Best Places to Visit in Montana for Nature, Skiing, City Life & Much More!
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 is easily one of the best — if not the very 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, as detailed in this graph — start at the top or click on the category you most want to read about to be taken there first.
Best Places to Visit in Montana for Nature Lovers
Western Montana is all about the mountains, right? And the beauty of the Montana mountains is what draws most people to the state, so let’s start there…
A Dude Ranch
Experience the land 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.
St. Ignatius / Mission Mountains
Visit St. Ignatius within the Mission Mountains for a number of outdoor activities plus the chance to learn about the importance the land has played to the native people of Montana throughout the past centuries.
Popular outdoor excursions in the Mission Mountains include rock climbing, ice climbing, river rafting, and boating. To learn more about the history of the area, head to the Ninepipes Museum of Early Montana in St. Ignatius, a small town located between Missoula and Flathead Lake on the Flathead Reservation.
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 also 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.
Best Places for Water Enthusiasts
This massive water reservoir is home to some of the most mesmerizing boating around. It’s impressive due to the sheer size of the red-tinged cliffs that surround you as your boat or pontoon slices through the calm water, and you can easily find parts of Bighorn Canyon all to yourself so you can waterski on calm water without worrying about wakes from other boats.
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 coveted 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 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.
Billings doesn’t get enough clout for being a tourist destination. It’s situated right in between the 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 along with history and a small town vibe despite being Montana’s largest city.
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 a valley in southern Montana that’s surrounded by the Rockies. It’s home to Montana’s busiest airport and provides easy access to Big Sky Resort for skiing and snowboarding or 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.
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.
Missoula is one of the most beloved cities in Montana for a number of reasons, but a large one is its beauty. Surrounded by towers mountain peaks, Missoula is breathtaking to behold and is a short drive from Lolo National Forest and Flathead Lake, and just a bit farther to 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.
Best Places for Skiing in Montana
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 towns with just a few restaurants and bars and a smattering of hotels.
Big Sky Mountain
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 to excite 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 is simply breathtaking.
You can stay right in Big Sky Mountain at one of the ski-in, ski-out condos and townhomes, or rent a nearby vacation rental, or stay in Bozeman, which is just a roughly an hour’s drive away.