With its panoramic, breathtaking mountains and wide open spaces, it’s easy to see why Montana is referred to as Big Sky Country. From vast mountain tops in Glacier National Park to the badlands, Beartooth Highway and Yellowstone National Park, Montana has numerous one of a kind iconic drives and vistas, each memorable in its own right.
I travelled with Austin Adventures on a hosted media trip in Montana and Wyoming this Fall.
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Big Sky Country
Nearly 13 million tourists annually visit Montana’s Glacier National Park, Yellowstone National Park, Beartooth Highway, Flathead Lake, Big Sky Resort and other attractions. There’s no place quite like this on earth.
More Showstoppers Than You Can Count
Montana’s plains and mountain ranges are spectacular to see. The state itself is defined by the Continental Divide which clearly transects Montana into east and west. It feels like you can drive for days in parts of Montana, seeing only horses and Rocky Mountains and miles of road. Yellowstone National Park and Glacier together are showstoppers, each with natural rock formations, hot springs, buttes and cones, rivers and waterfalls with hundreds of scenic backdrops larger than life.
Getting to Know Montana
Until recently, the only exposure I had to the state of Montana was in the movies. By now, most of the universe has seen a movie set in Big Sky country. Montana was almost a character it had such a role in big budget movie, A River Runs Through it and it was also used for a small part of The Untouchables. It’s the state Forrest Gump ran through in the movie by the same name. Of course there are many more. Beethoven 2 used parts of Glacier Park in the sequel to that family friendly dog movie.
Recently I visited Montana and fell hard for parts of the wild western state. First the facts: Despite the physical size of the state, Montana has a population of just one million people. That means there’s a lot of space to explore. Billings Montana is the biggest city in the state at 100,000 and Helena is the capital!
There are hundreds of spots in Montana that will take your breath away, but I tried to narrow the list down to a few special spots that resonated with me when I visited.
Top Things to See in Montana
Did you know that Yellowstone is so large it actually takes in parts of three different states? Montana, Wyoming and Idaho. You can be travelling through the park and moving across states. Yellowstone is an epic adventure everyone should take. You might consider doing Yellowstone and Montana with Austin Adventures as I did. Their guides are exceptional and service is on an entirely different level.
Lake McDonald is the biggest lake within Glacier National Park and is one of the first breathtaking sites you encounter. It is a distinguished stop on the Going to the Sun Road. Epic hiking trails and awe-inspiring views define this lake. Seize the opportunity to stay at the legendary Lake McDonald Lodge. Book early though. Around here all of the in park lodging fills up fast.
Stunning Saint Mary Lake is the second greatest body of water in the national park and offers some of the most majestic views. Jackson Glacier can be seen elevated above the lake, and Wild Goose Island is also a must-see spot. Like the rest of the park, Saint Mary Lake offers diverse views during all four seasons.
On our final full day in Yellowstone with Austin Adventures, we left the park and headed over Beartooth Pass. The mountains are breathtaking and do really look like a bear’s tooth. The alpine lakes are simply gorgeous and at such high altitudes their surfaces appear like glass. The drive is winding and scenic and unlike any other you will ever take. Check the report before you go though. This winding high mountain road is often closed when it snows.
Probably one of the two things I looked forward to most in Montana, were: Beartooth Pass and Yellowstone. After spending several days in Yellowstone (never enough time but that’s another topic entirely), we finally made it to Beartooth Pass and the weather was with us.
Most noteworthy, Beartooth Highway is a 68-mile scenic highway that stretches from Cooke City up through the mountains, past alpine lakes to finally end at Red Lodge. It is a National Scenic By -Ways All American Road and it contains hairpin turns and crazy twists that provide outrageous views from over 10,000 feet.
Logan Pass is the greatest peak in Glacier National Park that is accessible by car. Sitting on top of the Continental Divide, with a dynamic scene of wildlife, wildflowers and wild views that continuously stands out, even the mountain goats share the trails!
Bighorn Canyon is well-known for camping, fishing, photography and hiking, or just gorgeous scenery. Formed by the barring of Bighorn River, Bighorn Lake spans over 60 miles, and also cuts through the center of the spectacular canyon of its own name. The National Recreation Area that encompasses the lake comprises over 70,000 acres of public ground ready to explore.
The greatest, most distinguished characteristic of the Helena horizon, is the Cathedral of St. Helena. For over a century, the Cathedral has been holding services. Substantial restoration to the cathedral was carried out after a destructive 1935 earthquake, and today, next to being on the national register of historic places, this staggering cathedral is one of the greatest awe-inspiring architectural areas in the state.
Missoula is home to large mountain views and the University of Montana. Hike Mount Sentinel and Mount Jumbo, a couple of area mountains providing some memorable hiking trails. They each overlook the town and can be viewed from most street corners. Almost everyone has heard of Lewis and Clark. Well, the Clark Fork River Trial holds a prominent spot in US history and the trail parallels the waterway that slices through the heart of the city, also providing a great vantage point for some scenic photos.
Breathe Easy in Montana
Above all, Montana contains bountiful skies and mountains and often more wildlife than people, so that when you visit, it is quite simply a breath of fresh air. If you want to take in as much as possible, then you need to make time to see these seven Montana sites. Finally, there are so many things to see in Montana, you won’t want to blink for fear of missing out.