Visitor’s Guide for All of Montana’s National Parks & National Historic Sites
Montana may be a massive state without much of a population per square mile, but within those square miles it packs in a number of historical sites and National Parks that can’t be ignored. There’s evidence that a massive flood changed the geological map thousands of years ago in Montana and this can very much be appreciated today.
Long before the white man traveled through the area, there were Native Americans that flourished in Montana country. With those two historical pieces put aside, Montana also holds two of the entrances into the Yellowstone National Park.
With as much history and beauty that’s waiting here, you can’t possibly say no to a visit. Here’s a look at many of Montana’s National parks and historical sites that will make for an amazing trip.
Let’s start with the big ones: the National Parks of Montana. These include Yellowstone National Park and Glacier National Park, two of the most famous parks in America.
Location: Southwest Montana (plus Wyoming and Idaho)
Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone National Park is the oldest declared national park in the United States and is part of three states, including Montana.
The park is unique for its geological formations, thermal geysers, and beautiful hot springs. Lamar Valley and Hayden Valley within Yellowstone National Park are wonderful locations of finding wildlife in the park.
The north entrance to Yellowstone National Park is located in Gardiner, Montana, while the northeast entrance can be found in Cooke City, Montana.
Glacier National Park
Location: Northwest Montana
Glacier National Park is located in the Rocky Mountains of Northwest Montana. The park has absolutely gorgeous rugged mountain and lake views, creating the perfect venue for the outdoorsman.
The park has over 700 miles of hiking trails, great camping, and backpacking locations. Be sure to head out on the Going-to-the-Sun Road, a nice scenic drive. Whitewater rafting, horseback riding, and wildlife viewing are other great activities for you to do.
There are also many great hotels and chalets in the area that have amazing views. Many Glacier Hotel is the largest hotel in the park that matches this description.
Now for the historic sites that are operated by the National Park Service.
Location: Southeast Montana, about 90 minutes from Billings.
If you’re around the Montana-Wyoming border, Bighorn Canyon is definitely worth a visit.
Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area not only offers visitors amazing views inside the canyon but plenty of activities too. Kayaking, biking, hiking, fishing, hunting, and camping are just to name a few. There’s also evidence for early human history from more than 10,000 years ago.
Nez Perce National Park
Location: Montana, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington. The parts of Nez Perce National Park that are in Montana are in the far west part of the state.
The Nez Perce National Park is dedicated to the Nez Perce people that were avoiding being put on a reservation, while they were headed north to Canada seeking freedom. This became known as the Flight of 1877.
Several skirmishes broke out between these people and the US Army Cavalry. The park is made up of 38 sites where the conflict took place, all of them scattered all throughout four states. The park’s sites teach stories, cultures, and history of these people. The Battle of Bear Paw and Big Hole National Battlefield are both sites that are located in Montana, of which the latter is another National Park Historic Site.
Big Hole National Battlefield
Location: Wisdom, Montana
In the early morning of August 9, 1877, the US Army surprised the Nez Perce tribe in what later became known as the Battle of the Big Hole. The tribe had been escaping to Canada when the 7th Infantry regiment caught up with them. Today, Big Hole National Battlefield commemorates the warriors and soldiers wounded in battle.
Fort Union Trading Post
Location: Northeast Montana, right on the border of North Dakota
The Fort Union Trading Post held incredible significance for early fur trading this far north on the Missouri River. Fort Union was built back in the late 1820s and was used as a trading post by frontiersmen and many native tribes and Indian nations until 1867. Buffalo hides, beads, knives, clothing, alcohol, and rifles were common goods traded at the post. During those years, over $100,000 worth of merchandise was traded annually at the post.
The fort today has been reconstructed based on drawings and historical documents and helped us better understand the early settlers and the Native’s way of life.
Location: Deer Lodge, MT
In the mid-1800s, herding and transporting cattle was a huge part of our early American West history. For just over three decades, cowboys came to the high plains to earn a living through many dangers and hardships.
At one time, Grant-Kohrs Ranch was an impressive 10 million-acre open-field industry. Today the ranch has original furnishings, artifacts, and exhibits that tell the story of the history of the west.
Ice Age Floods
Location: Montana, Washington, Oregon, and Idaho. In Montana you can see remnants near Missoula.
The Missoula floods was a cataclysmic flood that took place during the last ice age, over 18,000 years ago. It affected a number of northwestern states and left remnants of its devastation still visible today.
In the Montana region the aftermath of the flooding left a giant lake called Missoula Lake, which eventually caused major flooding throughout Idaho, Oregon, and Washington, and is now a valley that is marked by the Glacial Lake Missoula National Natural Landmark. You can see this landmark and where the lake once stood by traveling about 70 miles northwest of Missoula.
Lewis & Clark Historic Trail
Location: The Lewis & Clark Historic Trail went through 16 different states and through numerous parts of Montana
The Lewis and Clark Historic Trail was the famous exhibition team that traveled through 16 states and covered over 4,900 miles, charting and mapping land west of the Mississippi.
Yet Montana holds boasting rights to the longest part of the trail traveled. You can visit and travel on the part of the trail and this National Park Historic Site and find where the Lewis and Clark expedition forged the Missouri River.
Little Bighorn Battlefield
Location: Crow Agency, MT — an hour east of Billings.
This site was one of the last major victories for the Indian Nations to preserve their way of life. The Little Bighorn Battlefield honors both US soldiers of the 7th Cavalry and the warriors of the Lakota and Cheyenne nations that died here.
“Custer’s Last Stand” resulted in the deaths of more than 263 soldiers, including Lt. Col. George A. Custer himself. The numbers are unknown for the Native Americans that fought. Here at the Little Bighorn Battlefield in Eastern Montana, you will see where the skirmish took place.
What’s Your Favorite National Park Site in Montana?
There are many Montana National Parks and National Historic Sites to visit during your time in Montana country. Which of these will you take time to see when you’re planning your visit there? If you’ve already visited any of these parks and sites in the past, go ahead and tell us about your experience.