Montana is known as the “Big Sky Country” because of its overwhelming and unobstructed skyline. It’s home to two of the most picturesque national parks in America: Yellowstone National Park and Glacier National Park.
But there is more to Montana than these acclaimed parks. History buffs, campers, and outdoor lovers can all enjoy the commemorative sites scattered across the state as well.
If you ever find yourself on a road trip through Montana, don’t miss the other sites the National Park Service has to offer.
What National Parks Are In Montana?
There are two National Parks in the state of Montana:
- Glacier National Park
- Yellowstone National Park
There are also four commemorative sites of Montana run by the National Park Service:
- Big Hole National Battlefield
- Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area
- Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site
- Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument
Glacier National Park
This park is known for its snowcapped mountains, alpine meadows, and numerous lakes. It was once home to 150 glaciers; though today there are less than 25.
Glacier National Park spans more than 1 million acres and has over 700 miles of hiking trails. You could easily spend months trekking around and never see the same thing twice. It’s an outdoor adventure paradise.
While hiking is the most popular activity, you can view the diverse wildlife with nearly any form of transportation. Auto tours, horseback riding, rafting, and cross country skiing are all beloved ways to take in the scenery. You’d be hard-pressed to get a bad view at this park because every angle is photogenic.
Things to do in Glacier National Park:
- Horseback riding
- Boating, fishing, and rafting
- Cross country skiing
Because Glacier National Park is so large, most visitors plan to spend at least 3-4 days in the area. We highly recommend camping if you can handle the elements. If not, grab a hotel on the east side of the park so you can wake up to an unforgettable sunrise.
Pets: Because of the myriad of wildlife, Glacier is not a very pet-friendly park. Leashed pets are allowed on the roads, parking areas, and front-country campgrounds, but they are not allowed on any of the trails. It’s recommended that you book a sitter in the area so you can hike without worry.
Camping: There are 13 established campgrounds within Glacier National Park and numerous backcountry campsites. Snowy winters mean the seasons are short and the campsites fill up fast during summer. Most of the campgrounds are first-come, first-served so you’ll need to arrive early to secure a spot.
Outside of Glacier, you can find free camping in the Flathead National Forest south, or the Kootenai National Forest to the west.
Lodging: It’s best to stay as close to Glacier as possible so you can get a jump start on the outdoors. There are a few cabins and hotels that can be booked within 45 minutes of the park. Or you can secure an Airbnb to spend the night even closer.
Things to do near Glacier National Park
Glacier has more than enough to occupy your time. But if you want to venture outside of the park, consider visiting the city of Missoula, spending an afternoon on Flathead Lake, or taking a dip in one of the area hot springs.
- Missoula (2.5 hours south)
- Flathead Lake (1 hour south)
- Yellowstone National Park (6 hours south)
- Grand Teton National Park (8 hours south)
Yellowstone National Park
For the ultimate adventure, fly into Jackson Hole Wyoming and drive through Idaho and Montana. Make stops at the Grand Teton National Park, Yellowstone National Park, and Glacier National Park. All of this can be done in 7-10 days.
The drive from Jackson Hole to Yellowstone is only 90 minutes, but there’s so much to see in-between.
Yellowstone is famous for its hydrothermal pools, stunning waterfalls, and prosperous wildlife. The views are spectacular; you can pass by 20 mountain peaks on the Beartooth Highway alone! Mid-may through September is the best time to visit because most of the snow will be melted and the animals will be active.
Things to do in Yellowstone National Park:
- Horseback riding
- Wildlife safaris
- Boating, fishing, and rafting
- Skiing and snowshoeing
Pets: Similar to Glacier National Park, Yellowstone is not the best place to bring your pets. Leashed animals are allowed on the roads, parking areas, and front-country campgrounds, but they are not allowed on any of the trails. There are no kennels at Yellowstone so you should board them nearby.
Camping: Lodging in the park is typically booked 6 months in advance so we can’t recommend camping enough! Campsites in the northern loop are available on a first-come, first-served basis only. Lower loop campgrounds can be pre-booked.
There are over 2,000 campsites at Yellowstone for tent and RV campers
Lodging: As mentioned previously, you’ll need to plan ahead for any chance of staying within the park. Fortunately, there are numerous hotels just outside the park.
Things to do near Yellowstone National Park
- Grand Teton National Park (20 minutes south)
- Jackson Hole, Wyoming (90 minutes south)
- Idaho Falls, Idaho (2 hours southwest)
- Bozeman, Montana (2 hours north)
- Glacier National Park (6 hours north)
Big Hole National Battlefield
Big Hole National Battlefield is located near Wisdom, Montana close to the Idaho border. It is one of 38 historic sites in the Nez Perce Historic Park.
Big Hole is where the largest battle occurred during the Nez Perce flight from Montana to Washington in 1877. The National Battlefield was created to honor the 90 Nez Perce and 31 soldiers that died.
This is a small park, consisting of a visitor center, observation deck, and short walking trails. Most visitors will set aside 1-2 hours to learn about the Nez Perce journey and the battle that occurred.
Things to do at the Big Hole National Battlefield
At the visitor center, you can watch a short film about the battle, or step onto the observation deck outside. The deck gives a great overview of the battlefield; scopes are set up for up-close views of Granite Mountain and the Howitzer cannon.
Three short walking trails lead from the visitor center to the Nez Perce camp, Howitzer capture site, siege area, and monument. Along the way, you’ll weave past the North Fork Big Hole River and trek through a shaded forest.
- Nez Perce camp trail: 1.6 miles
- Siege area trail: 1.2 miles
- The Howitzer trail: 1.6 miles
Pets: Leashed pets are not allowed on all of the park trails or in the buildings. We recommend taking your pet for a walk in the Bitterroot National Forest nearby.
