11 Must-Visit State Parks, National Parks, and National Forests In Montana (2022)
Montana’s landscaping beauty is breathtakingly gorgeous. It is the fourth largest state in the United States and one of the richest when it comes to natural scenery. There are thousands of miles of nature from rugged mountains, rich wildlife, pristine water bodies, green forest, and tall woodlands. You may find them in the form of 55 Montana State Parks, 7 National Parks, and 11 National Forest. Apart from that, there are recreational areas, raw and undisturbed land, and Badlands and bluffs to Montana. The diversity of lands here is so extensive that you may make multiple trips but can’t explore them all.
Nature in the Big Sky Country is not needed for the introduction. If you are an outdoor enthusiast in the West, you may already know names like the Glacier National Park and the Yellowstone National Park. The limestone caves of Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park aren’t unknown to the world. If that isn’t enough, go through our research below and find even more reasons to visit Montana. We are assuring that one of these State Parks, National Parks, and National Forests in Montana will definitely interest you. Have a look:
11 Must-Visit State Parks, National Parks, and National Forests In Montana
1. The Yellowstone National Park
America’s one the most extensive natural and wild spaces, the Yellowstone National Park encompasses over a vast 2.2 acres. While the north entrance of the Park is within Gardiner, Montana, its more significant share lies in Wyoming. The Montana share of Yellowstone is all about mighty mountains towering over sweeping valleys, roaring rivers, verdant forests, hot springs, travertine terraces, and colorful thermophiles. Not officially, but the Yellowstone National Park is also termed as oldest National Park in the world. Hence, the share of history and historical elements here are no less. You may have been to various natural spaces in your country, but the elements Yellowstone offers are difficult to find else way.
2. Glacier National Park
A world-renowned National Park, the Crown of the Continent, and the treasure of the United States and Canada, the Glacier National Park is a must-visit when in Montana. It is spread over 1 million acres which consist of more than 130 lakes, several waterfalls, two mountain ranges, 700 miles of hiking trails, receding glaciers, mountain chalets, and endless Flora and Fauna. Over that, the stunning scenery of the landscapes here is more beautiful than words can ever describe. No wonder photography enthusiasts from Montana and across America choose it as their favorite spot to capture. Enthusiasts who love camping and overnight exploring also refer to it as the International Dark Sky Park. And why not? The star-studded skies here usually are challenging to find in day-to-day life. Not just in Montana, but the Glacier National Park is a treasure for America as well.
3. Flathead Lake State Parks
Flathead Lake State Park isn’t just one but an ecosystem of six park units around Flathead Lake. These series include West Shore, Finley Point, Wayfarers, Yellow Bay, Big Arm, and Wild Horse State Parks. Over that, Flathead Lake alone is a gorgeous and vast expanse of a freshwater lake. The State Parks here operate for a variety of adventure, including water sports & activities, picnicking, hiking, sightseeing, camping, yurt rentals, wildlife photography, and wildlife viewing. Regardless of the seasons, this aquatic landscape keeps inviting travelers and enthusiasts from across the United States. While the Park premises operate throughout the year, camping here is only permissible from May through September.
4. Bannack State Park
The Bannack State Park is Montana’s first significant gold discovery site and a National Historic Landmark. However, the Park is commonly known as Montana’s best-kept ghost town, and a similar idea attracts travelers the most. Visitor’s love walking into the deserted town and transporting back into the old West’s history. You can choose to explore on your own or go on the guided tours that operate from the visitors’ center. Over 60 ancient structural remains are still present here and are open for exploration. Upon visiting here during Living History Weekend (September’s third weekend), you can also see several costumed characters recreating the life of the Old West times. Around Halloween, the Park also offers Ghost Tours, the ultimate fun of the region. Bannack State Park also offers hiking, biking, tenting, camping, and picnicking opportunities.
5. Pictograph Cave State Park
Pictograph Cave State Park is a small though prominent natural space in the maps of Montana. It is famous for the long history of human habitation and three caves featuring pictographs. These sandstone caves are over 2000 years old, and it is where the pictographs were discovered. Inside the biggest and deepest cave, one can still find visible pictographs that document the story of the Native Americans between 200 and 2,100 years back in time. However, the carving is visible with bare eyes, but with binoculars, one can observe closely. Along with that, there are over 20,000 animal remains featuring large mammalian, amphibian, reptile, and bird species and 30,000 historical artifacts. Besides that, fauna and flora, prehistoric paintings, and natural features too are found here.
