Big Sky Adventures: Your Guide to the Best Montana Vacations

Have you ever imagined yourself standing amid the sweeping landscapes of the Treasure State, breathing in the crisp mountain air, and wondering where to find the best Montana vacations?

In this article, we’ll delve into the heart of Big Sky Country, offering you a treasure map to the most exhilarating summer activities, the magic of its snowy winters, and the must-visit places that make Montana a top destination for travelers.

I’ve experienced the thrill of kayaking through the crystal-clear waters of Glacier National Park and the serenity of a winter’s day spent in the cozy lodges of Big Sky Resort. These experiences have left me with unforgettable memories and a longing to return.

Montana beckons to a wide audience, from thrill-seekers to those in search of tranquility. Whether you’re planning a family trip, a romantic getaway, or a solo expedition, there’s something here that will speak to your soul.

So, are you ready to discover the best spots for wildlife viewing, the most picturesque hiking trails, or the coziest cabins to snuggle up in after a day of exploration?

Let’s dive into the spirit of Montana, where every vacation turns into an epic story waiting to be told. Keep reading, as I promise to guide you through the best Montana vacations that await your arrival.

Best Time to Visit Montana

The best Montana vacations include thrilling drives down scenic mountain roads.

Montana’s weather is as unpredictable as it is beautiful, with four distinct seasons that each bring their own magic.

From the warm breezes of summer to the frost-kissed landscapes of winter, there is never a wrong time to visit this enchanting state.

But for the perfect travel experience, these two seasons are the top picks of many.

Summer Months

Experience the breathtaking beauty of a lake nestled in the stunning Montana mountains during your best Montana vacations.

If you’re craving an action-packed summer getaway, look no further than the Big Sky Country.

Visiting Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks in the sunshine months is the best time for outdoor activities and experiencing the stunning landscape.

This outdoor adventurer’s paradise provides numerous thrilling activities and attractions to make your summertime truly unforgettable. 

The vibrant and sunny weather makes these activities worthwhile:

  • Boating, Kayaking, Rafting
  • Biking
  • Hiking
  • Skydiving
  • Swimming

Since it’s a bright season, it’s perfect for viewing the diverse wildlife:

  • Black bears and grizzly bears
  • Bighorn sheep
  • Bison
  • Moose
  • Mule deer and white-tailed deer

Summer is one of the ideal times to visit Montana, offering perfect weather for outdoor adventures, stunning landscapes, and excellent wildlife viewing.

Winter Months

A man skis down a snow-covered slope in the winter wonderland that is Montana.

During winter, Montana becomes an icy paradise blanketed in snow.

Guests flock to the winter dreamlands of Big Sky Resort and Whitefish Mountain Resort.

Among the top picks for winter activities in Montana are:

  • Dog-sledding
  • Ice fishing
  • Cross-country skiing
  • Snowboarding
  • Snowmobiling

Despite the chilly atmosphere in Montana, there are wildlife animals that adapted to the cold:

  • Red foxes
  • Elk
  • Coyotes
  • Pronghorn
  • Wolves

Winter in Big Sky Country unveils a magical realm, where snowscapes, soul-stirring pursuits, and a peaceful ambiance combine to create an extraordinary seasonal escape.

Must-Visit Places in Montana

This Land of the Shining Mountains is a must-visit for every traveler at least once in their life.

From its breathtaking natural wonders to a wide range of outdoor activities, Montana provides an unmatched experience for adventurers and relaxation seekers alike.

1. Glacier National Park

Experience one of the best Montana vacations at Glacier National Park.

Glacier National Park is a vast natural wonderland with its majestic glaciers, towering peaks, and shimmering lakes.

A paradise for outdoor enthusiasts, this pristine haven offers a staggering 700 miles of hiking trails (1,127 km) that tempt adventurers to explore its untouched wilderness.

From the thundering waterfalls to the breathtaking alpine meadows, Glacier National Park welcomes you with its beauty.

Some of Glacier National Park’s crown jewels are:

  • Going-to-the-Sun Road – A breathtaking scenic drive, Going-to-the-Sun Road offers stunning views of glaciers, mountains, and valleys.
  • Lake McDonald – Lake McDonald is the largest lake in the park with crystal-clear waters and beautiful mountain backdrops.
  • Many Glacier – Many Glacier is an area in the park known for its numerous lakes, hiking trails, and historic Many Glacier Hotel.

