10 Best Tours In Montana
Full-Day Whitewater Rafting Trip • Glacier National Park
Beginning in West Glacier, this white-water rafting tour is led by an expert guide. In addition to masterfully leading you through class II-III rapids, your guide will teach you about the flora and fauna in the area, as well as provide a riverside barbecue lunch.
Moped Rental • West Glacier National Park
Enjoy a self-guided tour of West Glacier with this 2-hour, half-day, or full-day moped rental. While you’ll be free to plan your own itinerary, staff are available to offer suggestions and advice about navigating the area.
Scenic Raft Trip • Glacier National Park
This rafting trip down the pristine Flathead river is perfect for those interested in a peaceful, scenic outing. About two to three hours long, depending on the strength of the current during your visit, you’ll almost certainly get a chance to see some of this region’s wildlife, like eagles, dear, or maybe even a bear.
Yellowstone Park Tour with Local Guide • West Yellowstone National Park
This day-tour via the West Gate of Yellowstone will take you to all the nearby highlights including the Grand Prismatic Spring, Yellowstone Lake, and Old Faithful. You’ll also have the opportunity to learn about the geology of the area from your knowledgeable guide and enjoy a picnic at midday.
Half-Day Whitewater Rafting Trip • Glacier National Park
Navigate through class II and III rapids on this half-day excursion on the Flathead River. This eight-mile trip through the John F. Stevens Canyon begins with a four-mile stretch of calm waters to give you plenty of time to learn how to maneuver the boat.
Whitewater Rafting with Dinner • Glacier National Park
Beginning with a mini-tour of the town of West Glacier, this rafting tour combines a calm float with class II and III rapids. This adventure also sets aside some time to go on a mini-tour of the town of West Glacier, have a swim in the pristine waters of the Flathead River, and enjoy a hearty, riverside barbecue.
1-Hour Fly Casting Lesson • West Glacier National Park
Fly fishing is an integral part of Montana’s culture, and this lesson will teach you everything you need to know about how to assemble a rod and reel, tie a fly, and cast with ease. After your professional instructor has deemed you able to fish on your own, you will be allowed to try your new skills on one of four trout ponds.
Self-Driving Audio Guided Tour • Yellowstone National Park
If you’ve brought your own car to Yellowstone, this self-guided tour may be exactly what you need to experience Yellowstone to the fullest. With this audio tour, you can learn more about the geological features in the park while still being able to travel at your own pace.
2-Day Guided Tour with Lunches • Yellowstone National Park
This two-day tour through the upper and lower loops of Yellowstone will give you the chance to visit hot springs, waterfalls, canyons, and even the famed Old Faithful. Because the tour is spread over two days – with an overnight at Chico Hot Springs Lodge – you’ll have plenty of time to take in the beauty of the park without feeling rushed.
4-Day Grand Teton and Yellowstone Winter Tour • Yellowstone National Park
This four-day tour will allow you to experience Yellowstone at its most magical: beneath a blanket of snow. On this tour, you’ll get to go on snow coach rides, see the incredible winter wildlife, and visit several colorful geothermal pools and geysers. Your guide will be escorting you in a multi-passenger all-terrain vehicle to assure your safety while navigating the park.
10 Best Things To Do In Montana
1. Visit a National Park
Probably the biggest tourism draw in the state are the incredible – and famous – national parks that lie within. Total, there are nine national parks scattered throughout the state, and although regulations can differ slightly, they generally require you to procure a permit and possibly a reservation to visit, so make your plans well in advance.
Of them, the most visited national park in Montana is the otherworldly Glacier National Park. This million-acre park in northwest Montana extends across the border into Canada’s Glacier National Park, a part of their own National Parks System.
Surrounding the remaining 113 distinct glaciers is terrain that was literally formed by ice. When the last ice age ended and the majority of the glaciers receded, caves, gorges, and canyons were left behind where they once were. Combined with the glacial lakes, towering mountains, and a wide variety of wildlife, it’s easy to see why this is one of the most visited National Parks in North America.
Something of a pilgrimage in Glacier National Park is the trek to Virginia Falls. Beginning at St. Mary’s falls trailhead, this 3.5-mile round-trip hike will take you to two multi-tiered waterfalls. The hike is rated easy, so it’s accessible to everyone with average mobility and fitness level.
