With nicknames including ‘The Last Best Place’ and ‘Big Sky Country’, it should come as no surprise that Montana has some of the finest landscapes in the United States. Uninterrupted prairies, endless plains, otherworldly geothermal features, remote glacier lakes, and staggering mountains make up the national parks of Montana, and with a population of just over one million residents, moments of absolute solitude await your discovery.
Glacier National Park, Montana’s most well-known National Park, is home to the must-see Going to the Sun Road, spectacular hikes including the Trail of the Cedars and Apikuni Falls, and more than its fair share of brilliantly blue glacier lakes and rivers. Yellowstone also dips its toes in southwest Montana, home to three of the five entrances to the famous park, Mammoth Hot Springs, and the wildlife-filled Lamar Valley.
Don’t get too starry-eyed by Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks, though. Montana’s other Recreation Areas and Historic Sites are equally as impressive and much less crowded. Take a deep dive into Wild Wild West culture at Grant-Kohrs Ranch or learn about Nez Perce at the history-rich Big Hole National Battlefield. Every corner you turn, unique culture and awe-inspiring landscapes greet you in Montana National Parks. Let’s take a look!
- National Parks In Montana
- 1- Yellowstone National Park
- 2- Glacier National Park
- 3- Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area
- 4- Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site
- 5- Big Hole National Battlefield
- 6- Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site
- 7- Nez Perce National Historical Park
- 8- Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument
National Parks In Montana
1- Yellowstone National Park
Over 150 years ago, Yellowstone became the nation’s first National Park and since, nearly five million people a year come to witness unique wildlife, explore geothermal wonders, and view impressive landscapes offering 360-degree views.
Although only 3% of Yellowstone National Park’s sprawling 2.2 million acres (890,000 ha) sits within Montana, it’s still a must-do when visiting the state.
Things To Do In Yellowstone National Park
Gaze At Old Faithful
Technically located in Wyoming, an hour’s drive from Montana’s North Entrance, it’s impossible to mention Yellowstone National Park without highlighting its most iconic feature – Old Faithful.
For the past 135 years, the famous geyser has erupted 20 times a day, at roughly 90-minute intervals.
Visitors can watch Old Faithful from a viewing platform or hike through the Upper Geyser Basin to see a more expansive view and other geothermal features.
Visit Mammoth Hot Springs
As Mammoth serves as a small community for National park service employees, the village has a real homey feel.
To experience its charm, book a night at the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel (well in advance) and spend your day hiking amongst the Mammoth Terraces and your night enjoying the company of other nature enthusiasts at the Terrace Grill.
You may even wake up to elk grazing right outside your window.
Speaking of elk, there’s no better place in the U.S. to watch wildlife than in Yellowstone National Park.
Lamar Valley, located between Gardiner and Cooke City, is especially well-known for its abundance of elk, moose, bear, bison, deer, and wolf.
Also located on the Montana side of Yellowstone National Park is the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center, which houses wolves and grizzly bears that otherwise wouldn’t survive in the wild.
For a small fee, you can get an up-close look at grizzlies and wolves and learn about the importance of the Yellowstone ecosystem.
Explore Firehole Canyon
If you’re coming from the West Entrance, within less than 30 minutes, you’ll arrive at Firehole Canyon.
This impressive area is home to the Firehole Falls, which drops 40 ft (12 m) down canyon walls formed by lava flows.
A short distance north is the Firehole River Swimming Area, one of the only places you’re allowed to swim in the park.
Getting To Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone National Park has five entrances, three of which are in Montana. The most popular ones are West Entrance and North Entrance.
Yellowstone National Park’s West Entrance is near West Yellowstone and is a great choice for those visiting the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and Old Faithful.
The closest large airport to West Yellowstone is Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport, and from here, expect a two-hour drive on US-191 S.
The West Entrance is located at 30 Yellowstone Ave, West Yellowstone, Montana 59758
Yellowstone National Park’s North Entrance is located in Gardiner and is a great choice for those who want to visit Mammoth Hot Springs and Lamar Valley.
The closest large airport to Gardiner is Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport, and from here, it’s a 90-minute drive south on I-90 E and US-89 S.
The North Entrance is located at N Entrance Rd, Gardiner, Montana 59030
2- Glacier National Park
Showcasing the rugged beauty Montana is known for, Glacier National Park is a paradise for those seeking remote hikes, dreamy alpine meadows, awe-inspiring waterfalls and up-close views of glaciers.
The National Park sits on 1 million acres (404,000 ha) in northwestern Montana, with a small portion seeping into Alberta, Canada.