Glacier National Park stands as a natural masterpiece, where mountains, lakes, and diverse ecosystems converge.

2. Yellowstone National Park

Bison graze on a picturesque grassy field in Montana.

Named the world’s first national park, Yellowstone National Park welcomes visitors to the unique hydrothermal and geologic features within.

With 2.2 million acres in size, tourists have unparalleled opportunities to observe wildlife, explore active geysers, and view geologic wonders.

Here are the popular destinations within Yellowstone National Park:

  • Old Faithful – One of nearly 500 geysers in Yellowstone, travelers can witness the eruptions and explore the surrounding thermal features of Old Faithful.
  • Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone – Marvel at the stunning canyon, waterfalls, and vibrant rock formations in the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.
  • Mammoth Hot Springs – In Mammoth Hot Springs, explore the colorful terraces created by hot springs.

The park’s diverse landscapes offer a visual feast for nature enthusiasts.

3. Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park

Adventurers exploring a cave in Montana.

Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park stands as the oldest and most impressive state park in Montana.

Its claim to fame? Elaborate limestone caverns that draw in explorers from all walks of life.

Upon arriving at the park, you are greeted with an array of guided tours revealing hidden beauties in Montana and geological formations that lie within the caverns.

From the mesmerizing stalactites clinging to the ceiling to the stalagmites sprouting from the cave floor, every twist and turn offers a new spectacle.

But that’s not all Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park has to offer.

Adventure seekers can also indulge in a variety of outdoor activities in Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park such as:

  • Camping
  • Canoeing
  • Hiking
  • Wildlife viewing

Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park blends appealing underground wonders with pristine above-ground landscapes, offering a unique and immersive experience for all.

4. Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument

A stunning monument stands tall in the middle of a serene, grassy field in Montana.

Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument is a place where the echoes of a monumental clash between General Custer and the Sioux and Cheyenne tribes still resonate today.

This hallowed ground stands as a memorial to the infamous Battle of Little Bighorn, forever etched in history as Custer’s Last Stand.

To learn more about the history of Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, these points of interest are a must-visit:

  • Custer National Cemetery – Pay respects to those who lost their lives in the battle, with rows of military gravestones found in Custer National Cemetery.
  • Indian Memorial – Honoring the Native American warriors who fought in the battle, the Indian Memorial provides a different perspective on the events.
  • Little Bighorn Visitor Center – Learn about the history and context of the battle through exhibits, artifacts, and informative presentations in the Little Bighorn Visitor Center.

For those seeking a deeper connection to the past, including the history of Native Americans, the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument is a place where history lingers in every blade of grass.

5. Virginia City and Nevada City

A view of an old ghost town in Montana under clear blue skies.

The ghost towns of Virginia City and Nevada City present a mesmerizing view of Montana’s rich Gold Rush history.

The preserved buildings and artifacts in these two cities showcase the bustling life of the 1860s.

Some of the key attractions in Virginia City and Nevada City are:

  • Experience gold panning in the River of Gold.
  • Ride the Alder Gulch Shortline Railroad.
  • Visit Nevada City Old Town Museum and Music Hall.
  • Try the Virginia City Overland Stagecoach rides.

While the bustling populations of these towns have dwindled, their allure remains.

6. Fort Benton

Cars parked along the street in a rural Montana town.

Fort Benton, the birthplace of Montana, is known to be the longest continuously inhabited town in the state.

Placed on the banks of the mighty Missouri River, this National Historic Landmark takes visitors on a journey through its natural beauty and history.

Some of Fort Benton’s famous landmarks include:

  • Old Fort Benton
  • Old Fort Benton Bridge
  • Old Shep Memorial
  • Grand Union Hotel

What sets Fort Benton apart is the seamless merging of the past and present in its historic district.

The theaters, shops, art galleries, and outstanding eateries breathe new energy into the time-worn bricks, inviting visitors into its heritage and modernity.

7. Livingston

A rural town in Montana with a forested mountain in the background.

Perched on the banks of the Yellowstone River, Livingston is a historic ranching and railroad town.