Camping: The battlefield is located just east of the Bitterroot National Forest so camping is abundant in the area. Established campgrounds and free camping options are available.
Lodging: Missoula, Montana is located 2 hours north and has a number of hotels and restaurants to explore. Missoula is known as the “hub of five valleys” because it’s at the convergence of five mountain ranges: Bitterroot Mountain, Sapphire Range, Garnet Range, Rattlesnake Mountain, and the Reservation Divide
The Big Hole Valley consists of Wisdom and Jackson, Montana. There you can find a variety of small-town shops, restaurants, and hot springs. Camping, hiking, and fishing are the most popular activities. Locals also like to participate in skijoring, which involves skiing behind a horse.
- Wisdom, Montana (10 minutes east)
- Jackson, Montana (30 minutes south)
- Idaho Falls (3 hours south)
Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area
Surrounded by the Crow Reservation in southern Montana is the Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area. The recreation area is located on the Yellowtail dam and straddles Wyoming and Montana.
The Montana side of the park is closely associated with water activities along the Big Horn River. Fishing, boating, and spending the night at waterway campsites are extremely popular. Bighorn Canyon is located far from any major cities making it a premier spot for stargazing.
There are 17 miles of hiking trails that weave along the canyon overlooks and a variety of established and dispersed camping sites. Bighorn Canyon is the perfect place to visit if you want spectacular views without the crowds.
Fees: Entry to the national recreation area is free.
Pets: Bighorn Canyon is pet friendly. Leashed pets are allowed on the trails, campgrounds, and waterways; but they are not allowed on the swim beach.
Camping: There are three established campgrounds that are open year-round for tent and RV camping. There are also multiple waterway campgrounds and opportunities for free, dispersed camping within the park.
Lodging: Billings, Montana is the closest large city. You can find multiple hotels, tourist shops, museums, galleries and restaurants in the area.
Attractions near Bighorn Canyon
90 minutes northwest of the reservoir is the largest city in Montana; Billings. This is an excellent location to grab a bite to eat, go for a hike, or visit the local shops. In addition, some of the main attractions to visit in the area are:
- Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument (1 hour north)
- Custer National Forest (2.5 hours east)
- Bighorn National Forest (2.5 hours south)
Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site
The Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site on the west side of Montana was once a ranchland that encompassed over 10 million acres of cattle. Today, it serves as a location commemorating the cattlemen of the area.
Grant-Kohrs is still a working ranch, so when you visit you can observe typical ranching activities. A guided tour can take you through the cowboy bunkhouse, draft horse barn, ranch house, and other historic buildings. Kids can try on cowboy clothes, practice roping a wooden steer, and visit the ranch animals.
Fees: Admission and guided tours are free
Pets: Although pets are not allowed in the area surrounding the ranch house and historic buildings, there is a free open-air kennel available on the property.
Camping: There is no camping at the National Historic Site, but Grant-Kohrs Ranch is surrounded by national forests on all sides. The Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness, Helana National Forest, Flathead National Forest, and Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest all have opportunities for free and established campsites.
Lodging: If you find yourself in western Montana, check out the city of Helana. It has a history rooted in the gold rush and beautiful architecture. There are numerous hotels in the area.
Things to do nearby
The Grant-Kohrs Historic site is in an ideal location for visiting the cities of Helana, Missoula, and Bozeman. Glacier National Park is only 3.5 hours north. All of these are can’t-miss destinations if you find yourself road-tripping through the area.
- Helana (1 hour east)
- Missoula (1 hour northwest)
- Bozeman (2 hours southeast)
- Glacier National Park (3.5 hours north)
Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument
The battle of Little Bighorn was fought in south-central Montana. The National Monument was built near Crow Agency and pays tribute to the US Army’s 7th Calvery and the Lakotas and Cheyennes Indians.
This is a small park that encompasses a visitor center, the Custer National Cemetary, Indian memorial, and a short 1/4 mile walking tour. Most people spend 1-2 hours there.
Things to do at the Little Bighorn Battlefield
- Watch a 25-minute film at the visitor center
- Explore the museum
- Walk to “Custer’s Last Stand”
- Visit the Indian Memorial
- Visit the National Memorial
- Walk the 1/4 mile Deep Ravine Trail
- Drive the Auto Tour
Starting from the visitor center is a 4.5-mile auto tour around the Reno-Benteen Battlefield. This is where the second stage of the Little Bighorn Battle took place. There are signs and pull-outs throughout the journey depicting the events that took place as well as a cell phone narration as you drive.
1-hour guided tours of the battlefield are also available for a small fee.
Pets: Pets are prohibited in this park except on paved areas and at the park entrance gate.
Camping: There is no camping directly nearby the National Monument. We recommend taking a trip to the Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area which is 1-hour southwest and has free dispersed camping as well as established campsites for tents and RVs. The Bighorn National Forest in Wyoming also offers camping and it’s only 1-hour south.
Things to do near the Battlefield
Crow Agency is a small town, but the Battlefield is nearby the state’s most populace city, Billings.
- Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area (1-hour southwest)
- Billings, Montana (1-hour west)
- Rosebud Battlefield State Park (1-hour west)
Montana National Parks
Montana is known for Glacier and Yellowstone National Park, but people often forget about the other commemorative sites.
If you enjoy camping and want to see some of the darkest skies, the Bighorn Canyon National Recreation area is an ideal destination. History buffs should make a pit stop at the Big Hole National Battlefield and the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument.
Finally, if you want to get a feel for Montana history and learn more about the cattlemen that used to work the area don’t forget to visit Grant-Kohrs Ranch.