Over 700 miles (1,126 km) of trails make up the park, so pack your hiking boots and get exploring America’s Crown Jewel.
Things To Do In Glacier National Park
Experience The Going To The Sun Road
If you’re going to Glacier National Park, don’t miss the Sun Road, which is one of the most beautiful drives in the entire U.S.
The narrow road weaves 50 miles (80 km) through and over the Continental Divide until it reaches the iconic Logan Pass where you can hop out of your vehicle to stretch your legs, enjoy the views, and head out on a hike.
Keep in mind, as the road is only open from July through August, permits for the road sell out fast and must be purchased well in advance.
Wander Along The Trail Of The Cedars
Trail of the Cedars is a perfect trail for those new to hiking or those looking for a great introduction to Glacier National Park.
The hike features towering cedar trees, lush ferns and stunning views of the lower Avalanche Gorge.
The trail is only 1 mile (1.6 kilometres) long and wheelchair accessible, so take your time and enjoy the marvellous nature around you.
Hike To Apikuni Falls
A more challenging hike perfect for those who want to get their heart rate up is Apikuni Falls.
Located in the Many Glacier region of the park, you’ll begin the hike from the Poia Lake Trailhead and soon tackle a 625 ft (190 m) climb up to the falls.
You can even cool off in the fresh glacier water on a hot summer’s day before heading back down.
Hop Aboard A Red Bus Tour
If you want to experience Glacier National Park’s pristine scenery but aren’t up for all-day hiking, you’re in luck.
The Red Buses have been navigating the park’s highlights and hidden gems since the 1930s and offer visitors a sightseeing excursion like no other.
Tours range from a few hours to a full-day outing, and expert local guides provide commentary of the park’s impressive geologic features and history.
There’s rarely a day the bus tours don’t sell out, so be sure to book well in advance.
Getting to Glacier National Park
The Glacier Park International Airport in Kalispell is the closest airport to Glacier National Park.
From here, expect a scenic 45-minute drive to the West Glacier Entrance along Montana Hwy 206 and US-2.
West Glacier Entrance of Glacier National Park is located at 64 Grinnel Dr, West Glacier, Montana 59936
3- Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area
With rivals of the well-known Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks, Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area largely flies under the radar.
For those wanting to explore a stunning region that is off the beaten track, the Recreation Area provides equally breathtaking landscapes to explore including deep canyons, high desert plains, and expansive valleys.
Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area is also one of the youngest parks in Montana, established in 1966 when the Yellowtail Dam was constructed and created Bighorn Lake.
Things To Do In Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area
Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area is split into the North District, the Montana side, and the South District, the Wyoming side – both provide ample opportunity to hike, boat, canoe, and take in awe-inspiring landscapes.
Scenic trails sprawl across the Recreation Area’s 120,000 acres (50,000 ha), and you can reach three beautiful hikes from the North District, including Beaver Pond Nature Trail, Bighorn Head Gate and Three Mile Access.
If you only have enough time for one hike, pick the charming Three Mile Access Trail, which follows the Bighorn River to a grove of cottonwood trees.
If you want to explore the expansive lake and river, renting a canoe or small boat is possible at the Ok-A-Beh Marina or in Fort Smith.
As Bighorn Lake spans 5,574 acres (2,255 ha), you can spend all day gliding along its rocky shoreline.
Always pack plenty of water and sunscreen as amenities in the park are limited to the visitor centres.
Getting To Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Reserve
The easiest way to get to the North District Entrance of Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Reserve is to fly into Logan International Airport in Billings, Montana.
From here, expect a 90-minute to two-hour drive along Interstate 90S and State Highway 313S. Soon you’ll see signs for Fort Smith, the gateway to the North District.
Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Reserve has two entrances that are a three-hour drive apart.
Depending on what you’re looking to see and do, you may prefer to enter the park from the South District Entrance.
The North District Entrance is located at Rte 210, Fort Smith, Montana 59035.
4- Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site
A visit to Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site is a step back in time to the Wild Wild West. Created in 1972, the Historic Site stopped time in its track as a way to celebrate America’s distinct cattlemen history and allow visitors to see a working rance firsthand.
The Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site is also home to plenty of walking trails, and there’s no doubt you’ll see more cattle than people here.
Things To Do In Grant-Kohrs National Historic Site
If you grew up in the era of the Oregon Trail, you’ll feel like you’ve landed right into the computer game at Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site.
Covered wagons roam the endless prairies, and you can hop in one yourself to travel between historic ranch buildings.
