If you are looking for a memorable US getaway, visiting the state of Montana is the perfect plan. Montana is full of interesting places and has some of the country’s best art galleries and national parks. Montana uniquely balances cultural attractions for history buffs and culture lovers and outdoor activities for thrill-seekers. Immerse yourself in old traditional western flair or head out for a day of hiking trails and rock climbing.
But what are the best places to visit in Montana? Do you head to Eastern Montana or Western Montana? To Glacier National Park or to the town of Great Falls? This guide will break down the very best places to visit in Montana. Let’s get straight into it.
Best towns and cities to visit in Montana
Some of the best places to visit in Montana are its towns and cities. You’ll find many tourist attractions, cultures, and communities in these places – perfect for getting a real feel of Montana living. These are our top eleven best towns and cities in Montana.
Helena is Montana’s capital city. If you want action, culture, and a lively but friendly atmosphere, Helena is where to visit in Montana. The city is packed with art galleries, museums, and historical architecture. You’ll spend a lot of time on your feet, be it walking Reeder’s Alley or through the exhibits at the Montana Historical Society.
Helena was originally a gold camp in the Montana gold rush. Its glitzy history is recognizable thanks to the city’s wealth today, and visitors can enjoy wandering the elegant historical buildings – especially in the downtown district.
Of course, you can’t visit a state capital without visiting the State Capitol Building either. Montana State Capitol is well worth visiting for its architectural and political history.
2. Big Sky
Have you heard of Big Sky Country? If not, Big Sky is a small ski town in the Rocky Mountain region of Southwest Montana. The town is most famous for Big Sky Resort and is one of the best places to visit in Montana for a winter getaway.
According to Forbes, the town is surrounded by ‘5,850 skiable acres. Whether you want to learn to ski or are already a pro, you’ll love the fierce winter sports culture. Visiting Big Sky in winter means a lot of snow, skiing, and après ski. For a winter wonderland experience, you really can’t do better. Plus, Big Sky is just an hour’s drive from the western entrance to Yellowstone National Park.
Philipsburg is small but mighty. First and foremost, it is a mining town. Philipsburg has kept an industrial, old west atmosphere that makes it a fantastic place to visit. The tiny town is no shy wallflower on Montana’s tourist scene either and has scored the title of the most beautiful small town in Montana. If you like immersive history and small towns, look no further.
Granite County Museum is a great place to discover Philipsburg’s old mining industry, while Granite Ghost Town State Park is another gem to visit. The abandoned town is the remnants of the region’s golden years during the mining boom of the late 19th century. Immerse yourself in Philipsburg and its surrounding area’s distinct characters.
Garryowen gets its name from an old Irish marching song. The town itself has strong military links, and it was formed as a cavalry station. One of the town’s best attractions, Custer National Cemetery, is a military graveyard marked by the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument. Visitors can walk to mass burial sites marked by white memorials and visit the visitor center and museum on-site.
Nowadays, Garryowen is located on Crow Indian Reservation. If you are interested in 19th-century American history or military history in general, Garryowen is a great place to visit. You can learn about the town’s history, pay respects to local Native American culture, or visit the Little Bighorn National Monument.
5. Great Falls
Great Falls is a stunning riverside city located in central Montana. Great Falls is known as somewhat of a cultural hub, and you’ll find museum after museum in the city. You can spend your days visiting the C.M. Russell Museum, Paris Gibson Square Museum of Art, or the Children’s Museum of Montana. There’s even the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center, which follows the story of the Lewis & Clark western expedition with unique exhibits, films, and displays.
Great Falls is an excellent choice if you want an interesting cultural base in central Montana. It has a lively city atmosphere and is only a two-hour drive from Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest and Giant Springs State Park – home to one of the largest natural hot springs in the US.
Want a pleasant stay in Montana? Bozeman is considered the most liveable place in the state, making it one of the best places to visit in Montana for a laidback getaway.
In the city center, there are more attractions than you can count. Bozeman itself is located just outside of the mountainous region around Big Sky, with plenty of small towns and areas of natural beauty to explore on a day trip. If you don’t mind a two-hour drive, there’s Yellowstone to your south and Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest to your north.
Bozeman is also home to Montana State University, giving the city a sociable, friendly atmosphere. You can head to the trendiest eateries, soak in Bozeman Hot Springs, or make the most of the city’s fantastic location for day trips in nature. Bozeman is the perfect compromise between city living and access to natural wonders.
Like Big Sky, Whitefish is a little resort town that floods with skiers every winter. The town is one of the best places to visit for outdoor fun and adrenaline sports. Whitefish is scenically situated on the outskirts of Glacier National Park and has stunning alpine views – perfect for beautiful scenery while cross-country skiing. There’s also a vast freshwater lake, where you can enjoy a dip or spend some time fly fishing in summer.
Whitefish’s famous ski resort is Whitefish Mountain Resort. If you want a holiday full of outdoor activities and winter sports, Whitefish Mountain Resort is a fantastic place to stay with a ton of facilities, equipment rentals, and shuttles.
