Best Places to Go in Montana for Nature, Skiing, City Life & Much More!
The best places to visit in Montana differ for everyone, but that is what makes Montana so special. There is something for every type of traveler!
If you’re looking to get away and get outside this year, then Montana is the perfect destination for you. However, as the fourth largest state in the United States, it can be hard to narrow down the best places to visit in Montana during your trip. We’re here to help!
We’re Montanans who have explored every part of this state. In this article, we’ve listed out the best places to go in our beloved state. These places are broken into different categories: Nature, Water, Cities, Skiing, History, and Wildlife Viewing.
Of course, most places you can visit in Montana are going to fall into numerous categories. For example, we put Yellowstone National Park under Best Places in Montana for Wildlife Viewing, but let’s face it — Yellowstone could go under practically all of these categories! It’s easily one of the best places to visit in Montana.
So with that out of the way (woo-hoo, we love our national parks, but there’s so much more to Montana!) let’s move onto the best places to visit in Montana, for every type of travel personality.
Best Places to Visit in Montana in 2023
Montana has quickly become a coveted travel destination. The state provides epic scenery, crowd-free terrain, a burgeoning food and drink scene, and some of America’s most breathtakingly stunning national parks.
We love all of Montana! Still, there are some spots that stand out. Read on for our top 15 places to visit in Montana in 2023.
Best Places to Visit in Montana for Nature Lovers
It’s the beauty of the Montana mountains and plains that draws most people to the state. So let’s start with the best places to visit in Montana for nature…
Glacier National Park
It’s probably no surprise this national park ended up here. Glacier National Park is known for its epic, gravity-defying scenery punctuated by towering mountain peaks, turquoise glacial lakes, and miles upon miles of stellar hiking trails.
Are You Looking For The Best Activity in Glacier National Park?
If you want to get as many impressions from your visit to Glacier National Park as possible, then I highly recommend you to check the tours below and choose the most attractive ones for you!
- Experience the quieter side of Glacier National Park with this Glacier National Park Scenic Float
- Get some extreme: Half-Day Glacier National Park Whitewater Rafting Adventure
- Spot wildlife in its native habitat with Half Day Scenic Float on the Middle Fork of the Flathead River
Glacier National Park is best experienced when you hit the trail, making this an easy spot on our best places in Montana for nature lovers list.
West Yellowstone is a Montana town right by the west entrance to Yellowstone National Park, which makes it a gateway to some of the best natural wonders in the world. But West Yellowstone also has its own outdoor fun.
In West Yellowstone, you’ll find the Museum of the Yellowstone, where you can learn more about those natural wonders.
West Yellowstone is also home to the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center. Visit to see these majestic and often elusive creatures (all rescues) in their natural habitat.
The Montana Badlands
The Badlands are located in eastern Montana and consist of miles upon miles of flat sandstone rocks stacked upon each other. This forms incredible rock stacks and structures against the background of the plains.
Many of the rocks look precariously stacked on top of each other. That combined with the barren surroundings, give the badlands an almost otherworldly appearance in parts.
For some of the most scenic views of Montana’s badlands, head to Makoshika State Park off of Interstate 94 in Glendive.
Read More: The Ultimate Glendive Travel Guide
The Terry Badlands near Terry, MT (a short drive southwest of Glendive are also known for mesmerizing hoodoos and other rock formations.
Best Places in MT for Water Enthusiasts
Love watersports and gazing at serene water framed by gorgeous vistas? Montana is definitely the place for you then. Here are our favorite spots to go to for some water fun.
Bighorn Canyon in Southeast Montana
Bighorn Canyon is easily one of Montana’s best hidden gems. This massive water reservoir is home to some of the most mesmerizing boating around.
The Yellowtail Dam created this massive canyon. The sheer size of the red-tinged cliffs that surround you as your boat or pontoon slices through the calm water is memorably impressive.
You can easily find parts of Bighorn Canyon that you’ll have pretty much all to yourself. Waterski on calm water without worrying about wakes from other boats, or just relax on your pontoon and enjoy the peace and quiet.
Flathead Lake is located in northwestern Montana, about 70 miles north of Missoula. It’s considered one of the most picturesque lakes in Montana, with mountain peaks visible in the distance. Around the lake are charming little towns and cherry tree orchards producing famously sweet, delicious cherries.
A good base for starting your Flathead adventures is either Polson on the south end of the lake or Bigfork on the northeast end. There are boat and watersport outfitters located around the lake where you can rent equipment. You can also bring your own and use the public dock and boat launch in one Flathead Lake’s state parks.
If Flathead Lake is too big and busy for you, head to sleepy Swan Lake, less than thirty minutes from Bigfork on the northeast corner of Flathead Lake.
Swan Lake has an excellent day use area that is easy to access. It also has a low fee to visit for the day. Park and be at at a peaceful beach and picnic table in mere moments. Relax by the shore or head out on your paddle board or kayak.
Or simply go for a swim or sit on the shoreline and enjoy the beauty of this peaceful lake nestled against the backdrop of Flathead National Forest.
Holter Lake / Gates of the Mountains
Follow in the canoe path of the Lewis and Clark expedition with a boating adventure in Holter Lake. Holter Lake is surrounded by the pristine Holter Wilderness Area. Part of the Holter Reservoir was created by a dam erected in the Missouri River.
You can boat and dock by campgrounds and trailheads after you glide through the infamous Gates of the Mountains. No boat of your own? Sign up for a boat tour that takes you through this part of the reservoir. The tour is also a great way to learn about the area’s history.
Here’s a quick history lesson right now: It’s called “Gates of the Mountains” because that is what Lewis said as they were going through the water pass.
Best Cities to Visit in Montana
Montana is known for nature, but it also has a cosmopolitan side, which you can experience in these cities. All of which are still located close to gorgeous scenery and outdoor activities.
A visit to Helena takes you to Montana’s state capital, a gorgeous city located right in the mountains. It’s home to a university, the stately capitol building, and a downtown area brimming with historic homes.
In addition, Helena is close to the Flathead National Forest and other hiking trails that make it a great place to visit for nature enthusiasts.
Read More: Ultimate Guide for Things to Do in Helena
Billings doesn’t get enough clout as a tourist destination, in our opinion. It’s situated right in between Montana’s massive mountains to the west and the rolling farmland to the east.
But Billings often gets earmarked as just a starting off point or ending point if accessing Montana via the Billings International Airport.
However, it would be a shame to overlook Billings on your trip since it has a burgeoning food and craft beer scene plus historic attractions. Despite being Montana’s largest city, it has still retained a small town vibe, making it a welcoming place to explore while in Montana.
Top attractions in Billings include the Billings Beer Trail, the Yellowstone Kelly Memorial atop the rims (rocky cliffs on the north end of Billings that gives the city a beautiful frame) and the Old Town Historic District where you’ll find a number of old homes and museums.
Beautiful Bozeman is nestled in the gorgeous Gallatin Valley in southern Montana and is surrounded by mountains. It’s home to Montana’s busiest airport and provides easy access to Big Sky Resort for skiing and snowboarding. Bozeman is also a short drive down to Yellowstone National Park.
Bozeman is a great city in its own right, though, and shouldn’t just be used as a gateway to the rest of Montana. Dedicate a day or two (or more) to spend in Bozeman and get a feel for why it’s one of the best places to live in Montana — and some say, all of the USA!
Bozeman has a number of craft breweries and distilleries, delicious restaurants that focus on local ingredients, and a fun downtown area with bars and nightlife. It’s also close to epic hiking at Hyalite Canyon which you can follow up with a relaxing soak at Bozeman Hot Springs.
Read More: 15 Best Hot Springs in Montana
Museum of the Rockies is a must-see for anyone who thinks dinosaurs are cool (and isn’t that pretty much everyone??). You’ll see a massive skeleton of a Tyrannosaurus Rex and a Triceratops plus learn about the paleontology work done in Montana that unearths these prehistoric dinosaur bones.
Read More: Best Things to Do in Bozeman
Missoula is one of the most beloved cities in Montana for a number of reasons. Its beauty is what first pulls people in.
Surrounded by towering mountain peaks, Missoula is breathtaking to behold. The city is a short drive from Lolo National Forest and Flathead Lake. Just a bit farther north and you’ll find yourself in Whitefish and Glacier National Park.
Top things to do in Missoula include taking a ride around the hand-carved Carousel for Missoula, going for a stroll along the River Walk, dining at the hearty restaurants and craft breweries in town. Beyond downtown, you can escape to the Clark Fork River for some whitewater rafting, fly fishing, or kayaking.
Read More: Top 10 Things to Do in Missoula
By the way…
Before we get to the rest of this list, quick break to make sure you know about our First Timer’s Guide to Montana travel guidebook. If you’re feeling overwhelmed or want some expert advice for Montana trip planning all in one place, this 139-page guidebook is for you! Click here to learn more about it!
…and now back to the best places to visit in Montana list!
Best Places for Skiing in Montana
Love racing down the mountainside in the middle of winter? Us too! Here are the best places to go skiing in Montana this year.
Big Sky Resort
The preeminent ski resort in Montana is massive Big Sky Mountain Resort. It’s home to a number of challenging runs that make Big Sky Mountain a ski destination exciting for experienced skiers and snowboarders. Yet it also has plenty of trails for beginners and is home to an excellent ski school.
Plus, the views you’ll get from the top of the ski runs are stunningly gorgeous.
You can stay right in Big Sky Resort at one of the ski-in, ski-out condos and townhomes, or rent a nearby vacation rental. Another popular option is to stay in Bozeman, which is about an hour’s drive away.
Red Lodge Mountain
If you want to ski where the locals ski (at least those who live in Billings and eastern Montana), head to Red Lodge instead of Big Sky in 2023.
You won’t find any of the pomp and circumstance Big Sky is sometimes known for due to it glitzy clientele. Instead you’ll find a laidback mountain town with one Main Street of restaurants and bars and a smattering of hotels.
Red Lodge is also a popular destination in non ski seasons. Mostly because it’s the start of the incredible Beartooth Highway Drive. This scenic drive leads to the northeast entrance of Yellowstone National Park.
Read More: Winter Guide for Red Lodge Mountain
Best Places in Montana for Viewing Animals
If you’re an animal lover, here are the places to go in Montana for the best chances of seeing wildlife.
Yellowstone National Park
With drives, hiking trails, and wide, open plains that make it easy to see wildlife, Yellowstone National Park is one of the best places to visit in Montana for many reasons. However, for many visitors it’s the wildlife that stands out.
While driving through Yellowstone you’re bound to see bison roaming the plains. Wolves, moose, bears, elk, mountain lions, and other animals are also possible to see.
One of the best places to see wildlife in the park is the Lamar Valley, which is located by Yellowstone’s northeast entrance. The gateway to this entrance is Cooke City, MT. And an epic way to get to Cooke City is via that aforementioned Beartooth Highway. Mountain goats and birds of prey are often spotted along the windy Beartooth Highway.
A Montana Dude Ranch
Experience the land and its animals the Montana way — or at least the Montana cowboy way — with a stay at a dude ranch.
You can choose to stay at a small family-run ranch where you’ll get to know the family well. Participate in day to day tasks that will truly give you a taste of what it’s like to live on a working ranch.
Want some pampering? Choose one of the luxury dude ranches. You’ll dine on exquisite food, can get spa treatments after horseback rides, and do one-of-a-kind guided adventures.
Read More: The Best Dude Ranches in Montana
Best Places to Visit in Montana for History
There is so much history to found in Montana, but here are a couple places that stand out for 2023.
St. Ignatius / Mission Mountains
A historic place to visit between Missoula and Flathead Lake is the town of St. Ignatius on the Flathead Indian Reservation.
St. Ignatius is home to the similarly named St. Ignatius Mission, which is a popular tourist attraction in this area.
St. Ignatius Mission is a Catholic Church that dates back to the 1890s. When visited, it must be seen from the inside. That’s where you’ll see the 58 original paintings on the ceiling painted by Brother Joseph Carignano. There is also a museum next to the mission.
To learn more about the history of the area, head to the Ninepipes Museum of Early Montana in St. Ignatius where you can learn more about the importance the land has played to the native people of Montana throughout the past centuries.
St. Ignatius is also near the Mission Mountains, which provides visitors with opportunity to partake in a number of outdoor activities. Popular ones include rock climbing, ice climbing, river rafting, and boating.
Butte’s Mining Past
Located in Central Montana, Butte is located between Missoula and Bozeman right off I-94. As a result, most road trippers drive right through this historic city or just stop to get gas.
This is definitely doing yourself a disservice!
Butte has an incredible history and was once nicknamed the “Richest Hill on Earth.” This moniker was due to the extensive minerals (and resulting riches) its massive mining industry unearthed in the early 1900s.
Today, the mining industry is gone, but you can still see remnants of it, both in downtown Butte and on the outskirts of town.
In downtown Butte, tour the gorgeous Victorian homes from the mining town’s heyday. Beyond the town, you can see the Anaconda Smelter Stack jutting up into the sky. Drive up the hill to view acidic Berkely Pit, a sad reminder of the toll mining has on the earth.
Read More: The Best Things to Do in Butte
No matter what type of vacation you’re looking for, these best places in Montana to visit are epic. Each place will have you experiencing Montana in an epic way with gorgeous scenery.