The Top 3 Experiences for a Memorable Montana Vacation

Hiking in Southwest Montana

A world of rivers, mountains, wildlife and history is waiting to be experienced just outside Yellowstone and Glacier national parks. When planning a trip to Montana, make sure to add some time to enjoy Southwest Montana — the vast region right on the path between the national parks, the region that was marveled by Lewis and Clark and impresses today’s explorers just the same. Our top-three recommendations will guarantee you enjoy a taste of everything Montana offers — and away from the crowds in the national parks.

HIKE IN THE LAST BEST PLACE

Hiking in Southwest MontanaThere is no better way to experience Southwest Montana than with a hike. Whether you want an easy stroll or a challenging mountain trek, there are a variety of trails to fit every desired adventure. Encompassing a number of wilderness areas and national forests not to be missed, Southwest Montana offers rugged wilderness, abundant wildlife, scenic trails, spectacular canyons, steep cliffs and breathtaking scenery.

To kick-start your itinerary, consider hiking Humbug Spires near Butte for a unique day trek among granite spires. The terrain is a combination of dense forest, open meadows and about 50 quartz towers jutting from the earth. These towers rise up to 600 feet — and with names like the Wedge, the Wall and the King, they make for a memorable visit where you may spot wildlife and rock climbers alike.

Or, on your map look north of Butte to Lincoln: and discover the Scapegoat Wilderness Area. With miles of hiking trails, 14 lakes and 89 miles of streams, options for outstanding views and fishing accompany a variety of day hikes. Adventure on the Continental Divide Trail for forest landscapes ranging from broad prairies to rugged ridges and mountain peaks. Beautiful grassy parks and mountain meadows are surrounded by forests of Douglas fir and lodgepole pine, and you can explore for as far as your legs carry you.

SNAP THE PHOTO OF A LIFETIME

Wildlife in Southwest Montana

Watching wildlife in their natural habitat is a favorite pastime here in Southwest Montana, and made easier with the many wildlife refuges in the area — part of a national network of public lands for the conservation of fish, wildlife and plants. Take a trip through any one of them for the opportunity to immerse yourself in nature and experience true Montana beauty with the flora and fauna that define the state.

With your camera (and binoculars) in hand visit Red Rock Lakes in the southwest portion of Montana near the Idaho border. Primarily a bird sanctuary but with myriad other animals roaming its land, the refuge is one of the most naturally diverse areas in the entire refuge system. It boasts the largest wetland complex within the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem as well as expansive tracts of grassland, sagebrush, steppe and forest. From moose wandering with their young in the spring to trumpeter swans gathering in early fall, Red Rock Lakes highlights the wonders of the state.

HIT THE ROADS FOR A SCENIC TOUR

Cattle drive in Southwest Montana

Around every bend awaits another beautiful view when you’re driving through Southwest Montana. Here is one of our favorite routes with an incredible amount to see and do. Just make sure to save time for photography stops along the way — you’ll want to capture each and every scenic turn.

West Yellowstone to Augusta (to Glacier)

If you’re planning to travel between Yellowstone and Glacier national parks, this is a perfect scenic drive. Departing West Yellowstone, head to Norris Hot Springs to enjoy the clear, hot mineral water pool accompanied by poolside farm-to-table cuisine. Continue north toward Montana’s only limestone caves at the Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park.

Spend the night at historic Boulder Hot Springs to experience another of Montana’s iconic hot springs. Swim in the outdoor pool, soak in the hotter indoor pools, relax in the sauna and jump in the cold plunge at the end! In the morning, visit the dazzling Tizer Botanic Gardens and Arboretum before continuing your journey.

Upon reaching Helena, history and culture are right at your fingertips with the Montana State Capitol, Montana Historical Society, Last Chance Tour Train and summertime Shakespearean plays in Anchor Park. Relax at Blackfoot River Brewing Company to sample some Montana craft beer.

For a nature fix travel 20 miles north of Helena for a boat tour on the Missouri River to marvel at the natural wonders of the Gates of the Mountains Wilderness Area, so named by Meriwether Lewis in 1805.

From here, head to Augusta and enjoy the spectacular landscape of the Rocky Mountain Front and the true Western hospitality that awaits visitors to this small ranching community. With its specialty shops and galleries, an array of food and drink and various lodging opportunities, Augusta is a perfect overnight stop. If you’re on your way to Glacier, you’ve are only a few more hours’ drive to the entrance.

With ghost towns and golf and vistas and hot springs and breweries (and more), there’s an unforgettable scenic route in Southwest Montana for you. For more options, please visit southwestmt.com/itineraries.