Places To Visit In Montana, USA
There are SO many things to do in Montana! It’s a big state—the fourth largest in the United States. That means that there are a lot of options for Montana vacations and for those of us who live here. When you visit Montana, you have to figure out both what you want to do and where you want to do it.
The first part of this post will be divided into the best places to visit in Montana: Billings, Livingston, Bozeman, West Yellowstone, Butte, Helena, Great Falls, Missoula, Kalispell, Whitefish, Glacier National Park, Yellowstone National Park, and Montana State Parks. Throughout this section I will tell you the best places to stay in Montana.
Best Time to Visit Montana
When you are considering what to do in Montana, you need to consider the weather. There are things to see in Montana and things to do in all seasons, you just have to plan for them. Montana travel can be a little more challenging in winter, but it’s well worth the effort to see the Big Sky State in a blanket of snow. See the winter section below for Montana things to do in winter.
Summer brings warm days and cooler nights. Because the state is so geographically diverse, you could have 100-degree temperatures in the eastern Montana badlands and snow in Big Sky on the same summer day. When choosing which Montana tourist attractions to visit, be sure to check the weather forecast.
Summer is the perfect time to take advantage of Montana’s lakes and river. We love playing in and on the water in Montana, whether that means rafting, stand up paddle boarding, fly fishing, or taking a cold plunge in a lake. Summer is also the prime time for hiking and biking in Montana.
Fall is one of the best times to visit. Many Montana points of interest will be less crowded and the weather is often fantastic – warm, but not hot, minimal precipitation, and the aspens, cottonwoods, and willows turn yellow, gold, and red. It’s also an ideal time for hiking, biking, and fishing.
What To See In Montana
So, how do you decide which places to see in Montana? At the end of this post, I will include a few Montana itineraries for nature lovers, thrill seekers, dudes and cowboy-wannabes, Native American culture seekers, and road trip warriors.
Montana is often divided into western and eastern Montana, but if you look at a map, you’ll see that most of Montana is eastern Montana. The state is geographically divided by the Rocky Mountains with a mountainous western “half” and the plains to the east. The majority of the population (and the trees) live in Western Montana.
Best Cities in Montana
When you are thinking of Montana places to visit, cities come to mind. But Montana cities aren’t like cities in other states; they are smallish and have beautiful, active downtowns. There are a lot of fun family things to do in Montana cities and towns.
Things To Do In Billings, MT
The Magic City often gets overlooked as a one of Montana’s vacation spots, but it shouldn’t. From museums, to pictographs, to dining and waterparks, there are a lot of fun things to do in Billings, MT.
Billings began as a railroad town, and was named for Frederick H. Billings, a former president of the Northern Pacific Railroad, but Montana’s largest city is now so much more than that.
Lewis and Clark, Chief Plenty Coups, George A. Custer, Sitting Bull and Calamity Jane all passed through or lived near Billings and are responsible for Montana landmarks that mark their passing, making Billings a history buff’s dream. Add to that the six mountain ranges that surround the city and there is plenty of outdoor recreation, wildlife viewing, and fresh air breathing.
For Billings, Montana things to do, consider tasting your way through the Brewery District or catching a performance at the Alberta Bair Theater. Family-friendly Billings, Montana attractions include Zoo Montana, The Reef waterpark, and Lake Elmo State Park. Still trying to figure out what to do in Billings, MT? There are local trails, horseback riding, fishing and swimming in the Yellowstone River, and a host of other outdoor recreation opportunities.
- Read my whole post on Things To Do in Billings, Montana.
Best Hotels in Billings, Montana
Things to Do Livingston, MT
Livingston is my town and one of the most beautiful places in Montana. People come from all over the world to fly fish in the Yellowstone River, hike in the Absaroka Mountains, soak in Chico Hot Springs, and use it as a jumping off point for Yellowstone National Park. For the best Montana summer vacations, float the Yellowstone River, dance the night away under the stars at Pine Creek Lodge, and catch a fish or summit a peak. The summer farmers market (Wednesdays 4-7 pm at Miles Park) is where the community and visitors gather to buy produce, sip a beer, and listen to live music on the banks of the Yellowstone.