While the majority of Yellowstone National Park lies within the state of Wyoming, the Western and Northwestern entrances to the park are actually in Montana. The latter, just south of Livingstone via Gardiner, is conveniently open year-round.
The Montana entrances to Yellowstone are also the closest one to the most famous portion of the park: home to the many geysers and hot springs that are the park’s biggest draws, even in the winter.
If you’ve ever seen a picture of a Yellowstone hot spring, it’s probably an image of Grand Prismatic Spring. This deep-blue hot spring is ringed with mineral and organic deposits that create vibrant colors that change throughout the year. In the summer they’re usually orange and red, while winter more commonly finds them green.
The Grand Prismatic Spring is just one of 10,000 geothermal features in the park. Of them, the most popular nearby are the Excelsior Geyser Crater and Opal Pool.
South of there is Old Faithful, the famed Yellowstone geyser that has been erupting on a semi-regular schedule at least since geologists began keeping track in 1870. It erupts approximately 20 times a day, but it can get extremely crowded between noon and about 6 pm. Best to try for an early or late visit, especially in the summer.
The best way to reach Old Faithful is via the Artemisia Trail. This stretch of the continental divide trail is about two miles long and wanders right by some of the most intriguing springs and geysers in the entire park. Beginning just past Sapphire pool, this trail will lead you past Morning Glory Pool, Grand Geyser, Chromatic Pool, and many others before arriving at Old Faithful.
And while you’re in the neighborhood, do check out the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center in West Yellowstone. After some rocky years when it was owned by a New York conglomerate, the park has been reorganized as a not-for-profit venture in partnership with the Department of Agriculture and the National Parks service. An educational center that doubles as a wildlife park, you can see real-life grizzly bears, grey wolves, otters, and more. The animals that live here are otherwise unable to survive in the wild, and as an AZA-accredited facility, you can be assured that they are extremely well cared for.
2. Visit a State Park
There are also several state parks in Montana, though unlike the National Parks around that are more geared toward protecting vast acreages of land, Montana’s state parks are more focused on preserving a single site or individual curiosity.
If you’re scared of bats, you might want to steer clear of Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park, as the vast limestone caverns host hundreds of Western Big-Eared bats that roost here from time to time. If that’s not enough to deter you, then a spelunking tour should top your list of things to do in Montana. Situated only 45 minutes west of Bozeman, the surroundings are open year-round, but the cave is only accessible in the summer by guided tour.
Another of Montana’s cave complexes is also protected within a state park. Though there are three caves on the site, Pictograph Cave State Park is named after the largest of them which features several cave paintings, the oldest of which is over 2000 years old.
Flathead Lake is the largest freshwater lake in the western United States and is a favorite park among Montanans for fishing and boating. The lake and the surrounding recreation areas are divided into six sections with different attributes, some boasting campgrounds, beaches, and public docks.
If you’re not so into camping but would like to do an overnight at the lake, the rustic Flathead Lake Lodge can accommodate you in Bigfork, Montana. With all the comforts of a traditional hotel wrapped within a working ranch, the lodge is the perfect compromise for those who don’t want to rough it. Their private land extends from the lakeshore to the very crest of the mountains and they use this vast acreage to host a myriad of adventures for their guests, like horseback riding, mountain biking, and hiking.
3. Enjoy a city-break
While Montana is rightfully known for its impressive landscape and outdoorsy culture, its cities are just as worthy of a visit as its natural spaces. You’re bound to find more than enough to entertain you for a weekend visit in any of Montana’s cities, but here are a few that are particularly good for a getaway.
Originally founded as a mining town in Montana Territory, Helena has grown to become the bustling state capitol that we know today. Set in the shadow of Mt. Helena, it’s the perfect city for those seeking a mix of both cosmopolitan and natural attractions. In Helena, you can be hiking alone on a mountain in the morning, and enjoy a world-class meal before retiring to your four-star hotel for bed.
While you’re there, take a peek inside the State Capitol Building, if only to see the ornate central rotunda beneath the building’s dome. Alongside intricate detailing that dates to the original construction in 1902 are a variety of murals and paintings that are important to Montana’s statehood.
In another feat of extraordinary architecture, the Cathedral of St. Helena is only about a mile away. It’s styled after its sister cathedral, the Votivkirche in Vienna, Austria, it is famous for its 59 stained glass windows that depict scenes from the Old and New Testament.
