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When planning a Montana vacation, all the big names come up: Yellowstone, Big Sky and Glacier, and for good reason. These are most definitely among the top places to visit in Montana.
They are some of the most beautiful and rare destinations left in the world.
With Yellowstone seeing over 3 million visitors a year and Glacier over a million, how do you find authentic places to travel on your Montana vacation? That’s where we are here to help, part of our legacy in Montana has been finding the best and most authentic destinations.
Here is an overview:
Authentic places to visit in Montana
In this blog, we’ll show you the best places to experience the real Montana. From breathtaking scenery to charming towns, we’ve got you covered.
Without further ado, here is our list of the most authentic places to visit in Montana.
Horseback riding in the Absaroka Mountains
In the Absaroka Mountains you can find your way off the beaten path and onto a horse in one of the most beautiful mountain ranges in Montana.
Located just outside of the eastern boundary of Yellowstone, its a great addition to your trip to Yellowstone.
What would a trip to the Greater Yellowstone Region be without a horseback ride through the surrounding mountains? This area is so steeped in history that it’s only fitting to take a step back in time and focus on horseback riding.
Fortunately, Yellowstone National Park and the surrounding communities and mountains offer many opportunities for horseback riding. Outfitters and guides are plentiful, but if you prefer to go it alone, be aware of where you are riding and be sure to carry bear spray.
Riding through the sage-covered valleys and breathtaking canyons makes this area even more impressive.
Horseback Trek through Blue Flower Trail
Experience Montana’s breathtaking Paradise Valley up close on a guided horseback ride along the Blue Flower Trail.
Together with your guide, you’ll enjoy the scenic landscape with views of the majestic Absaroka Mountains and spot native species such as elk and golden eagles. On this exclusive tour you’ll learn about the history, wildlife and ecosystem of the region, with plenty of time for photo stops.
This is a private tour/activity. It costs around $115 and the duration is around 2 hours. Only your group will participate.
So grab your horse at the lodge at Erik’s Ranch in Livingston and let the beauty of Montana enchant you!
Chico Hot Springs
In 1999, Chico Hot Springs was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. You can take a morning hike to a nearby trout pond or enjoy a valley bike ride for a climactic look at America’s “last best place”.
Then relax at the in mineral hot spring-fed pools and spa services.
Take a morning hike to a nearby trout pond or enjoy a valley bike ride for a paramount look at America’s “last best place”.
The natural springs of Chico Hot Springs divide into two mineral-rich pools, offering different temperatures depending on the season. The large pool averages 96 degrees, while the small pool averages 103 degrees. Swimwear is a must, as clothing is not allowed.
Chico Day Spa specializes in geothermal therapy, where hot basalt and cool polished marble stones relax the body and refresh the spirit. Here you can truly pamper yourself and get away from it all.
In addition to the hot springs, there are many other amenities at this idyllic ranch, including a motel, cabins, restaurant, bar, day spa treatments, gift shop, horseback riding, hiking, and more. Located just an hour’s drive from the world-famous Yellowstone National Park, this American hot springs gem promises an unforgettable experience.
Hayden Valley and Yellowstone
Spot wildlife in Hayden Valley
Between the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone and Yellowstone Lake lies Hayden Valley, a wide, flat valley in a caldera formed more than 600,000 years ago during a massive volcanic eruption.
Here you get the chance to spot moose, bison and wolves.
The valley was once under the waters of Yellowstone Lake, but today Hayden Valley offers one of the best opportunities to view a variety of wildlife such as buffalo, bear and elk in their natural habitat. Large herds of buffalo are most likely to be seen in the morning and evening hours, but wapiti, elk, wolves and (grizzly) bears may also cross your path.
Please note that buffalo can cause traffic jams on the Hayden Valley roads. So be patient and allow some extra time.
Experience the breathtaking views from Artist Point
Artist Point is undoubtedly one of the most breathtaking sites in the park’s Canyon Area.
Here, the sheer walls plunge 700 feet into the depths of the canyon, transporting the viewer into a world of majestic beauty. Those looking upstream can admire the mighty Lower Falls, while downstream the canyon widens into an impressive expanse – to a depth of 1,540 feet.