This cherished town, nestled near the majestic realm of West Yellowstone, Montana, transports travelers to a past era of turn-of-the-century wonder.

The preserved buildings, dating back to the late 1800s, represent the exquisite blend of historic charm and untamed allure of the city.

But it’s not just the intriguing architecture and classic facades that call the attention of guests.

It was the vibrant burst of color radiating from the vintage neon signs adorning the town’s establishments that truly set Livingston apart.

Here are the top sights within Livingston:

  • Sacajawea Park
  • Main Street
  • Yellowstone River
  • Pine Creek Falls

Livingston is a must-visit destination near West Yellowstone with its historic architecture, vibrant arts scene, and proximity to Yellowstone National Park collectively creating an inviting experience.

8. Great Falls

A river flows amid a rugged landscape in Montana, accompanied by an ongoing dam construction.

Great Falls offers a perfect blend of spectacular views, thrilling outdoor recreational activities, fascinating cultural attractions, and rich historical significance.

Also known as The Electric City, the name derives from the city’s numerous hydroelectric dams and power plants.

Some of Great Falls’ most notable sites are:

  • Mansfield Center for Performing Arts – The Mansfield Center for Performing Arts is a unique and exciting opportunity to experience an evening of culture, music, and entertainment.
  • Paris Gibson Square Museum of Art – The Paris Gibson Square Museum of Art features some of the best artwork from around Montana, as well as rotating exhibitions and special gardens.
  • C.M. Russell Museum – The Charles M. Russell Museum houses more than 2,000 works of art by Russell including paintings, sculptures, sketches, and personal artifacts.
  • Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail Interpretive Center – Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail Interpretive Center delves into the historic journey of discovery of Lewis and Clark.

With its stunning natural scenery, vibrant arts scene, and rich historical heritage, Great Falls truly has something for everyone.

Best Things to Do in Montana

A picnic table nestled against a picturesque wooded area in Montana.

When it comes to exploring the great outdoors, Montana is the ultimate playground.

From its majestic peaks to its pristine lakes, this vast state offers endless opportunities for adventure and discovery.

1. Bike Around Helena

A man enjoying one of the best Montana vacations while riding a mountain bike on a wooden boardwalk in the forest.

When it comes to biking adventures, few places can match the charm and beauty of Helena, Montana’s capital city.

Biking enthusiasts will find paradise in the beautiful views of the city and its surrounding landscape.

Helena offers popular hiking and biking trails such as:

  • The Ridge Trail – The Ridge Trail is approximately 13.2 miles (21.2 km) and runs from the parking lot at Mount Helena City Park up to Park City and back. This scenic trail is perfect for hiking and biking.
  • Waterline Trail Loop – Waterline Trail Loop is a 2.6-mile (4.2 km) loop trail that takes an average of 1 hour and 17 minutes to complete. This is a popular trail for mountain biking, birding, and running.

If you’re new to the area or prefer guided tours, fear not!

The city offers a range of biking tours to help you explore the city to the fullest.

And if you don’t have your own bike, no worries!

There are plenty of bike rental shops in Helena, making it easy for visitors to hop on a bike and embark on their two-wheeled day trip adventure.

Pedal your way to unforgettable memories with the biking trails in this mountain bike capital.

2. Do Some Historical Sightseeing in Billings

A large stone building surrounded by cars, offering the best Montana vacations.

Billings, the largest city in Montana by population, is a captivating destination that offers a perfect blend of history and culture.

Billings is a treasure trove that takes you on a journey through American history with these historic sites:

  • Moss Mansion – Moss Mansion is a historic house museum designed in 1903 that offers a glimpse into the lives of the prominent Moss family.
  • Western Heritage Center – The Western Heritage Center is a regional museum built in 1901 that exhibits the history of life in the Yellowstone River Valley.
  • Yellowstone County Museum – Yellowstone County Museum has been open to the public since 1956 and houses over 23,000 cultural artifacts.

You have the opportunity to delve deeper into the rich history by exploring the nearby historical sites of Pompeys Pillar National Monument and Pictograph Cave State Park.

Billings’ architectural landmarks and rich heritage invite visitors to explore and appreciate the layers of history that have shaped this vibrant city.

