Of all the North American mountains, the Rockies are the most famous, and the heart of them is located in Montana. The vast basin, range country, and never-ending skies of Montana serve as the perfect setting for the Rockies. The range sports the highest average elevations of any North American mountains and features thousands of peaks–some of them reaching 12,000 feet.
Montana contains 77 named ranges in the Rocky Mountains–one of the reasons the state is known as the “Land of the Shining Mountains”.
The northern section of the Montana Rocky Mountains runs through the western part of the state, although they stretch all the way from the Canadian border to the north, with some of them bordering Idaho and Wyoming. There are many different mountain ranges in Montana that are part of the Rockies, although they have their own names—which can be a little confusing.
If you want to simplify things, just consider that all of the major mountains and ranges in the state are part of the Montana Rockies. In fact, it’s the Montana Rocky Mountains that attract the majority of visitors seeing as they are outdoor recreational wonderlands, year-round.
Another distinction of the landscape in Montana is that the lakes situated on the western side of the Continental Divide are naturally-formed, while those found on the eastern side are reservoirs that have been formed by dams. So fishing is one of the sought-after attractions in the Rocky Mountains in Montana, although the range also lends itself to all manner of other outdoor pursuits.
Hiking and checking out wildlife are among the most popular activities throughout the warmer months in the Montana Rocky Mountains, and Glacier National Park in the north-western regions is one of the best places to indulge in both activities.
Glacier National Park is where some of the most stunning mountain views are to be had, and Yellowstone National Park is another top place to experience the Rocky Mountains in Montana, as sections of the Northern Rockies run all the way up to the Canadian border from there.
The central region of Montana has a rich mining history due to the various mineral resources that first attracted prospectors in the 19th century. A number of small towns that exist from the gold rush days can be found in the Rocky Mountains, and many of them are home to a variety of historical and cultural attractions, not forgetting recreation.
Some areas of the mountain range like those in Central Montana are also the ancestral homelands of many native peoples, including the Flathead, Blackfeet, and Eastern Shoshone Tribes. In fact, these days the reservations of both the Flathead Indians (of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes) and the Blackfeet Indians (of the Blackfeet Nation) are located within the Central Montana Rocky Mountains.
These mountains are obviously a culturally and historically rich area, not to mention one of the best on the planet for rugged outdoor pursuits.
Rocky Mountains Montana Stats
- Mainly Northern Rockies with a small section of Middle
- Highest Peak–12,807ft (Granite Peak)
- Prominent in 2 national parks
Main Attractions in the Rocky Mountain Regions
There are lots of Montana attractions in the region of the Rocky Mountains. For starters, the mountain ranges are prominent in the two main national parks in the state–Glacier National Park and Yellowstone National Park. Both national parks are popular with anyone wanting to enjoy wildlife viewing or indulge in a spot of mountain hiking.
Big Sky Resort area is not too far from Yellowstone and also contains many mountain hiking trails, not to mention some of the best skiing. There are plenty of other ski resorts and areas to be found in the Rocky Mountains in Montana though, in places such as Kalispell, Bozeman, and Whitefish.
Whitefish Mountain Resort is probably the most popular authentic mountain skiing experience in Montana, although the Rockies offer an incredible selection of outdoor adventures throughout the year aside from skiing.
Even art has flourished in various regions of the Montana Rockies, so when you’re not chasing bears or elks for photo opportunities or outback skiing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, fishing, hiking, mountain biking, or enjoying any other number of fun outdoor pursuits, you can always be checking out the art of some of the towns in the mountain regions by way of the galleries, studios, and exhibitions—Bozeman is one good example of a place like this.
Things to do in the Rocky Mountains
So we know that hiking, wildlife viewing, and fishing are among the most popular activities during the warmer months in the Montana Rocky Mountains. Glacier National Park is one of the best places to hike and view wildlife, with over 700 miles of hiking trails to be found in the entirety of the park. Guided hiking trips can be booked for longer routes that might take more time.
Camping is possible as well, and some of the guided hiking trips of more than one day involve camping. Or, they can include alternative outdoor pursuits like horseback riding and white water rafting. Boat tours, as well as bus tours, are further options when choosing the Glacier National Park route to spend some time in the Montana Rocky Mountains.
Camping in Glacier National Park is a great way to experience the Rocky Mountains. There are 13 front country campgrounds, and they all have slightly different aspects. If you want to camp with a tent, an RV, or another vehicle, at least a couple of the campgrounds should accommodate you, and these sites are just a couple of instances of what is available in the vicinity of the Rockies.
Apgar Campground is the largest in the national park with 194 sites including 5 reservable group ones. Starting in summer 2022, 188 of these sites will be available for reservation starting in March and April. This is a year-round campground with some seasonal features and fees between $10.00 and $23.00.
Avalanche Campground is just west of the Continental Divide and is another of the most popular campgrounds in Glacier National Park. Tents and RVs are catered to, fees are $20.00 per night, and there are plenty of trails close to this first-come, first-served site with seasonal features.
