Montana is easily one of our favorite places we’ve been to and we spent just over 6 weeks exploring this massive state. With so many incredible places to visit in Montana, it’s hard to know where you should start your planning.
While we were here, we did over 100 miles of hiking and supported over 45 local booze businesses. It was hard to narrow down a list of things to do in Montana, but here are the top places we think you should visit in Montana, the Last Best Place.
The Last Best Place is a slogan you’ll see everywhere around Montana. Having spent time here, we agree. This state has a rugged and diverse terrain that varies from rolling hills, flat open plans, and jagged Rocky Mountains.
Whether you are looking for wide-open spaces or quiet, dense forests, Montana is truly a place where cowboys still roam.
It’s the 4th largest state by physical size, but it’s among the least-populated states in the nation which only adds to its natural and untouched landscape.
How it got the “Big Sky” nickname
In 1947, writer A.B. Guthrie couldn’t come up with a name for a novel he was writing about the Oregon Trail until his father came to visit Montana.
He told his son, “standing under the Big Sky, I feel free”.
He ended up using “Big Sky” for the name of his book and Montana advertisers picked it up and it just stuck. With awe-inspiring scenery and its raw beauty, there are so many places to visit in Montana and we now know why it’s called Big Sky!
When to Visit Montana
Whether you are into hiking or looking to catch some air on a snowy slope, Montana is a great place to visit almost any time of the year.
While summer is the most popular time, those looking for fun snow-sporting activities should look to Montana for amazing ski resorts.
In the summer months, bear country re-awakens with sensational hiking and wildlife-viewing in Glacier National Park!
Things to know before you visit
First things first, the people in Montana are incredibly nice and welcoming. We have loved every person we have met.
Secondly, you know the expression, “when you lose yourself in nature, you find yourself.”?
Montana has a different version, “when you lose yourself in nature, you could quite possibly die. This is Montana.”
This is the running joke that you’ll see on some t-shirts in souvenir shops, but there is some truth to it. This is bear country and anyone who wants to enjoy nature needs to remember that. While bear spray can be effective, knowing proper hiking safety is key.
Third, it’s important to know that Montana has relatively tight beer and liquor laws – and we wouldn’t be boozing abroad unless we mentioned it. Distilleries are only allowed to serve 2 ounces per person per day and breweries are only allowed to serve 48 ounces of beer per person per day.
Glacier National Park
A crowned jewel of the National Park system, Glacier National Park consistently ranks in the top 10 of national parks for its beauty.
While it’s only accessible for a few months of the year, this should be at or near the very top of your list for places to visit in Montana! We have been back multiple times throughout the years and can safely say it’s one of our favorite National Parks.
Check out our tips, suggestions and guide for Glacier National Park hikes and planning guide.
Don’t forget to sample the local beer, wine and spirits after an intense day of hiking with our Whitefish and Kalispell Breweries guide.
Flathead National Forest and Lake
Just south of Glacier National Park is Flathead National Forest and Lake. We suggest adding a few days to explore the Flathead National Forest and Lake if visit Glacier.
Flathead Lake is a massive lake. How big, you ask? Well, it’s the largest natural freshwater lake (by surface area) west of the source of the Missouri River in the contiguous United States.
It’s about 30 miles long, 16 miles wide at its widest part, and covers almost 200 square miles.
Butte is Montana’s 5th-biggest city and is just slightly bigger than the capital city of Helena. It was established around the same time as Helena, in 1864, as a mining camp, but not for mining gold.
It was mining for another valuable metal, copper. Because of its huge copper industry, Butte experienced rapid development in the late-19th century and was Montana’s first major industrial city. These remnants can still be seen all over this industrial and rugged city.
Livingston is a pretty small town of only about 7,000 people, but they have a brewery, so you know we had to stop in for a beer!
Located just around the corner from one of the most beautiful Main Streets in America, as voted by Arch Digest, we enjoyed our Katabatic Brewing beers on warm summer day.
While it’s mostly known for being the gateway to northern Yellowstone and one of Thrillest’s top mountain towns in the US, Livingston is also known for being the adopted home of Calamity Jane, our old friend and frontierswoman from Deadwood, South Dakota.
While a 68-mile stretch of road on the Montana-Wyoming border may not sound that appealing at first, The Beartooth Scenic Highway definitely deserves a spot on your list of things to do in Montana.
This scenic highway was designated by the US Department of Transportation as an All-American Road (or a National Scenic Byway), which means it has one or more of six “intrinsic qualities”: archaeological, cultural, historic, natural, recreational, and scenic. If you partake in any stretch of this 3-hour scenic drive, you’ll undoubtedly see why the Beartooth Scenic Highway checks off many of these boxes!
The highway was completed way back in 1936 and reaches heights of nearly 11,000 feet in some areas (climbs over 5,000 feet over the course of the highway), with breathtaking views of snowcapped mountains and glaciers all around. Driving this winding and undulating highway, which at times can be a bit nerve-wracking, gives you the chance to shift from lush forest to alpine tundra and back to lush forest in a matter of minutes.
And just because it’s a scenic drive doesn’t mean that you can’t get out of your car and enjoy the beauty. Cross-country skiing, hiking, gazing for wildlife, horseback riding, fishing, and camping are all available on and around the Beartooth Highway. Given the high elevations and numerous twists and turns, it’s no surprise that thehighway is usually open from Memorial Day through Columbus Day, weather permitting. Even when the road is closed to cars/trucks/RV’s, snowmobiles can still have tons of fun traveling the highway!
You can start this scenic drive in Red Lodge, Montana, and take it all the way down into Wyoming and back into Montana before ending at the Northeast entrance of Yellowstone National Park in Cooke City, Montana. Be sure to stop at the numerous pullouts along to way to really appreciate the beauty of the area and the marvel of building this highway on this landscape.