Montana Travel Guide

Montana is the Big Sky State with majestic mountains and everything huckleberry

From snow-capped mountains to crystal clear rivers and everything huckleberry, Montana is truly magical. Officially nicknamed the Treasure State due to its rich mineral deposits and gemstone resources, it's the fact that it's home to more native mammal species than any other US state makes it a gem in my book. And with nearly 28 million acres of public lands (nearly 30% of the state), it's an outdoor lover's dream.

When I count my blessings, one of the items toward the top of a very long list is the opportunity to visit Montana regularly. While my favorite time to visit Montana is the small window in late spring after the snow has stopped falling but before all the tourists arrive, it’s truly magnificent any time of year.

This Montana travel guide shares all of my favorite tips of what to see, what to eat, and where to stay in Big Sky Country.

What's in This Guide

Quick Facts About Montana

Capital: Helena

Size in Square Miles: 145,556 (4th largest in the United States)

Population: 1,069,000 (43rd most populous in the United States)

State Nicknames: The Treasure State and Big Sky Country

Montana Time Zone: Mountain

Largest Cities in Montana: Billings, Missoula, Great Falls, Bozeman, Butte, Helena, and Kalispell

 

Where in the World is Montana?

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Fun Facts About Montana

  1. Montana is the largest landlocked state in the US.
  2. It’s the only state to share a land border with three Canadian provinces:  British Columbia, Alberta, and Saskatchewan.
  3. The Waterton-Glacier Peace Park, located between Montana’s Glacier National Park and Alberta’s Waterton Lakes National Park, is the site of the world’s first International Peace Park.
  4. Montana is home to the largest grizzly bear population in the lower 48 states, so brush up on these bear safety tips before you visit!
  5. Big Sky Country also has a huge population of wild buffalo. In addition to the herds in Yellowstone National Park, you can see North America’s biggest land mammal at the National Bison Range close to Missoula.
  6.  There are nearly three times more cows than people in Montana.
  7. Montana is the only state in the Union with a triple divide. That means that snowmelt and other water from Montana flows to both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans as well as the Hudson Bay.
  8. The Yellowstone River runs through Montana. It is the longest un-dammed river in the contiguous states. 
  9. The only gem from North America included in the Crown Jewels of England is a yogo sapphire from Montana.
  10. Famous people from Montana include stuntman Evel Knievel, director David Lynch, actress Michelle Williams, sportscaster Brent Musberger, comedian Dana Carvey, and basketball coach Phil Jackson.
Sage Advice: Here are even more fun facts about Montana.

Top Things to See and Do in Montana

Grand Prismatic Spring at Yellowstone

Visit America’s First National Park. Although most of Yellowstone National Park is in Wyoming, the original entrance is in Gardiner, Montana, and I will always associate America’s first national park with Montana.

Gaze at Glaciers. Tucked into the northwest corner of the state, Glacier National Park is known as the Crown of the Continent. In the park you’ll find Going-to-the-Sun Road, one of the most scenic drives in the U.S.

Capt William Clark Signature at Pompeys Pillar

Admire the View (and Some Unique Graffiti). Pompeys Pillar, one of the smallest monuments in the National Park System, offers gorgeous panoramic views and Captain William Clark’s name carved into the soft sandstone wall.

Girl hiking through a forest in northwest Montana

Hike the Trails. Montana is famous for its hiking trails. Whether you want to crisscross a mountain, wander through a forest, or stroll along a lake, you’re sure to find the perfect trail in Big Sky Country.

A grizzly bear in front of a large boulder

Observe Grizzly Bears and Wolves. Get safety tips to survive a bear encounter and learn how to share Montana with the wildlife at the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center.

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Other Things to See and Do in Montana

Marvel at the Magnificent Moss Mansion

Built at the turn of the 20th century, the Moss Mansion in Billings is on the National Register of Historic Places (and allegedly haunted).

Explore the Western Heritage Center

Affiliated with the Smithsonian Museum, the Western Heritage Center in Billings preserves and shares the stories of the people and places of the Yellowstone River Valley and the Northern High Plains. 

Visit the Yellowstone County Museum

Discover the history of southeastern Montana from Native Americans and a way of life nearly forgotten to wagon trains, cowboys, and cattle at the Yellowstone County Museum in Billings.

Admire Ancient Graffiti

See the prehistoric pics of bison and elk that adorned the caves of Native American hunters at Pictograph Cave State Park in Billings.

Hike Along the Rims at Zimmerman Park

Hugging the rimrocks high above Billings, Zimmerman Park offers some of the best views in town.

See Wild Bison

Although vast herds of bison once roamed the North American plains, it’s a rare sight today. But you can see wild bison at the National Bison Range near Missoula.

Go Wild at ZooMontana

Focused primarily on creating natural habitat enclosures for rescued animals native to Montana, ZooMontana is the state’s only zoo.

Peruse the Pieces at the Yellowstone Art Museum

Located in Billings, the Yellowstone Art Museum has a permanent collection of over 7,300 objects of American art with an emphasis on progressive contemporary art from the northern Rocky Mountain and Northern Plains regions. 

See the Sights in a New Light with an Interactive Scavenger Hunt

Have fun (and a few laughs) diving into the sights, history, and culture of Billings and Helena with an interactive scavenger hunt.