There are 3 campgrounds purely for reservations in Glacier National Park by way of the Fish Creek Campground, Many Glacier Campground, and St. Mary Campground. All of these sites are in the vicinity of lakes, forests, and mountains, and St. Mary is the largest on the east side of the park with 150 sites.
Hundreds of high-country lakes dot the terrain of the mountains on the western arm of Montana. We are talking about lots and lots of space, clean air, some amazing views, and even more impressive fishing. You can find these alpine fisheries nestled into some of the most beautiful and secluded places in and around the regions of the Rocky Mountains.
Anglers can catch some huge local cutthroat trout, along with rainbow trout and grayling. The lakes are actually stocked every four years by Montana’s FWP, but there are still various populations of wild fish in there too.
The seasons tend to vary according to elevation levels, typically being May through October for around 7,000 feet, and July through September for the higher lakes.
By way of example, let’s consider the Madison Range in the Rockies, and to the west of Gallatin Canyon in the vicinity of Big Sky, a plethora of lakes can be found just north of the Spanish Peaks. The highly sought out Lava Lake is in this area, as is Hilgard Basin where you can find over a dozen lakes with fantastic fishing opportunities.
Hiking Trails in the Rocky Mountains
It is often said that nowhere is more suitable for mountain hiking than Montana – whose very name is derived from the Spanish word for mountain. The Rockies contain endless multitudes of perfect hiking trails among the various steep and rugged climbing terrain intertwined by glittering lakes and other scenic delights. Here are 5 examples of what’s on offer in Montana’s Rocky Mountain regions.
The Highline Trail is something of a North American signature hiking trail, starting out from Logan Pass and covering 7.6 miles to the historic Granite Park Chalet. The trail is quite flat and follows the Continental Divide through the middle of the park with glacier valley and alpine landscape scenarios.
There are a few breath-taking moments along this trail like the thin ledge at the beginning of the trail near Logan Pass. Of course, it’s safe enough for sensible hikers, but maybe not so much with any reticence to heights. Wildlife sightings are not uncommon either, and mountain goats pop up not infrequently.
After completing the 7.6 miles to the Granite Park Chalet you then need to figure your best route back. It could be hiking the steep, extra 4 miles or so down the Loop Trail to the Going-to-the-Sun Road—then taking the free shuttle back up to Logan’s Pass.
Or, you could hike back the 7.6 scenic miles you came, making for a 15-plus-mile round-trip day hike.
Of the 700 miles or more of hiking trails in Glacier National Park, many are nestled within the Rocky Mountain range at some point. Mount Grinnell is one of the national park’s most scenic mountains, and it sits at the western end of the park’s Many Glacier Area. There are several trails leading up to the summit from this spot.
If you are coming from the southwest along the Granite Park Chalet Trail, you’ll doubtless notice the amazing views of the Lake McDonald area with its peaks to the West. The elevation gain from the trailhead is 4,550 feet, but you will be going up and down, so the actual round trip is only about 13 miles.
Once you reach the summit of Mount Grinnell you get a vista all the way to Chief Mountain. Don’t forget the entire Northern Rockies region is full of wildlife which includes grizzly bears, black bears, and mountain lions above the treeline.
The Beaten Path is in the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness, which is in the Rocky Mountains. So now we are clear on that, let’s consider why many believe this trail to be one of the best hiking experiences in the Rocky Mountains. The East Rosebud trail runs between Red Lodge and Cooke City, and includes everything from wildlife to fishing lakes surrounded by rugged peaks.
This is a 26-mile hike which might be a bit much for some people in one day. One of the ways to approach it is to plan on spending a couple of days out there. Traffic is much lower than you might expect along the trail, and you find a quiet spot quite easily if you branch off a little.
Yellowstone National Park is the location of this particular trail, and the route has a touch of all the things people visit the park for. So you’ll encounter wildlife, waterfalls, hot springs, picturesque river canyons, and fishing all on this trail.
A couple of other points about the trail — it is one of the least visited areas of the park, and it’s also one of the easiest trails in the Rockies. It is pretty flat for the most part with a slight decline most of the way.
Located in the Lewis Range of the Rocky Mountains, the 8,020-foot Triple Divide Peak is part of Glacier National Park. The Continental Divide runs through these mountains and does indeed go some way toward the creation of a continental climate. The name Triple Divide makes reference to the three different levels and environments encountered by the waters running down from the peak.
Hiking this not-un-lengthy 16-mile trail often takes somewhere in 2 days for the out-and-back, 3,000-feet climb to the top. From the Cut Bank trailhead, the trail goes up gradually along Cut Bank Creek and continues a steady climb without switchbacks.
This is a winding trail around the sheer flanks of Mount James, close to a 10,000-feet peak. Looking south toward the Triple Divide Pass, you can catch views of the sapphire-blue-looking Medicine Grizzly Lake from the trail.