Montana Is Packed With Luxury Hotels, Charming Small Towns, and Lots of Adventures — How to Plan the Perfect Trip
They call Montana Big Sky Country. Once you make the trek here, you'll understand why. Untamed rivers run for hundreds of miles, teeming with trophy trout, cutting through the corrugated peaks that loom large along the horizon. Through the thicketed forests, world-class hikes lead to hot springs, geysers, and glaciers in every direction. The powder-packed skiing of winter is rivaled in magnitude by the whitewater rafting of summer. Everything is, well, bigger. To enjoy it all, you need nothing more than a rugged sense of an adventure — and a sensible travel plan. The former is up to you, but we can certainly supply the latter. Your ultimate guide to Montana exploration is below.
Best Time to Visit Montana
The short answer is whenever you want. When you should arrive in Montana is entirely dependent on what you want to do. If you're more inspired by winter sports, world-class ski resorts such as Big Sky and Moonlight Basin are smothered in snow from early December through mid-April. For those motivated by hiking, hot springs, and fly-fishing, June through September is a dependable time to pack your bags. However, if you want to avoid the crowds — especially in national parks like Glacier and Yellowstone — don't sleep on the shoulder season of late summer and early autumn.
Best Things to Do in Montana
Although Montana is an unparalleled paradise for outdoor enthusiasts, it still has plenty to offer by way of cosmopolitan delights, especially within the hip college towns along the western part of the state. Over the past decade, Bozeman has come into its own as one of the coolest mountain towns in the U.S. You can enjoy craft cocktails in dimly lit speakeasies like the Devil's Toboggan, or chow down on stuffed quail and other farm-fresh delicacies at Blackbird. Or, spend time in Missoula and soak up the sensational local beer scene at Conflux Brewing Company or Cranky Sam Public House. Either way, if you're looking to enjoy the nightlife — or a pub crawl — during your time in Montana, make sure you're booking a stay in one of these two destinations.
If you're more interested in camping out under the stars, Montana is in no short supply of options. Big Sky Country, it turns out, affords plenty of dark sky, completely devoid of nocturnal light pollution. A great way to experience it all is through the expansive state park system. Flathead Lake is an underrated gem here. It's the largest natural freshwater lake west of the Mississippi and a wonderful summer getaway for boating, swimming, and fishing, offering a multitude of pull-up campsite options.
While up this way, in the northeastern reaches of the state, you'll want to devote some time to strolling the quaint resort towns of Kalispell and Whitefish. And if it's between late June and early October, you'll definitely want to plod through Glacier National Park along the aptly named Going-the-the-Sun Road. Just beware that traffic along the route can be intense throughout this time of year.
Further south in Bozeman, the surrounding Gallatin Valley acts as the entry way to Yellowstone. Although the nation's first national park is primarily located in Wyoming, many of its five million annual visitors come by way of this part of Montana. Come in the summer and you can book world-class whitewater rafting adventures through the three river systems that ultimately converge to form the Missouri River.
Fancy an unforgettably epic road trip? Traverse the 69 miles of Beartooth Highway between Red Lodge and Cooke City. Crescendoing atop a wide plateau 11,000 feet above sea level, this legendary section of U.S. Route 212 is among the most picturesque stretches of highway in the country. But if soaring, vertigo-inducing heights aren't your thing, head an hour west of Bozeman and delve downward into the Lewis and Clark Caverns — one of the biggest limestone caves in the country.
Arrive in winter and you can survey the snow-capped terrain aboard a Ski-Doo. West Yellowstone serves as the snowmobile capital of the lower 48 from December through March. If you prefer to plow through the powder with actual horsepower, check out Big Sky, where you can charter sleigh rides that are sure to enchant the entire family. At the end of an action-packed day, relax your weary bones and soak up the scenery from the region's heralded hot springs.
Where to Stay in Montana
If you're craving a high-end hideaway, the town of Big Sky has emerged as the go-to destination. Home to its eponymous ski resort for nearly 50 years, only in recent years has the luxury set spread its wings here. Lone Mountain Ranch is a stellar standout, and high in the running for best resort in all of Montana. The property features stand-alone log cabins along gently moving creeks. You can do guided yoga in the morning and horseback riding in the afternoon. At the base of the slopes, the Montage just opened the doors to its 139-room ski-in, ski-out resort.
For rustic charm further north in the state, book a stay at The Lodge at Whitefish Lake, nestled between its namesake lake and the 28-acre Viking Creek Wetland Preserve. Its thoughtful amenities — hot tubs, spa, live music — are overshadowed only by its access to unspoiled wilderness.
Back in the cities of Bozeman and Missoula, boutique hotels are finally becoming part of the landscape. Notable among them is the new Kimpton Armory, a refurbished property from the WWII barracks of the Montana National Guard. With 122 guest rooms, three restaurants, a rooftop pool featuring unimpeded views of the Bridger Mountains, and its own concert venue, it's quickly becoming the place to be in downtown these days.
But if you're seeking a more laid-back bed-and-breakfast feel, Montana has you covered in every corner. For those looking for lodging in Missoula, a sensational example can be found at Blue Mountain — five private rooms set atop 20 acres of wildlife habitat directly next to Lolo National Forest. With Big Sky comes big options. Choose wisely.