Best things to do and places to visit in Montana

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Montana is big. In fact, it’s as big as hell. The Treasure State covers 147,040 square miles, making it the fourth largest state in the Union. The earth is big; the roads are wide; the sky is big enough for them to name an entire city after them. And the buffalo and the buffalo burgers? Forget that.

You might be wondering: why is Montana, with all its grassy hills, ancient forests, historic trails and legendary national parks, so big? This is because it has to make room for all the goodies inside. It packs into one state the key aspects of almost every other region of the United States: the wide open spaces of the Midwest; the cowboy towns of the southwest; the hearty and hearty meals of the Great South. And while people in the East won’t find the big cities they know and love, we promise the skyscrapers of New York or Chicago are nothing like Mother Nature’s own skyscrapers. : the larger-than-life mountains that the state bears. for.

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glacier national park
Views: check. Fresh air: also check. | Feng Wei Photography/Moment/Getty Images

If you tried to tell us that JRR Tolkien imagined this vast expanse of forested valleys, glacial lakes and bear country, we’d believe you. One of the most popular national parks in the USA, beautiful Glacier– which stretches across the Canadian border – offers the story of two parks, separated by the spectacular (and almost dangerously thin) road to the sunwhich just might be the king of all scenic drives.

In high season, the west side of the park is reminiscent of a summer camp; you will find outdoor family groups, entertainment Apgar Village and Campgroundand famous landmarks like Lake McDonald. Meanwhile, less-travelled East Glacier attracts the hardy, escaped types, with a local population that’s 50% human and 50% wildlife. Both sides offer stellar hiking, lakeside lodges and camping, and chances to get acquainted with mountain goats, bighorn sheep, beaver, elk, and moose. Just a few tips: (a) arrive early in the morning if you want to park and (b) uh, pack your bear spray.

Livingstone, Montana
Can I get a “yee-haw”? | Nick Fox/Shutterstock

Put on your Stetson and visit real cowboy towns

You might associate the Wild West with desert states like New Mexico and Arizona. But Montana, while far from the tumbleweeds and saguaro cacti of your imagination, is as central to the yeehaw agenda as any state further south. Take Livingston, for example, where cowboy cool and art come together in one place, winning the affections of celebrities like Jeff Bridges, Michael Keaton and the late great Anthony Bourdain (not to mention the majority of A river crosses it filmed here in the early 90s).

Kalispell, which is just under 45 minutes from the west entrance to Glacier National Park, has some itinerary elements any budding cowboy could want: you can dress up as one to outdoor westerneat as one Moose’s living roomand drink as one to Blue Moon Night Club. (Come in the summer, and you can also ride vicariously like one at a time Blue Moon Rodeo.)

And if you’re looking for something historic, Missoula, aka Zootown, has you covered. In addition to must-do Montana bucket list items like hiking, fishing, and rafting, the town remains classic with joints like the 1930s Roxy Theater and the Lolo National Forest, home to trails used by the indigenous Nez Percé tribe since time immemorial, as well as by Louis and Clark. If you wish, from Missoula you can also escape to the five stars Ranch at Rock Creek about 1.5 hours south. After all, just because the cowboys of old didn’t relax a lot doesn’t mean the cowboys of today can’t.

flathead lake island
To your paddles: we are kayaking. | ll Cook/Shutterstock

Do unexpected island hopping

Yes, of course, the name of the state is derived from the Spanish montaña, or mountain. But who’s to say you can’t do a little island deed while you’re here? Located in northwest Montana, Flathead Lake, the largest natural freshwater lake west of the Mississippi, doesn’t just contain 30 miles of refreshing glacial waters: it also offers a number of small islands, some housing vast estates, others wild horses and a gigantic bighorn sheep. sheep, all easily explored by boat.

Take a day trip to the largest of the group, wild horse island, first occupied by native inhabitants who brought the horses of the same name there for safekeeping. There, you’ll be greeted by everything from ponderosa pines and evolving boulders to apple orchards and wildlife like mule deer, bighorn sheep and, of course, wild horses. (Speaking of which, Wildhorse is kind of like Montana’s answer to the Galapagos; since there are no predators, the animals tend to get really big.)

Other highlights include kayaking and discovering hidden gems off the coast of so called invitation island; tasting Flathead Lake cherries at a U-pick farm; and telling the story of Flathead Lake Monster on a slice of its namesake pizza.

Quinn Spa
I’ll just sit here and relax forever, thank you very much. | Quinn Spa

Let the hot springs and ski lodges soothe your spirit

If the bucolic mountains and surrounding wildflower fields haven’t filled you in, Montana is just as good for rest and relaxation as it is for thrilling hikes along the edges of the canyon. Take, for example, the town of Bozeman, which is only 90 minutes from Yellowstone National Park. There, you’ll have access not only to the tastiest food in the entire state of Montana, but also to two of its most impressive hot springs: Bozeman Hot Springslocated a few minutes from the city center, and Chico Hot Springs, about an hour’s drive southeast of the small town of Pray. Around the state, you’ll also find the equally scenic Lolo Hot Springs in Missoula, as well as Quinn Hot Springs in paradise and Fairmont Hot Springs at Anaconda, both considered among the best hot springs in the country.

The only thing that makes a hot bath better is one taken on a snowy day, which is where Big Sky comes in. One of Montana’s most popular year-round getaways really comes alive in the winter, when the valley becomes a dictionary-illustration-type the picture of the word “mountain”.

AT Grand Sky Resort (and its sister station, Pool in the moonlight), you can hit some pretty impressive slopes on one of the largest winter sports fields – at 5,750 acres – in all of North America. And it is very beautiful; it’s the kind of place built for adventurers (as well as those who’d rather not pay the extortionate prices you’ll find in places like Vail). But for anyone more interested in après-ski than real skiing, you can enjoy everything from enchanted forests and scenic lift rides at spas, luxury lodgeand purchases. Alternatively, if you just prefer to go into 100% comfortable hermit mode at Lonely Mountain Ranch or an equally serene Airbnb is also a possibility.

stool
Maybe don’t try this at home. | Photo courtesy of Visit Montana

Stick around for quirky festivals and roadside attractions

By now, your Montana itinerary is probably packed and stacked. But if you want a final icing on the cake, there’s always something else worth stopping by, if only for a few hours, to discover. If you find yourself near Glacier National Park around mid-February, head to nearby Martin City for Cabin Fever Days and its claim to fame, the Barstool Ski Races, a hilarious nearly 50-year-old tradition that is… well, that’s exactly what it sounds like. Equally quirky are the summer pig races at Bear Creek Saloon & Grill just north of the Wyoming border, which run weekend nights from Memorial Day through Labor Day.

If you plan to explore the entire state, anchor your trip around the Montana Dinosaur Trail, a series of 14 stops that will take you through all the historic dinosaur-related discoveries made in the state. It is also worth making a pilgrimage in absolute serenity Garden of a Thousand Buddhas in Arlee, Montana, where a huge golden Buddha sits surrounded, as its name suggests, by a thousand smaller figures. All are welcome to visit.

And on the opposite end of the spiritual spectrum is Bannack State Park, about two hours southwest of Bozeman. The spectacularly preserved ghost town has over 60 mining-era buildings to explore, re-enactments, campsites and, if you look closely or stay after dark, a few spectral residents who will be happy to welcome you into the state of the treasury.

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Tiana Attrid is Thrillist’s Associate Travel Editor. She thinks Montana is too cool.

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