Montana, the fourth largest state in the US, attracts more than 12 million visitors a year, and for good reason.
The Treasure State has something for everyone, no matter when you arrive or what kind of exploration you're looking for. World class fly fishing takes place in the summer for beautiful reddish brown leaves in the fall. Cool weather offers unparalleled access to alpine winter sports, while spring invites travelers to float some of the lower 48's most majestic rivers. And all year round you can eat and drink on the surprisingly cosmopolitan walkways. From the state, stay in luxury accommodation. or pitch a tent above the tree line overlooking a wide panorama of Big Sky Country.
The only downside? You won't get everything in one trip. Whether you're planning your first trip or your 14th, here's a list of the best things to do in Montana.
Ski North America's largest ski area.
Lone Peak, known as "America's Matterhorn," rises to an elevation of 11,167 feet and can be reached from the summit with the Big Sky Lift Pass. From here, look into the heart of adjacent Yellowstone National Park and catch a glimpse of the Tetons in the distance before traversing the roughly six-mile trail to the mountain town. You'll share the powder snow with far fewer guests than comparable resorts in Colorado and Utah, but the amenities won't be luxurious, as the five-star Montage is open for overnight stays.
Discover a large collection of dinosaur bones.
The Rocky Mountain Museum in Bozeman has an extensive collection of paleontological wonders. Here you can see ancient ruins of the region that are more than 500 million years old, including the largest tyrannosaurus bone in existence. The hall is open every day from 09:00 to 17:00
Leave the Glacier National Park Trail.
Going-to-the-Sun Road crosses Glacier National Park along a beautiful mountain range, and fills with traffic in June when it opens for the summer. And yes, Logan Pass, which crosses the Continental Divide at the top of the Skyway, is truly a sight to behold. But you didn't come for a walk. Beat the crowds by entering the park at Two Medicine Lakes, which offers views of waterfalls, wildlife and glaciers.
Take a sleigh to enjoy a delicious meal.
Lone Mountain Ranch is a unique 19th century property that hides modern luxury. There is no better way to remember its legendary past than with a night sleigh ride, available from December to March. In this experience, guests board a horse-drawn sleigh and weave through snow-covered pine trees, eventually arriving at an oil-lamp-lit cabin with prime rib, whiskey and live acoustic guitar.
Visit the Grizzly Bear Rescue Center.
Grizzly bears are big animals, but they're one of nature's toughest predators, so you're usually not interested in seeing them up close. This educational facility gives you a rare opportunity to see animals in a natural environment. Since this particular group of giant bears were born in captivity, there is no guarantee that they will ever be released into the wild. Instead, they live safely here and also act as ambassadors for the continued protection of their species. Located 11 miles east of downtown Bozeman, the Montana Grizzly Encounter is open daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
A channel for a river.
Tubing is a traditional way to beat the heat as summer begins in Montana. Locals often have their own inflatables, but outfitters like the Clark Fork Yacht Club rent them out to tourists. Family-owned Missoula offers flamingo-pink tubes with "butt hammocks" so you can float for miles in style. Admire the surrounding countryside before being transported to the city by shuttle.
Soak in natural warm water.
Yellowstone National Park has the highest concentration of geothermal activity in the world, so it's no surprise that the surrounding regions of Montana are full of hot water. There are dozens of options in the southeastern part of the state, from Chico Hot Springs Paradise to Queen's Hot Springs Resort in Paradise. For a unique experience, visit Norris Hot Springs at the bluegrass pool every weekend until 10 p.m.
Climb to the top of the mountain.
Seriously, about anything in Big Sky Country. If you're feeling particularly energetic, consider the Trapper Peak Trail, which climbs 4,000 feet in four miles to the top of the Bitterroot Range in western Montana. The climb is very steep in some parts, but well marked and overall a 6.5 hour walk.
Take a craft beer tour in Missoula.
Although Missoula has an annual population of less than 80,000, its craft beer credentials are up against a city ten times its size. Breweries, bars and taverns line both sides of Clark's Fork, which splits the center. Start south of the river at KettleHouse Brewing Co., then head north to the heart of the CBD for hoppy IPAs at The Rhino and Conflux Brewing Company.
Drive the Beartooth Highway in the summer.
This 69-mile scenic drive that runs along the mountainous edge of the Montana-Wyoming border is one of the world's most breathtaking hikes, and certainly not for those afraid of heights. Pick it up at the northeast gate of Yellowstone National Park and you'll climb from 5,200 feet to 12,000 feet in just a few miles. The curves are so bad that they are usually open for a few months in the summer before closing again at the end of September.
Try fly fishing.
Fly fishing in Montana is more than a hobby, it's a way of life. And here your options are endless. Aptly named for the town of Three Forks, the Madison, Jefferson and Gallatin rivers form the Missouri, the longest continuous river in North America. Any fishing in the area will be top notch, but try your luck in the particularly scenic Gallatin River Valley. Big Sky's Wild Trout Outfitters offers rentals ranging from equipment to experienced guides.
Swallow a Blueberry Bear Claw from Polebridge Mercantile.
Known locally as "Mork," this 100-year-old outpost isn't the best bakery far northwest of Glacier National Park. It's just far and wide. The friendly staff will keep you satisfied with everything from fresh pizza to cinnamon rolls, but it's the blueberry bear claws that make this place famous. Outside, visitors marvel at the scenery, including the building's historic red facade, which is perfect Instagram fodder.
Rent a garage.
With thousands of miles of open highway to explore and hundreds of places to stay at your fingertips, Montana is an RVer's paradise. It's the perfect way to spend the summer with the family while maintaining the basic comfort of your living room. If you haven't already, short-term RV rentals have never been easier, with companies like RVShare bringing the convenience of the Airbnb platform to the RV space.
Spend the night at a friend's farm.
Across the state, you'll find dozens of farms where guests live and are fenced in over a hundred years of history. But having a field doesn't mean you have to give up luxury. At places like The Ranch at Rock Creek and The Resort at Paws Up, you can enjoy five-star amenities (spa treatments, chef-driven dining, heated bathroom floors) and still have access to thousands of wild acres.