Planning a Trip to Montana is Easy if You Follow These Six Steps
As someone who was born in Montana, but doesn’t live there anymore, I’m in a unique spot to share how to best plan a trip to Montana. I now live in the Pacific Northwest, but have many immediate family members who live in Montana. I frequently visit my beloved state of Montana.
This gives me a unique perspective on Montana trip planning: I’m able to provide both the local and visitor perspective.
I’m going to help you figure out where to go, what to see, and where to stay during your trip in Montana. Get ready to plan an epic Montana vacation without feeling overwhelmed!
How to Plan a Trip to Montana
#1 Choose the Region You Want to Focus on For Your Trip
Montana is divided into six distinct regions. I recommend only visiting one or two regions during your time in Montana if you’re limited to just a week.
If you have two weeks, two regions are doable and maybe three.
Why is this?
Because Montana is a huge state! If you fit much more into your itinerary, you’re going to be spending so much time driving you won’t be able to properly explore the sites.
Here are the six regions of Montana:
Glacier Country: Some of Montana’s most epic scenery is found in Glacier Country, including Glacier National Park, Flathead Lake, Whitefish Mountain, Missoula, and the Bitterroot Valley.
Southwest Montana: The place to visit for historic cities like Butte, Montana’s capital city of Helena, and remote scenic drives through tiny towns.
Central Montana: Home to Montana’s capital city, cool cities like Great Falls, and riverfront towns like Fort Benton and Lewistown.
Yellowstone Country: Where you’ll find some of Montana’s most popular attractions, including Yellowstone National Park, Bozeman, and Big Sky.
Southeast Montana: Where you’ll find Billings, Montana’s biggest city. Southeast Montana also has sprawling farmland, an assortment of small towns, and some of Montana’s best dinosaur trail attractions.
Missouri River Country: Miles upon miles of plains are interspersed with water activities, thanks to Fort Peck Lake near Glasgow and the Missouri River.
#2 When is the Best Time to Visit Montana?
Once you decide what region to visit in Montana, you’ll no doubt be needing to figure out when to go next.
Montana is magical at any time of the year, but obviously different seasons offer different experiences. If you want skiing and snowmobiling, winter and early spring is a must.
Looking for hiking and lake fun? Summer or early fall is your best bet. Love baby animals? Spring is calling your name.
Different areas have different timelines for when you should visit, too.
For example, you may love traveling during shoulder season, but if you’re wanting to increase your chances of driving the Going to the Sun Road in Glacier National Park, then the last half of July, all of August, or the first half of September is your best bet.
We discuss all that and more for Glacier in our Best Time to Visit Glacier National Park article here.
And we cover all of Montana in our Best Time to Visit Montana article here.
#3 How to Get to Montana
First off, you’re very likely going to want a car to get around Montana. So if you have enough vacation time to warrant some drive time to and from Montana (and you don’t live too far away), road tripping to Montana may be your bet bet.
Living in Seattle, my family is a quick flight from Montana. But we often pack up the car and drive over the mountain passes multiple times each year because it’s worth it to have our own vehicle (especially with little kids).
Plus, once you add in the cost of car rental in Montana (which can be quite steep) and the cost of flights (which can also be expensive), driving is just simply more economical.
But if you must fly, don’t despair! Montana’s airports are rapidly growing in size and scope, which is making it easier to find flights at convenient times without spending an absolute fortune. Though flying into Montana is still going to be much pricier than flying to Seattle or Chicago or LA, etc.
Your best bets for affordable flights is to fly into Bozeman or Billings, followed by Missoula.
We also highly advise you to check car rental prices before booking your flight. It may be cheaper to fly into Billings for example, until you add up rental car prices and then you realize Bozeman is ultimately cheaper (or vice versa). Car rentals can be very limited, especially at smaller, regional airports so make sure you can get a rental vehicle before you book your flight to Montana.
#4 Deciding Where to Stay in Montana
Once you know when and where you want to go in Montana, and how you’re going to get there, it’s time to decide where to stay.
Montana has so many different options fo where to stay…or even how to stay. Montana has accommodations that are located on working ranches, in teepees, beside lakes, in remote fire lookouts, and more.
One of our favorite options for where to stay in Montana are the hot spring resorts located around the state.
Read More: Best Hot Springs in Montana
Staying on a dude ranch is a quintessential Montana activity. Whether you’re looking for an intimate, hands-on working ranch experience or a luxury all-inclusive guest ranch stay, Montana has the perfect ranch vacay for you.
Read More: Best Dude Ranches in Montana
Glamping, yurts, and RV parks are also available, along with plenty of vacation rentals, B&Bs, and hotels. Read all of our accommodation recaps in our Where to Stay in Montana section.
And let’s not forget about those national parks! Check out our national park lodging guides here:
- Ultimate Glacier National Park Lodging Guide Inside and Near the Park
- The Best Places to Stay When Visiting Yellowstone National Park
#5 Best Montana Activities to Do on Your Trip
As mentioned earlier, it can take a long time to drive in between destinations and attractions in Montana. So be mindful of that as you plan out your day-to-day itinerary. We recommend a morning hike, afternoon drive or museum or other historic attraction, and then a delicious dinner in town followed by main street nightlife if applicable.
Other activities you might want to do? Here’s a top to-do list:
- fly fishing
- white water rafting
- leaf peeping drives in fall
- cross-country skiing
- downhill skiing
- historic mansion tours
- dinosaur fossils
- pioneer history
- sapphire mining
- animal photography
- hot springs
…and so much more! Be sure to check out our “Best of Montana” lists.
A lot of Montana’s charm also lies in its small towns and community-minded cities. We think every trip to Montana should combine outdoor pursuits with some small town life.
We talk about specific things to do in our city and town guides for destinations all around Montana
Need help narrowing down which ones you want to visit?
- Check out our list of the 30 most charming, must-see towns in Montana.
- We also narrow down to our top 10 favorite small towns here.
#6 Get a Detailed Montana Guidebook
Online resources like this blog are great, but sometimes it’s easier to have all the information in one easy-to-access place. Which is why travel guidebooks have been so popular for decades.
Here at Travel Montana Now, we created a digital guidebook for this reason! Our First Timer’s Guide to Montana guidebook is the ultimate planning resource for Montana.
This 139-page guidebook goes into detail about all the steps we mentioned above and will help you narrow down where you want to go and what you want to see on your Montana trip. And then provide the info you need to expertly book your trip.
—> Click here to find out more about the First Timer’s Guide to Montana eBook!