Enjoy an Afternoon of Wine Tasting

Yes, you read that right, wine tasting in Montana! Spend an afternoon at Yellowstone Cellars & Winery in Billings and see for yourself why this is one of the most underrated US wineries outside of California.

Spend a Summer Day at Whitefish Mountain Resort

Although it’s best known for its amazing ski slopes, Whitefish Mountain Resort is just as fun in the summer when the ski runs melt into trails surrounded by wildflowers and woodland creatures.

Hike the Whitefish Trail

With 12 trailheads covering more than 40 scenic miles of northwestern Montana wilderness, the Whitefish Trail is a great way to experience the natural beauty of Whitefish in the summer.

Admire the Art of C. M. Russell

See amazing works of Western art at the Charles Marion Russell Museum in Great Falls.

Little Big Horn Battlefield National Monument

Learn about the bloody 1876 battle from the perspective of the US Calvary and the Lakotas and Cheyennes at the Little Big Horn Battlefield about an hour east of Billings.

Museum of the Rockies

In the college town of Bozeman, the Museum of the Rockies houses one of the largest collections of dinosaur remains in the country including the largest T-Rex skull ever discovered.

Spot Wildlife at Yellowstone National Park (without Making the Evening News)

With one of the largest concentrations of wildlife in the contiguous United States, Yellowstone National Park is an animal lover’s dream. These are the best places to see animals in Yellowstone, but remember that America’s first national park is not a petting zoo, and it’s important to follow these guidelines when observing the animals.

Enjoy the Best Huckleberry Dishes in Montana

No flavor personifies Big Sky Country quite like the sweetly tart taste of huckleberries. Be sure to try these delicious huckleberry dishes when you visit Montana.

And the Best Huckleberry Drinks in Montana

Whether it’s a shot of huckleberry syrup in your morning coffee or a shot of handcrafted huckleberry liqueur on the rocks at the end of the day, these are the best huckleberry drinks in Montana.

When to Visit Montana

As a general rule, winter comes early and summer comes late in Montana. This is especially true at higher altitudes where it’s not uncommon for the first snowfall to occur as early as September or October. And there’s always a chance it will snow as late as April or May.

Before you attempt to drive the  Beartooth Highway between Red Lodge and Yellowstone National Park or the Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park, be sure to check the Montana Department of Transportation and the Glacier National Park websites to be sure the roads are open for the season. And don’t be surprised if that’s not until June or July!

My favorite time to visit Montana is in May or June. Although it may still be sweater weather, the melting snow fuels rushing crystal-clear rivers, the meadows are filled with wildflowers, and it’s not uncommon to see baby deer, elk, and other wildlife. The Memorial Day weekend at the end of May marks the start of the peak travel season that runs through Labor Day weekend in early September.

July is the hottest month in Montana. And as the weather gets warmer and drier, it ushers in forest fire season in Montana. It usually begins in July and can last until September, or whenever the snow starts to fall.

How to Get to Montana

The largest Montana airports are Bozeman Yellowstone International (BZN) and Billings Logan International (BIL). Both Montana airports are located in the south-central part of the state and have  regular flights available through Delta, United, American, and Alaskan Airlines as well as other carriers. All major airports offer car rentals, but availability can be limited during peak travel times. Be sure to make a car reservation in advance with Alamo or compare prices here.

If you plan to drive in Montana, I-90 and I-94 feed in from the Dakotas and run horizontally across the southern portion of the state connecting Billings, Bozeman, Butte, and Missoula before continuing to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, and Spokane, Washington. And I-15 runs north from Idaho connecting the cities of Butte, Helena, and Great Falls before reaching the Canadian border.

Note: Ridesharing and taxi service can be limited in Montana, even in the state’s larger cities.

What to Eat in Montana

In a state with nearly three times more cattle than people, you can expect some of the best beef in the country when you visit Montana. Just be mindful of what you order if you’re not an adventurous eater. It’s not unusual to find dishes like bull fries and Rocky Mountain oysters on the menu. These delicacies are neither a type of French fry nor oyster, but rather bull testicles.

I also recommend eating (and drinking) everything huckleberry you can when you visit Montana. You’ll find huckleberry jam for your toast,  huckleberry vinaigrette for your salad, huckleberry barbeque sauce for your burger, and huckleberry syrup for lemonade and cocktails.

Where to Stay in Montana

Montana’s larger cities offer accommodations from a wide range of national hotel and motel chains including Hilton, InterContinental, Marriott, and Wyndham brands. You’ll also find a nice selection of locally-owned accommodations and  vacation rentals, especially in resort towns.

Here are some specific recommendations of where to stay in Montana based on destination. 

Billings Accommodations

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Bozeman Accommodations

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Butte Accommodations

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Great Falls Accommodations

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Helena Accommodations

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Kalispell Accommodations

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Missoula Accommodations

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Red Lodge Accommodations

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What to Read and Watch Before You Go

These are some of the best books, television shows, and movies set in Montana. And when you purchase your next read or movie night watch here or via the links immediately below, you’re helping make a difference. See how.

Ready to Go? Use These Helpful Links to Book Your Trip!

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