Montana Holiday Planning Guide
With a population of only one million, Montana remains an untouched natural paradise of snowcapped peaks, expansive forests, and alpine lakes, dotted with Old West ghost towns, Indian reservations, and progressive urban communities. On your Montana vacation, appreciate the state's unique charm and beauty with a trip to Glacier National Park, where you can come face to face with wildlife among the high peaks. Head to the state's largest cities, Billings and Missoula, for an array of historical attractions and cultural sightseeing.
Places to Visit in MontanaWest Yellowstone
: Serving as a gateway to Yellowstone National Park, this small town offers a range of options for outdoor itineraries, easy access to the surrounding landscape, and a comfortable, relaxed center in which to enjoy a quiet evening.Columbia Falls
: A gateway to Glacier National Park, this is both a starting point for adventure and a place of relaxation, with outdoor activities, comfortable accommodations, and excellent access to the wild reaches of the park itself. Gardiner
: With a stone arch marking the entrance to the northern part of Yellowstone National Park, this town nestles among dramatic and photogenic scenery, offers many services and conveniences, and provides a good range of outdoor equipment to rent or buy for your trip out into the wilderness.Big Sky
: Straddling Gallatin and Madison counties, this town offers an array of luxury resorts, golf courses, ski slopes, and fishing ponds, all surrounded by stunning alpine scenery.Bozeman
: The county seat of Gallatin County boasts a wealth of museums and galleries, natural attractions, and comfortable city parks in which to relax and enjoy the ambience of the city's center.Billings
: The largest urban area in the state of Montana, this city is a thriving, modern hub of culture and activity. The city offers great access to notable natural features, and contains a wealth of accommodations. Missoula
: Filled with things to do, Missoula excites visitors with its stylish and sophisticated bars and restaurants serving locally brewed beer, cultural landmarks promoting the local heritage of the region, and easy access to outdoor adventures.Helena
: The capital city of the state of Montana, this charming, welcoming place marks the beginning of extensive hiking and mountain biking routes, packs in a great range of cultural attractions, and offers diverse drinking and eating establishments renowned for their hospitality. Whitefish
: This town near Glacier National Park offers pristine alpine slopes great for budding or professional skiers and snowboarders, bars and restaurants known for their local beers and desserts, and comfortable and rustic accommodations from which to explore the area's trails and topography.
Things to Do in Montana
Popular Montana Tourist AttractionsGrizzly and Wolf Discovery Center
: This nonprofit zoo and animal sanctuary gives you the chance to admire gray wolves and grizzly bears in their natural habitat and learn about their behavior, their history, and how important their protection is to the region's cultural heritage and biodiversity. Glacier National Park
: This wild playground of alpine meadows, rocky mountains, pristine lakes, and lush valleys offers visitors over 1,100 km (700 mi) of hiking trails, an array of winding, scenic roads, and countless outdoor activities. Museum of the Rockies
: Home to the largest collection of dinosaur bones in the United States, this museum takes visitors of all ages through the geological, biological, and cultural history of the Rocky Mountains.Big Sky Resort
: Well known for its huge choice of activities and slopes, its welcoming vibe, and its comfortable accommodations, this resort is a popular place to ski, snowboard, and skate in the winter, and ride, golf, and walk in the summer. Whitefish Mountain Resort
: This outdoor activity park and resort welcomes and delights visitors all year round with its challenging and extensive set of ski slopes and themed snow sports activities--such as moonlit skiing--as well as great hiking, riding, and orienteering trails in the summer months. Little Bighorn Battlefield
: Discover the history behind one of America's most famous battlegrounds at this touching memorial to the U.S. and Native American lives lost during Custer's Last Stand. Downtown Bozeman
: Popular with locals for its antique and thrift stores, this trendy neighborhood is filled with public art, arresting street performances, and thriving cafe culture.Yellowstone Big Gun Fun
: Fire off bullets from some of the world's most famous handheld weapons at this indoor shooting range, offering beginners and pros the chance to show off and improve their skills in a selection of themed environments. Cathedral of St. Helena
: With stained-glass windows depicting the story of Christianity--beginning with the Book of Genesis and moving up through early 20th century worship--this Gothic-style Roman Catholic cathedral is a welcoming landmark of historical importance.A Carousel for Missoula
: A quirky, inspiring, and fun attraction located right in the heart of town, this volunteer-made carousel gives you the chance to ride on horses and dragons on a flamboyant themed ride that remains a source of pride for local people.
