Top 10 Sights in Montana's National Parks
Updated: Sep 21
Often referred to as the "Treasure State," Montana boasts a wealth of natural beauty and pristine landscapes that are preserved within its national parks. Nestled in the heart of the Rocky Mountains, Montana's national parks offer a diverse range of sights and experiences that capture the essence of the American West. From towering peaks to pristine lakes, from untamed wilderness to rich cultural history, Montana's national parks have something for every nature enthusiast and adventurer. Today we will explore the top 10 must-see sights in Montana's national parks, each offering a unique perspective on the state's stunning natural beauty and heritage.
1. Going-to-the-Sun Road
(Glacier National Park)
No visit to Montana's national parks would be complete without a journey along the iconic Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park. This engineering marvel winds through the heart of the park, offering breathtaking views of glaciers, rugged peaks, and pristine alpine meadows. The road takes you past sights like Logan Pass, where you can embark on a variety of hiking trails, and the famed Weeping Wall, where water cascades down the cliffside. The vistas along this road are nothing short of spectacular, and it's no wonder it's considered one of the most scenic drives in the United States.
2. Grinnell Glacier
(Glacier National Park)
Grinnell Glacier is a mesmerizing sight within Glacier National Park. This massive ice formation is a testament to the park's glacial history, and it serves as a stark reminder of the ongoing impact of climate change. Visitors can hike to the Grinnell Glacier Overlook, a strenuous but rewarding trek that offers panoramic views of the glacier, alpine lakes, and surrounding mountains. Witnessing this majestic glacier up close is an unforgettable experience that underscores the importance of preserving our natural wonders.
3. Old Faithful
(Yellowstone National Park)
While most of Yellowstone National Park is located in Wyoming, a small part of it extends into Montana. This iconic park is home to the world-famous Old Faithful geyser, which erupts with astonishing regularity, shooting a plume of scalding water and steam high into the air. Watching Old Faithful's performance is like witnessing a natural marvel, and it's no wonder why it's one of the most renowned geysers in the world. The surrounding thermal features, including the colorful Grand Prismatic Spring and the steaming Norris Geyser Basin, are also must-see sights in this geologically active wonderland.
4. Lamar Valley
(Yellowstone National Park)
Yellowstone's Lamar Valley, often referred to as the "Serengeti of North America," is a wildlife enthusiast's paradise. Located in the northeastern corner of the park, this expansive valley is home to an abundance of wildlife, including bison, elk, grizzly bears, wolves, and a variety of bird species. The Lamar Valley provides an unparalleled opportunity to observe these animals in their natural habitat. Wildlife enthusiasts and photographers flock to the area for a chance to capture the diverse and captivating wildlife that calls this valley home.
5. Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge
Situated in southwestern Montana, the Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge is a hidden gem that is often overlooked by visitors. This remote sanctuary is a critical habitat for numerous species, including the trumpeter swan, sandhill crane, and the endangered Arctic grayling. The refuge's stunning wetlands, pristine lakes, and diverse ecosystems make it a paradise for birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts. Hiking and wildlife photography opportunities abound, and visitors can also explore the historic Red Rock Lakes Lodge, which adds a touch of rustic charm to the experience.
6. Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center
While not a national park in itself, the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center in West Yellowstone, Montana, offers a unique opportunity to observe two of the state's most iconic and elusive wildlife species up close. This non-profit wildlife park provides a safe haven for grizzly bears and gray wolves that cannot survive in the wild. Visitors can watch these magnificent animals in their enclosures and learn about their behaviors, conservation efforts, and the critical role they play in Montana's ecosystems. The center's mission of education and wildlife conservation is both informative and inspiring.
7. Beartooth Highway
The Beartooth Highway is a scenic byway that winds its way through the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness and connects Montana and Wyoming. Starting in Red Lodge, Montana, this highway takes travelers on a thrilling journey through the high alpine terrain, offering stunning views of jagged peaks, pristine lakes, and lush meadows. The Beartooth Pass, reaching an elevation of over 10,000 feet, is a highlight of the route, providing panoramic vistas that are nothing short of breathtaking. This highway is a favorite among motorcyclists and outdoor enthusiasts, providing access to numerous hiking, camping, and fishing opportunities.
8. Pompeys Pillar National Monument
Located in the southeastern part of Montana, Pompeys Pillar National Monument is a site of historical and cultural significance. This sandstone pillar rises 150 feet above the Yellowstone River and is etched with the signature of William Clark, of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, dating back to 1806. Visitors can explore the interpretive center to learn about the expedition's journey and its impact on the region. The monument's riverside location and the opportunity to view Native American petroglyphs make it a fascinating destination for history buffs and those interested in the exploration of the American West.
9. Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area
Straddling the Montana-Wyoming border, the Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area offers a stunning blend of natural beauty and cultural history. The towering cliffs, carved by the Bighorn River, create a dramatic backdrop for outdoor activities such as boating, fishing, hiking, and wildlife watching. The area is also rich in Native American history, with numerous archaeological sites and petroglyphs that offer a glimpse into the past. The visitor center provides valuable insights into the area's geology, wildlife, and human history, making it an ideal starting point for exploring this hidden gem.
10. Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument
The Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument preserves the site of one of the most iconic conflicts in American history: the Battle of the Little Bighorn, also known as Custer's Last Stand. Visitors can explore the battlefield, marked by numerous headstones and memorials, and gain a deeper understanding of the events that unfolded here in 1876. The visitor center offers exhibits, films, and guided tours that provide insight into the clash between the U.S. Army's 7th Cavalry and the Lakota Sioux and Cheyenne warriors. This historical site offers a somber but essential glimpse into the nation's past and the complex interactions between Native American cultures and westward expansion.
Montana's national parks and surrounding areas are teeming with natural wonders and historical significance, making it a top destination for adventurers, nature lovers, and history enthusiasts alike. From the awe-inspiring landscapes of Glacier National Park to the wildlife-rich Lamar Valley in Yellowstone, Montana offers a diverse range of sights and experiences that capture the essence of the American West. Whether you're exploring the rugged wilderness, witnessing iconic geysers, or delving into the history of the region, Montana's national parks have something extraordinary to offer every visitor. So, whether you're a first-time traveler to the Treasure State or a seasoned explorer, be sure to put these top 10 must-see sights in Montana's national parks on your itinerary.