Montana is an outdoor lover’s paradise. The aptly nicknamed “Big Sky Country” is home to some of the most awe-inspiring natural landscapes and wildlife in the U.S. Within the state, you’ll find 8 Montana national parks showcasing the diversity and splendor of Montana’s terrain. From icy mountain peaks to bubbling hot springs, read on for an overview of the best Montana national parks.
1. Glacier National Park Montana
Glacier National Park is arguably Montana’s most famous park. Established in 1910, Glacier protects over 1 million acres of forests, lakes, and alpine meadows. The crown jewel of the park is the Going-to-the-Sun Road, a 50-mile scenic drive winding through the park’s interior.
One of the main attractions in Glacier is the park’s glaciers. Though they are rapidly shrinking due to climate change, visitors can still view these ancient glaciers and hike on the icy terrain.
Wildlife viewing is also popular in Glacier, with opportunities to spot mountain goats, bighorn sheep, bears, and over 260 species of birds.
2. Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone was the world’s first Montana national parks to enjoy the unique hydrothermal and geologic features, established in 1872. Though mostly within Wyoming, sections of the park extend into Montana and Idaho.
Yellowstone is situated on top of a volcanic hot spot, creating an otherworldly landscape of bubbling mud pots, hissing geysers, and steaming hot springs.
Old Faithful, erupting every 60-90 minutes, is the most famous geyser in the park. Yellowstone is also renowned for its wildlife. Bison, elk, moose, bears, and wolves roam freely throughout the 3,500 square miles of wilderness. Moreover, if you are looking for one of the best nearby Bozeman Montana National Parks, then this place is the best choice to visit.
3. Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area
Bighorn Canyon is one of Montana’s lesser-known gems. Created in 1966, the park protects over 120,000 acres of dramatic canyons, wetlands, and forests along the Bighorn River.
Here you can enjoy boating, fishing, hiking, and horseback riding. Keep your eyes peeled for wild horses, bighorn sheep, mule deer, and waterfowl as you explore the park. Don’t miss a visit to Horseshoe Bend, where the river has carved a giant U-shaped curve into the rock after thousands of years of erosion.
4. Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument
This national monument commemorates the infamous Battle of Little Bighorn of 1876, where Lakota and Cheyenne warriors famously defeated General Custer and the 7th Cavalry.
Stand on the battlefield where this turning point in history occurred and visit the cemetery where soldiers from both sides are buried.
A museum on site has artifacts and exhibits depicting the battle and the events leading up to it. Little Bighorn provides a fascinating insight into Native American history and the Plains Indian Wars.
5. Gates of the Mountains Wilderness
Located just outside of Helena, Gates of the Mountains is a preserved area of rugged wilderness along the Missouri River. This area got its name from the towering rock cliffs that resemble historic castle gates as you float down the river.
Exploring by boat is the best way to experience this park, allowing you to drift through the sheer cliffs and spot bighorn sheep along the water’s edge. You can also hike parts of the Gates of the Mountains wilderness by foot for panoramic views.
6. Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site
Step back into the life of a frontier cattle ranch at Grant-Kohrs. Wander through the well-preserved buildings of this working ranch from the 1860s which once spanned over 10,000 acres.
Costumed interpreters recreate what life was like for early settlers and cowboys. You can view demonstrations of horseback riding, cattle wrangling, blacksmithing, and more. The ranch is open year-round for touring this example of Montana’s iconic cowboy history.
7. Big Hole National Battlefield
Marking another historic battle site, Big Hole National Battlefield remembers the Nez Perce War of 1877. Learn about the four-month, 1,200+ mile retreat of the Nez Perce people who fought courageously to save their land and way of life. A visitor center details the full history of the battle and its aftermath through exhibits and films. Walk the 1.5-mile outdoor trail through the battlefield, stopping at the Indian entrenchments and other key areas. Big Hole is a moving and important memorial to the Nez Perce tribe.
8. Benton Lake National Wildlife Refuge
Last but not least on the list of montana national parks list is Benton Lake National Wildlife Refuge. For excellent birdwatching and wildlife viewing, head to Benton Lake National Wildlife Refuge. The 12,000-acre wetland landscape is an important rest stop for over 250 species of migrating birds. Hike around one of the many marshes and ponds, where you may spot ducks, geese, swans, cranes, and other waterfowl. Keep your eyes on the lookout for the threatened piping plover as it feeds along the shoreline. The refuge contains habitats ranging from shortgrass prairie to forest to open water.