Planning a Montana Vacation with Kids
Places to Visit in Montana with Kids
A place of exploration and activity for the whole family, Montana boasts numerous destinations that will appeal to the youngest adventurers in your group. Stay in Missoula
and explore the city's kid-friendly attractions and amusements, then use it as your base camp for diving into the surrounding landscape for tours and outdoor activities. Try Big Sky
for a fun stay at a ski resort, with activities and courses for all abilities, and remember to bring any dinosaur lovers to Bozeman
for the start of a Jurassic adventure that takes budding paleontologists to numerous sites across the state. Stop off at West Yellowstone
for a direct route into the surrounding scenery, or at Columbia Falls
to introduce the kids to the abundance of the natural world.
Things to Do in Montana with Kids
Nature's year-round display is so brilliant and clear in Montana that the kids will be unable to ignore the rapid changes of scenery at Glacier National Park
. The appeal of Bozeman's Museum of the Rockies
for younger visitors should not be underestimated: the museum packs information, innovation, and interaction together to create a truly enjoyable experience for people of all ages, and is an excellent starting point for a dinosaur-themed journey across the state. Outdoor activities abound in this adventurous and wild place, so stop at Whitefish Mountain Resort
, where the welcoming and attentive staff are keen to give children (and adults, of course) their very first snow sports lessons.
Tips for a Family Vacation in Montana
Staying in Montana's main urban centers will give you access to the state's many museums and galleries, many of which have interactive elements to keep children entertained. The cities have pleasant atmospheres of their own, with water parks, zoos, and activity centers that appeal mainly to a younger audience. Nature doesn't play merely a supporting role in Montana: it is, for many people, the main reason for planning a vacation here. The attractions of the natural world are enticing for people of all ages, though some outdoor activities may be too difficult for younger visitors. A wealth of tour and travel options are available for family-friendly adventuring.
Dining and Shopping on Holiday in Montana
Cuisine of Montana
Many different cultures have influenced the cuisine of Montana. Native American, West Coast, and Canadian techniques, flavors, and pairings have been put to good use by the state's tastemakers. Cod, salmon, crab, and halibut are the most popular seafood options, so try heading to Bozeman
for some of the freshest fish you can buy. Upstate in West Yellowstone
, the rancher's lifestyle predominates, with a great abundance of dairy products, cured meats, and game. For a classic huckleberry pie, try The Huckleberry Patch Cannery, Restaurant & Gift Shop, a place that makes a wonderful variety of dishes with the berry, located close to Glacier National Park
Shopping in Montana
The main cities of the state offer ample shopping opportunities, great for a browse or for a trip to pick up any gear you might need for your Montana vacation. For a special treat, try Parrot Confectionery Store
, a popular, classic candy shop in Helena
. Find fresh produce and flowers at Missoula Farmer's Market
, located right in the heart of the city. If you are looking for a sporting goods store, try Scheels
, a superstore so big it has room for a Ferris wheel inside.
Know Before You Go on a Trip to Montana
History of Montana
The history of Montana could be said to begin 65 million years ago, when dinosaurs roamed the Earth. The site of many successful digs, the state is proud of its paleontological heritage and has a trail of attractions brimming with skeletons, information, and activities related to these evocative creatures from another time. Museum of the Rockies
, with the largest number of dinosaur remains in the U.S., is a great place to begin your expedition into natural history.
Indigenous peoples lived in the area now known as Montana for thousands of years, carving out a life of subsistence, spirituality, and respect for nature in a land of harsh, fast-changing weather and varied, potentially dangerous landscapes. The natural abundance of the region was clear to the native peoples, and their survival here testifies to the richness of the land. Learn their history at First Peoples Buffalo Jump State Park
, and ponder the biological diversity that sustained them at National Bison Range
, a protected reserve where you will spot mule deer, black bears, antelopes, coyotes, and bison.
