19 Top Rated Tourist Attractions in Montana
Montana is one of the most distinctive states in the United States of America, with a wild west feel that has everything from national parks and historic sites to comedy and music. The state is also steeped in American history, with stunningly beautiful cities like Helena and the famed Rocky Mountain resort of Bozeman, as well as farming communities in the northwest.
Montana's mountain scenery ranges from dramatic gorges and canyons in the south to rambling snow-capped peaks in the north, and its beauty is something that is worth getting to know. Many of the top attractions in Montana fall within easy access of each other, with easy highway access that makes visiting one of the top things to do in Montana no challenge.
The following list of top places to visit in Montana will help you plan the highlights of your next trip.
Mammoth Hot Springs
Montana's Mammoth Hot Springs is one of the largest attractions in the state and is a great place to take the family. There are three main pools within the complex, and on the grounds are a water park, wildlife exhibits, an alpine slide, a wading pool, a shop, and an aquarium. Mammoth Hot Springs is located near Missoula in northwestern Montana. To get there from Interstate 90, exit at the "Missoula-Swift Dam" off-ramp. Continue for 1.2 miles and turn right onto Bozeman Mine Road. Travel 1.2 miles to the end of the road, turn left, and go to the end. There is a pay-as-you-go entrance fee for the hot springs park.
Glacier National Park
Glacier National Park, in the northeastern corner of Montana, is the crown jewel of the Flathead National Forest. Tourists will need to go through St Mary's, which can be reached by the Greyhound bus from Seattle, Missoula and Portland. In addition, hiking trails lead from many of the area's 12 campgrounds to waterfalls, peaks, lakes and ranches. Not for everybody, with few amenities in the park, Glacier has no hotels, cafeterias or hiking-shoes shops. The roadways do, however, pass through some of the most spectacular scenery in America: breathtaking alpine tundra above tree-line; wildflower meadows, glacier-covered mountains, spires, and icefields; and the glacier-carved valley of the Smith and Kootenai Rivers. It is better to visit in late August or early September, before the tourist peak in June, or from May through September for a quiet, clean and beautiful experience.
Lolo National Forest
Lolo National Forest, located in the beautiful state of Montana, is home to several intriguing nature sites. Here, hikers can experience a National Forest with a natural theme. In the center of the National Forest, a visitor center provides information and tours of the Forest, including tours of the Cedar Creek Lake Campground, a stop where guests are left with a newfound appreciation for the outdoors. About a 40-minute drive from Missoula, at Huckleberry Mountain, this Campground offers over 50 campsites and two cabins. From the visitors center, it is about an hour's drive to the first of the camping sites. From here, it is another 45 minutes to the Cedar Creek Lake Campground. Wildlife viewing is another activity guests enjoy at Lolo National Forest. Along with viewing grizzly bears, wolves, mountain lions and other wild animals, there are picnic tables and grills where visitors can enjoy this unique setting.
Rocky Mountain National Park
America's most visited national park, Rocky Mountain National Park is situated along the beautiful shores of the beautiful Yellowstone Lake and set high on the southern flank of the Rocky Mountains. Its varied landscape ranges from peaceful lakes to rugged, barren peaks and alpine tundra. The park's forests and coniferous and deciduous vegetation dominate the lower elevations. However, even here the park is interesting for wildlife. There are more than 90 mammal species, including elk, mule deer, bighorn sheep, beaver, and fox. Wildlife is particularly abundant in the park's back country, where moose and bison roam freely. There are extensive scenic hiking trails, excellent backcountry campsites, lodges, and shops. During winter the activities center around ice climbing, cross-country skiing, and ice fishing. The best way to travel through the park is by automobile, and visitors can explore the park by taking a scenic drive or hike on a spur trail.
Bighorn National Forest
As the world's largest concentration of aspen stands, Bighorn is the third most popular national forest in the U.S., covering a total of about 11,500 square miles of forestland. This mixed-wood forest, including the largest stands of mature sugar pine trees in the west, is home to over five million acres of high-elevation forest and grasslands. Home to such animals as black bears, elk, mountain lions, mountain goats, mule deer, moose, porcupines and, in the summer months, white-tailed deer, Bighorn is an extremely popular hiking destination. Although snow can remain on the ground until July, the largest concentration of aspen trees is found in the forest's western, higher areas, where snow and temperatures in the summer months are typically only around 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
Montana State Capitol
Pioneered in 1889, the Montana State Capitol building in the heart of Helena has been constructed in a mixture of classical and Gothic Revival styles, with massive cast-iron columns and ornate sculptures. Additions to the original structure in the 1910s and 1930s are largely understated, while a highlight is the Roman-Egyptian style rotunda, supported by 85 massive and elaborate cast-iron columns. The 8.5 meter-high dome features distinctive neo-classical bas-reliefs. Inside the rotunda is a 45-meter-high glass and copper dome, its central area under a skylight. In the center of the rotunda is an allegorical painting by G. C. Debucena of Montana's ethnic groups as she imagined them in 1922. Tours of the building are offered throughout the day.
