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Adventure Is Montana’s Middle Name
With just 6.5 people per mile, Montana ranks 48th in the nation for population density. If it’s not cities and highways the state is made of, then what’s out there? How about millions of acres of national forests, national parks, wild rivers, still lakes, empty prairies, staggering mountaintops, and lonely valleys. There’s an adventure in Montana just waiting for you.
A significant portion of the state – about one-third – is public land, meaning you can go almost anywhere and do almost anything you want. The state sprawls across 94 million acres, and millions of those acres are dedicated as federally-protected wilderness – no roads, no homes, no signs, and usually not even any cell coverage!
Lace up your hiking boots, grab your fishing pole, and stuff a lunch into your backpack and head into the mountains. The Beartooth Mountains outside of Red Lodge are some of the highest and wildest in the nation – the Beartooth Highway climbs to an elevation of more than 10,000 feet and offers hundreds of miles of hiking trails which lead to glacier-clad mountains and trout-filled lakes. Near Bozeman, the Gallatin and Absaroka mountains have lonely trails leading to vertical cliffs and broad valleys full of deer and aspen trees. Near Hamilton, you’ll find dozens of well-developed trailheads which lead hikers deep into the amazing Bitterroot Mountains.
Montana was the setting for the popular film “A River Runs Through It,” so it should be no surprise that people come from around the world to fish the state’s clear rivers. First-class fly fishing rivers include the Bitterroot near Hamilton, the Blackfoot near Missoula, the Flathead near Kalispell, the Missouri between Helena and Great Falls, the Smith River, which pierces the center of the state, and the Boulder River near Big Timber.
Do you have a taste for whitewater? Rent a kayak and get splashed in the state’s cold rivers. The Clark Fork River west of Missoula has great access and plenty of short day trip options, while the legendary Big Hole River north of Dillon is noted for its fantastic scenery. Kayakers can play on much of the Yellowstone River, while the Madison has rapids for all abilities.
The state is famed for its “Cold Smoke” snow – snow so light it seems to float in the air. All that snow is put to good use in the winter when the state’s ski areas draw skiers and snowboarders from around the country. Big Sky bills itself as the “Biggest Skiing in America” – the mountain has 24 lifts and 300 trails, and there is a tram which goes straight to the summit of Lone Peak – take it if you dare! Whitefish Mountain Resort has gobs of snow and plenty of amenities for non-skiers, too – it has more than 100 trails, 11 lifts, and views into Glacier National Park. Near Bozeman, Bridger Bowl is a non-profit ski area with wide open slopes, terrifying steep chutes, and a great zone just for beginners. Red Lodge is big-mountain skiing you’ve probably never heard of – it boasts six lifts and 60 trails, and après-ski in the town of Red Lodge is unbeatable. Montana shares two ski areas with neighboring Idaho, and these high-altitude spots get positively clobbered with snow. Lost Trail Powder Mountain gest more than 400 inches of snow annually and has some of the cheapest lift tickets in the nation. Lookout Pass is literally steps from Interstate 90 and is a great place to learn to ski and for families who want to stick together.
Prefer your winter recreation at a slower pace? Rent a pair of cross-country skis and head for the hills. You’ll find great groomed cross-country ski trails in Seeley Lake, around the Lubrecht Forest State Park, and in Pattee Canyon outside of Missoula. Big Sky has a renowned Nordic center and there are great trails in West Yellowstone, Red Lodge, Whitefish, and Elkhorn Hot Springs. Snowshoers will find excellent spots to traipse into the woods – Lolo Pass is a popular spot, as is Rogers Pass near Lincoln and in Hyalite Canyon south of Bozeman.
Montana has two of America’s greatest national parks. Glacier National Park has huge lakes, raging rivers, exotic wildlife, and more than two dozen glaciers. The park’s west side is lush and wet, while the east side is wide open and windswept. In between is the Continental Divide and soaring, fearsome peaks. To the south, Yellowstone National Park is home to the world’s greatest concentration of geysers. See famous Old Faithful, hike to remote hot springs, see bison and grizzlies, and witness the splendor of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. The state’s biggest national monument is the Upper Missouri River Breaks. Lewis and Clark passed this way, and today the park is a gateway for adventurous boaters who float the river, camping and fishing along the way.
The Big Sky State is a major mountain biking mecca. Missoula is home to rugged routes and smooth trails and boasts three major trail centers. Whitefish Mountain Resort has lift-served mountain biking in the summer, while nearby are the sculpted trails of the Lion Mountain trail system. Helena is famous for its trail system – the city boasts that every trail ends in singletrack and that every ride ends at a brewery. In Butte you will find a well-developed complex of trails around Pipestone and Homestake passes. Some of the state’s most beautiful biking is in Makoshika State Park near Glendive.
Montana has a great state park system – some of these spots are true hidden gems. Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park has fascinating formations as well as great hiking and biking trails. Beavertail Hill State Park has trails and access to the Clark Fork River. Wayfarers State Park lets you get lakeside on gorgeous Flathead Lake, while Missouri Headwaters State Park is great for boaters and anglers. At Frenchtown Pond State Park you can swim in the summer and ice fish in the winter.
No matter your passion, Montana has an adventure just waiting for you!
Chico Hot Springs
Set in Paradise Valley, the Chico Hot Springs is located in southern Montana near Livingston. Established in 1900, the Hot Springs Pools offer swimming and soaking – the larger pools averaging 96 degrees while the small tubs yields 103-degree temperatures.
The Chico Hot Springs welcomes day guests daily from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m., and offers food and drink at the Chico Saloon and Poolside Grille.
Pompeys Pillar National Monument
Covering 51 acres, the Pompeys Pillar National Monument is located in south-central Montana near Billings. Both a National Monument and a National Historic Landmark, this unique rock formation draws over 50,000 annual visitors.
Operated by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, Pompeys Pillar is found easily by Interstate 94. Visitors may see native petroglyphs, and a signature inscribed in 1806 by William Clark of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.