able to see grizzly bears, wolves, and birds of prey. Over in Red Lodge, look for coyotes, bison, and black bears at the Yellowstone Wildlife Sanctuary. At both locations, you can take photos and maybe learn a thing or two about these magnificent members of Montana’s wild family.

Wildlife refuges

Wildlife refuges offer a great opportunity to see wildlife up close in a natural setting…

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Wildlife refuges

Wildlife refuges offer a great opportunity to see wildlife up close in a natural setting. You can take your own vehicle on a self-guided tour of a preserve like Ninepipe and Pablo National Wildlife Refuge, where some 200 birds species have been spotted, including short-eared owls and nesting great blue herons. Or, check out the tens of thousands of waterfowl migrating through the 5,000-acre shallow wetlands of Benton Lake National Wildlife Refuge.

Photo: Montana Natural History Center

Food & drink destinations

Want to grab a quick burger with the locals? No problem. How about an elegant, organic farm-to-table meal with ingredients so locally sourced you probably drove past them on your way to the restaurant? You can find that here, too. Montana has long been known for its farming heritage, so it’s no surprise that it also has a delicious dining scene.

Missoula Farmers Market

Open mid-May through mid-October, the outdoor Missoula Farmers Market is the perfect place to get a taste of Montana…

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Missoula Farmers Market

Open mid-May through mid-October, the outdoor Missoula Farmers Market is the perfect place to get a taste of Montana’s local treats. There are locally grown fruits and vegetables, roasted-in-Montana organic coffee, and fresh-baked croissants and loaves of bread begging to be torn into. The market and its dozens of vendors have been going strong for almost 50 

Montana Brewers Trail

Enjoying a local beer is something of a tradition after a long day exploring the wilds of Montana…

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Montana Brewers Trail

Enjoying a local beer is something of a tradition after a long day exploring the wilds of Montana. Luckily for you, they’re not hard to find on the Montana Brewers Trail, which winds through dozens of towns and cities and past their best brewpubs and bars. You’ll find excellent beers across the entire state, with many conveniently located near the interstate highways.

Craft distilleries

Craft distilleries are thriving in the state, many using local flavors for a distinct Montana twist…

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Craft distilleries

Craft distilleries are thriving in the state, many using local flavors for a distinct Montana twist. Wildrye Distilling in Bozeman features Montana-grown ingredients, including hand-picked sweetcorn from the family farm for their Five Drops Bourbon Whiskey. Or try Headframe Spirits in the old mining town of Butte. Founded in 2010, Headframe has a tasting room full of cocktail options and offers tours, all while staying true to their Old West, mining town 

Huckleberry treats

Perhaps one of the most iconic local Montana foods isn’t from a farm at all…

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Huckleberry treats

Perhaps one of the most iconic local Montana foods isn’t from a farm at all — tiny, delicate huckleberries are wild-harvested and incorporated into pies, baked goods, ice cream, beer, you name it.

The classic way to enjoy a huckleberry is in huckleberry jam, which you can get from The Huckleberry Patch, in Hungry Horse. They pride themselves on being Montana’s original huckleberry cannery, preserving the Rocky Mountains’ sweetest treat since 1949.


This guide is proudly produced in partnership with the Montana Office of Tourism and Brand USA. All photos provided by the Montana Office of Tourism, except where noted.
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