6. Flathead National Forest
The 2.4-million-acre wilderness in Montana, the Flathead National Forest, is an iconic and must-visit place in the state. It borders the Glacier National Park and Canada and is bound by other forested spaces from all sides. Some of the adventure-filled highlights here include the Whitefish Mountain Resort, the Seeley-Swan Scenic Drive, the Holland Lake, the Holland Falls National Recreation Trail, and the Summit Nature Center. One of the popular activities here is the Hike into the Jewel Basin. This unique hiking and backpacking zone are a true hiker’s delight. Or, if your hunger to adventure is still alive, go for some horse-riding fun at the Bob Marshall Wilderness. The Flathead River and Hungry Horse Reservoir too are some great places to explore.
7. Kootenai National Forest
Another National Forest delight, Kootenai, is located in the Northwest corner of Montana. Spread over 2.2 million acres, a small section of this forest is also found in the state of Idaho. Kootenai is home to over 94 miles of multipurpose trails, glaciated peaks, dense woodland, rushing rivers, and vast vegetation fields. The highest summit here is the Snowshoe Peak (it is a part of Cabinet Mountain Wilderness), which elevates up to 8,738 feet. The easiest way to access this National Forest is vis Highway 2 and Highway 93. However, if you want to explore the most scenic route, drive through the Lake Koocanusa Scenic Byway, also known as the State Highway 37. Some of the other majestic and notable features here include the Ross Creek Scenic Area and the Ten Lakes Scenic Area. The Kootenai National Forest is also famous for activities like hiking, backpacking, horse-riding, and camping.
8. Greycliff Prairie Dog Town State Park
Located in Southeast Montana, the Greycliff Prairie Dog Town State Park is unique from the others. This 98 acres State Park is basically a community that protects and preserves the black-tailed prairie dogs. They aren’t really dogs but another small mammal species that play a vital role in maintaining the ecosystem. Inside Greycliff Park, one can actually observe the prairie dogs enjoying and living life in their natural habitat. Inside the Park, there is an interpretive display that educates about the story of the prairie dogs and their role in the ecosystem. If you are done with the usual camping, swimming, and hiking fun, then do visit the Greycliff Prairie Dog Town State Park when in Montana.
9. Elkhorn Ghost Town State Park
The smallest state park in Montana, the Elkhorn Ghost Town State Park, deserves a visit. The Park sits in Jefferson County in southwestern Montana, somewhere within the Elkhorn Mountains. Spread over less than one acre, the Park has just two beautifully preserved wooden buildings. Both the structures are a fusion of Greek Revival and Gold camp architecture. It has a common false front, a neo-classical balcony, wooden pillars, and all those common elements during old western days. The State Park and both its buildings are open year-round and are worth visiting. However, when roaming around the cemetery, be careful about your steps, or you will poke into one of the graves. The area is also famous for its ghost activities.
10. Medicine Rocks State Park
As its name suggests, the Medicine Rocks State Park is known for its Medicinal Rocks. The ancient sandstone pillars here are considered sacred. These unique perforated rocks are full of holes and tunnels that have been known to be carved by wind and rainfall for over 61 million years. As believed, the Native Americans visited here to collect medicinal plants. Travelers who have been to the State Park often describe it as fantastically beautiful. The Park is spread over 330 acres and is at an elevation of 3379 feet. Upon your visit here, you can find caves and spires reaching 80 feet high and 200 feet and chained and isolated arches. Further, there are inscriptions of elk, cattle brands, ancient tribal petroglyphs, mention of the military, and so much more to the place. The State Park operates year-round and is also famous for its camping facilities. While Montana residents can visit here for free, non-residents need to pay $6 as a daily fee.
11. Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park
Home to one of the largest limestone caves in Northwest, the Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park is a must-visit place in Montana. This huge 3000-acre public Park operates year-round while the caves welcome visitors from the 1st of May to the 30th of September only. Visitors are required to buy entry tickets to explore the caves, and the line for the same is often long. Exploring caves is only possible via guided tours, for which a Classic Tour and the Paradise Tour are available. While the Paradise Tour is comparatively easy, the Classic Tour is strenuous on its own. It involves two miles of walking and stair climbing that span for up to two hours. Besides that, exploring the Lewis and Clark Caverns via underground tours is still popular and loved. Though there are several above-ground features as well, including Camping, Hiking, and off-roading biking.