The Northwest state of Montana sits on the border of Canada and is well known for its diverse landscape, ranging from the snow-capped Rocky Mountains and expansive Great Plains to the many lakes in between.
So whether you’re an avid solo hiker or skier, or if you prefer a more family-oriented camping excursion with a spot of fishing – you’ve come to the right place!
In this complete and comprehensive guide, we will break down everything you need to know in planning your first visit to Montana. We will explore:
- The best things to do in Montana
- Where to stay in Montana
- What to eat in Montana
- Secret tips for making the most of your stay in the state.
Let’s dive in!
Planning Your Trip to Montana
When deciding the season you want to visit Montana, it’s always worth considering what you want to be doing while you’re there!
For the hardcore skiers amongst us, December and January see the most snow (up to a whopping 60 inches of snow per month) but are also the coldest – often maxing out at 30 degrees Fahrenheit.
For a less extreme ski season, February and March are safer bets.
Skiing aside, who doesn’t love some blue skies and sunshine? July and September are perfect for just that!
As such, if you’re planning a family trip (and maybe some camping or hiking), then late Summer is a perfect time to visit. Bear in mind that this is prime tourist season, so expect big crowds on your trip.
For the more budget-conscious traveler who wants to enjoy Montana without spending or fortune, it’s worth going in Spring or Fall.
These off-seasons are known to be less weather-consistent but come with the added benefit of not being overcrowded with tourists. It’s worth noting that many activities will be limited and shops closed over these months.
In order to properly make the most of your trip and experience the best of what Montana has to offer, we recommend you spend at least a week in the state.
No matter how long you plan on staying in the “Big Sky Country”, you’ll probably wish you booked for longer!
However, a week will give you the chance to immerse yourself in whatever activities you’ve decided to try out.
Montana has five major international airports, with direct flights from many major cities in the US.
Once you’re inside the state, it’s best to have a car. Being one of the largest states in the US (and simultaneously the least populated) means that there is not much in the way of public transport.
So, in order to explore the diverse landscape and get around, it’s worth driving to the state if you’re close by or hiring a car while you’re there! That said, FlixBus and Greyhound offer some bus services across Montana.
While the long open roads make Montana the ideal place for a road trip, there is also a plethora of bikepacking routes for cyclists amongst us.
The Adventure Cycling Association has its headquarters in Montana, so be sure to check them out for routes and recommendations!
Things to Do in Montana
Montana is sometimes referred to as the “Land of the Shining Mountains”, and for good reason: the snow-capped towers across the western region of Montana is beautifully juxtaposed by the Great Plains stretching across the other half of the state.
The rugged landscape is perfect for outdoor excursions such as hiking and skiing (and snowboarding, of course!).
Meanwhile, the plentiful lakes and rivers offer great spots for camping and fishing. Montana also has a rich cultural history which should not be missed!
With so many things to do in such a big and beautiful state, it can be hard knowing what to choose.
Luckily, we’ve broken some of the best options down for you to help in planning your first trip to Montana!
Bear in mind that this is by no means an exhaustive list of everything, as that would go on for far too long. Keep your eyes peeled for new and novel experiences!
- Ross Creek Cedars Scenic Area
- Glacier National Park
You don’t have to look far to find a suitable hike in Montana!
Whether you’re an avid solo hiker or on a family trip, there are a myriad of beautiful hikes on offer. Here is a selection of a few of the best spots:
Ross Creek Cedars Scenic Area
This area offers many accessible short hikes that are ideal for families!
Additionally, there are some longer walks including a 4-mile hike. As the name suggests, this region is filled with magnificent red cedars – some of which are more than 12 ft in diameter.
Whitefish is a recreation hub best known for its skiing. However, in the summer months, it transforms into a hiking and cycling paradise! The area features a sizable lake at the base of Big Mountain.
Glacier National Park
The Glacier National Park is nicknamed the “Crown of the Continent” – and for good reason. The area is home to magnificent, breathtaking views over lakes and mountains. Look out for Grizzly bears and mountain goats while hiking here!
- Big Sky Resort
- West Yellowstone
Montana is famous for its skiing!
Whether you want to send it at breakneck speeds down jaw-dropping mountains, bring the kids on a family day out, or leisurely explore with some cross-country skiing, Montana has it all.
Here are a few of the best ski spots to prepare you for your first winter visit to Montana:
Big Sky Resort
As the name suggests, Big Sky Resort is huge! In fact, it is the biggest ski field in the US with around 5,800 acres of skiable terrain.
