by Matt, March 2022
Montana is known as the Big Sky State, although its official nickname is actually The Treasure State. We absolutely love visiting Montana, and can’t wait to return.
Here are our favorite treasures from the Treasure State! These aren’t in a particular order, but I’ve divided the list between National Park sites and cities.
National Park Sites
1. Glacier National Park
When it comes to mountain views, nothing compares with Glacier National Park (ok, maybe Grand Teton does).
The most popular thing to do is to drive the Going-to-the-Sun Road, which will take your breath away. Most people spend a day driving the Sun Road, as it’s called, and move on.
But there are other sections of the park, including Many Glacier, Two Medicine, West Glacier, and North Fork.
There’s even a “Canada side” of Glacier, called Waterton Lakes National Park (must have a passport to visit!).
Glacier is also famous for its historic lodges and many boat tours. There’s something for everyone at this incredible place!
Make sure to check out our itinerary for a game plan to see the BEST of Glacier National Park!
2. Grant-Kohrs Ranch
This is the only working ranch in the National Park Service system, and it’s an underrated little gem!
This park site honors the open cattle range era in the United States (the late 1800s) before the west was fenced off by barbed wire.
Here’s what you can do in this FREE National Park site:
- Take a tour of the mansion that was once owned by Johnny Grant, and later Conrad Kohrs, two ranchers.
- Attend a blacksmith ranger program.
- Attend a chuckwagon ranger program.
- Go on a wagon tour.
- See huge belgian horses and longhorn cattle.
Grant-Kohrs Ranch is located in Deer Lodge, Montana. While you’re there, you can also visit the Old Montana Prison and Auto Museum Complex.
3. Little Bighorn Battlefield
The most famous battle of the American Indian Wars occurred on the eastern plains of Montana.
This is where Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse took down General George Armstrong Custer and the U.S. Army in 1876. Known as Custer’s Last Stand, it was in actuality the last stand of the American Indians, who would not win another major battle against the U.S.
At Little Bighorn National Monument, you can:
- Stop at the visitor center
- Attend a ranger program or a talk
- Explore the battlefield on the Tour Road and listen to an audio tour at multiple stops
- Visit Last Stand Hill and see the soldier memorial and graves.
- Visit the nearby Indian Memorial, commemorating the Native Americans who died in the battle.
Little Bighorn is a National Park site, so your America the Beautiful pass will work for entry.
4. Pompey’s Pillar National Monument
Located relatively close to Little Bighorn is Pompey’s Pillar National Monument.
This is a Lewis and Clark site! Montana has multiple Lewis and Clark sites, and it definitely wants you to visit all of them.
Lewis and Clark stopped here on their return trip and climbed to the top of this strange little tower in the middle of the plains.
William Clark named it Pompey’s Pillar, after Sacagawea’s son. Her son was named Jean Baptiste, but Clark nicknamed him Pompey.
Clark also signed his name in the rock, the only physical evidence that still exists along their journey. You can walk to the top of the tower and overlook the plains and the Yellowstone River below.
It’s really quite cool to look at his signature and imagine a time when there were only Indians and wildlife roaming the West!
Pompey’s Pillar is run by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), but it is a National Park site, so your America the Beautiful pass will work for entry.
5. Big Hole National Battlefield
Big Hole National Battlefield is another National Park site located in a remote area in Southern Montana.
This is where the U.S. Army engaged in a battle with the Nez Perce Indians during the Nez Perce Flight of 1877.
Over 90 Nez Perce and over 30 U.S. Army soldiers were killed in the battle, both of which are commemorated with monuments here.
This is part of the historic Nez Perce Trail, which spans 1,100 miles and goes through Yellowstone National Park. The Forest Service and the National Park Service have websites detailing the trail and offer audio tours.
I believe this is free to visit, and an America the Beautiful pass will also work for entry.
If you’re in this area, consider two nearby Lewis and Clark sites:
- Take the gorgeous drive to Salmon, Idaho, where you can visit the Sacagawea Interpretive, Cultural, and Educational Center, a Lewis and Clark site.
- Or if you’re coming from Dillon, Montana, you can see where you can visit Clark’s Lookout State Park, a place William Clark visited on his journey.
6. National Bison Range
The National Bison Range was established in the early 1900s as a refuge for bison when the species was just starting to bounce back from the Great Slaughter of the late 1800s.
This is located just north of Missoula, Montana, which is a place you must visit if you’re in the area!
At the National Bison Range, you’ll take a 2-hour scenic drive where you’ll see bison and nice overlooks of the valley below.
7. Yellowstone National Park
I used to laugh when Montana tried to claim Yellowstone as one of its national parks because over 90% of the park is in Wyoming.
But I’ve realized that the park has always been more closely associated with Montana than Wyoming because two of its most popular entrances (and three out of the five park entrances) are located in Montana.