3. Go on a Culinary Journey in Kalispell

The best old building on the corner of a street for memorable Montana vacations.

There’s no better place to start a culinary journey than in Kalispell.

Located at the gateway to Glacier National Park, Kalispell offers a delightful array of dining choices that will leave your taste buds tingling with excitement.

This treasure trove of deliciousness invites you to these must-visit food spots in Kalispell:

  • Norm’s Soda Fountain – Norm’s Soda Fountain is an old-school diner & soda shop where you can indulge in a scoop of their famous huckleberry ice cream.
  • Kalispell Farmers Market –  Kalispell Farmers Market is the perfect place for locally-made goods such as fruits and vegetables as well as local crafts for souvenirs.
  • Downtown Kalispell – Food and drink options in Downtown Kalispell are some of the most diverse, such as restaurants offering locally sourced bison and beef and local breweries.

Kalispell’s culinary scene is a perfect treat to enjoy after a day of exploring the breathtaking outdoor adventures in this charming town.

4. Participate in Water Activities on Flathead Lake

An ideal setting for a wonderful Montana vacation, a yellow and black boat navigates through deep blue waters.

Displaying an impressive 185 miles of shoreline (298 km) and over 200 square miles of water, Flathead Lake is the largest natural freshwater lake west of the Mississippi River.

With its vast size and pristine condition, this magnificent body of water is one of the biggest lakes in Montana offering a playground for all aquatic enthusiasts.

Flathead Lake has it all when it comes to water activities including:

  • Boating
  • Fishing
  • Kayaking
  • Paddleboarding
  • Swimming

To enhance your boating experience, paddle away to the Wildhorse Island State Park where you can spot wildlife in their natural habitat.

As a fitting finale for your water adventure, experience the whitewater action at the Bigfork Whitewater Festival.

The festival is a historic and local event where you can either participate as a competitor or a spectator.

5. Experience Winter Activities at Big Sky Resort

A group of skiers stands atop a slope in Montana, preparing to descend down the mountain.

No better way to experience the winter magic than at Big Sky Resort, one of the largest ski resorts in the United States.

Located approximately 45 miles (72 km) southwest of Bozeman, this massive resort has a size of over 5,850 acres of ski runs.

Prepare yourself for heart-pounding descents as you make your way down the impressive vertical drop of 4,350 feet, with the majestic summit of Lone Peak standing at a breathtaking 11,166 feet.

With its vast size, Big Sky Resort is a winter wonderland for all snowy activities such as:

  • Dog-sledding
  • Cross-country skiing
  • Snowboarding
  • Snowmobiling
  • Sno-go Biking
  • Sleigh Riding

These icy recreations will surely leave you with memories as warm as a crackling fireplace.

6. Explore Architectural Tours in Butte

A magnificent white statue sits on top of a majestic mountain, offering breathtaking views for those seeking the best Montana vacations.

When exploring the diverse architectural history of Butte, one cannot help but be mesmerized by the Victorian-era styles found in this historic mining city.

To have a glimpse into Butte’s fascinating heritage, take on these architectural tours:

  • The Copper King Mansion – A 34-room residence of Romanesque Revival Victorian architecture, Copper King Mansion was built from 1884 to 1888 for one of Butte’s 3 famous Copper Kings.
  • Butte Trolley Tour – An approximately 2-hour Trolley ride led by local experts on the area through the Victorian neighborhoods and more. 
  • Our Lady of the Rockies – Our Lady of the Rockies, a 90-foot statue, represents a unique piece of architecture in Butte.

As you explore the streets of Butte on these architectural tours, the city’s rich history and vibrant present intertwine, leaving you captivated by its charm.

7. Observe Wildlife in Red Lodge

A close-up of a red fox cub standing on the grass.

If you’re an animal lover like me, then Red Lodge is the perfect destination for you.

One of the must-visit attractions for wildlife viewing in Red Lodge is the Yellowstone Wildlife Sanctuary.

Yellowstone Wildlife Sanctuary is home to a variety of rescued wildlife including:

  • Bears
  • Birds
  • Bison
  • Bobcats
  • Foxes

It’s not just a place to admire these magnificent creatures, it’s also an opportunity to learn about local wildlife conservation efforts.

