9 Quintessential Montana Experiences

Get to know the state like a local.

Canoes and row boats on the dock at Swiftcurrent Lake in Glacier National Park, Montana.
Swiftcurrent Lake in Glacier National Park, Montana.
Andrew S / Shutterstock

Montana has ways of reminding you just how special of a place it is. On the prairies or in the mountains, these experiences invite you to enjoy the best the state has to offer. 

Play on or in the river.

Montana rivers and streams belong to everyone. By state law, anyone can wade, fish, or float on any stretch of water as long as they enter and leave at public access sites and stay within the high-water mark. Montanans cherish this freedom, and they protect it by following the rules. Cast for cutthroat trout on the Flathead River, run rapids on the Gallatin, hunt for Montana moss agates (stones unique to this area) on the banks of the Yellowstone—even if you’re surrounded by private land, you’re welcome to the water. 

Enjoy a long drive.

Montana cities are few and far between, which means a “quick” drive to see the relatives or catch a college football game can involve hundreds of miles. Whether you’re traveling the 345 miles of Interstate 90 between Billings and Missoula or 630 miles of two-lane Route 2 between Culbertson and Troy, you can pass time watching for wildlife, tracking the mountain ranges that pop into view, and playing mile-marker math. Are you there yet? In Montana, the answer is usually no, and that’s OK.

Riders in the parade during the Crow Fair at the Crow Indian Reservation.
Parade during the Crow Fair at the Crow Indian Reservation.
Courtesy Montana Office of Tourism and Business Development

Attend a Powwow.

Montana is home to a dozen Indigenous American tribes that continue to shape the state’s culture while they honor their own past. Throughout the year, various tribes gather for powwows—festivals of drum beats, traditional songs, beaded regalia, feathered headdresses, and hot fry bread. Whether it’s a multitribal gathering inside the Montana State University gym in March or the sprawling Crow Fair—the “teepee capital of the world”—near the Little Bighorn Battlefield in August, a powwow is pure Montana, past and future.


Take in the big skies at night.

On a clear night, Montana’s famed “Big Sky” stretches to the outer edges of the galaxy and beyond. No matter where you are in the state, it’s a short journey to darkness. From the center of Billings, it’s a half-hour drive to the vast emptiness around Molt, where you’ll share the stars with a few cows and coyotes. Pay close attention to the meteor shower calendar and look for alerts from an aurora forecast apps for extraordinary sights. But out here, even a quiet night feels magical.

A grizzly bear plays in a river in Montana.
More grizzlies live in Montana than any other state.
Courtesy Montana Office of Tourism and Business Development

Look out for Yogi.

Over 2,000 grizzlies live in Montana—more than any other state in the lower 48—and they’re showing up in places where they haven’t been seen in more than a century. Last October, a grizzly was spotted in the Missouri River Breaks, 100 miles east of his presumed home range near Glacier National Park. And while you could spot bears throughout the state, your best chance comes from visiting Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks, where you should always watch from a distance. Montanans from Red Lodge to Kalispell know to stay alert and carry bear spray in griz country. Bears are unlikely to attack, but when you’re sharing a state with apex predators, it’s important to know proper safety protocol

Commune with bison.

From the National Bison Range north of Missoula to the growing American Prairie Reserve in the Northeastern outback, Montana is making room for bison. More than 30 million wild American bison used to live on the Great Plains, but by 1901 the population had been pushed to near extinction with just 25 remaining, all in Yellowstone National Park. Since then the herds have rebounded to more than 2,300 bison. You can now see transplants from Yellowstone National Park roam wild on the Fort Peck and Fort Belknap Reservations.

The masonic lodge and school house at Bannack State Park.
The masonic lodge and school house at Bannack State Park.
Melissa Kopka / Alamy

Experience the rush.

From old-time booms on gold and silver to modern exploration for platinum and other tech-friendly metals, Montana runs deep with mineral riches. Visitors can spend a night at a Copper King mansion, pan for gold in a cold stream, visit Bannack State Park or another mining ghost town, or shop for mined-in-Montana sapphires. The rushes are over, but the color remains.

Forage for huckleberries.

The small, sweet, tart, purple berries that thrive in late summer along mountain trails are a local delicacy and statewide obsession. Huckleberry jam, huckleberry syrup, huckleberry jelly beans, huckleberry taffy, dried huckleberries… that’s just the start. But the best berry is the one you pick yourself, perhaps on the Sawtooth Creak Trail in the Bitterroots or the aptly named Huckleberry Lookout Trail near West Glacier. Even if you’re supposed to be collecting some for later, go ahead. Nobody will miss one—or 20. 

Dance under the stars.

Other states have music outdoors, but there’s something very Montana-esque about setting up a camp chair in a cow pasture for the annual Red Ants Pants Music Festival outside of White Sulphur Springs. Cowboy boots or sandals, you’ll fit right in. The annual Montana Folk Festival brings free roots music to Butte, and the Sweet Pea Festival brings positive vibes and good-time genre-bending music to a city park in Bozeman. A show at the Kettlehouse Amphitheater along the Blackfoot River outside of Missoula would be a perfect cap to a Montana day.