The slopes offer a range of grades and difficulties that are sure to satisfy the most experienced skiers through to those putting skis on for the first time. The resort also has accommodation options available so you can start and end each day on the snow.
Whitefish Recreation Hub
Whitefish Recreation Hub is a regular inclusion in National Geographic’s Top 25 Ski Towns.
It’s no wonder, therefore, that in the Winter months, Whitefish is downright bustling with skiers and snowboarders!
The mountain resort also has accommodation options and a plethora of restaurants for ultimate convenience.
If you’re looking for a more relaxed atmosphere, West Yellowstone is a great choice!
The area is well-known for its cross-country skiing, allowing you to explore the region by passing through beautiful forests and alongside frozen rivers and lakes in a winter wonderland.
Be sure to stop at the Playmill Theatre in town for some great family-friendly entertainment.
If you’re keen on a spot of fishing, the lakes and rivers of Montana provide exceptionally beautiful options with plentiful fish!
As the name suggests, Flathead Lake is remarkably flat. The mesmerizing glassy water provides a perfect place to throw out your line!
It is also one of the largest freshwater lakes in the country, so there’s not much risk of being disturbed if you’re looking for solitude.
The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes operate the southern half of Flathead Lake; as such, it’s important to be mindful and respectful of their space and not to infringe upon it. You can seek permits to go there if you wish.
The Yellowstone River stretches across 700 miles and is home to abundant trout. Around 100 miles of the river is absolutely perfect for fly-fishing!
- Glacier National Park
- Lewis & Clark Caverns State Park
Glacier National Park: Crown of the Continent
As well as hiking and wildlife spotting, Glacier National Park has so much to see and do!
The area has 13 campgrounds, making it an ideal spot to pitch up. Meanwhile, the sun-road scenic drive across the National Park offers breathtaking views, minimal traffic, and lots of chances to pull over and capture the picturesque landscape.
Lewis & Clark Caverns State Park
The State Park is best known for its massive limestone caves. The caves can be explored through one of the tours on offer, including a candlelight tour across two miles of incredible stalactite and stalagmite-crusted caves.
The park also has a plethora of camping, hiking, and picnic places, as well as cabin accommodations.
- Fort Benton
- Bozeman’s Museum of the Rockies
You can’t visit Montana without immersing yourself in its rich culture and history!
The region was first inhabited by Native Americans; tribes include the Crows in the south-central region, the Cheyenne in the southeastern part of the state, the Blackfeet, Assiniboine, and Gros Ventres in the central and north-central areas and the Kootenai and Salish in the western sector.
The Pend d’Oreille were found around Flathead Lake, and the Kalispel occupied the western mountains.
The discovery of gold by white settlers in the 1860s brought about the gold rush and rapid colonization of the region, leading to the killing of native inhabitants and desecration of traditional hunting grounds.
Much of the Gold Rush era paraphernalia remains present today, providing insight into the colonial past of Montana and allowing for important reflection.
Below are some of the places where you can learn more about the gold rush history of Montana.
Butte, nicknamed “The Richest Hill on Earth” is one of the largest National Historic Landmark Districts in the US with over 6,000 historic properties.
The city is home to the World Museum of Mining which provides extensive information on just that!
The town also has a multitude of activities including skiing, hiking, trout fishing, and even hot springs to unwind in.
The city of Fort Benton is in itself a National Historic Landmark. The city was the first to be established by white settlers in 1846. Many of the historic buildings remain intact even today.
Bozeman’s Museum of the Rockies
The Bozeman’s Museum of the Rockies is a must for dinosaur enthusiasts and history buffs!
The museum boasts a full-size T-Rex skeleton, along with a planetarium and exhibitions about the Native American populations indigenous to the region.
- Virginia City
Helena is the capital of Montana so deserves a visit for that fact alone.
As with the entire state, it has a rich gold rush history, meaning that the buildings and architecture are an interesting mixture of old and new.
Virginia City has a range of fun activities for families, giving you the chance to experience a blast from the past by taking old-fashioned trains and even carriages! The Opera House is also not to be missed.
Missoula, nicknamed the “Garden City” for its lush greenery and trees, is embedded between the Rocky Mountains and rivers.
Its idyllic location is perfect for a range of activities including skiing, hiking, cycling, and fishing.
Missoula is also a cultural hub of Montana; be sure to come on the first Friday of the month to see the city come to life with local pop-up art galleries along the sidewalks, live music, free drinks, and eclectic vibes.
Where to Stay in Montana
- Glacier National Park
Where you stay in Montana largely depends on what you’re planning on doing!