It was Montanans who first explored the park and promoted it. Also, the park is cut off from the rest of Wyoming by a mountain range, so it’s economically and culturally more connected to Montana than Wyoming.
Yellowstone was the world’s first national park thanks to Montanans, and it continues to be one of the most beloved national parks in the country.
If you visit, try to take the ceremonial entrance through the Roosevelt Arch in Gardiner, Montana!
And make sure to make the most of your visit with our self-guided audio tour for the BEST Yellowstone experience!
8. The American Prairie Reserve
The American Prairie is located in remote northeastern Montana. This isn’t a National Park site, but I listed it here because it is a nature site.
It is run by a nonprofit organization with the goal of reestablishing the Great American Prairie, which has mostly been taken over by settlements and farmers.
They have an incredible mission to buy private land that is adjacent to public land (mostly the Charlie Russel Wildlife Refuge), tear town property fences, and create a reserve for wildlife.
I haven’t visited this yet, but it’s on my bucket list.
Their office is located in Lewiston, MT, which would also serve as a jumping-off point. Camping, recreation, and tours are available.
They offer a lot of resources on their website, but I liked this lecture that explains what the Reserve is all about, and puts the American Prairie in historical context.
9. Helena, Montana
Helena is the capital of Montana and is a nice little historic town to visit. Here are some things we did:
We saw the state capitol building, which also has some beautiful art by Charlie Russell (see below).
We saw the gorgeous Cathedral of Saint Helena. It’s always interesting to me when these little old west towns have nice architectural buildings like the Cathedral of Saint Helena, which has beautiful stained-glass windows imported from Europe.
We visited the Gates of the Mountains, where we took a boat ride through the mountains. This was named by Lewis and Clark, who traveled this exact path back in the early 1800s.
We attended a baseball game at Kindrick Legion Field. At the time, they had a minor league team, but that team has since moved to Colorado. The field is really cool because it was built in the 1930s and has one of the few wooden grandstands in the country.
Today, you can see high school teams play there. Hopefully, Helena will get another pro team — minor league baseball has a very long history in the great state of Montana.
Finally, just outside of Helena is Rogers Pass. We visited in June when the wildflowers were in bloom, and it was AWESOME!
It was one of the best hikes I’ve ever been on, with mountain vistas and a lot of Bear Grass in bloom.
10. Great Falls, Montana
Great Falls isn’t thought of as a vacation destination: locals complain that it’s flat, cold, and windy.
BUT, we found some great things to do in Great Falls!
Ride bikes along the river and enjoy the public art there! We saw many colorful murals and a strange bison-fish mix, among other things. We got right up by the Falls as well.
From here, you get great views of the river and enjoy an impressive museum dedicated to Lewis and Clark. You’ll learn the entire story of their journey.
A visit to the C.M. Russell Museum is a MUST. Charlie Russell is one of the most famous western artists. He painted scenes of cowboys, Indians, and wildlife.
His home and studio are located on the museum property, and they are part of the tour.
Charlie Russell’s work is all over the place, including the Montana capitol building and the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody, Wyoming. He even has a statue in the old Senate room in the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, DC.
Finally, watch a Great Falls Voyagers game! Minor league baseball teams are known for their crazy names and crazy food.
The Voyagers are so named because a famous UFO sighting occurred in the 1950s right on the baseball field. So their team mascot is an alien and they serve “space” ice cream and UFO burgers!
You can’t beat the prices at the seats at these minor-league games, which give you a chance to get a feel for the local town.
11. Missoula, Montana
Oh, how we dearly love Missoula, Montana!
In 2012, I was assigned to a job assignment in Missoula for an entire summer. We explored the entire town and surrounding area, and had the summer of our lives!
Missoula is a destination vacation. It has so many fun things for a family to do, including sightseeing, eating and drinking, and outdoor exploration.
Briefly, here are some of our favorites:
- Hike the “M.” Mount Sentinel lords over the town, and it has a big “M” on the face of it that you can hike to. It’s only about a mile to the top. It’s a little steep, but doable.
- Visit Caras Park. Caras Park is located downtown right next to the Clark River (yes, named after Lewis and Clark). You can eat outside here, walk or bike along the river, and watch river rafters battle the rapids.
- Ride the Carousel for Missoula. Right next to Caras Park is the Carousel for Missoula, a local iconic spot for kids AND adults!
- Eat at Ciao Mambo and get dessert at Big Dipper. Missoula has many great restaurants, but these are our favorites. It’s also very proud of its local breweries, but we don’t drink so we can’t help you out there. LOL.
12. Bozeman, Montana
I listed Bozeman here because people LOVE Bozeman.
BUT, sadly, we haven’t been there yet. So I will cover this more after we visit Bozeman! In the meantime, check out this video for great things to do in Bozeman.