The placid mountain town of Missoula is known for its commitment to locally sourced goods, the arts, and the outdoors. Tucked inside a valley at the base of five distinct mountain ranges, from within the city the entire horizon is dominated by their peaks.
If you’re a fan of all things handmade and garden-fresh produce, you’re going to adore Missoula’s many boutiques and outdoor markets. And conveniently, the Missoula Art Museum always has free admission.
If a Downtown stroll along the Clark Fork River doesn’t satisfy your itch you get outdoors, within half an hour of the city are several parks and recreation areas with hiking, swimming, or soaking in a hot spring.
Far more than just a city to fly into to visit Yellowstone, Bozeman is becoming much more than a sleepy mountain town. With developments in infrastructure and new local businesses popping up every day, it is evolving into a hub for the tech industry, innovative fine dining, and meticulously prepared third-wave coffee.
Bozeman is also home to the Museum of the Rockies, a Smithsonian Affiliate and division of Montana State University. While they showcase a variety of TK, a lot of their resources are spent preserving and exhibiting the archeological remains of dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals. There is also a living history farm and a planetarium on site.
4. Tour another nation
Montana, like most states in the US, has many independent indigenous nations within its borders that operate in concert with, but outside of the typical jurisdiction of the state or federal government. While what you can expect to see will vary from nation to nation, they often have cultural, arts, or historical centers for folks to learn more about the communities that live within them.
Keep in mind that while you won’t need a passport to enter, these are sovereign nations with their own rules, laws, and expectations of visitors. It is always best to check in advance how you are expected to behave lest you inadvertently commit a crime.
Total, there are 9 recognized tribes in Montana, and of them, here are a few of their most frequently visited nations.
Selish Ktunaxa Flathead
The Flathead Reservation is home to the Salish, the Pend d’Oreille, and the Kootenai people. Here you can check out The People’s Center, an educational museum that tells the history of indigenous people in Western Montana. Also here is the National Bison Range, a bison preserve that is helping to repopulate the colonially depleted North American Bison.
Just east of Glacier National Park, Blackfeet Nation is home to the decedents of the Siksika, Kainah, and Piegans tribes. Here you’ll find the Blackfeet Heritage Center and the Museum of the Plains Indian. The latter designed and maintains the Blackfeet Trail Tour which you can arrange to complete with a guide, or go on your own.
In south-central Montana on the border with Wyoming is the Crow Nation. Here you can go camping, boating, or hiking in the Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area, and visit the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument. The latter commemorates the Sioux/Cheyenne victory over Custer’s Seventh Cavalry.
5. Take a dip in a hot springs
The natural geology in Montana, particularly in the western part of the state, has a curious way of producing an incredible number of hot springs. These waters are warmed by geothermal heat – or within the earth’s interior – and carry this energy with it as it rises above the ground. In Montana, many of these hydrothermal springs have been harnessed to be utilized within man-made spas ranging from the casual to the ultra-elegant. Some of them also have attached resorts, perfect for a weekend trip.
Located right by Yellowstone, Big Sky Resort, and just near the Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport, Bozeman Hot Springs has 12 pools, four of which are outside. There’s also a campground just next door for tents and RVs with cabin rentals available if you haven’t brought your own digs with you.
This resort features a complex of pools and offers access to them and lodging in one all-inclusive package. They have a variety of rooms and suites on-site, and maybe most uniquely, their facilities feature a water slide that empties into one of their outdoor pools.
Quinn’s Hot Springs Resort
The epitome of rustic elegance, Quinn’s combines their fastidiously appointed cabins and lodges with natural hot springs, fine dining, and a lively tavern. They also host weddings and other events if you’re in the market to book their facilities for your own.
6. Visit a historic bar
In the early days of Montana’s statehood, bars were far more than a place to grab a drink. These bars, particularly the ones with their roots in the late 19th century, served many different purposes within the community: they received mail for residents, hosted union meetings, and even cashed folks’ paychecks who didn’t use traditional banks.
Many of Montana’s historic bars are still around, some still bearing their original signs and other details that have lasted over 100 years. Any town you pull into may have a prime example, though there are a few that truly stand out as important pieces of the state’s history.
