Nat Geo Staff Picks: The Best of Montana

Montana’s beautiful national parks and charming small towns are more than enough reason to add the state to your next travel itinerary. Not sure where to start your tour of Big Sky Country? We’ve got you covered.

Here are a few of the National Geographic Travel team’s favorite spots in Montana:

“Without a doubt, it’s Logan Pass, in the heart of one of my favorite national parks in the world—Glacier. Not only are you straddling the Continental Divide when you are at Logan Pass, but you also have grand views in all directions—on a clear day—and a multitude of world-class hikes at your fingertips.” —Jonathan Irish (on Twitter and Instagram @MagnumJI), program director, National Geographic Adventures

“‘The Last Best Place’ is how the locals describe Montana, but exactly where in Montana is the last best place? To find out I follow the Clark Fork River, named after one of America’s great explorers, William Clark, into Missoula. The Clark Fork makes Missoula. See white-water kayakers play near fly fishermen in the rapids next to the historic downtown. Turn around and visit the Monte Dolack Gallery and see images that make you never want to leave Montana. Walk two blocks to Fact and Fiction and celebrate local world-class writers. Cross the Higgins Avenue Bridge and have the world’s best raspberry rhubarb pie at Bernice’s Bakery. Work off the pie along the river trail headed toward the University of Montana, making sure to stop at the large metal sculpture of a charging Native American warrior on campus. Sit down on a bench next to the figure and imagine what William Clark saw when he walked along the Clark Fork in 1806. I bet Lewis and Clark thought this was the last best place, too.” —Chris Johns, chief content officer, National Geographic

(Instagram photo by Dan Westergren)
Dan Westergren atop Lone Peak (Instagram photo by Dan Westergren)

“My favorite place is Lone Peak, smack in the middle of Big Sky Resort. A tram with two gondolas takes you up the face of the mountain seesaw style, and at the end you will find waiting an incredible alpine area of absolute desolation. For much of the year, there is snow and hoarfrost everywhere and the wind is usually blowing like it wants to rip you from the mountain. But the feeling of being on top of the world is without parallel. A snowboarder of my intermediate ability probably has no business being up there, but I’m too proud to ride the tram back down. So, I linger for as long as I can, happy to be up in the clouds, then slowly make my way down the steep back slope.” —Dan Westergren, director of photography, National Geographic Traveler

“The small town of St. Mary—located near the eastern entrance to Glacier National Park and on the edge of the Blackfeet Indian Reservation—is my favorite spot in Montana, hands down. With easy access to the park, St. Mary is the perfect place to grab a good night’s sleep before setting off on an adventure on Going-to-the-Sun-Road. Just make sure to wake up early enough to make a stop at Park Café and Grocery, where the breakfast fare is as good as their famous pies.” —Megan Heltzel (on Twitter and Instagram @meganheltzel), associate digital producer, National Geographic Travel

The Milky Way over one of the mid-19th-century buildings that remain in Bannack State Park (Photograph by Tyler Metcalfe)
The Milky Way over one of the mid-19th-century buildings that remain in Bannack State Park (Photograph by Tyler Metcalfe)

“Though Montana’s national parks are great places to start, I had a great time road tripping around the southwestern corner of the state, which is filled with open valleys, standout fly-fishing spots, and a number of well-preserved ghost towns, including Bannack, which is now protected as a state park. My visit there happened to coincide with the park’s annual Living History Weekend, and by the end of the night I found myself sitting around a campfire with a group of reenactors as they traded stories about their days on the front lines of Little Bighorn and sipped whiskey under a sky full of stars in the crisp fall air.” —Tyler Metcalfe, associate photo producer, National Geographic Travel

“My husband and I found big surprises in small-town Livingston last summer after visiting Yellowstone National Park. Hugged by three mountain ranges, this former railroad hub on the Yellowstone River is best known as a premier fly-fishing destination, but we were more interested in strolling through a bygone era along the charming Main Street lined with late 19th-century buildings. Not only did we discover several art galleries, open-air shops, and unique displays of Old West and Native American items in the Cowboy Connection antique store, we learned about the much-anticipated county fair that night. So our vacation in Montana came to a dramatic and memorable close amidst a cowboy-hat-capped crowd betting on the best pig-wrestling teams around.” —Christine Blau (on Twitter @Chris_Blau and Instagram @christineblau), researcher, National Geographic Traveler

“Growing up in Florida, my parents were determined to give me and my siblings a taste of true winter. We got more than we bargained for at Big Sky Resort. Well-groomed runs and a great ski school kept my parents happy, while off-the-beaten path wood trails kept the kids’ adventurous side fulfilled. If we got tired of the slopes, there were sleigh rides, a tubing park, and zip lining as alternatives, too.” —Becky Davis (on Twitter @Beckylane123), associate producer, National Geographic Travel

Paws Up is this fantastic, luxe 37,000-acre ranch and resort nestled in the Montana wilderness 35 miles from Missoula, with epic access to prime fly-fishing, hiking, and mountain biking terrain. And the property’s collection of luxury camping tents—otherwise known by the unfortunate term “glamping”—make it the perfect place to bed down in style after a day of adventure.” —Nathan Borchelt, senior product manager, National Geographic Travel & Adventure

“One of my favorite things about Montana is the view from Holland Falls. After a quick, easy hike up to the roaring falls, visitors are rewarded with a panoramic view featuring some of Montana’s more stunning assets—the cerulean waters of Holland Lake, the towering pines of Flathead National Forest, and, off in the distance, the majestic snow-capped peaks of the Swan Range and the Mission Mountains. It’s the most spectacular skyline I’ve ever seen.” —Marlena Serviss, freelancer, National Geographic Travel books

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Comments

  1. Paul
    Grand Canyon
    February 2, 2016, 7:13 pm

    Ty, Please stop, you’re giving it all away! We don’t want the more crowds in these places =o

  2. Ty
    Missoula, MT
    February 2, 2016, 11:29 am

    No locals go to Paws Up – it cost way too much for the average montanan to stay there. Moreover, this list doesn’t hit any of Montana’s best and authentic destinations (it just names off the biggest tourist traps.) There are way better places in glacier than Logan Pass (Floral Park, Siyeh, Dawson-Pitamakan) and other amazing destinations where Montanans actually go – the Beartooths, the Bitterroots, Bighorn Canyon Reservoir, Flathead Lake, the Bob Marshall, the Big Hole etc etc etc. Do your homework Natgeo. This list is not up to your standards.