Statue of Liberty
The Statue of Liberty, or Liberty Enlightening the World, as it is formally known, is America's most recognized symbol. The iconic structure, on which over 2.5 million people visit each year, was designed by French sculptor Frederic-Auguste Bartholdi and is an early example of a monumental memorial. As one of many projects initiated by American sculptor Bartholdi, the project began in 1884 at an engraving works in Paris. In 1885 he exhibited an initial design for the statue in New York, and the statue was installed on the statue's pedestal in 1885. In 1895 the pedestal was cast in bronze, and in 1897 the statue was finished in Paris. Today, the statue stands on Liberty Island in New York harbor, at a distance of 1.5 miles from Liberty state park in New Jersey.
Flathead National Forest
Flathead National Forest, which spans the states of Montana and Washington, is one of the largest forests in the nation. The trailhead is located in northern Montana, about 65 miles north of Billings and midway between Great Falls and Havre. Hikes in this area include easy hikes along short streams through lush meadows and woodlands, as well as multi-day trips to North Pass, the Flathead Divide, and Glacier. Flathead National Forest is just a short drive from the easternmost entrance to Glacier National Park and to Whitefish Mountain Resort. Flathead has access to more than 100 campsites and 26 lakes, as well as fishing, golf, and more.
North Cascades National Park
Packed with waterfalls, lakes and rivers, Montana's North Cascades National Park (Click here) is one of the most scenic parts of the US. Located in the wilds of central and northern Montana, the Cascades are in an alpine area with large glaciers and towering peaks. The park's rugged beauty and atmosphere offer skiing, climbing and camping, while hiking and biking trails offer more leisure time options. Wrangell is the main town in the park, accessible from the east via Highway 93 and the southern route via Stevens Pass. Both highways lead to a center hub at College, which provides a range of services.
Granite Park is an outdoor recreational experience on par with being in Yosemite Valley, but only costs one-tenth of the price. Located 90 minutes northwest of Missoula, Montana, this natural wonder is the creation of hundreds of millions of years of volcanic activity. An ancient riverbed flowed through the area forming a chain of high ridges and basins. This natural erosion eventually created pockets of solid granite filled with streams and trees. Winding paths lead to the many caverns and sandstone formations created by the elements. The park is open daily for public hiking, mountain biking and fishing. You can even buy a $5 fishing permit to cast from the banks of the grassy lakes. Though the closest towns are over a 150 miles away, Granite Park offers many things to do with just a day or two of vacation.
Located in the middle of the nation's capital, Billings is the county seat of Yellowstone County. Billings also is the fourth largest city in the state, home to five colleges and universities and located on the West Fork of the Yellowstone River. It has plenty of restaurants, hotels, museums, galleries and festivals. The attractions include the Frederick Weisman Art Museum, the Art Museum of Western Montana and the Billings Symphony Orchestra. Billings International Airport is located just 10 miles from the downtown core. Highlights of a visit include eating a bacon-wrapped Mars Bar at the Bug Cafe, where the food is made in-house; a casual lunch at the popular Wild Pig Cafe in the historic lobby of the historic Billings Hotel; sampling a cotton candy shaped like a unicorn horn at Baked Amps; and eating one of Yellowstone National Park's famous black bears at the picnic tables at Dutton Feed.
Bryant Park is one of New York City's nicest parks, though it is a little out of the way, situated in the middle of the world's largest shopping mall, Century 21 Center. What makes Bryant Park special is that it's so different from most of the other parks, with high brick walls that block off views of the nearby skyscrapers. In the center of the park are fountains that were originally the main source of water for the Empire State Building. Beyond the park's entrance is an elevated walkway over Fifth Avenue and Grand Army Plaza that crosses over into another world where people go in search of something to eat, coffee, or just to take a break from the city noise. More recently, Bryant Park has seen several changes, the first being the addition of a carousel and several food vendors and the elimination of the skating rink. In addition, there are several pieces of art by some of today's best artists in the park, which makes it worth a visit even for those who never actually plan to take a stroll.
A trip to Montana is a great way to see what many consider to be the most spectacular natural scenery in the US, and Flathead Lake is a little piece of paradise. Nestled in the heart of Glacier National Park, in the western part of the state, the lake is perfectly located for a trip in to Montana's beautiful mountains, blue skies and valleys. It is home to Flathead Lake National Fish Hatchery, where one can watch bald eagles and waterfowl raising their chicks from birth to adulthood. Another animal resident in the area is the bison, the state animal. To see this noble and majestic creature, you can visit the Bovinarium. Other things to see and do around the lake include fishing, boating and water sports, an exceptional environment for the photographers, birders, and wildlife watchers in the area. To reach the area, follow Hwy 89 for 31 miles from West Glacier or Glacier National Park. Take the Under the Rim, West Glacier Overlook exit, a 4-mile hike, the longest in the park.
