Ranked 4th in size, but only 48th in population density, the state of Montana is full of wide open spaces to play. With a name derived from the word, mountains and over 100 ranges to explore, it should come as no surprise that adventure is a way of life up north. Here are 6 must-have experiences in Montana.
Scenic Drives in Glacier National Park
The famed Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park is open to cars from McDonald Lake to Logan Pass until mid-October, weather dependent, showing off a more quiet side of the park. Called "the most beautiful piece of mountain road in the world," hillsides are covered in golden leaves contrasted by the white of the snow-capped peaks. Fall is a great time for wildlife watching, as mountain goats and bighorn sheep frequent the higher elevations and bears and elk roam through the lower valleys.
A drive along the less traveled western border of Glacier
National Park is just as rewarding, delivering views of the rugged skyline
across the North Fork of the Flathead River. The emerald glacier waters of the
river flow between larch and cottonwood trees as they show off golden colors
interspersed between the deep green pine trees. The “North Fork” is a local’s
favorite and is also a great spot for finding solitude for hiking or paddling
in one of the area lakes.
Hiking and Biking the Whitefish Trail
The Whitefish Trail offers close to 30 miles of forested rolling single track, and is a favorite destination for hikers, trail runners, bikers and equestrians. The Lion Mountain Trailhead is only a mile from downtown and offers easy access for hikers and bikers. Other trailheads, including South Beaver Lake and Woods Lake, offer more solitude and overlooks with amazing views.
In Great Falls, the River’s Edge Trail provides scenic views in a more urban setting. Stretching more than 40 miles, this trail follows the Missouri River through town and past the majestic Black Eagle Falls, Rainbow Falls, Crooked Falls and the Great Falls of the Missouri. It took Lewis & Clark and the Corps of Discovery more than 30 days to portage these very falls but you can hike or bike past them all in an afternoon. Grab your mountain bike and hit the trails at Showdown in the heart of the Little Belt Mountains.
The wilds of wintered Montana are the perfect place to sled. It’s here—along groomed trails, snow-covered roads, frozen lakes and backcountry trails—that you can make high marks or simply play in a powdery meadow. And with 22,000 square miles to choose from, Glacier Country has plentiful terrain for varying skill levels. A mixed blend of intermediate and expert trails can be found in the northern tier of Glacier Country, with riding destinations including Marias Pass Trail Complex, Flathead Valley and Kootenai Country. Recommended trails include Canyon Creek, Upper Whitefish Lake, Crane Mountain, Desert Mountain and Stryker Peak. The southern tier offers thousands of miles of groomed trails, secondary trails and off-trail opportunities that practically beg to be ridden. Notable areas include Haugan, Lolo Pass and Seeley Lake, while popular trails include Big Creek, Lolo Trail System, Garnet Trail System, Double Arrow Lookout and Skalkaho Road.
Yellowstone, Cooke City and Yellowstone National Park are to snowmobiling what Sturgis is to motorcycling. The areas feature over 600 miles of groomed trails and a host of people well versed in the sport. A snowmobile tour of America’s first national park is an adventure that needs to be experienced to be understood. It’s an opportunity to see eagles, bison, wolves, elk and numerous other animals and wildlife up close, as well as a way to explore the geologic and geothermal features of the park from a vantage point few others can attest to.
They named it Glacier National Park for a reason. Skewering the clear blue sky along the U.S.-Canadian border in Northwest Montana, the mountains of the picturesque park typically get buried in so much winter powder that many of them remain white-capped all year-round. This is America’s true winter wonderland — even in the months when most parts of the country are basking in the warmth of spring and early summer. As anyone who has been here knows, the marvels for which Glacier National Park is celebrated don’t suddenly stop at the park’s borders. The rugged Bob Marshall Wilderness Area, the world-class ski resort at Whitefish Mountain and the scenic Flathead Valley — home to Flathead Lake, the largest natural freshwater lake west of the Mississippi River — all sit at the threshold of the park, providing visitors with endless recreation, sightseeing and cultural opportunities through every season. In the center of it all lies the mountain town of Kalispell, a friendly community that serves as a perfect launching point to strike out in search of adventure in every direction. For a unique adventure into the Montana backcountry, spend a day with Dog Sled Adventures of Olney or Base Camp Dogsledding in Bigfork. Both companies offer guided sledding trips with experienced mushers.
Make it a Powder Day
Dry, light powder. Couloirs. Trees. Miles of green runs. Regional snowfalls often exceeding 400 inches, annually. Short or non-existent lift lines. Breath-taking steeps, confidence-inspiring glades and impeccably groomed trails. There aren’t many locales where you can ski or snowboard on such a wide variety of terrain. Or for as long. Called America’s Winter Playground, the ski season in Montana’s Yellowstone Country typically runs from November through April and is highlighted by some of the country’s finest powder, sunniest skies and most diverse terrain options found in the entire Rocky Mountain chain.
Live the Cowboy Life
Here on the high plains, the Old West still exists and guest ranches offer you the opportunity to live the cowboy life with modern amenities. Help out on a cattle drive, take an overnight pack trip into the wilderness, go on a wagon ride, take a horseback ride through the meadows and foothills or just settle in on the porch to watch the deer and antelope roam. Nestled in beautiful landscapes, guest ranches like Triple J Wilderness Ranch and Bonanza Creek Country Guest Ranch give you a chance to truly connect with the history of the region. End your day with a home-cooked meal and the sharing of stories around campfire under a star-filled sky.