Big Sky, Montana. Pic via Shutterstock.

Best Things to Do in Montana

BY Fifty Grande Editors | October 9, 2020

Welcome to Fifty Grande’s Best of the U.S. Bucket List series. This is your one-stop travel guide to the best, most unique and quintessential experiences of a city, state or event. Want to know how to “do” Montana? We’ve got you covered. Curated by experts, vetted by in-the-know locals, this is all you need to have the best trip ever. If we’ve written a Bucket List, we recommend you go. If it’s on this list, it’s the best the city has to offer right now. Consider this your one-stop answer to “What are the best things to do in Montana?”

What do Hannah Montana and Tony Montana have in common? Not much, other than a name (no, they’re not related, don’t listen to internet theorists). But they are both unpredictable, independent and a bit wild. Just like the state. This wilderness wonderland is packed full of stop-you-in-your-tracks mountain peaks and winding rivers, some still as unencumbered by human activity as they were a century ago. But dig deeper and you’ll unearth great eats, better beer, Old West history and maybe a few dinosaur bones. Montana’s combination of breathtaking solitude and cool locales makes it a draw for celebrity summer homes and intrepid travelers alike. There’s a lot to see, so consider this your trail guide. Here are the best things to do in Montana right now.

 

Where you want to visit

If you’re after sprawling cities, look elsewhere. Montana trades the bustle for small-town charm and natural beauty. Check out these quaint mountain towns, Old West stop-offs and wilderness refuges. 

Bozeman, Montana. Pic via Shutterstock.
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Bozeman, Montana. Pic via Shutterstock.

Bozeman

Bozeman, MT, USA

It’s home to Montana State University and just about every outdoor activity you can imagine. The result is a unique rugged, hip vibe and a young population that might blow up as soon as word gets out. For a chill afternoon, grab classic Southern fried chicken at Roost, then have a pint at MAP Brewing while overlooking “Bozeman Beach.” Adventurers, take your skis to Bridger Bowl or your paddle to the Yellowstone River. Historians: head to the Museum of the Rockies.

Helena, Montana. Pic via Shutterstock.
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Helena, Montana. Pic via Shutterstock.

Helena

Helena, MT, USA

It doesn’t get the coolness cred that Bozeman and Missoula do, but Helena has history, folks. There’s the Cathedral of St. Helena that looks plucked out of medieval Italy and the throwback Last Chance Ranch. But your number one destination should be the Gates of the Mountains, sheer rocky cliffs on either side of the Missouri River, a place named by Lewis and Clark. For meals, don’t miss Bad Betty’s Barbeque and Lucca’s.

Missoula, Montana. Pic via Shutterstock.
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Missoula, Montana. Pic via Shutterstock.

Missoula

Missoula, MT, USA

Like everywhere else in Montana, Missoula offers plenty of wilderness jaunts (see: Rattlesnake National Recreation Area & Wilderness). But it does two things better than its cross-state counterparts: beer and music. KettleHouse Brewing Co. has a trophy case full of awards and some interesting beers (especially scotch ales and sours). And the Top Hat Lounge is one of Montana’s coolest small venues to catch local bands and national touring acts.

Big Sky, Montana. Pic via Shutterstock.
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Big Sky, Montana. Pic via Shutterstock.

Big Sky

Big Sky, MT, USA

Mountaineers, your time has come. Nestled among Lone Mountain, Gallatin Peak, Sphinx Mountain and more, it’s the premier spot for snow sports in the winter and mountain biking in the summer. Big Sky Resort is the place to stay, and its proximity to Yellowstone makes it great for day treks. You might even run into Tom Brady, who often spends his off-seasons here.

Livingston, Montana. Pic via Shutterstock.
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Livingston, Montana. Pic via Shutterstock.

Livingston

Livingston, Montana, USA

Livingston is the Old West with an artsy spin. If you want to feel like a gunslinging outlaw sauntering past retro saloons and kitschy shops, this is the place. The cowboy-creative aesthetic is on full display at Murray Bar and Murray Hotel. While you’re here, listen to live music at Old Saloon and check out intimate art galleries that showcase local talent, like the Parks Reece Gallery.

Whitefish, Montana. Pic via Shutterstock.
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Whitefish, Montana. Pic via Shutterstock.