The steep, 200-foot-high falls of Great Falls, Montana are impressive. Spanning an area of 2.5 miles, the picturesque setting in this southernmost region of Montana showcases an abundance of trees and other vegetation, as well as the sheer magnitude of the waterfall itself. Located in the heart of Glacier National Park, the best way to reach the town is by air: United Airlines offers scheduled flights from a major U.S. hub, from where it is a two-hour drive to the town. When exploring the city, be sure to take in the outstanding restaurants, shopping and other sights.
Bitterroot National Forest
Bitterroot National Forest in northwestern Montana is a national forest named for a native American tribe. Although the park is home to pristine alpine tundra, forests, grasslands, lakes and rivers, it is most famous for the spectacular Three Sisters (or Three Sisters) peaks. The three peaks rise over 10,000 feet from the forest's verdant floor, and their jagged peaks cast white splashes against the southern skies and jagged peaks of the Continental Divide. Together, these snow-capped peaks, along with the Livingston Range, make up the "Outdoor Museum of North America," which is overseen by the U.S. Forest Service. Hiking in this wild, rocky environment is what makes this area so unique. Popular hikes include Crow Pass, Dakota Ridge, Devils Peak, Living Falls, and Bruin Lakes. The terrain is rugged and open with snowfields and high cliffs, making day hikes possible year-round. Weather conditions are prone to extreme, but it is the safest place in the lower 48 states to hike. Highlights of a visit include on-site backcountry lodges where you can stay in the outdoors. There are three backcountry campsites located off the Madison Junction trail, and three hiking trails along Big Creek.
Whitefish Mountain Resort
Practical day trips to Idaho's majestic mountains, this Colorado-based mountain resort in the heart of northwest Montana is favored by skiers and snowboarders. The primary lift-serviced area, Beartrap Meadow, is packed with three terrain parks, terrain parks, and challenging chutes and bumps. The Beartrap Double Dipper is the steepest lift ride in the state of Idaho and at 18,999 feet is 2,155 feet higher than Denver's Mt. Baldy. Whitefish Mountain Resort also offers a relatively light introduction to backcountry skiing and snowboarding with introductory courses to Glacier Mountain Guides. It also is a destination for some of the state's largest skiing events, including the SnoXtreme and Rocky Mountain Rampage events, as well as winter and summer recreation events. Whitefish Mountain Resort has four restaurants, one bar, and a large snack bar that are open all year, as well as a retail store that offers skiing and snowboarding gear, a bike rental shop, and an overnight lodge. Ski tickets can be purchased in advance from the resort's web site, the lodging reservations can be made through the resort, or at any of the resort's restaurants.
The water-sculpted Shoshone Falls is in the heart of Glacier National Park. The water is 60 feet high and can be reached via a number of paths. In summer, the setting is dramatic, with the water cascading down smooth rocks to a roaring white-water cascade. In winter, however, it's quiet. At the base of the falls is a small park, where campers and visitors are welcome. The North Shore Road parallels the Shoshone River and offers hiking opportunities. On the west side of the Shoshone River, there is a junction with the West Fork Road, which is another good hiking area with opportunities to view wildlife. The main visitors center is in Kalispell. The Avalanche Information Center is open from mid-June to mid-September and provides updates on winter avalanche conditions.
Lake McDonald Lodge
Built in the early 1940s, Lake McDonald Lodge is a rustic mountain resort and one of Glacier National Park's more popular year-round lodging options. The lodge has 48 rustic cabins and small private or shared rooms and motel units. It offers five restaurants and taverns, a store, art gallery, fitness center, game room, bar, beauty parlor, tourist information, barber, laundry, and health-care services. Guests can ride bikes or walk to the many trails in the national park. With more than 1,500 campsites and around 200 private campsites, you can choose a site that suits your budget and interest. The Long Ranger Trail, through the park's northeast corner, is one of the longest in the United States. Named after a ranger who served in the park for 40 years, this trail spans nearly 150 miles from Lake McDonald Lodge to Logan Pass, running alongside Swiftcurrent Lake, Rocky Mountain Lake, and Upper Mary Bell Creek.
National Bison Range
The U.S. Bison Range was established in 1924 as a wildlife refuge in northwest Montana to help protect the rapidly diminishing bison populations that roamed the prairies. The ten national bison ranches here occupy about 8,000 acres, though only several hundred bison live onsite. This quiet outpost of the western U.S. is a unique destination, with lots of outdoor activities, including a chance to feed bison and ride a helicopter tour over the ranches. Within the national bison range, the Grasslands Visitor Center and Visitor Center tell the history of the bison range and its conservation mission. The visitor centers include a collection of more than 300 life-sized bison sculptures. Outside the visitor centers are views from high atop mountains to the flat horizon and extensive buffalo grass prairies. Beyond the bison range, visit the towns of Torrington and Hudson and a network of pristine, remote, and spectacular hiking trails. Take the Torrington-Hudson Scenic Byway or the Foothills Scenic Byway to experience Montana's northern scenery, a country dotted with mountains and lakes.