The mostly yellow walls of the canyon shimmer in a variety of colors: Sometimes blue, sometimes red, sometimes orange, sometimes brown. A true play of colors that is constantly changing and especially intense in the sunshine after rain.
Take a short hike through the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone
The paths along the edges are mostly equipped with steps or stairs to cope with the steep change of terrain.
However, for guests with health problems, such as heart, lung or other ailments, these paths are not recommended due to the many meters of altitude.
Nevertheless, there are also accessible paths in the park that are suitable for wheelchair users. These include the sidewalk along the parking lot at the Brink of the Lower Falls, the sidewalk from the Lookout Point parking lot to the Grand View parking lot, and the trail to the second overlook at Artist Point.
Overall, the park thus offers suitable opportunities for every visitor to experience and enjoy the breathtaking natural surroundings.
South Rim Trail
Although the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is less famous than its namesake in Arizona, I find this to be one of the top sights in the US and definitely worth a visit. For an unforgettable experience, I recommend you take your time and hike the South Rim Trail. To start, drive to Uncle Tom’s Parking Lot.
From here you can hike the South Rim Trail, which is about 3 miles and takes you to Artist Point. The trail runs along the south rim of the canyon and has a gentle climb that doesn’t require much elevation gain.
The trail is easy to hike and always offers new and different perspectives on the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. It is also relatively quiet, so you can enjoy the beauty of nature undisturbed – a real highlight away from the crowded viewpoints!
When you finally reach the edge of the canyon and catch a glimpse of the Lower Falls, you will be overwhelmed by the majestic beauty of the place. The waterfall plunges nearly 94 meters, almost twice the height of Niagara Falls. The color scheme of the gorge is particularly intriguing, ranging from beige to yellow to orange to pink-red, always providing a breathtaking view.
When you reach Artist Point, it gets more crowded, as it can be accessed from an adjacent parking lot. But it’s one of the best views you’ll get! The view of the Lower Falls from the middle of the canyon is breathtaking.
Tour to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone – Rim and Loop Hike with Lunch
Let a local Yellowstone Hiking guide take you on one of the best hikes in Yellowstone National Park for an unforgettable adventure!
Lowest price guarantee: $182
Starts at 8 am and goes for 6 hours
The Grand Canyon Rim Trail takes you through scenic forests to Ribbon Lake and on past a geyser basin, Clear Lake and Wapiti Meadows, where you’ll enjoy breathtaking views of Hayden Valley.
Enjoy lunch and snacks provided as you hike one of the best trails in Yellowstone National Park. Learn all about the area from your knowledgeable guide and observe native wildlife in their natural habitat.
Don’t worry about gear as your backpack, bear spray, walking stick and binoculars are included.
If you continue to follow the Yellowstone River, the trail will eventually lead you to huge Yellowstone Lake, the largest lake in the park and the largest mountain lake in North America at over 8,000 feet.
In Yellowstone National Park, Yellowstone Lake is undoubtedly a highlight. As the largest lake in the park, it is a beautiful sight. Especially the north shore of the lake is easily accessible and offers many activities such as boating, hiking, fishing, camping and lodging.
There is an abundance of wildlife in the lake area. Moose in particular are common here. If you venture into the marshy areas around the river, especially at Fishing Bridge, you have a good chance of seeing some. They are also common in the large meadows near Bridge Bay and in the marshes along Pelican Creek. The best time to see them is at dawn and dusk.
Yellowstone Lake is a must for visitors to the park. It is the largest lake and is located in the southeast corner of the park. You can easily reach it via the West Thumb-Fishing Bridge Road and look forward to an unforgettable experience.
Yellowstone Lake Twilight Tour
Yellowstone National Park sees more than a million tourists a month during peak season, but you won’t have to worry about the crowds on this trip.
A paddle along the northwest shore of Yellowstone Lake, the continent’s largest alpine lake, gives you unique views of the geothermal wilderness. At sunset, as plumes of steam rise above the geysers, you’ll understand why Yellowstone National Park is the first of its kind.
With your guide and the necessary equipment, you’ll paddle four to five miles while enjoying 360-degree views.
Groups are limited to eight so you can enjoy the beauty of Yellowstone at your own pace.