Whitefish

Whitefish, MT, USA

In a state full of scenery, Whitefish has some of the best. Glacier National Park is the star of the show, but some of Whitefish’s fine dining is just as stunning. Tupelo Grille and Cafe Kandahar (see below) are the places to go for a hearty, true Montana meal. Whitefish Lake and Whitefish Mountain Resort are perfect spots to ski, hike, bike or relax.

Take some time to get lost (but not too lost) in the wilderness

Montana is a bastion of the Wild West, emphasis on “wild.” It’s got nine national parks, but that’s only scratching the surface of its vast, pristine wilderness. 

Glacier National Park, Montana. Pic via Shutterstock.
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Glacier National Park, Montana. Pic via Shutterstock.

Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park, Montana, USA

The Going-to-the-Sun Road is, to some, the most beautiful drive in the country. But don’t spend the whole time in the car. The park’s 700 miles of hiking trails wind along dramatic peaks and cliffs. Some of the best include Grinell Glacier, Highline Trail and Hidden Lake Overlook.

Yellowstone National Park, Montana. Photo credit: Douglas Scott.
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Yellowstone National Park, Montana. Photo credit: Douglas Scott.

Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park, MT, United States

Old Faithful and Grand Prismatic Spring are touristy spots, but you won’t find them anywhere else. But don’t miss the stunning hikes around the North Rim and Clear Lake, either.

Flathead Lake, Montana. Photo cred: Shutterstock.
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Flathead Lake, Montana. Photo cred: Shutterstock.

Flathead Lake

Flathead Lake, Montana, USA

With 185 miles of shoreline, it’s the closest thing Montana has to a beach. And, like everything else in the state, it’s surrounded by mountain views. A hot spot for boating and water sports.

Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area, Montana. Photo credit: Shutterstock.
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Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area, Montana. Photo credit: Shutterstock.

Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area

Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area, Fort Smith, MT, USA

It’s more rugged than neighboring Yellowstone but no less inspiring. Boating and fishing are popular on the Bighorn River, while the canyon’s ridge offers hikes with exhilarating views.

...And to eat big slabs of meat

Big Sky Country is also big steak country. If you don’t carve into a plate-sized cut while you’re here, you’re missing out. 

Cafe Kandahar, Montana.
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Cafe Kandahar, Montana.

Cafe Kandahar

3824 Big Mountain Rd, Whitefish, MT, USA

Beef is great, but you’re in a state where bison and elk roam free. Get some on a platter. Cafe Kandahar’s tenderloins are pricey, but they’re some of Montana’s best.  

Lolo Creek Steakhouse
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Lolo Creek Steakhouse

Lolo Creek Steakhouse

6600 U.S. 12, Lolo, MT, USA

Don’t be put off by the taxidermied heads watching you eat their friends. Just order a whopping 24-oz. Montana Steak and chow down. It’s a perfect fit for the hunting lodge ambiance. 

 

Eat huckleberry everything

They say not to eat berries you find in the wild, but someone forgot to tell Montana, and we should all be thankful. In the springtime, the mountains are dotted purple with clusters of these delicate, delicious berries. And Montanans put them on everything from flapjacks to barbequed meats. If you find them on the trail, grab a few right off the bush (just be absolutely sure that they’re huckleberries).

Clark Fork Market, Missoula, Montana.
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Clark Fork Market, Missoula, Montana.

Clark Fork Market

S Pattee St, Missoula, MT, USA

If you’d rather not pluck fresh huckleberries from a mountainside, this Missoula mainstay is the next best place to get them (plus an assortment of locally sourced meats and produce).

Big Dipper Ice Cream
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Big Dipper Ice Cream

Big Dipper Ice Cream

631 S Higgins Ave, Missoula, MT, USA

They’ve got handmade huckleberry ice cream at locations in Missoula, Helena and Billings. 

Park Cafe
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Park Cafe

Park Cafe

3147 US-89 W, St Mary, MT

Right outside Glacier National Park, this cozy cafe is a longtime favorite of avid hikers. Plus, they’re one of the only places with 100%-huckleberry pie (instead of a huckleberry-blueberry mix). 