- Read my post about Things To Do in Livingston, Montana
Best Hotels in Livingston, Montana
For a historic experience, try the Murray Hotel across from the Depot in downtown Livingston. You’ll be in good company (or infamous company) as everyone from Buffalo Bill and Calamity Jane to Will Rogers to the Queen of Denmark to today’s celebrities have come through the Murray.
If you are sans kids, we love A Stone’s Throw Bed and Breakfast. It’s an oasis in the middle of everything. And if you need something more spacious, but still within walking distance of downtown and the Yellowstone River, try one of the Sweetwater Guest Houses. You know they are some of our favorite places to stay in Montana since we’ve lived there for months at a time.
Things To Do in Bozeman, MT
Bozeman used to be a quiet cow town and home to the agriculture-focused Montana College. Today it is growing like cheatgrass and home to the engineering and technology-focused Montana State University. There are a lot of fun things to do in Bozeman, whether you want to play in the mountains, learn about dinosaurs, or shop in boutiques in the lovely, historic downtown.
Bozeman activities are often focused around the outdoors. Nestled in the huge Gallatin Valley, Bozeman is surrounded by the Bridger and Gallatin mountain ranges. It’s not far from Big Sky, Montana and its ski resort.
Bozeman is one of the places to go in Montana that we visit often, since it is just over the hill from where we live. In addition to shopping, we love to explore the Museum of the Rockies (home to Jack Horner for whom the scientist in Jurassic Park was based and one of the best places in Montana, if not the world, to learn about dinosaurs and see fossils). The Mountains to Main Street Trails take us all over town on foot and bikes, and Bozeman Hot Springs is a great place to soak and swim. I’d say, Bozeman is a great place for Montana family vacations to begin, and then you can go from there to Yellowstone or Glacier National Parks, or other Montana towns.
- Read my other posts on Bozeman, MT Things To Do.
Best Hotels in Bozeman, Montana
If you are looking for a Bozeman, Montana motel or hotel, there is no shortage.
The Lark is a trendy, boutique hotel in downtown Bozeman, perfect for Montana sightseeing. Even if you don’t stay there, get some ice cream from the taco truck out front.
The Gallatin River Lodge is one of the best hotels in Montana; in fact, it was voted one of the top 25 hotels in the U.S. by Trip Advisor. This fly fishing lodge, and fine dining facility, is located on a ranch with private access to the Gallatin River just west of Bozeman.
Things To Do in West Yellowstone, MT
As its name implies, West Yellowstone is the gateway town to at the west entrance of Yellowstone National Park. While many people use it as a jumping off point to visit Yellowstone, there are a lot of things to do in West Yellowstone.
Best Hotels in West Yellowstone, Montana
We’ve stayed at a lot of different hotels in West Yellowstone over the years and they are all pretty decent. The Gray Wolf Inn and Suites has clean, comfortable rooms and is right across from the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center and the Imax Theater. The Explorer’s Cabins at Yellowstone are also conveniently located. These cozy cabins have everything you need for a Yellowstone vacation: kitchenette, comfortable beds, fire pits and a s’more kit, and helpful staff.
Things To Do in Butte, MT
Butte used to by Montana’s largest city back in the heyday of mining and is still an interesting place to visit. The “Richest Hill on Earth” is dotted with headframes and you can tour several mine and mine-disaster related sights. There is no shortage of Butte, Montana things to do.
A “must see in Montana” is Butte’s underground city. We saw a speakeasy entered from a secret door in a barbershop and the prison cell Evel Knievel once spent the night in.
One of the best things to do in Montana, in my opinion, is cross-country ski and there are several places around Butte to do that. You can also hike, mountain bike, dirt bike, or ride the bike paths.
If you like whiskey or super delicious creamy bourbon, stop by Headframe Spirits Distillery for some Orphan Girl.
