Montana, home of natural wonders and rich mineral deposits, truly deserves its nickname as the Treasure State. It’s a fantastic place for travelers to visit, whether for the first time or the tenth time. There’s so much to do in Montana that you’ll be overwhelmed if you’re going there blind.
For newbies, visiting Montana can be a memorable experience. However, that’ll only be the case if you come prepared. There’s nothing wrong with going with the flow, but it helps to have some preparation before a trip. So, here are some essential tips for first-time visitors to the Treasure State:
1. Follow A Guide
Sometimes, visiting a new place urges you to find spots and adventures independently. It’s an exciting experience to travel from city to city, like a Montana local taking buses from Bozeman to Billings. But, if you’re like most tourists who tend to get lost easily, it doesn’t hurt to go with tour guides.
Montana has many skillful guides that show tourists the state’s beauty, while keeping them safe on the journey. You can take guided hikes in the state’s famous parks, mountains, lakes, and trails. You’ll get to see the best sights and try something new, led by some of the most hospitable and knowledgeable Montanans you’ll meet.
2. Head Downtown To Kalispell
Montana isn’t all sky-high mountains and pretty lakes. There are many towns you can visit if you miss the suburbs, and one of them is Kalispell. Founded by Charles E. Conrad in the late 1800s, Kalispell is a town full of life, with many activities for tourists to do.
Shop till you drop in downtown’s various retail stores. Western Outdoor offers over a thousand different types of hats, boots, and Western-inspired outfits. You can buy anything, from jewelry, to furniture, and even to bicycles, in the town’s many shops.
Feel free to get some fantastic food and drink in downtown Kalispell. You’ll find three breweries in town, so don’t miss out on Montana’s beer and their craft beverages. There are also establishments for activities like yoga and making customized essential oils.
If you’re a history enthusiast, Kalispell is the best place to be. Visit the Conrad Mansion Museum or the Northwest Montana History Museum. You could even go on self-guided tours to soak in more of the town’s past at your own pace.
3. Visit Montana’s Famous Parks
No trip to Montana is complete without visiting its most well-known parks: Glacier National Park and Yellowstone National Park. The former is home to the Going-to-the-Sun Road and the photogenic Hidden Lake, while the latter is where you could track wolves or see active geysers, such as Old Faithful.
But, take note that both parks have entrance fees if you plan on visiting through any of their entryways. Glacier Park, in particular, may require vehicle reservation if you intend on passing through the Going-to-the-Sun Road. Reservation and entrance costs often depend on the size of your vehicle, the number of people, and the parking space. You can, and should, always check the parks’ official websites for updated information on their entrance fees and other news.
The fees have an important purpose. They’re to maintain the safety and beauty of the parks and their wildlife, and improve amenities for all tourists.
Both locations are trendy among tourists, and they can get crowded during peak season. So, it’s recommended that you visit either park in the off-season.
4. Go Off The Beaten Path
If you don’t like crowds, that’s perfectly okay. It’s challenging to enjoy the sights and sounds of a new place when you’re surrounded by others doing the same thing. While Yellowstone and Glacier are notorious tourist attractions, Montana has many other locations visitors can see and love.
You can visit Bannack Ghost Town to go a step back in time figuratively, for starters. This place was where Montana’s first generation of gold miners stayed. There are about 60 buildings still standing in the town. Hotel Meade, the Methodist Church, Roes/Graves House, and the Bannack Masonic Lodge and School are the four must-see buildings. You can also stroll around and feel like an old-timer gold prospector.
Another place you could go to is Polebridge. It’s located in Glacier National Park, so if you want to visit this well-known tourist attraction without the crowds, give this spot a try. Polebridge doesn’t have proper hotels, but there’s the North Fork Hostel found near the Mercantile. You could also rent a cabin and have meals at the Northern Lights Café and Saloon.
5. Try Camping At Big Sky
As a state with many mountains and vast forests, Montana is the perfect place to camp out under the stars. One particularly great place is Big Sky, a community northwest of Yellowstone National Park. It’s a family-friendly location open to tourists for the whole year. Most people visit during summer or winter since it’s the perfect destination for skiers. But, Big Sky and its nearby surrounding areas are most popular among campers.
Don’t forget to book a campground in advance if you want to camp out in Big Sky, Montana. And, aside from bringing off-the-grid camping necessities, keep your eyes open for wild bears. They’re cute to look at from afar but incredibly dangerous when nearby.
Montana is a state rich in natural scenery. If it’s your first time there, you’ll be tempted to do everything. But, plan ahead and try any of these activities whenever you can. You don’t have to do them all in one go. There’s always a next time in the Treasure State.