Hit the slopes

We’ve heard about Colorado’s ski culture and Utah’s perfect snow density, but Montana’s far-flung peaks are America’s hidden ski gem.

Big Sky Resort, Montana. Photo credit: Shutterstock.
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Big Sky Resort, Montana. Photo credit: Shutterstock.

Big Sky Resort

50 Big Sky Resort Rd, Big Sky, MT, USA

Its 5,850 skiable acres contain beginner trails for your little cousin all the way up to daring double black diamonds for your uncle who claimed he was cheated out of the Olympic trials. Stand atop the 11,166-foot-tall Lone Mountain peak and you’ll know why Big Sky claims to have the “Biggest Skiing in America.” Even better: you’ll rarely ever wait in a lift line. 

Whitefish Mountain Resort, Montana. Photo credit: Shutterstock.
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Whitefish Mountain Resort, Montana. Photo credit: Shutterstock.

Whitefish Mountain Resort

1015 Glades Dr, Whitefish, MT, USA

This mountain’s difficult runs draw a lot of advanced skiers, but it’s got easy ones too. Whitefish has a reputation for fogginess, but on a clear day, you’ll get jaw-dropping views of Glacier National Park in the distance.

Go fly fishing

Quick, watch this iconic scene from “A River Runs Through It.” We’ll wait. Fly fishing is a Montana pastime that has inspired both writers and aspiring fishermen to don their waders, grab a rod and grab a piece of Montana’s huge bounty of trout. 

Yellowstone River, Montana. Photo credit: Shutterstock.
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Yellowstone River, Montana. Photo credit: Shutterstock.

Yellowstone River

Yellowstone River, Montana, USA

It’s the longest undammed river in the United States, flowing north from Yellowstone National Park toward Paradise Valley and Livingston. Fishing is most popular between Yellowstone Lake and the Upper Falls, where you’ll find cutthroat, rainbow and brown trout.

Blackfoot River, Montana. Photo credit: Shutterstock.
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Blackfoot River, Montana. Photo credit: Shutterstock.

Blackfoot River

Blackfoot River, Montana, USA

Remember that movie scene from above? That’s the Blackfoot. Its scenery and clear waters are unmatched, especially around the Box Canyon.

Dino lovers stand up

In 1902, paleontologist Barnum Brown found the world’s first identified Tyrannosaurus rex in Montana. Since then, the state has been a treasure trove of fossils. The Montana Dinosaur Trail consists of 14 locations across the state where you can see exhibits, skeletons and other prehistoric discoveries. One or two is plenty unless you’re a dino fanatic or certified paleontologist. 

Museum of the Rockies, Montana. Photo credit: Shutterstock.
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Museum of the Rockies, Montana. Photo credit: Shutterstock.

Museum of the Rockies

600 W Kagy Blvd, Bozeman, MT, USA

In the Siebel Dinosaur Complex, you’ll find the skeletons of several dinosaurs, including an Allosaurus named Big Al and the “tyrant lizard king” himself. 

 

Visit an Old West ghost town

Gold and silver veins running through Montana once drew prospectors that established towns nearby. And when the precious metals ran out, so did the population, leaving behind haunting buildings and empty streets. 

Elkhorn, Montana. Photo credit: Shutterstock.
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Elkhorn, Montana. Photo credit: Shutterstock.

Elkhorn

Elkhorn, MT, USA

Formerly a town of 2,500 outside Helena, Elkhorn was largely abandoned in the ’70s. Now, it’s Montana’s smallest state park. 

Also:

National Bison Range, Montana. Photo credit: Shutterstock.
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National Bison Range, Montana. Photo credit: Shutterstock.

National Bison Range

58355 Bison Range Rd, Charlo, MT, USA

There are several places across the country where you can find this iconic North American bovine. But if you want to see them roaming their natural habitat, go here. 

Garden of One Thousand Buddhas, Montana. Photo credit: Shutterstock.
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Garden of One Thousand Buddhas, Montana. Photo credit: Shutterstock.

Garden of One Thousand Buddhas

34574 White Coyote Rd, Arlee, MT, USA

Only one percent of Montana’s population is Buddhist, so it’s not somewhere you’d expect to find a shrine of one thousand meditating Buddha statues. But here they are, on the Flathead Native American Reservation north or Missoula.