Uncovering Montana’s Hidden Gems: 10 Spots You Must Visit

Mark Barnett
Last Updated: December 22nd, 2023

Montana is a state full of hidden gems waiting to be discovered by adventurous travelers. 

With its stunning parks and many natural attractions, it’s an outdoor enthusiast’s paradise! 

While it’s famous for attractions like the awe-inspiring Glacier National Park, there are many more sights to see for an intrepid traveler. 

In this article, we take a deep dive into some of the lesser-known spots, sharing our top tips for having the best possible experience. We break down each location’s highlights, the best times to visit, and what you can expect. Let’s get started!

1. Bannack State Park

  • Location: Southwestern Montana (OPEN IN GOOGLE MAPS)
  • Highlights: It features a well-preserved ghost town dating back to the Gold Rush era, as well as facilities for camping, bicycling, and fishing. 
  • Accessibility: Yes – it is ADA accessible
  • Opening Hours: Open all year round, with summer hours 8 am – 8 pm and winter hours 8 am – 5 pm. 
  • The best time to visit: While it’s a great place to visit year-round, winter in Montana gets extremely cold, so bear that in mind when making your decision. 
  • Tips: If you want to camp at the park, book in plenty of time as it is very popular and sites are limited. 
  • Website

This hidden gem is ideal for history buffs as well as outdoor enthusiasts. The park covers 1,529 acres and has plenty of hiking and biking trails, as well as guided historical tours of the ghost town. 

Visitors to the park can explore a variety of historical buildings and landmarks from the Gold Rush times, experiencing an authentic park of Old West History. 

There are also a ton of seasonal activities available, including ice skating on the dredge pond between January and March. 

If you choose to camp, the Park accommodates both tent camping and RV camping, with a variety of amenities including fire pits, public restrooms, and trash removal. 

Make sure you check ahead of time for any special activities that might be on, such as the Halloween ghost walk around the deserted streets of Old Bannack City!

2. Makoshika State Park

  • Location: Eastern Montana, near Glendive (OPEN IN GOOGLE MAPS)
  • Highlights: The biggest state park in Montana, famous for its stunning badland formations and dinosaur fossils!
  • Accessibility: ADA accessible
  • Opening Hours: The park itself is open year round 7 am – 10 pm. The visitor center is open daily in summer and Wednesday to Sunday during winter. 
  • The best time to visit: year-round, provided you have the appropriate gear. 
  • Tips: The park has strict rules about fossil protection, so ensure you don’t remove any fossils or artifacts. 
  • Website

This huge state park covers 11,538 acres of Montana’s badlands. With its eerie, almost otherworldly badlands formations and fascinating fossil displays, this hidden gem is packed with things to do. 

Depending on your preferences, you can choose between a huge range of activities, including archeology, hiking, mountain biking, and wildlife viewing.

It’s a dinosaur enthusiast’s dream; over ten species of dinosaur have been discovered in the park, and you can even view the famous K-T boundary line, which is a record of where the Cretaceous period ended and the Tertiary period began. 

You can also camp at the park, although make sure you book well in advance as spaces are limited! You definitely won’t regret a visit to this hidden gem.

3. Kootenai Falls & Swinging Bridge

  • Location: 12 miles west of Libby in Northwest Montana (OPEN IN GOOGLE MAPS)
  • Highlights: One of the largest free-flowing waterfalls in the northwest, which can be viewed from a long swinging bridge that crosses the river. 
  • Accessibility: The first 500 ft of the trail to the swinging bridge is level, but beyond this, the trail is too rocky to allow wheelchair access. 
  • The best time to visit: All year round – the view will change with the seasons, but each season will be uniquely stunning. 
  • Tips: Make sure you wear sturdy shoes as the trail to the bridge is uneven and rocky. 
  • Website

The Kootenai Falls are truly stunning. From the swing bridge, you can watch as the calm river suddenly amps up its momentum, barrelling through the China rapids and then swiftly dropping 90 feet. 

To access the swinging bridge, there is a ½ mile-long trail, but there’s a viewing area where you can get a great view of the falls after only ⅓ mile.

