High 10 Locations In Montana For Outside Lovers

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Montana is an outdoor lover’s paradise. This natural playground is the fourth largest state in the US (by area) and also one of the most sparsely populated. While there are some well-known and popular travel destinations, some of which are discussed here, the vast wilderness, varied landscapes, and distinct seasons in general make for a flexible stage for all kinds of outdoor hobbies and adventures. The following is a list of ten spectacular areas to visit when exploring Big Sky Country.

Glacier National Park

Moose in Glacier National Park, Montana.

Located in northwestern Montana, Glacier National Park encompasses over 1 million acres of beautiful Rocky Mountain scenery and iconic wildlife. Since its inception in 1910, Glacier has exploded in popularity. In the summer season (May to September) around 3 million people appreciate the outdoor highlight role. Therefore, an acceptance of the inevitable crowds is a must if you are visiting during this period. That being said, Glacier National Park has over 700 miles of hiking trails and limited road access, giving hikers the chance to escape to the pristine backcountry that includes over 200 glacial lakes and endless mountain/glacier views and breathtaking waterfalls.

Logan pass

Mountain goat perched on a ledge as tourists take photos nearby, near Logan Pass.

Make your way to the 6,646-foot Logan Pass in Glacier National Park. This sub-alpine setting produces fields of colorful wildflowers that look like offerings to the towering Reynolds and Clements mountains. Logan Pass is also home to mountain goats, bighorn sheep, marmots, pikas and even some black and grizzly bears. As this area is accessible by car, it is a major attraction within the already busy park. The best way to explore the beauty of the pass at leisure is on a hike. There are many options to choose from based on fitness, experience and duration. It’s even possible to climb several of these continental divide mountains for an even better view of the valley.

Continental Divide Trail

Continental DivideHikers on the Continental Divide Trail.

Speaking of the Continental Divide, the trans-American footpath known as the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail is an excellent way to challenge yourself while having a serene backcountry experience. The entire 3,100 mile journey passes through parts of New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, part of Idaho and a wondrous 800 mile stretch in Montana. Of the ten other National Scenic Trails, the CTC is the highest, most remote, and therefore one of the most difficult. Hikers should therefore be prepared to scale large peaks when following in the footsteps of Lewis and Clark.

Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex

Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex, MontanaTrail running towards Half-Moon Park in the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex, Montana.

If 800 miles of the CTC sounds a bit overwhelming, consider taking a few days to explore one of its standout subsections: the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex. This 1.5 million hectare undeveloped region is the ultimate getaway for outdoor lovers. One of the highlights is the 22-mile-long, 1,000-foot escarpment known as the Great Wall of China, which eerily resembles the man-made structure for which it is named. If you feel transported to Basque for a few days in his presence, there is a strenuous but much more salubrious 75-mile hike that circumnavigates this wonderful natural formation.

Bozeman

Aerial view of downtown Bozeman.

This walkable mountain town in southern Montana is a laid-back and charming place to enjoy the scenery, soak up a bit of cowboy and Native American culture, and venture to nearby outdoor magnets. Around Bozeman, visitors can try their hand at backpacking/camping, hunting, fishing, rock climbing and all manner of biking. There are also outdoor festivals, street markets, rodeos and friendly courtyards to check out. Just south of town are Big Sky Ski Resort and Yellowstone National Park, and a short drive northwest is Lewis & Clark Caverns State Park—all of which deserve a thorough explanation.

Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National ParkThe breathtaking scenery of Yellowstone National Park.

Yellowstone, the world’s first national park, is a must for nature lovers. Founded on March 1, 1872, this historic initiative continues to protect 2.2 million acres of wilderness in parts of Wyoming, Idaho and, of course, Montana. Within this boundary, the approximately 4 million annual visitors can find nearly 500 geysers (i.e. nearly half of the planet’s active geysers) and other impressive geothermal features that highlight the volcanic forces beneath. Such a large, intact ecosystem also provides a safe haven and reliable viewing opportunities for legendary mountain mammals such as bears, bison, moose and even wolves.

big sky

big skyBig Sky, Montana. Editorial Credit: Zoro Stock Images /

Between Bozeman and Yellowstone, Big Sky awaits all outdoor enthusiasts. Skiers and snowboarders will find everything here in winter, from easy downhill runs to cross-country ski trails to elite-level runs. However, summer is far from the off-season. The lifts keep running and ski rental shops swap skis for mountain bikes to please another high-octane crowd. For even more thrills, join a whitewater rafting trip down the Gallatin River. If you’d rather spend your sunny days on the links, there’s the 18-hole Big Sky golf course, designed by the legendary Arnold Palmer. Oh, and for family fun, be sure to check out the year-round zip line. Whatever your desire, the Mountain Village at the foot of Lone Peak has room for all kinds of activities.

Lewis & Clark Caverns State Park

Lewis & Clark Caverns State ParkInside the caves at Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park.

Montana’s first state park highlights the mysterious features of this large limestone cave system. Lewis & Clark Caverns is just 50 miles northwest of Bozeman and makes a great afternoon excursion. Guided tours run regularly on a first-come, first-served basis between May and September, and festive candlelight tours are available by advanced reservation in late December. While viewing the illuminated rooms filled with stalactites, stalagmites, and other naturally decorative formations is certainly the standout event, the rest of the 3,000-acre park is open year-round, allowing for a variety of camping and wilderness experiences.

Bitterroot Valley

Bitterroot Valley in AutumnBitterroot Valley in autumn.

A little further west of the caves is the 96-mile Bitterroot Valley. Here, eight small towns line the banks of the Bitterroot River. These serve as an excellent base from which to enjoy the pleasant views and tranquil surroundings, or to embark on adventures. This region is particularly well known for its world class fly fishing and all spectrum of rock climbing (bouldering, traditional and ice climbing in winter). Mountain bikers will enjoy the rougher trails, and casual cyclists will enjoy the 50-mile paved Bitterroot Trail, which stretches from Hamilton, the valley’s middle community, to Missoula, the last stop on this list for outdoor lovers.

Missoula

Missoula, MontanaView of Missoula from Mount Sentinel in Missoula, Montana.

North of the Bitterroot Valley lies the small and quaint town of Missoula. Here the Bitterroot River, the Clark Fork River and the Blackfoot River flow through the city. Missoula is also surrounded by National Forests and Wilderness Areas, with the Rocky Mountains filling in this typical Montana horizon. This environment offers not only the usual variety of outdoor activities, but also some of the more social benefits that come from connecting nature and a nature-conscious community. Do you like bird watching? Well, you’re sure to find some like-minded friends exploring the trails, river bends and quiet roads for a glimpse of the many winged wonders. Would you rather improve your Frisbee golf (or “folf”) skills? Big. There are four different 18-hole (or basket) golf courses located throughout the city.

When it comes to the great outdoors, Montana truly has it all. Its state and national parks rival any in the country, and the combination of ubiquitous mountains, rolling ranch land, vast protected forests, clear skies and glacial waterways is sure to please any nature lover. Choose your season, choose your destination, and then delight in the laundry list of healthy activities on offer. Yeehaw!