8. Drive Through Scenic Byways in Central Montana

Best Montana vacations include a scenic winding road nestled in the beautiful mountainous landscape.

A vacation won’t be complete without a driving adventure!

The Scenic Byways in Central Montana is a 265-mile (426.5km) stretch that takes you on a journey through the heart of this beautiful state.

Savor the stunning scenery and take in the fresh air along the Missouri River and the Kings Hills Scenic Byway.

Along the Scenic Byways in Central Montana, you’ll have these opportunities to make the road trip worthwhile:

  • Visit historic towns such as Great Falls and Lewistown.
  • Stop at local breweries to sample craft beers.
  • Take a dip in the soothing hot springs that dot the area.
  • Explore cultural icons like the C.M. Russell Museum and the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail Interpretive Center.

Scenic byways offer a unique opportunity to experience the beauty of a region at your own pace.

Where to Stay in Montana

A scenic combination of a cloudy sky and majestic mountains in Montana.

The vast and mesmerizing Big Sky Country offers a multitude of options for accommodation.

From bed and breakfasts in picturesque valleys to resorts with breathtaking mountain views, this western state has something to suit every traveler’s taste and budget.

Let’s dive in and discover the perfect place for you to rest your head in Montana.

1. Bozeman

An aerial view of a city with trees and buildings perfect for best Montana vacations.

Bozeman is a popular city serving as the ultimate gateway to the majestic Yellowstone National Park.

Bozeman leaves no stone unturned when it comes to these accommodations:

  • The LARK Bozeman – The LARK Bozeman boasts modern, one-of-a-kind hotel boutique guestrooms that are crafted with local flavor.
  • Kimpton Armory Hotel – With its luxurious amenities, the historic Kimpton Armory Hotel is Bozeman’s first and only 4-star hotel.
  • Element Bozeman – Element Bozeman, a polished, contemporary hotel, offers chic rooms and modern decor.

Aside from these, Bozeman is also a great place for camping.

With three campgrounds and 2 day-use areas, the Hyalite Canyon Recreation Area stands tall as the most visited recreation area in all of Montana.

The majesty of Bozeman awaits, ready to captivate you with its endless possibilities.

2. Missoula

A beautiful aerial view of a Montana city beneath clear blue skies.

Missoula, a vibrant college town and cultural hub, showcases the astonishing scenic beauty of sparkling rivers and majestic mountain views.

The city of Missoula doesn’t disappoint with these exceptional accommodations:

  • Blue Mountain Bed & Breakfast –  Blue Mountain Bed & Breakfast has five private rooms tucked away on twenty acres of wildlife habitat, providing a serene escape.
  • The Gibson Mansion Bed and Breakfast – An elegant Victorian Mansion with modern amenities, The Gibson Mansion Bed and Breakfast offers a touch of old-world charm coupled with luxurious comfort.

But don’t let the allure of Missoula’s accommodations keep you indoors for too long, as there’s much more to explore.

Just a short drive away lies the stunning Lolo National Forest, and the awe-inspiring beauty of Flathead Lake, must-visit destinations for water enthusiasts.

Missoula truly encompasses the essence of an idyllic getaway, with its scenic wonders, and limitless possibilities for exploration. 

3. Philipsburg

An aerial view of a small town during the winter season, perfect for planning your best Montana vacations.

A once-bustling historic mining town in the 19th century, Philipsburg beckons every history buff to delve into the enchanting tales of its past.

Adjacent to this captivating town lies Granite Ghost Town, a haunting reminder of a bygone era.

As you wander through the abandoned streets, you’ll discover the remnants of the mighty Granite Mine and the surrounding historic buildings.

To truly immerse oneself in the history of Philipsburg, these accommodations offer rich historical experiences:

  • The Broadway Hotel – The Broadway Hotel offers a cozy and modern stay in a historic building that dates from 1890.
  • The Ranch at Rock Creek – The Ranch at Rock Creek’s 19th-century homestead includes a historic barn.

Philipsburg and its surrounding attractions promise an unforgettable experience. 

Read more about Couples Ranch Vacations in Big Sky Country.