A few minutes drive from Butte, America is Fairmont Hot Springs. We like to stay in the Fairmont Hotel, ride the waterslides and soak in the hot spring pool.
- Read my full post about Butte Montana Things To Do
Best Hotels in Butte, Montana
There are plenty of places to stay in Montana and Butte is no exception. There are a bunch of perfectly acceptable chain hotels in Butte, most of them close to the I-90. If you want to stay in Uptown Butte, where all the action is, I recommend the Hotel Finlen. It’s not super fancy but it is a beautiful, historical building with clean, retro rooms and well situated in Uptown Butte.
Things To Do in Helena, MT
Helena is our state capital and one of the important Montana destinations for legislators, non-profit workers, government employees, and tourists. Helena kind of has it all. There are recreational opportunities all around the city and some of the best museums in Montana. The Archie Bray Foundation is a world-class ceramics school and studio you can visit (and purchase beautiful pieces). Helena is one of the first places trails open for hiking and biking in the spring and there are several places to cross-country ski and snowshoe before the snow melts.
As for the carousel, Helena, MT knows how to make it fun with native animals created by a Walt Disney World carver.
- Read my full post about Things To Do in Helena, Montana.
Best Hotels in Helena, Montana
Where to stay in Helena depends on what you plan to do there. We like to stay at the Double Tree by Hilton on Last Chance Gulch. It’s a clean, modern hotel with views of the mountains and the walking mall. The best part is you can walk to restaurants, shopping, breweries, and the trail system from the hotel. We also like the Great Northern Hotel in the Great Northern Town Center. It’s one of the nicest hotels in Helena, with big rooms and a friendly staff. It’s walking distance to restaurants, all the Great Northern activities including the carousel, Exploration Works!, and the Lewis and Clark Trail. Plus it’s close to the capitol and government offices.
Things To Do in Great Falls, MT
Great Falls takes its name from five waterfalls near each other along the Missouri River. The Lewis and Clark Expedition had to portage the falls on their journey to find a water route to the west. Only one of the falls flows freely these days, the rest are behind dams.
Great Falls is Montana’s third largest city after Billings and Missoula. When considering where to go in Montana, know there over 57 parks and 40 miles of River’s Edge Trail along the scenic Missouri River in Great Falls. Gibson Park features live music during summer months, a walking path, a playground, as well as a duck pond.
The community’s skate park and dog park are popular attractions and with four golf courses (two public and two private). There are also opportunities for hiking, paddle boarding, kayaking, and mountain biking. For things to do in Montana in summer, it’s an easy day trip to Glacier National Park. In winter, some locals take to frozen ponds and lakes for ice skating and ice fishing. Snowmobiling is also popular.
The Electric City is home to the C. M. Russell Museum Complex, the University of Great Falls, Giant Springs State Park, the Roe River (the world’s shortest river), and Malmstrom Air Force Base. Other Great Falls Montana points of interest include the Lewis and Clark Interpretative Center, Mighty Mo Brew Co, the Children’s Museum of Montana, and Paris Gibson Square Museum of Art. You won’t want to miss the mermaid and merman show at the Sip n’ Dip.
- Read more about the Lewis and Clark Expedition Sites in Great Falls
Best Hotels in Great Falls, Montana
The O-Haire Motor Inn is a fun place to stay since the Sip n’ Dip bar is there and you can catch the mermaid/merman show. For a nice downtown hotel, we like the Historic Hotel Arvon. The recently renovated rooms nicely compliment the quaint, historic character.
Things To Do in Missoula, Montana
Missoula is one of those places in Montana filled with outdoor adventures, art, culture, and good food. It sits squarely in western Montana and is partially known for A River Run’s Through It (the story takes place there, but it was filmed around Bozeman and Livingston).