For instance, you wouldn’t want to be somewhere out on the Great Plains on a ski trip. Luckily, many ski fields have accommodations on site.
If you’re looking for options, here’s a list of some of the best spots:
As mentioned above, Missoula is a beautiful lively city that’s perfect for first-time visitors to Montana.
The city sits on the doorstep of Flathead National Park and Bozeman is close by.
- Price: ~$200USD/night
- Rooms: 1 bedroom, 1 living room, 3 beds, 1 bathroom
- Amenities: river-view
- Best for: family or friends
If you’re looking for an Airbnb option for your family or friends, then this is a wonderful option!
- Price: ~$150USD/night
- Rooms: whatever your preference
- Amenities: free gym and free hot breakfast every morning
- Best for: couples, friends, or budget travelers
If you’re looking for an affordable hotel in the heart of the city, the Comfort Inn has you covered.
Speaking of Bozeman, the city is another great option to find accommodation in!
Embedded between towering mountains and expansive plains, the city offers the best of both worlds and allows you to experience the diverse Montana landscape in just a short stay.
Being a University town means that it also has a lot of budget accommodation available.
- Price: ~$600USD/night
- Rooms: 4 bedrooms, 5 beds, 2 bathrooms
- Amenities: mountain view, hot tub
- Best for: large families, a large group of friends
This is an upmarket Airbnb fully-equipped house that’s a mere 10-minute drive from Bozeman. If you’re looking to splash out, this is the place to do it!
- Price: ~$30-70USD/night
- Rooms: dorm, couple or twin rooms
- Amenities: pets allowed
- Best for: solo or budget travelers
On the other side of the spectrum, this backpackers offers a very affordable option close to town.
Glacier National Park
Let’s be honest: the reason you’re coming to Montana is to see the “Crown of the Continent” in all its glory.
So, why not stay there too? In addition to having a plethora of stunning camping options, the area also has plenty of hotels and cabins available!
- Price: ~$300USD/night
- Rooms: 1 bedroom, 1 bathroom
- Amenities: rainfall shower
- Best for: couples
If you want to stay in the National Park but don’t want to rough it camping, this modern sky-dome provides the perfect option in between – allowing you to fall asleep under the stars with all the creature comforts you could want!
What to Eat in Montana
What better way to experience the culture of a place than to devour it? Indeed, Montana is home to a variety of unique foods native to the region, as well as classic cuisine!
One such food that grows across Montana’s national parks is huckleberries. The round purple-red berries can be picked and eaten straight off the bush or taken to be used in sweet treats like huckleberry pie.
Just beware of huckleberry-hungry bears that may be roaming in the area!
If you come to Montana (specifically Flathead Lake) in Summer, make sure to be on the lookout for Flathead cherries.
Like huckleberries, the dark-red cherries are often used in baking. You can usually find them at roadside stands or pick them at farms such as Fat Robin Orchard and Farm.
If you want to cut the berry and go straight to the baking, Wheat Montana Farms and Bakery (located just outside Missoula) has got you covered! Their house-made cinnamon rolls are to die for – you’ll know exactly what we mean when you try them.
Finally, it wouldn’t be a US state if it didn’t have pizza!
Mackenzie River Pizza Grill and Pub has set up shop in 10 cities across Montana and claims to have the “best pie from the big sky.”
They have a wide selection of pizzas available at reasonable prices, from classic cheese pizza to Thai pie pizza.
Tips for Visiting Montana
Whatever you intend to do with your stay in Montana, it pays to be prepared. Here are a few quickfire tips to help:
- Learn the history of Montana: The only way to truly know and connect with a place is to become immersed in its history!
- Be respectful of the beautiful environment and wildlife of Montana: Remember that you’re a guest here. As such, make sure not to leave rubbish behind.
- Book your rental car in advance: You’ll need a car to make the most of what Montana has to offer, and you don’t want to get to the state only to discover that all the rentals are booked out!
- Expect delays in Summer: Montana is a popular vacation destination during summertime, so there’ll be lots of other people on the road with you.
- Pack layers: Whether you’re skiing, hiking, or doing anything else, you’ll be spending a lot of your time outdoors. Therefore, it’s extremely important to pack sensible layers for the conditions.
- Don’t forget to bring your camera! Montana has some of the most beautiful and picturesque landscapes that the United States has to offer.
- Get off the beaten track: This article has suggested some of the most popular places and activities, and I’m not saying that you shouldn’t go there (because you definitely should).
However, it’s definitely worth exploring for yourself as well! Who knows what you might find in this beautiful state?