There is no shortage of inspiring, wildly varied places to visit in the great state of Montana, and summer is the prime season to hit them all. There are destination options for every type of traveler, across all corners of the state. From backcountry adventures, to the tiniest towns, to expansive wildlife refuges, you can’t go wrong planning your summer travels.
Here is a closer look at five amazing places to visit across our beautiful state. Some of them you’ve probably heard of; others are hidden gems certainly worth a visit during these glorious summer days.
1) Beartooth Pass
U.S. Route 212 between Red Lodge and Yellowstone National Park
What Makes it Special: Between Red Lodge and the Northeast Entrance to Yellowstone National Park lies a winding road soaring over 10,000 feet in elevation. Snaking between peaks and over plateaus, with the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness stretching below as far as the eye can see, this dizzying traverse has jaw-dropping views start to finish. Beartooth Pass is just the apex of the 68-mile Beartooth Highway, which typically opens by Memorial Day and closes on Columbus Day. Take your time driving this route—the road will climb 5,000 feet around seemingly endless hairpin turns and switchbacks, and you’ll certainly want to stop at the overlooks and take photos. Each stop will offer more incredible views than the last, so give yourself plenty of time to take it all in. The Beartooth Highway is a designated All-American Road, and you’ll truly feel like you're on top of the world.
While You’re Here: Either side of the Beartooth Highway is worth a visit. On the Red Lodge side, don’t miss the Montana Candy Emporium. Once you drop down toward Yellowstone, you’ll be at the Northeast Entrance, putting you in close range to Lamar Valley and the abundance of wildlife that call it home.
Flathead National Forest
What Makes it Special: Tucked right at the edge of the epic expanse of Glacier National Park, Polebridge, a tiny town with no cell service, is just 22 miles from the Canadian border, and is home to the famous red facade of the Polebridge Mercantile. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Polebridge Mercantile was established in 1914, and is now known for its selection of homemade pastries, local gifts and souvenirs. The mercantile offers a free pastry to those who have hiked or biked to its location on a bike route, or the Pacific Northwest Trail. The mercantile is run on generators and solar panels and has on-property cabins available to rent if you’re looking to stay the night.
While You’re Here: Take a drive over the pass and stop at Red Meadow Lake. Several campsites and the option for fly fishing abound in this quiet section of the state. Drive into Glacier and explore Bowman Lake and the less-traveled North Fork section of the park, a far cry from the more populated Going-to-the-Sun Road area.
3) World Museum of Mining
What Makes it Special: In operation for over 50 years, the World Museum of Mining pays homage to the rich mining history of this fascinating Montana town. Butte was settled as a mining camp in the 1860s, known for a period of time as “The Richest Hill on Earth.” Gold, silver, quartz, and copper, excavated in massive amounts, are the reason Butte prospered and thrived. This museum is a must-visit for anyone interested in the history of Montana. It offers general admission to the exhibits, as well as in-depth mine tours to 100 feet below ground. Visitors on the 100-foot tour will see the original shaft and workings of the 2,700-foot mine, and will get a glimpse of the Orphan Girl vein, one of the only exposed veins in the country available to be viewed by the public.
While You’re Here: Grab a drink at Headframe Spirits and take the whole family to cool off at Ridge Waters Waterpark. Still looking for more history? The Butte Trolley Tours offer an overview of the colorful history of this mining town.
4) Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge
What Makes it Special: Stretching over 50,000 acres in the Centennial Valley, the Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge is part of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. This means the abundance of wildlife here nearly rivals the ecosystem’s namesake national park. Just a few of the animals you might see at the refuge include moose, deer, otters, pronghorn, lynx, cougars, foxes, trumpeter swans, black bears, eagles, falcons, and sandhill cranes. The refuge has a mindblowing array of ecosystems within its boundaries. Framed by lofty peaks, the lower region includes marshes, open meadows, sagebrush flats, and lush forests. While winter and shoulder seasons can be frigid, summer is the time to bring your binoculars, hiking boots, and a spirit of exploration. Bring both a bird book and a wildflower identification book, and keep track of how many different species you can identify. Learn about the role this ecosystem plays in the reproductive season for its wildlife inhabitants and the refuge’s critical role in the Arctic Grayling Restoration Project.
While You’re Here: Pull out your fly rod and cast along the banks of the Red Rock River, and grab a slice of pie at Jan’s Cafe right in the tiny town of Lima.
5) Hyalite Canyon
What Makes it Special: Just 30 minutes south of chic, historic downtown Bozeman, Hyalite Canyon is a hub of year-round recreation. From the trailheads branching off from the main road for most of the way in, to the paddling and fishing at the reservoir, to the epic peaks you can reach from the farthest-back trailheads, there’s something for everyone at Hyalite. Pull into the day-use lot with your SUP or canoe, and spend time paddling around the reservoir, surrounded by dramatic peaks, cliffs, and lush evergreen forests. Check out one of the multiple campsites as you drive toward the reservoir, or look for sites behind the reservoir for a more secluded experience. Hiking trails abound, from short, well-graded paths leading to tumbling waterfalls, all the way to full-day adventures up epic peaks with 360-degree views of the surrounding region. No matter what type of summer day (or weekend) you’re looking for in the Montana outdoors, Hyalite Canyon is a must-visit for anyone in southwest Montana.
While You’re Here: Take an afternoon to stroll around downtown Bozeman. Relax in Lindley Park, grab a local beer to enjoy on the MAP Brewing patio, and don’t miss out on a bison burger at Montana Ale Works.