4. Whitefish

A beautiful town in Montana set against the backdrop of clear blue skies and majestic mountains in the distance.

Found near the grandeur of Glacier National Park, Whitefish is a charming resort destination.

The highlight place of Whitefish is undoubtedly the stunning Whitefish Lake, whose crystal-clear waters invite visitors to partake in various water-based activities.

From this comes The Lodge at Whitefish Lake, situated between the serene Whitefish Lake and the 28-acre Viking Creek Wetland Preserve.

With its prime location, the Lodge at Whitefish Lake provides easy access to a wealth of adventures with:

  • Only minutes away from downtown Whitefish
  • 10 minutes from the ski slopes of the renowned Whitefish Mountain Resort
  • Less than a 30-minute drive to the wonders of Glacier National Park

Accommodations at the Lodge range from cozy rooms to luxury homes, ensuring a comfortable and memorable retreat for those looking to unwind.

5. Miles City

A nearly empty street in a rural Montana town.

Miles City, a dynamic Wild West town, attracts with its rich history and captivating cowboy culture.

The preserved saloons and boarding houses in the historic Main Street capture the essence of a bygone era.

If you’re seeking a place to rest your boots, look no further than FairBridge Inn & Suites.

The FairBridge Inn & Suites offer a variety of activities, conveniently located near these attractions:

  • 1.2 miles (1.9 km) from Wibaux Park
  • Within 3 miles (4.8 km) of Tongue River Winery and Custer County Art Center
  • 3.72 miles (6 km) southeast of the esteemed Range Riders Museum

In Miles City, the spirit of the Wild West lives on, filling the air with a sense of adventure and nostalgia.

Best Vacations in Montana Final Thoughts

Two people enjoying the breathtaking view from a deck overlooking a picturesque lake and majestic mountains during their best Montana vacation.

Exploring the vast wonders of Montana offers a captivating journey filled with diverse experiences.

Whether basking in the summer sunshine or embracing the winter’s snowy charm, the state unfolds its beauty year-round.

From iconic destinations to thrilling activities and cozy accommodations, Montana’s allure is truly boundless.

Whether you prefer the vibrant energy of cities like Billings and Missoula, or the majestic national parks like Glacier and Yellowstone, there is something for everyone.

This travel guide aims to be your compass, guiding you to the best times, places, activities, and stays, ensuring your vacation is nothing short of extraordinary.

Montana truly is a top vacation spot, offering a wide variety of unique experiences and outdoor activities amid its stunning natural landscapes.

Best Montana Vacations FAQs

1. What Is the Most Visited Place in Montana?

When it comes to the most visited place in this wondrous state, one cannot ignore the overwhelming popularity and significance of Glacier National Park.

Nicknamed the Crown of the Continent, the park has consistently hosted around 3 million visitors each year for the last 5 years (2017 to 2022), aside from 2020 due to pandemic-related closures.

2. How Many Days Do You Need in Montana?

To truly immerse yourself in the beauty of Big Sky Country, at least 7 to 10 days is recommended.

This will allow you to experience most of the best attractions and outdoor activities that make this place a must-visit destination. 

3. Why Is Montana the Best Place to Visit?

Montana is the epitome of nature’s grandeur.

A destination that combines stunning natural beauty, outdoor activities, and diverse wildlife.

4. Why Do People Vacation in Montana?

One of the main drawcards is the state’s untouched landscapes, inviting visitors for adventure and exploration.

Its wide array of outdoor activities includes hiking, fishing, skiing, hunting, wildlife viewing, and water sports.

5. What Is the Best Way to Visit Montana?

When it comes to exploring this treasure state’s scenic beauty, road trips are the perfect way to experience its majestic beauty and diverse attractions.

Traveling through this paradise by car allows you access to some of its hidden gems that may be inaccessible by other forms of transportation.

Dive deeper into the wonders of Montana in the articles below:

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Written by:

Chris Hall
Hi, I'm Chris Hall, co-founder of Growing up among Montana's breathtaking landscapes ignited my passion for travel. While I've journeyed to many corners of the world, the allure of Montana's wild beauty always draws me back. To me, travel is about understanding the soul of a place, and Montana has a special place in my heart. It's where endless adventures meet raw nature.

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