Choteau might seem off the beaten track and unassuming. However, the town is one of the best paleontology sites in the world. Exciting, right? If you love everything fossils and geology, then a visit to Choteau should be on the cards. In fact, its nearby Egg Mountain was used as a breeding ground for dinosaurs millions of years ago. In nearby Bynum, you can participate in fossil digs at the Montana Dinosaur Center.
Old Trail Museum is the major attraction in Choteau itself. The museum covers everything from dinosaurs to teepees. Old Trail Museum is a perfect stop-off and place to spend an hour or two, especially if you like your museums eclectic.
Missoula has become known as a natural retreat, despite its city status. The city is divided into two by the Clark Fork River, famed for its Blue Trout (take note if you love fishing). Situated in Western Montana, Missoula is right next to the Idaho border and is within driving distance from Lolo and Flathead National Forests. Missoula is a beautiful place to visit if you want to base yourself in Western Montana.
Of course, the city also has a lot of its own attractions, including the Missoula Art Museum. While history lovers can learn more at Missoula Natural History Museum and the Historical Museum at Fort Missoula.
Butte was once a gold and silver mining camp. A couple of centuries later, Butte is now one of the best places to visit in Montana and one of the state’s most booming cities. Butte is somewhere to appreciate Montana’s past while enjoying the present moment. The city has great historical attractions and a fantastic entertainment scene.
You can discover the city’s humble beginnings at the World Museum of Mining. You can also peer into Berkeley Pit (an old copper mine) from a viewing stand within easy walking distance from the city center. Alternatively, have a flutter by visiting Richest Hill. Richest Hill is Butte’s casino and the center of its nightlife and partying scene – great if you want to let your hair down.
11. Virginia City
Virginia City is one of our absolute favorite places in Montana. The town is a complete time capsule, from log cabins to old western street signs. Get ready to be transported back to 19th-century Montana.
The town has a small museum called the Thomas-Hickman Museum. You can also catch a performance at the Virginia City Opera House. However, the main draw of Virginia City is to just walk the traditional town main street and soak up the old western architecture and atmosphere. Virginia City is easily the most authentic place to visit in Montana. You’ll love it, especially if you love immersive history.
Best natural places to visit in Montana
Now that we’ve covered the best towns and cities, let’s look at the best natural places to visit in Montana. From national parks to state parks, these are our top ten recommendations.
12. Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone is a celebrity amongst US national parks. You’ll find the world’s largest collection of geysers, including Old Faithful. There are also more hot springs, mountains, and animals than you’ll be able to count. If you want a national park that will provide lifelong memories, Yellowstone National Park is the one.
Yellowstone actually straddles Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana. While the largest section of the park is in Wyoming, you can experience some parts in Montana – or just allow time to cross the borders and see as much as possible. Some attractions, like the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center (near the West Yellowstone entrance) and the Museum of Yellowstone, are in Montana. Others, like Old Faithful, are located in Wyoming, so you’ll need to allow extra travel time.
In West Yellowstone, you’ll find the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center. The animal refuge center has resident grizzly bears, grey wolves, and birds of prey. It is an excellent place to visit if you want to support a local not-for-profit and don’t manage to spot animals in the wild.
Fancy an adrenaline rush? Go whitewater rafting down Yellowstone River. Yellowstone River snakes through the national park’s center with many exciting sections of rapids – perfect for an adventurous day out.
13. Flathead National Forest
How does 2.4 million acres of mountain forests sound? In winter, you can zip through Flathead National Forest on snowmobiles and skis. In spring and summer, you’ll have hiking trails galore and no shortage of space for camping and multi-day treks. Flathead National Forest is an excellent natural place to visit in Montana, regardless of the season.
The forest is home to many animals, including black bears and grizzlies. You’ll see bighorn sheep, elk, moose, and mules. And, if you keep your eyes on the skies, you may get lucky and catch sight of an eagle or owl. Flathead National Forest is one of the most rewarding natural places to visit in the state of Montana.
14. Gates of the Mountains Wilderness
Just outside of Helena, the Gates of the Mountains Wilderness is one of the most accessible places of natural beauty to visit in Montana. It is also one of the most exciting to explore since the best way involves hopping on a boat.
The nature preserve is situated along a section of the Missouri River that winds through a jaw-dropping mountain park. Sailing up the river, you can admire and be humbled by the scale of the mountain range surrounding you – definitely bring a camera.
You can take a guided tour or rent water sports equipment to appreciate the Gates independently. The Gates of the Mountains Wilderness is best visited in warm, dry weather, as sailing can get extremely cold with the strong breeze and exposure to the elements. We recommend visiting in late spring or summer for the best experience. Plus, the mountains will be covered in beautiful greenery during these months.
15. Giant Springs State Park
The name Giant Springs State Park speaks for itself. The park is home to one of the US’s largest freshwater springs, and the Giant Springs produces an incredible 156 million gallons of water daily. It is said that water takes approximately 26 years to reach the springs from its origin in the Little Belt mountains – a fascinating concept.
Aside from viewing this natural phenomenon though, visitors can make the most of river activities like fishing, swimming, and boating. There are also trails for mountain biking and horseback riding if you want to explore a little differently than on foot. The park was first discovered on the Lewis & Clark Expedition in 1805 and is an important location in the early mapping of Montana.
Giant Springs is the best place for you if you like natural attractions with a large network of trails and a historical backstory.
16. Lewis & Clark Caverns State Park
Lewis & Clark Caverns State Park is an excellent natural place to visit in Montana. The 3,000-acre park is best known for its limestone caverns, named the Clark Caverns. Visitors can take guided tours into the Clark Caverns for an ultimate caving experience. Allow just under two hours for a tour of the caverns, but a whole day to experience the best of the park.
The park is an exciting place to witness underground beauty and explore beautiful hikes in the sunshine above ground. It is undoubtedly one of the most unique places to visit in Montana if you want to experience natural beauty.
17. Flathead Lake State Park
Flathead Lake is split into six different park sections, so choose which area you want to visit wisely (our favorite is West Shore). The park is situated around Flathead Lake, making it ideal for fishing, swimming, and water sports activities. The park is the best place to spend a lake-side holiday and is dreamy in late spring and summer.
Flathead Lake is a good option if you are looking for great camping spots in Montana. The park has many well-established campgrounds with plenty of facilities, which is excellent if you want a relaxing, entry-level camping experience.
18. Spring Meadow Lake State Park
Spring Meadow Lake State Park is a cheeky addition to our list of natural beauty spots. The 61-acre park has an artificial lake – so technically, it is a manmade area of beauty. However, it is so stunning we just had to add it to the list.
The park is best for those who want clear trails and purpose-made walking paths. You can follow the paths, stop for a bite to eat on one of the picnic benches, or enjoy some water activities. Spring Meadow Lake State Park is a popular spot for kayaking and paddle boarding, and you can hire equipment on-site if you don’t have your own to bring along.
The best part about Spring Meadow Lake State Park is that it is located just outside of Helena. The park is less than a ten-minute drive from Helena’s center and a great way to get some time in the outdoors during a city break.
19. Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area
Have you ever seen a wild horse? If not, Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area is where you just might. With a bit of luck, you’ll spot herds of wild horses when exploring the area’s hiking trails. There are also plenty of ranches where you can saddle up to see the wild horses on horseback.
Located on the Montana-Wyoming border, the area is centered around Bighorn Canyon itself, which is definitely worth visiting. You can drive to scenic overlooks or hike to the most remote yet rewarding viewpoints – it is totally up to you. Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area is full of surprises and exciting things to see.
20. Makoshika State Park
Meet the largest state park in Montana. Makoshika State Park is overflowing with fossils, and dinosaur lovers will be ecstatic at seeing the fossil remains of dinosaurs like Tyrannosaurus Rex and Triceratops. Families note this park down for your little ones. But adults don’t miss out on the fun either – Makoshika State Park impresses all ages.
Start your visit at the visitor center, where you can admire a series of interpretive exhibits and the best dinosaur fossils. Then you can hike the Montana Dinosaur Trail for the ultimate paleontology experience. Allow a whole day to visit as there is so much to see, and you don’t want to rush.
21. Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument
Now the Missouri River is the longest river in the US, so, unless you want to sail the length of it (which would be an exciting adventure), you’ll have to choose a small section to visit. The river cuts through Montana east to west, passing multiple riverside towns and cities. However, our favorite place to enjoy the river is the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument.
Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument is a 377,000-acre national park and the ideal spot for a riverside adventure. You can kayak, swim, or hike. To experience the Missouri River, the national park is the best and quietest place in Montana.
Of course, you can also indulge in a river rafting experience to pump your adrenaline or sit along the river banks for some relaxing fly fishing. North Montana is also full of different attractions like Bear Gulch Pictographs and the Phillips County Museum that you can combine with visiting the park.
22. Glacier National Park
Glacier National Park is beautiful. There’s no denying it. In particular, its hiking is renowned as some of the best in the US, and you can read our complete guide on the best hiking trails in Glacier National Park here. The park is sure to impress no matter the season and no matter your interests.
If you are in a rush, we recommend visiting Lake Mcdonald and Logan Pass. Lake Mcdonald is the park’s largest lake and is a picture-perfect alpine destination with still water and mountainous views. Logan Pass is a dramatic elevation pass on the Continental Divide, with gorgeous scenery and lots of mountain goats to spot.
Montana is incredible. The state has a dreamy mix of natural wonders and historic towns and cities to explore. By visiting Montana, you’ll be visiting some of the best places in the US – get ready to start ticking off your bucket list.
If you have the chance, try to visit as many of these places as possible for the ultimate Montana experience. We hope you have a fantastic trip.