The Mint, Livingston
In Livingston, Montana, the northern gateway to Yellowstone, sits a seemingly unassuming storefront behind which hides a rich history. Interestingly, the Mint is also a theater and has been an integral part of preserving Montana’s film history.
During prohibition, it was a robust bootleg business site that earned them a steady stream of regular clientele. With a customer base already secured, they were a prime candidate for a legitimate liquor license and were issued the first one in Montana upon the repeal of restrictions.
Unlike some of Montana’s other historic bars, the Mint was lovingly restored in an effort that began in 2009. New elements were carefully sourced as to not distract from the original design, and fixtures like the Brunswick back bar and the mosaic tile floor were left intact. Before you leave, be sure to get a peek at the men’s room: you won’t be disappointed.
The Bale of Hay Saloon, Virginia City
The undisputed oldest bar in Montana, The Bale of Hay Saloon was originally opened in 1863 and is filled with interesting antique details. If you’re visiting in the winter, you’ll be pleased to find out that the Bale of Hay still has their original wood-burning potbelly stove to keep you toasty while you enjoy a local pint. And while you’re there, be sure to drop a quarter into their coin-operated Cremona player piano to hear the stylings of a time passed.
Though Virginia City was once one of the most populous towns in Montana territory, though it was largely abandoned after the gold rush. Though the town may be sleepy these days, the bar is still bustling, and to commemorate the history of this storied town, Bale of Hay offers nightly Ghost Tours for visitors interested in knowing more about the town’s infamous past.
Palace Bar, Havre
Though no one is 100% sure exactly how long this grizzled bar has been around, most can agree on one point: that the back bar is the oldest in the state. While the tale around town is that it arrived, intact, on a riverboat from St. Louis, it probably came by train. It’s ornately carved, reaches to the ceiling, and bears a single cabinet outfitted in leaded stained glass.
The current owner, Jupe Conrad, bought the bar from his father in 1974. Since then, he has taken his role of caretaker of Palace Bar seriously. “I get some tourists who want to see an old-time bar,” he told the Great Falls Tribune in 2014, “I say, we never had enough money to remodel, and they say, well don’t ever do it.”
In 1904, the entire town of Havre burnt to the ground, and during the rebuilding process, businesses remained open from their basements. This has been immortalized in a quirky tour called Havre Beneath the Streets, where visitors can witness firsthand the resiliency of this community. The tour starts on the same block as Palace Bar, so you can easily make a day of it.
7. Visit a classic independent theater
When a region is blanketed in snow for several months out of the year, indoor activities become even more important. In this vein, Montana has many historic movie theaters that are still in operation, each one a reminder of another time.
Probably the most famous of these is the Washoe Theater in Anaconda. This was the last American movie theater built in the Nuevo Deco style, and it has been lovingly maintained since it opened in 1936. Anaconda was formerly the home of the preeminent copper mining company in Montana, and this history is well reflected inside the theater; much of the original copper tooling can still be found accenting the theater’s incredibly ornate interior.
Interestingly, there isn’t just one, but two Orpheum theaters in Montana, one in Pondera and one in Plentywood. The latter is owned by the chamber of commerce and agriculture as well as the town’s residents. It is completely volunteer-run, with all the proceeds gathered from tickets going directly back into the theater to help maintain the historic building.
8. Enjoy a local pint at a taproom
Like the rest of the Pacific Northwest, Montana’s beer culture is vast, varied, and deadly serious to the people who live here. As revered around here as fine wine and spirits, many of the beers here are brewed with local hops or those produced in nearby Idaho or Washington State.
While there’s likely at least a taproom or two in most Montanan cities, here are a few of the most popular if you’re not sure where to start.
With a flagship taproom in the northwest Montanan city of Kalispell, this brewing company combines traditional German brewing techniques with northwest hops to fashion classic, but intriguing brews. Their taproom exists as both a showroom for their selection of beers as well as something of a community gathering place. Outback on their patio is a food truck and ample seating to enjoy a cold brew on a nice day.
You might be already familiar with at least one of Big Sky Brewing Company’s offerings: their Moose Drool Brown Ale is exported to bars all over the country. But their offerings are quite diverse, with a vast selection of IPAs and a handful of stouts and seasonal offerings. And for those who don’t drink alcohol, they also craft huckleberry and local cherry sparkling waters.