The bridge itself was first constructed in 1937 and has since been deconstructed and rebuilt to meet modern safety standards. 

As it stands, it’s the perfect spot to view the falls, as well as take in the fascinating geology of the area. 

It’s perfect for nature lovers and provides tons of opportunities for photography and wildlife viewing – ideal for anyone wanting to experience Montana’s hidden gems!

4. Holland Lake

  • Location: Missoula County, Montana (OPEN IN GOOGLE MAPS)
  • Highlights: Gorgeous views of Swan Range, plus the Holland Falls National Recreation Trail
  • Accessibility: Not wheelchair accessible
  • The best time to visit: Year-round – Summer has more activities, while spring and fall are better for those who plan to go fishing. 
  • Tips: Great for anglers – the lake includes rainbow trout, kokanee salmon, and bull trout.
  • Website

Part of the stunning Flathead National Forest, Holland Lake is a must-see hidden gem for those visiting Montana. The lake is a haven for fishing enthusiasts, with boats available for hire. 

If you love hiking, there are plenty of hiking trails, including a trail that takes you to the awe-inspiring Holland Falls. There’s also camping available – just make sure you book well in advance in peak season. 

The lake sits at the base of the Swan Range and offers stunning views of craggy peaks and dense, evergreen forests. 

This is an unmissable spot to visit if you love the outdoors, particularly boating and fishing!

5. The Gates of the Mountains

  • Location:  Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest, Montana (OPEN IN GOOGLE MAPS)
  • Highlights: The Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail
  • Accessibility: Not wheelchair accessible – access on foot or boat only. 
  • The best time to visit: Trail conditions are best outside of the winter months. 
  • Tips: Ensure you’re well-equipped for hiking, as the trail can be tough. Consider a boat tour to get a different view of the area. 
  • Website

This stunning wilderness area is the perfect mixture of natural beauty and rich history. The Wilderness Mountains were named by Lewis and Clark on their famous expedition, who described them as ‘remarkable’! 

The geology of the area is what sets it apart, with eye-catching gray cliffs formed from Madison Limestone. 

You can access parts of the Lewis And Clark National Historic Trail, walking in the very footsteps of those famous explorers. 

If you prefer, exploring the area by boat gives a unique view of the area’s beauty. Boat tours are available, which include historical facts about the Lewis and Clark expedition – ideal for history enthusiasts!

6. Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge

  • Location: Southwestern Montana (OPEN IN GOOGLE MAPS)
  • Highlights: Diverse landscapes and many species of wildlife. 
  • Accessibility: The visitor center is wheelchair accessible, but none of the hikes are. 
  • The best time to visit: is May through September, as road conditions can vary in winter. 
  • Tips: Ensure you follow good wildlife viewing practices to avoid disturbing the wildlife. 
  • Website

This hidden gem is a must-visit for wildlife lovers; it’s famous for being the largest wetland complex in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

It features a combination of hiking opportunities and wildlife viewing and is also popular among photographers for its stunning landscapes. 

The refuge acts as a wildlife corridor for mammals moving between Yellowstone and other areas. Elk, deer, and pronghorn can be seen in the refuge, as can grizzly bears. 

Make sure you carry bear spray at all times and follow bear safety guidelines! 

There are two relatively easy trails available in the refuge, the Odell Creek and Sparrow Pond trails. 

There are also two relatively primitive campgrounds if you want to maximize your wildlife viewing opportunities!

7. Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument

  • Location: Southeastern Montana, near Crow Agency. (OPEN IN GOOGLE MAPS)
  • Highlights: The historic site of the Battle of Little Bighorn and Custer’s last stand. 
  • Accessibility: The monument is wheelchair accessible and handicapped parking is available. 
  • Opening Hours: Year round, with summer hours 8 am to 8 pm and winter hours 8 am to 4.30 pm. 
  • The best time to visit: Year-round. 
  • Tips: A trip to the visitor section is worthwhile, as it features many exhibits that get into the history of the battle, including artifacts.
  • Website

An absolute must-visit for military historians, this monument marks the place of the Battle of the Little Bighorn, between the Lakota Sioux, Northern Cheyenne, and Arapaho tribes fighting the US Cavalry.