I spent a year in Missoula on a national exchange program when I was in college and found all kinds of fun things to do in Missoula. As I traveled back over the years for work (in my late 20s) and then with my family, the sphere of fun Missoula things to do has definitely expanded. Less bars and more carousel, though a lot has stayed the same: hiking the M Trail or wandering up the Rattlesnake, eating ice cream at the Big Dipper, and strolling around the Farmers Market. Missoula is in the banana belt of Montana and seems to have an earlier spring than the rest of us.
The 1877 Fort Missoula has restored buildings and a historical museum. The Missoula Art Museum displays contemporary art. A Carousel for Missoula is a merry-go-round with handcrafted wooden ponies. Trails cross rugged Mount Sentinel and Mount Jumbo. Northeast, Rattlesnake National Recreation Area and Wilderness has peaks, forests and waterfalls.
Other Missoula, Montana things to do includes an elegant and delightful dinner at the Pearl Café, catching a show at the Missoula Children’s Theater (the nation’s largest touring children’s theatre), and learning at the Missoula Natural History Museum.
- Read more about What To Do in Missoula
Best Hotels in Missoula, MT
We generally stay at the Holiday Inn Downtown because it has a great location along the Clarks Fork and within walking distance of everything we want to do downtown. The rooms are clean, and up to date, and there is a restaurant and bar in the hotel. There have been room renovations since we last stayed, so it sounds like it is even better than before.
Things To Do in Kalispell, MT
What I remember most about my first visit to Kalispell was stopping at a restaurant that had peanut shells on the floor. I was living in Missoula and was on my way to go backpacking in Glacier National Park with an outdoor club from the University of Montana. (That was Moose’s Saloon and it has been in Kalispell for more than 60 years – worth a stop.)
While Moose’s was fun, there are plenty of other things to do in Kalispell. The Hockaday Museum of Art exhibits the work of current and historic Montana artists. At the Conrad Mansion Museum guides in period dress offer tours of this sprawling home, built in 1895 and fully restored. There are a lot of parks in and around Kalispell and it is easy access to Flathead Lake.
Best Hotels in Kalispell, MT
Kalispell is between Whitefish and Flathead Lake, so it’s easy to stay in any of the three places and visit the whole Flathead-Kalispell-Whitefish area.
- Find the best deals in hotels in Kalispell, Montana.
- Find the best deals on Flathead Lake, Montana lodging.
- Find the best deals on Bigfork, MT lodging.
Things To Do in Whitefish, MT
When you think about where to visit in Montana, Glacier National Park often comes to mind. Or perhaps somewhere for a perfect Montana ski vacation. Whitefish is the ideal town to launch either of those adventures and many more.
Whitefish, MT things to do include a lot of outdoor activities: all manner of boating on lakes and rivers, hiking and mountain biking in the surrounding mountains, downhill skiing at Whitefish Mountain Resort, swimming in the lake, and zipline tours.
- Read more about What To Do in Whitefish, Montana
Best Hotels in Whitefish, Montana
To stay close to downtown and on the Whitefish River, we like the Pine Lodge. With recently renovated rooms, kayaks and bikes available, plus an outdoor pool overlooking the park and river, it has everything we want. Our kids love that you can swim from the indoor pool to the outdoor pool through an opening in the wall. To be on the shores of Whitefish Lake, we like the Lodge at Whitefish Lake. This is Montana family resorts at its best. There is a private beach and swim area, boat rentals and marina, ski shuttles to Whitefish Mountain Resort, a spa, and many other amenities.
National and State Parks in Montana
Montana is capped at the north and the south with two of the best National Parks in America: Glacier National Park and Yellowstone National Park. From east to west, Montana State Parks protect some of the prettiest places in Montana and those with a rich cultural history.
Montana also has lots of National Forest land and BLM land. We especially like renting Forest Service cabins to explore Montana’s public lands.
Things To Do in Glacier National Park
From striated mountains touching the sky to the big lakes that reflect them, there are so many things to see in Glacier National Park. Glacier is most famous for its Going To The Sun Road, which climbs the mountains and connects the two sides of the park. Along the way, there are waterfalls, mountain goats, impossible drop offs, and scenic stops. The east side of the park is steeper and more rugged, while the west side is gentler and wetter. Of course, the glaciers from which the park gets its name are pretty spectacular, too. Unfortunately, they are shrinking as the climate warms, so Glacier many not always have glaciers. Check out the Park Service website to plan your trip to Glacier National Park.