Lone Peak Brewery is perfectly located right next to Big Sky, so you can easily come off the slopes and into the taproom for a pint and a burger. This husband and wife team carefully curates a diverse array of homemade brews meant to please anyone who might wander in.
9. Tour a ghost town
The gold rush hit Montana like a ton of bricks, and with it brought would-be prospectors from all over the country and the world. Small towns sprang up anywhere an exploitable deposit was found, but when the mines were depleted, the towns soon followed suit.
But rather than sweep this tragic history under the rug, the communities surrounding these now-abandoned towns have rallied to preserve them, some in concert with the Parks Department or a local department of tourism or agriculture. Many of these still exist in the state, but here are a couple that are readily accessible to tourists.
Garnet Ghost Town, Drummond, Montana
Just east of Missoula, Garnet Ghost Town touts itself as the best-preserved one of its kind in the state. The biggest boom hit in the late 19th century, at which point Garnet was a small, but bustling town. It barely survived a few ebbs and flows until it was completely abandoned after the US entered World War II.
Today, Garnet remains only as a place to satisfy the curiosities of tourists. It is run largely by volunteers with funds collected as donations.
Granite Ghost Town, Philipsburg, Montana
Once home to the richest silver mine ever discovered on earth, the town of Granite was at one point home to 3000 residents, almost exclusively miners and their families. This ghost town has been turned into a state park, so be aware that there is a small fee to visit if you are not a Montana resident.
10. Go skiing
Most of the state is blanketed in snow several months of the year, so it makes sense that skiing would be a popular pastime here. There’s a huge range of skiing facilities in Montana, so whether you prefer a ski-in, ski-out luxury resort, advanced runs with premium powder, or a scrappy local’s hill, there’s definitely a mountain for you somewhere in the state.
Probably the most popular and well-known ski resort in the region, Big Sky has built a reputation around having the best facilities, the best snow, and the best weather conditions. However, these amenities come at a price: in addition to the relatively steep prices for lifts and lodging, Big Sky can get crowded, particularly on winter weekends.
Beloved among Montanans for its local feel and unpretentious vibe, Red Lodge is truly a community favorite ski facility. Lift tickets here are already reasonably priced in comparison to some other nearby resorts, but a little preparation could save you even more. Booking your tickets in advance online could save you up to nearly half.
Possibly the perfect Montana ski resort to bring your whole family, Whitefish has several activities and lessons for kids. In addition, they have a special lift ticket reserved just for the lowest-rated runs, perfect for beginners of all ages.
The 5 Best Free Things To Do In Montana
1. Visit the wreck of the Steamship Helena
Steamships once dominated Flathead Lake before the advent of cars and trucks. The steamship Helena, having once operated as a popular ferry of goods and passengers, became all but obsolete in the 1930s save as a burgeoning tourist attraction. If you’re interested in maritime history, the ship’s hull has been preserved near the lakeshore in Bigfork, Montana if you fancy a look.
2. Hear the Ringing Rocks
This curious rock formation has a peculiar attribute: the rocks “ring” when tapped with a hammer. The sound is sometimes described as a chime, but is nonetheless almost unique in the world: only a few other known examples of ringing rocks exist on the globe. Even more bizarrely, individual rocks, when removed and isolated away from the rest, cease to produce the sound when tapped. They are located on BLM land about 20 minutes from Butte, Montana.
3. Explore the Virgelle Mercantile and ride the river ferry
While the onsite B&B is certainly not free, browsing this authentic general store-style mercantile won’t cost you a thing. In addition, there’s a nearby river ferry that shuttles folks – and their cars – to and from Virgelle in an operation that dates to 1913.
4. Visit The Missoula Art Museum
The cornerstone of the fine arts community in one of the most arts-drenched towns in all of Montana, admission to the Missoula Art Museum is always free. In addition to the exhibitions of permanent and rotating collections, they hold the largest collection of indigenous art in the entire state. If you’re an artmaker yourself, check their calendar before your visit so you can catch one of their classes. They also host art-centric events onsite, like panels, talks, and even the occasional party.
5. Hike to Palisade Falls
Near the Hyalite reservoir just south of Bozeman, the Palisade Falls Trail is not only a great beginner hiking trail, but has the incredible payoff of reaching the falls. It’s only about a 30-minute journey each way from the east fork of Hyalite Creek.