Montana, the fourth largest U.S. state, draws more than 12 million annual visitors — and with good reason.
The Treasure State truly has something for everyone, regardless of when you arrive or what sort exploration you’re after. There’s world-class fly fishing during the summer, leading into autumn’s magnificent auburn foliage. Cold weather brings unparalleled access to alpine winter sports, while spring beckons travelers to float down some of the lower 48’s most majestic rivers. And all year long, you can enjoy fine food and drink within the state’s surprisingly cosmopolitan corridors, overnighting in its luxury lodges or pitching a tent high above the tree line backdropped by sweeping panoramas of Big Sky Country.
The only downside? You’re not going to get it all done in just one trip. Whether you’re planning your first or 14th voyage, here’s your ultimate checklist of the best things to do in Montana.
Ski at one of the largest resorts in North America.
Lovingly referred to as “America’s Matterhorn,” Lone Peak rises to an elevation of 11,167 feet, and you can ski it from the top with a lift ticket to Big Sky. From here, peer into the heart of neighboring Yellowstone National Park and even gain a glimpse of the distant Tetons before traversing a trail some six miles down to the Mountain Village. You’ll share the powder with far fewer guests than at comparable resorts in Colorado and Utah, but the amenities will be no less luxurious now that the five-star Montage is open for overnights.
Explore a big collection of dinosaur bones.
The Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman is home to a massive trove of paleontological wonder. Here, you can marvel at ancient relics from the region that stretch back more than 500 million years, including the largest known Tyrannosaurus skull in existence. The space is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Get off the beaten path in Glacier National Park.
Going-to-the-Sun Road drives a scenic stake through Glacier National Park, which is overrun by traffic as soon as it opens for the summer each June. And yes, Logan Pass — straddling the Continental Divide at the skyway’s summit — is truly a sight to behold. But you didn’t come all this way to idle in the car. Bypass the crowds by entering the park at Two Medicine Lake, flanked by miles of well-established trails leading to waterfalls, wildlife, and glacial overlooks.
Take a sleigh ride to savory fare.
Lone Mountain Ranch is a unique property veiling modern luxury behind the log cabin aesthetics of a 19th-century homestead. There’s no better way to portal back to its legendary past than through the nightly sleigh ride dinner, offered from December through March. During this experience, guests climb aboard a horse-drawn sleigh and clop-clop through the snowcapped pines, eventually arriving at an oil-lantern-lit cabin featuring prime rib, whiskey, and live acoustic guitar.
Visit the grizzly bear rescue center.
Grizzly bears are magnificent creatures, but they’re also one of nature’s fiercest predators, so you typically aren’t eager to see them up close. This educational facility affords you a rare opportunity to view the animals in a naturalistic enclosure. Because this particular lot of giant bears was born into captivity, it’s not safe for them to be reintroduced into the wild. Instead, they live here safely, while serving as ambassadors for the continued protection of their species. Montana Grizzly Encounter is located 11 miles east of downtown Bozeman, and is open daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Tube along a river.
Tubing is a time-honored way to beat the heat as soon as summer arrives in Montana. Locals typically have inflatables of their own, but outfitters such as the Clark Fork Yacht Club offer rentals for tourists. The family-run Missoula business provides flamingo pink tubes with “butt hammocks” so that you can float in style for miles on end. Take in the surrounding scenery before a shuttle van bring you back into town.
Soak in a natural hot spring.
Yellowstone National Park boasts the world’s largest concentration of geothermal activity, so it should come as no surprise that Montana’s neighboring regions are rife with hot springs. In fact, there are dozens to chose from across the southeastern section of the state, with highlights including Chico Hot Springs in Pray all the way up to Quinn’s Hot Springs Resort in Paradise. For a unique experience, hit up Norris Hot Springs, where live bluegrass is played poolside every weekend until 10 p.m.
Hike to the top of a mountain range.
Seriously, get to the top of something — anything — while in Big Sky Country. If you’re feeling particularly spry, consider the Trapper Peak Trail, which climbs 4,000 feet in four miles to the apex of western Montana’s Bitterroot Range. It’s a properly steep scramble in parts, but well-marked and typically tackled on a 6.5-hour-long day hike.
Go for a craft beer crawl in Missoula.
Although Missoula is home to under 80,000 year-round residents, its craft beer credentials rival a city 10 times its size. Breweries, taphouses, and speakeasies spill out onto either side of the Clark Fork, bifurcating downtown. Begin just south of the river at KettleHouse Brewing Co., then amble north into the heart of the commercial district, where more heavily hopped IPAs await at The Rhino and Conflux Brewing Company.
Drive the Beartooth Highway in the summer.
Skirting the mountainous edge of the Montana-Wyoming border, this scenic, 69-mile route is among the most dazzling drives on the planet — and it’s most certainly not for the those harboring a fear of heights. Pick it up at the northeast gateway to Yellowstone National Park, and you’ll rise from 5,200 feet in elevation to 12,000 feet in a matter of miles. The switchbacks are so severe that they’re typically only open for several months in the summer before closing again, usually in late September.
Try fly fishing.
Fly fishing in Montana is more than a hobby — it’s a way of life. And your options here are endless. In the aptly named town of Three Forks, the Madison, Jefferson, and Gallatin rivers converge to form the Missouri — North America’s longest single river. Any angling in this region is going to be world-class, but try your luck in the particularly scenic Gallatin River valley. Wild Trout Outfitters in Big Sky offers rentals for everything you need, from equipment to experienced guides.
Devour a huckleberry bear claw from Polebridge Mercantile.
Known locally as the “Merc,” this 100-year-old outpost isn’t just the best bakery in the remote northwest corner of Glacier National Park; it’s the only one for miles. The friendly staff will fill your belly with everything from fresh pizza to cinnamon rolls, but it’s the huckleberry bear claws that made this place famous. Outside, visitors marvel at the scenery, including the building’s historic red facade that’s perfect Instagram fodder.
Rent an RV.
With thousands of miles of open highway to explore, and hundreds of overnight hookups at your disposal, Montana is RV paradise. It’s an ideal way to spend a summer with family while maintaining the basic comfort level of your living room. If you don’t already own one, it’s never been easier to rent an RV short-term, with companies like RVshare bringing the ease of an Airbnb platform to the mobile home space.
Spend the night at a dude ranch.
Up and down the state, you’ll encounter dozens of working cattle farms that host guests and hold more than a hundred years of history within their fences. But just because you’re going rugged doesn’t mean you’ll have to sacrifice luxury. At places like The Ranch at Rock Creek and The Resort at Paws Up, you can enjoy five-star amenities — spa treatments, chef-driven cuisine, heated bathroom floors — while still having access to thousands of acres of pristine wilderness.