The era of European settlement brought many challenges to the area, with conflicts arising because of cultural differences, resources, and land. After the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, westward expansion and the discovery of gold in the area led to drastic increases in the European settler population, and ultimately led to the declaration of Montana as the 41st U.S. state in 1889. For an unusual take on this period, head to Garnet Ghost Town
, an abandoned mining town. In addition to mining, the state's many ranches have long influenced the culture and economy of the area. Take a trip to Lone Mountain Ranch
to stay with ranchers in a family-friendly environment that is both fun and educational, and make sure to spend a day at Grant-Kohrs Ranch
for an immersive experience of 19th-century ranch life.
The construction of the Northern Pacific Railroad through Montana's plains in the mid 19th century contributed to the sense of upset and outrage felt by Native American tribes regarding land use and ownership. The European settlers' abuse of the region's natural resources--most notably the area's native bison, who were reduced in number from around 13,000,000 to 325 in under 15 years--further stoked these tensions, turning the region into a battleground. These tragedies are plainly felt today at Little Bighorn Battlefield
, the scene of the most famous battle of the Great Sioux War of 1876.
Seismic activity in recent centuries has rapidly reshaped land that was carved by glacial movements over millennia. Head to Earthquake Lake
for informative descriptions of the geological history of the state, and touching tributes to the lives that have been lost in natural disasters.
Landscape of Montana
Montana is an expansive state that houses iconic American scenery worth visiting in all months of the year, filled to the brim with a vast array of animal and plant species. Head to Glacier National Park
and take in the mountains, lakes, valleys, and wildlife of this protected natural area. Going-to-the-Sun Road
provides particularly treasured vistas. To enjoy the extreme topography and a year-round natural display from an explorer's vantage point, consider visiting Big Sky Resort
and Whitefish Mountain Resort
. The lushness of the land among so many inhospitable features can be appreciated on a trip to National Bison Range
, where tour guides help you make sense of the region's vastness, and at Grant-Kohrs Ranch
, a place where man's indefatigable spirit meets the natural world as an equal.
Holidays & Festivals in Montana
Montana celebrates the same state holidays as the rest of the United States. Some businesses in the area close on these days, so note any public holidays that fall within the time period of your trip and make appropriate preparations.
To connect with locals and explore their traditions on your Montana vacation, consider timing your visit to coincide with a community festival. Head to Bozeman
for the Sweet Pea Festival. Based on an event originally held to promote the state's agricultural sector, this summer arts and crafts festival was rejuvenated in the 1970s, and is a thriving celebration of culture. For a special introduction to Native American culture, try the Crow Fair and Rodeo, an event held every August since 1909 on Crow Agency, close to Billings
. It is currently the largest northern Native American gathering.
Montana Travel Tips
Climate of Montana
Montana is a state that wears its weather well. Rain, shine, snow, wind: the landscape is varied, rugged, and beautiful enough to complement the elements. Split into east and west by the Continental Divide, the two sides of the state experience different climates. The west has a noticeably milder climate, with warmer winters, cooler summers, and a fairly even distribution of rain throughout the year. The eastern side, while experiencing altogether harsher weather, with colder winters and warmer summers, does tend to enjoy more bright and sunny days. Snowfall in the state reaches its heaviest between November and March--snowstorms occur often during this period. Heavy rain in spring, in conjunction with the spring thaw, can lead to flooding in some areas of the state.
Transportation in Montana
With 16 commercial airports, numerous train stations, and a good set of interstate and state highways, Montana is easy to traverse. The major cities have rapid-transit, high-frequency bus services, and terminals offer services to cities and towns farther afield. Trains are a pleasant way to travel across the expanse of the state, as the spaces between attractions often offer great scenic views. However, it is easiest to reach the state's main attractions by road, so consider renting a car for the duration of your Montana holiday. Try a four-wheel-drive vehicle to make the most of the rugged landscape, and to travel with confidence and safety whatever the weather. If driving is not for you, tours (many conducted using off-road vehicles) remain a popular option within the state's tourism sector, and can provide you with the added wisdom of knowledgeable local guides.