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

image of mountain and lake
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

image of man standing in front of sign for 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:

image of chuckwagon

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

image of indian memorial
Indian Memorial at Little Bighorn

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:

Little Bighorn is a National Park site, so your America the Beautiful pass will work for entry.

4. Pompey’s Pillar National Monument

image of pompey's pillar

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.

image of william clark's signature in the rock
Clark’s signature is protected by a glass case

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

image of cannon on a hill

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:

6. National Bison Range

image of entry sign for 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.

image of bison and river
Bison by a river

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.

image of valley
Views from the Bison Range

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.

Cities

9. Helena, Montana

image of state capitol building of 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.

image of cathedral
Cathedral of Saint Helena

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.

image of river and mountains
Gates of the Mountains

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.

image of baseball game
Kindrick Legion Field

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.

Image of bear grass
Bear Grass!

10. Great Falls, Montana

the great falls in great falls. montana
Great Falls, MT

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!

mural in great falls montana
Public Art

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.

image of public art - a bison fish mix
A bison-fish mix!

Visit the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center. I told you Montana loves its Lewis and Clark sites, and here’s another one!

woman in front of missouri river

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.

image of western painting
Buffalo Bill and Indians painting

His home and studio are located on the museum property, and they are part of the tour.

image of charlie russell home and studio
Charlie Russell home and studio

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.

Image of Charlie Russell Statue in Washington, DC
Charlie Russell statue in Washington, DC

Finally, watch a Great Falls Voyagers game! Minor league baseball teams are known for their crazy names and crazy food.

image of hamburger
UFO Burger!

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!

image of baseball game
Great Falls Voyagers

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

Clark River, next to Caras Park

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.

The view from the M

Briefly, here are some of our favorites:

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.

Resources