- Read more from me about Glacier National Park Things To Do.
Best St. Mary, Montana Hotels
St. Mary is a great home base for exploring the east side of Glacier National Park and the Blackfeet Indian Reservation. It’s right on the border of the park and close to St. Mary Lake, one of the biggest lakes in the park.
Best Columbia Falls, Montana Hotels
Just outside the west entrance to Glacier is Columbia Falls. Personally, I’d rather stay in the park or in one of the towns on the east side or northwest, but Columbia Falls is the largest Glacier-adjacent town and can be convenient.
Things To Do in Yellowstone National Park
Things To Do in Montana State Parks
- See the artwork of prehistoric hunters at Pictograph State Park near Billings.
- Watch prairie dogs pop in and out of the earth at Greycliff Prairie Dog State Park.
- Wander through a ghost town at Elkhorn State Park.
- Take a little road trip to Missouri Headwaters State Park, Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park, Madison Buffalo Jump State Park.
Montana Hot Springs
One of the top ten things to do in Montana is soak in a hot spring. The state is full of both undeveloped hot springs and hot springs resorts.
Montana’s Best Breweries
Considering the small population of Montana – about 1 million people—there are a lot of breweries. In fact, as of February 2018, there are 73 breweries operating in the state and 12 known breweries in the works. That’s a lot of beer for us Montanans to drink, but we are up to the job.
We explored seven of Bozeman’s breweries and there are so many more to check out. Download a Montana Brewers Association Trail Map and plan your trip.
The Lewis and Clark Trail in Montana
During 1905 and 1906, the Lewis and Clark exhibition traipsed back and forth across Montana on their way to and from the Pacific Ocean. They spent more time in what is now Montana than any other state.
Montana in Winter
Winter is one of my favorite seasons in Montana. Cross-country skiing and soaking in hot springs, roasting marshmallows around a winter solstice fire, and watching dog sled race starts. I am going to have to write a separate post just to cover all the fun a Montana winter has to offer, but here is a start.
- Groomed Cross-Country Ski Areas Near Butte
- Ski, snowshoe, skate, snowmobile: Winter at Seeley Lake
- Try winter sports at West Yellowstone’s Kids N’ Snow program
- Sleigh Ride Dinner at Lone Mountain Ranch in Big Sky
- Winter Fly Fishing on the Gallatin River
- Five Winter Activities For Kids and Families in Red Lodge
- Ride the Polar Express near Lewistown
- Hot springs, Nordic skiing, alpine skiing in White Sulphur Springs, Kings Hill, and Niehart
- Rent the Kings Hill Forest Service Cabin
- Cross-country ski at B-Bar Ranch in the Paradise Valley
- Snowshoeing Near Bozeman
- Romantic Winter Getaways
- Winter Weekend at Old Faithful in Yellowstone (technically Wyoming, but you start in Montana)
- Nordic Ski Trails in Montana
- Soak in one of many Montana Hot Springs
- Rent a Montana Forest Service Cabin
- Ice Skate on Montana’s Lakes
- Ten Ways To Have Fun Outdoors This Winter
- A Winter Road Trip (Seeley Lake, Izaak Walton Inn, Quinn’s Hot Springs)
Race To The Sky dogsled race
Montana Road Trip Itineraries
- State Parks in Southwest Montana (Headwaters of the Missouri, Madison Buffalo Jump, and Lewis and Clark Caverns)
- Winter Trip to White Sulphur Springs and Niehart (two nights: hot springs, cross-country skiing, downhill skiing)
- Montana Winter Road Trip (four nights: dog sledding, cross-country skiing, sleeping in a caboose, hot springs)
- Red Lodge (one night: hiking, town tour, historic mine, candy store, wildlife)
- Roadside Attractions in Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming