Best Places to Visit in Montana for Nature, Skiing, City Life & Much More!
Montana has quickly become a coveted destination, providing epic scenery, crowd-free terrain, a burgeoning food and drink scene, and some of America’s most breathtakingly stunning national parks.
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 U.S., it can be hard to narrow down the best places to visit in Montana for your trip. We’re here to help!
We’re Montanans who have explored every part of this state and we’re listing out the best places to go in our beloved state, broken out by 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 as it is 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 for Nature Lovers
Since it’s the beauty of the Montana mountains and plains that draws most people to the state, 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.
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, where you’ll have the chance to see these majestic and often elusive creatures 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, forming incredible rock stacks and structures against the background of the plains. Many of the rocks look precariously stacked atop of each other, and 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
Best Places for Water Enthusiasts
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.
Bighorn Canyon is impressive due to the sheer size of the red-tinged cliffs that surround you as your boat or pontoon slices through the calm water. You can easily find parts of Bighorn Canyon that you’ll have pretty much all to yourself so you can 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 different, charming little towns around the lake, and cherry tree orchards producing sweet, delicious cherries to eat plain or use in pies.
A good base for starting your adventures in Flathead Lake is either Polson on the south end of the lake or Bigfork on the northeast end. There are boat and watersports outfitters located around the lake for you to rent your equipment, or you can bring your own and use the public dock and boat launch in Wayfarers State Park.
Best Cities to Visit in Montana
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 for being a tourist destination. It’s situated right in between Montana’s massive mountains to the west and the rolling farmland to the east and often gets overlooked as just a starting off point or ending point if accessing Montana via the Billings Airport.
But 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 dichotomy 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 and some relaxing hot springs.
Read More: 15 Best Hot Springs in Montana
In addition, Bozeman is the location of the esteemed Museum of the Rockies, which 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, but a large one is its beauty. Surrounded by towering mountain peaks, Missoula is breathtaking to behold and 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, or escaping to the Flathead River for some whitewater rafting, fly fishing, or kayaking.
Read More: Top 10 Things to Do in Missoula
Best Places for Skiing in Montana
Big Sky Resort
The preeminent ski resort in Montana is Big Sky Mountain Resort. It’s massive and is home to a number of challenging runs that make this a place exciting for experienced skiers and snowboarders. But 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, or 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. You won’t find the pomp and circumstance that seem to be embedded in Big Sky’s powder, but instead you’ll find a laidback mountain town with just a few restaurants and bars and a smattering of hotels.
Red Lodge is also a popular destination in non ski seasons, since it’s the start of the incredible Beartooth Highway Drive, that leads to the northeast entrance of Yellowstone National Park.
Read More: Winter Guide for Red Lodge Mountain
Best Places for Viewing Animals
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, but the wildlife definitely 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.
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 and can participate in day to day tasks that will truly give you a taste of what it’s like to live on a working ranch, or you can choose one of the luxury dude ranches, where you’ll be pampered from morning to night while eating exquisite food and getting pampered at the spa after horseback rides, hikes, and other guided adventures.
Read More: The Best Dude Ranches in Montana
Best Places to Visit in Montana for History
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 for this area. St. Ignatius Mission is a Catholic Church that dates back to the 1890s. When visited, it must be seen from the inside 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 such as 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 tripper drive right through this historic city, or just stop to fill up the gas tank.
This is definitely doing yourself a disservice. Butte has an incredible history, and was once nicknamed the “Richest Hill on Earth” due to the extensive minerals (and resulting riches) its massive mining industry was uncovering in the early 1900s.
Today, the mining industry is long gone, but you can still see remnants of it, both in downtown Butte and on the outskirts of town. In town, see the gorgeous Victorian homes from the mining town’s heyday. Beyond the town, you can see the Anaconda Smelter Stack and view the 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 will have you living your ideal travel life!