The monument is a memorial to those on both sides who fought in the battle, honoring both the soldiers and the Native American warriors. 

When you visit the monument, you can explore a number of historic sites and even hike the Deep Ravine Trail where the battle took place. 

There are bus tours and guided walks available if you want a more in-depth look at the history, or you can explore on your own. Either way, this is a must-see for anyone interested in America’s history! 

8. Giant Springs State Park

  • Location: Great Falls Montana (OPEN IN GOOGLE MAPS)
  • Highlights: A giant freshwater spring as well as the Roe River – known as the world’s shortest river. 
  • Accessibility: ADA accessible
  • Opening Hours: Day use only, open sunrise to sunset. 
  • The best time to visit: Every season offers its own unique beauty, although winter months require high-quality cold weather gear. 
  • Tips: Make sure you bring binoculars to help you spot elusive wildlife
  • Website

The gorgeous Giant Spring State Park is a natural hidden gem, with clear freshwater springs and over 30 miles of both paved and single-track trails. 

The trails are part of the larger River’s Edge Trail network, which covers the Great Falls area. 

The park is of historical interest, as the area was first recorded by the Lewis and Clark expedition in 1805. 

It’s also the home of the stunningly unique Roe River, which was once named in the Guinness Book Of World Records as the shortest river in the world!

Whether you enjoy fishing, wildlife viewing, hiking, or simpling drinking in the sight of nature, this State Park will provide a truly memorable experience. 

9. Sweet Grass Hills

  • Location: North Central Montana, near the Canadian border (OPEN IN GOOGLE MAPS)
  • Highlights: A stunning mountain range known for its sharp rise from the prairie. 
  • Accessibility: Public access is available from the north side of East Butte. 
  • The best time to visit: Outside of the winter months
  • Tips: The area is remote and lacks amenities, so ensure you bring in all essentials with you.
  • Website

The Sweet Grass Hills are a stunning geological formation, formed from igneous rock intruding through sedimentary layers. 

Although they can be seen from a large area, public access is limited; instead. you can drive and park on public lands via Black Jack Road to access a hiking trail. 

The Hills are home to a range of wildlife, including elk, mule deer, white-tailed deer, and moose. Their unique formation means that the hills get twice as much rainfall as the surrounding prairie, leading to a lush, fertile, and forested landscape. 

A hike in the hills brings stunning views of prairies and rock formations, and the entire area is of spiritual significance to a number of local Native American tribes. 

The combination of stunning geological features and a rich, diverse history makes these the perfect places to visit for those who like to venture away from the beaten path! 

10. Ross Creek Cedars Scenic Area

  • Location: Northwest Montana, part of the Kootenai National Forest (OPEN IN GOOGLE MAPS)
  • Highlights: Awe-inspiring giant cedar groves
  • Accessibility: The Scenic area features a 0.9-mile-long accessible loop trail.
  • Opening Hours: Open year-round, although vehicle traffic is restricted from December to mid-May. 
  • The best time to visit: Summer for hiking, and winter for cross-country skiing. 
  • Tips: Be prepared when visiting this area as there is no drinkable water, so you’ll need to bring plenty. 
  • Website

There’s something almost magical about ancient trees, and this Montana hidden gem features trees that are 1,000 years old. The entire scenic area is 100 acres, featuring short day hikes and unique plant life.

The entire scenic area has an incredibly peaceful vibe, perfect for unwinding from the hustle and bustle of everyday life and breathing in the fresh, clean air of the Kootenai State Forest. 

Although no camping is allowed at the scenic reserve, the Bad Medicine Campground is only four miles away if you want to remain in the area overnight!

About The Author

Mark Barnett

Mark Philip is a writer and lifestyle enthusiast from the Midlands in the U.K. With a background in martial arts and fitness, Mark headed out to Bangkok, Thailand where he now lives and works. Mark has authored e-books, articles, and blogs across a wide range of topics for commercial, educational, factual, lifestyle and leisure-based purposes.

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