Rangers lead blacksmith demonstrations, cowboys talks, roping lessons, and chuckwagon programs throughout the summer. Or, pack some water and head out on a self-guided tour throughout the park’s numerous walking trails.
Getting To Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site
Located in western Montana, Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport is the closest airport to Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site.
From here, expect a two-hour drive along 1-90W. As Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site is about halfway between Glacier National Park and Yellowstone National Park, it proves a great place to stop if you plan on visiting more than one National Park in Montana.
The Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site is at 251 Grant Circle, Dear Lodge, Montana 5722.
5- Big Hole National Battlefield
As sombre as it is beautiful, Big Hole National Battlefield sits on 1,010 acres (409 ha) of rolling green hills and commemorates the Nez Perce, soldiers and volunteers who died here.
The battle took place on August 9 and 10, 1877 and was the largest battle fought between the Nez Perce and the U.S. Government.
Unlike other areas protected by the National Park Service in Montana, Big Hole National Battlefield is more a memorial than a hiking destination. Still, it is home to a few short and beautiful trails.
Things To Do In Big Hole National Battlefield
To get acquainted with Big Hole National Battlefield and learn about its tragic history, ensure your first stop is at the Visitor Center.
Here you can watch a 26-minute video detailing the area’s history and conservation and wander a museum that houses photographs and personal belongings of those who fought in the Big Hole Battle.
After, it’s well worth taking time to explore the Battlefield by foot on a self-guided tour.
Hour-long trails connect different parts of the Battlefield, and there are plenty of picnic tables to stop and enjoy a rest and a snack.
Getting To Big Hole National Battlefield
Big Hole National Battlefield is in southwest Montana, ten miles (16 km) west of Wisdom.
The closest airport is Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport, and from here, it’s a three-hour drive along I-90W and MT-43 W.
Big Hole National Battlefield is at 16425 Mt-43, Wisdom, MT 59761.
6- Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site
Unlike other historic sites in Montana, the Fort Union Trading Post tells a tale of peace.
Here, Blackfeet, Crow, Ojibway and other tribes traded buffalo robes and furs for goods such as clay pipes, cookware, alcohol and guns.
On your visit, be sure to stop at the Trade House to learn about the complex history of fur trading and head out for a short hike on the Missouri River Trail.
Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site is located on the border of North Dakota and Montana, with the Visitor Center located just slightly in North Dakota at 15550 ND-1804, Williston, ND 58801
7- Nez Perce National Historical Park
The Nez Perce National Historical Park is not one continuous protected area but 38 different places that played an important role for the Nez Perce people.
In Montana, you can visit Big Hole National Battlefield, Canyon Creek and Bear Paw Battlefield – all of which saw lives lost across both the Nez Perce people and the U.S. Army.
8- Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument
Highlighting the United States’ trivial past, Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument sits on 765 acres (309 hectares) of protected land where 263 U.S.
Cavalrymen were killed by Sioux and Northern Cheyenne warriors attempting to protect their way of life.
Today, a 4.5-mile (7.2 km) self-guiding tour road connects two battlefields used during the fight, and a visitor centre details the unforgotten details of the 1876 Battle of Little Bighorn.
Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument is located at 756 Battlefield Tour Road, Crow Agency, MT 59022.
If you love exploring national parks, you might like to read:
- Wyoming National Parks Guide
- Nevada National Parks Guide
- Michigan National Parks Guide
- 5 Maine National Parks
- New Hampshire National Parks Guide
- 25 National Parks In Canada
- 17 National Parks In Argentina
- Tasmania National Parks
- 20 National Parks In Mexico
- 18 New Mexico National Parks
- 18 National Parks In Massachusetts
- 17 Colorado National Parks
- 4 Indiana National Parks
- 5 Nebraska National Parks
- 30 Virginia National Parks
- 9 New Jersey National Parks
- 8 National Parks In Arkansas
- 8 Alaska National Parks
- 11 National Parks In Florida
- 8 Hawaii National Parks
- 6 National Parks In Idaho
- Texas National Parks Guide
- 9 California National Parks
- 11 National Parks In Georgia
- 7 National Parks In Missouri
- 5 National Parks in Minnesota
- 7 National Parks In Kentucky
- 8 National Parks In Montana
- 15 National Parks In Washington State
- 8 South Carolina National Parks
- 12 North Carolina National Parks
- 4 Wisconsin National Parks
- 20 National Parks In India
- 11 Oregon National Parks
- 5 Connecticut National Parks
- 27 National Parks In New York State