When you’re jonesin’ for a nature-inspired summer getaway but want to avoid the large crowds and tourist traps, you’ll find solace in the great state of Montana. If it’s serenity you’re seeking, there’s no better place to venture off the beaten path. From the valleys to the peaks, there’s something for everyone to enjoy in Big Sky Country. Make sure to add these gems to your Montana bucket list for an adventure you’re sure to remember.
As the largest lake in Glacier National Park, Lake McDonald is an awe-inspiring ten mile stretch of water formed entirely by glacial carving. Because the glacier water is crystal clear, it allows for easy viewing of the rainbow-colored stones that line the bottom of the lake. Now that the valley is no longer occupied by massive glaciers, you might get lucky and spot a bighorn sheep, mountain goat or even a black bear. There are several spots for camping around the lake, or if you’re feeling a little less rustic, you can also find shelter at the Lake McDonald Lodge.
Water of the Gods
Also known as Norris Hot Springs, one dip in the Water of the Gods and you’ll be instantly rejuvenated. Enjoy a craft beer served soak side, listen to live music in the geodesic dome, or indulge in the awesome local food, which includes everything from grass-fed beef to vegan pizza.
Just a stone’s throw from the pool itself is an on-site campground, which means you can easily spend a few days here. Easy day trips abound in every direction from fishing and tubing along Madison River to hiking around Lewis & Clark Caverns State Park. You’ll love the eclectic vibe of this place, not to mention coming back to a warm mineral soak after a long day of adventure!
For the musically inclined, pay a visit to the Ringing Rocks in Butte, Montana. At first glance, this unique formation looks like nothing more than a pile of boulders. Tap lightly with a hammer, though, and the rocks will chime in all sorts of different pitches.
If it’s a bit of history you’re after, Virginia City is the place to find it. This former gold-mining town is frozen in the Victorian era and is sure to offer an authentic taste of the original Old West. Try your hand at panning for gold, or take a short but scenic train ride to Nevada City. Located just 90 miles from Yellowstone, Virginia City is a must-see stop on your way to or from the park.
Photo by Steven Gnam
For a truly off-the-grid experience, venture to Polebridge Mercantile after a day of hiking or fishing the nearby Flathead River. In order to reach the Merc, you’ll have to traverse a slow-going gravel road. You certainly won’t arrive to find cell service or wifi. Make sure you snag a huckleberry bear claw from the bakery and enjoy a cold one at the Northern Lights Saloon while you brush up on the history of this remote outpost.
If you thought South Dakota was the only place to see the Badlands, think again. Legend has it that this 5.5 mile road once served as a bootlegging trail. Although there are no services available (plan accordingly), the scenery more than makes up for it. You’ll need a high-clearance vehicle for this adventure, but there are also plenty of places to hop out and hike (which you should definitely do).
Medicine Rocks State Park
What was once a gathering ground for Indian hunting parties is now riddled with unique sandstone formations. Years of weathering have given the Medicine Rocks a Swiss cheese-like appearance, and some of the formations can reach up to 80 feet high and 200 feet across. If you want to plan an overnight stay, the 330-acre park boasts several places for hiking, wildlife viewing and camping.
Big Horn Canyon
Adventure seekers will love Big Horn Canyon with its dramatic views, stunning wildlife, and endless opportunities for outdoor recreation. Montana’s Grand Canyon is located just 80 miles south of Billings and is a real treasure chest for the outdoor enthusiast. Choose your own adventure with over 17 miles of trails ranging from short walks to breathtaking overlooks. You could also opt to spend the day trout fishing on the Bighorn River or boating along Bighorn Lake. Your best bet is to plan a few days in the area and do it all!
While Montana’s beauty is easy to appreciate during all seasons, there’s something to be said about soaking up the scenery in warmer than sub-zero temperatures. If your summer holiday plans include vast landscapes and a break from the bustling crowds, Montana is ripe with opportunity. What’s on your must-see list this summer?