Lowest Price Guarantee: $150
Duration: 3 hours
The tour includes full kayak equipment: kayak, paddle, life jacket, splash guard and safety gear.
The twilight tour is an adventurous 4-5 mile trip that usually takes about 3 hours. The guide will give you a quick briefing and then you’re off along the shores of Yellowstone Lake – the largest high mountain lake in North America!
Their experienced guides will take you safely to the West Thumb Geyser Basin, depending on weather conditions and the ability of the group. There you will see dozens of geothermal features above and below the water surface.
After the tour, you will return the same way, stopping for refreshments and even a chance to explore the lakeshore. You will return to your starting point at Grant Marina before the sun sets. Return time will vary depending on group size, weather, fitness, and of course the time of sunset.
Whitewater Rafting on the Yellowstone River
For the adventure enthusiasts you can whitewater raft down the Yellowstone River on class I-III rapids. Book a two-hour rafting experience on the Yellowstone River.
Experience a unique adventure and satisfy your thrill-seeking needs on a 2-hour rafting trip down the Yellowstone River.
As you paddle the river’s rapid rapids, you’ll take in the breathtaking scenery of Yellowstone National Park. An experienced guide will lead you safely through class II and III rapids and help you get the most out of your experience.
As you approach the calmer sections of the river, you can take a refreshing break and swim in the cool water.
Included are driver and guide, wetsuits, water shoes, splash guards and a changing room. Enjoy this unforgettable experience and be inspired by the beauty of nature.
Going-to-the-Sun Road – Bike Ride, Glacier National Park
As the sun lights up the peaks, you’ll enjoy a challenging 40 mile ride to Lake McDonald with frequent stops along the way to watch for mountain goats and the ever present grizzlies.
Completed in 1932 and at an estimated cost of $3 million, the Going-to-the-Sun Road is the highlight of any trip to Glacier.
If you want to bike the Going-to-the-Sun Road during the peak summer season, you should definitely have experience dealing with heavy two-way car traffic.
But there is another way to explore beautiful Glacier National Park on a bicycle – and that is in spring. That’s because at this time of year, Going-to-the-Sun Road is open exclusively to bicyclists and hikers, offering a quiet glimpse into the heart of the park.
More and more cyclists are drawn to Glacier National Park each year. Many want to ride parts of the Going-to-the-Sun Road, which is known for its engineering feats but is restricted during the early season due to snow plowing.
However, Going-to-the-Sun Road is not the only option for a bike tour. Throughout the park, bicycles are allowed on paved and unpaved roads.
In addition, there are four multi-use trails where bicycling is permitted:
- the Fish Creek bike path from Grist Road to Fish Creek;
- the paved bike path from Park Headquarters to Apgar Village, Visitor Center and Campground;
- the old Flathead Ranger Station trail accessed from Quarter Circle Bridge Road;
- and the section of Inside North Fork Road between Camas Creek and Logging Creek that is currently closed to vehicles.
Iceberg Lake Trail Hike, Glacier National Park
Hike the trailhead of Iceberg Lake, considered by many the “Crown Jewel” of hiking trails in the park. Iceberg Lake Trail offers one of the most scenic hikes in the US.
Iceberg Lake in Glacier National Park is a truly unique natural experience.
The lake’s name is no coincidence: icebergs float on the water year-round, creating a breathtaking sight. The lake is in the shadow of majestic Mount Wilbur and receives little sunlight, keeping the water cold enough for these icy formations.
Start behind the cabins at the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn and experience a 9-mile (15.4 km) out-and-back trail near Siyeh Bend, Montana. The trail is rated Moderate and takes an average of 4 hours and 16 minutes to complete. The area is a popular hiking spot and you’re sure to meet other adventurers.
The best time for this hike is from June to October.
In addition to breathtaking views of icebergs and beautiful scenery, there is also a chance to see grizzly bears. It is important to know how to stay safe in bear country to make unforgettable memories.
4.5-miles (one way) will seem short as you enjoy panoramic views, watch for mountain goats, big horn sheep and of course the already mentioned bears.
Your reward at the end of the trail? A jaw-dropping view of giant limestone cliffs and ice fields shooting up from the pristine blue waters of the alpine lake below.
If you’re feeling adventurous, take a dip into the iceberg dotted lake!
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