10 Best Parks and Natural Attractions to Visit in Montana
Alyssa has been writing about exciting travel topics for Trips to Discover since 2013. After living the big city life in Chicago, Washington, DC, and Atlanta, Alyssa sold the bulk of her possessions and became a digital nomad, living full-time in her camper and working from wherever she could find an outlet and an internet connection for her laptop.
Read full bio
Lots of states have unspoiled and pristine regions that are referred to as “outdoor lovers’ paradises.” But in Montana, the entire state is an exciting place for those who enjoy nature and outdoor adventure with a long list of exciting nature-based destinations! There are many national parks, state parks, recreation areas, and natural attractions here that draw people from all over the world to marvel at their beauty. These are the best parks and nature areas to experience for yourself in Montana.
There are few places more impressive in the world than Glacier National Park. Come here for huge wide-open spaces and dramatic landscapes in all directions. The park borders Canada and is also a great place to see native plants thriving. There are hundreds of miles of hiking trails here, so there’s no way that a nature lover could get bored on this trip. You’ll find waterfalls here that are 400 feet high and hundreds of lakes. Fishing, mountain biking, boating, and horseback riding are also popular activities within the national park. The Going-to-the-Sun Road is a popular scenic drive that’s a 50-mile route. Snowshoeing and cross-country skiing in deep powder snow are peaceful ways to spend a winter’s day in Glacier National Park.
One of the most fascinating state parks to visit in Montana is Bannack State Park in Dillon. This is a great place to learn about the Old West and see history come alive in the retelling of Montana’s first major gold discovery. This is a well-preserved ghost town that offers everything from camping to wildlife viewing, bird watching, fishing, and cycling. There are over 60 structures to explore in Bannack, which was originally founded in 1862. Other fun things to do here include tours, ice skating, gold panning, and ghost walks.
Great Falls is located in Central Montana and is a common pit stop among road-trippers making their way across the state. However, this is an awesome destination on its own as well, especially if you make a point to visit Giant Springs State Park. This is a scenic and historic area that offers large freshwater springs and was first discovered by the Lewis and Clark Expedition. About half a million people visit this park each year to learn about history, visit the fish hatchery, hike along the River’s Edge Trail, and see the Rainbow Falls overlook. The Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail Interpretative Center is in Great Falls as well, so you can walk on the same route that these explorers did while traveling west.
The largest freshwater lake that’s west of the Mississippi River is Flathead Lake, which was formed by glaciers. The lake is absolutely stunning, and you can even take a sailing lesson to get out on the water. This is also a great place to visit to go for a hike or go horseback riding to soak up the scenery. Wild Horse Island State Park is here too and offers a primitive setting for year-around day use. It’s not uncommon to see mule deer, bighorn sheep, bald eagles, and wild horses while spending time here. One of the best ways to experience this natural wonder is by staying overnight in a Flathead Lake vacation rental.
Another great place to visit is the Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park, which is the oldest state park in Montana. The park is located near the town of Three Forks, and it has some really impressive limestone caverns with stalagmites and stalactites. You can take a guided tour of the caverns to learn more about how they formed and their significance to the area. The standard cavern tour is moderately difficult, extends two miles, and lasts about two hours. Other tour options are available as well.
The Yellowstone River is considered to be the last free-flowing river in the lower 48 states. It runs from Lake Yellowstone down 670 miles to the Missouri River in North Dakota. This is an excellent place to visit for fishermen who want to catch big trout.
Gates of the Mountains is about 20 miles north of Helena and about halfway between Glacier National Park and Yellowstone National Park. The fun thing to do here is taking a boat cruise from the marina to see this magnificent piece of the country from the water. Popular boat tours last about two hours, or you can take a dinner cruise to celebrate something special. The boating season runs from May through September. In general, Helena is a common jumping-off point for Montana adventures. While you’re in town, you can also check out the Montana State Capitol Building and the hand-carved Great Northern Carousel.
One of the most popular lakes in Montana is Avalanche Lake, and there’s a great hiking trail that you can take to experience it. The Avalanche Lake Trail is about 4.6 miles long and starts at the Trail of the Cedars Trailhead. It’s a moderately strenuous half-day hike and features steep cliffs, several waterfalls, and forested areas.
Pictographs were created by native residents of Montana, telling the stories of people who called this place home long ago. At the Pictograph Cave State Park, you can see over 100 visibly clear images of animals, warriors, and other depictions that date back over 2,000 years old. There are three main caves in the park and a nice loop trail that you can hike to see them.
Bears are closely associated with life in Montana, and these beautiful creatures still have space here to safely roam free. One must-visit spot for nature lovers is the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center in West Yellowstone. This facility was opened as a sanctuary for wild animals that have been orphaned or become too comfortable and reliant upon humans. Although most of Yellowstone National Park is located in Wyoming, some sections and entrances are in Montana too. The West Yellowstone entrance has an excellent gift shop and museum to check out to get yourself acquainted with this huge natural area.