Are you planning a vacation to beautiful Montana? Make sure you read up on this checklist of Things to Do in Montana created by the Backroad to Yellowstone. We detail some awesome things to do in Montana and throughout the famous Madison Valley!
1. Take a relaxing dip in Montana’s legendary hot springs. The Norris Hot Springs are considered the “Water of the Gods”, and are perfect for taking a soak. Or check out the Bozeman Hot Springs at Four Corners, where people have been visiting for more than 100 years. These famous hot springs are perfect for visiting on a cold fall, winter or spring day.
2. Visit our beautiful national parks. Yellowstone National Park is known for its abundance of wildlife and breathtaking geography. Check out our Guide to Yellowstone for more information. Grand Teton National Park can be found at the south end of Yellowstone NP – renowned for its classic craggy peaks.
3. Go for a scenic drive. Full of wide open spaces and natural beauty, is no shortage of scenic drives in Montana. In fact, drive US 287 as a scenic route all the way from Glacier through Ennis and into the west entrance of Yellowstone National Park.
4. Find all of our beautiful wildflowers. Montana is famous for it’s beautiful nature, wildflowers included. Alpine meadows provide showy displays of wildflowers beginning in early June through August. Join us each year when we take a wildflower tour with the US Forest Service up the Gravelly Range Road near Ennis in July.
There are several designated Botanical Sanctuaries in Montana. The Lamar Valley in Yellowstone NP and Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge are both convenient to Ennis and US 287.
5. Cast Your Fly Fishing Line in a Montana River
Anglers come from near and far just to take on some outstanding Madison River fly fishing. The Madison River, from Madison Junction in Yellowstone to Three Forks, is a fly fishing mecca for serious anglers. It is classified as a blue ribbon fishery in Montana and is one of the most productive streams in Montana for brown trout, rainbow trout and mountain whitefish.
Fly fishermen know of the peace and adventure they’ll experience on a Montana fishing trip. The famous rivers are home to an abundance of native species fish. Not to mention the serene views that let you experience the natural beauty of the The Treasure State.
- If you’re planning on fly fishing in Montana, visit the Montana FWP website to research general rules and safety tips.
- Make sure to buy a Montana fishing license to avoid any hefty fines from the FWP on the Montana rivers.
- Different rules apply to different rivers (and even stretches of certain rivers), so read up on Montana fishing regulations, and educate yourself before you dip a line!
6. Visit a Montana brewery or distillery. Follow this trail map of breweries or this list of distilleries. Locals like to visit our favorite craft distillery, Willie’s Distillery, for one of their delicious specialty cocktails.
7. Eat! Montana is packed with wonderful restaurants that offer authentic Montana cuisine. Ever had elk or bison? Head over to the Continental Divide Restaurant & Bistro and try both in a relaxing, sophisticated setting. Or spend a summer evening at Bandito’s Restaurant with a great bar and lively vibe.
8. Check out a western rodeo. Watch cowboys and cowgirls ride buckin’ broncos and lasso cattle from their saddles. If you’re in Montana for the 4th of July, don’t miss the popular Ennis Rodeo, which has been going for more than 60 years! And the 4th of July parade is small-town awesome, too!
9. Visit Virginia City because you won’t find another town quite like it. Echos of vigilante justice and gold rush fever in a living town. Take a ghost-walk tour, learn history on a stagecoach tour or pan for gold in an authentic western town.
10. Take a Hike on one of Southwest Montana’s Trails
Montana offers amazing scenery and spectacular views. But if you really want to see the beauty of Southwest Montana up close and personal, you should take to the trails. With hundreds of thousands of miles of acreage to hike, the Madison Valley offers the best hiking in Montana.
There are an abundance of beautiful places and thousands of miles of hiking trails in the Madison Valley. From easy to difficult, from peaceful to intense, you’ll never experience a hike like the one you’ll do in Southwest Montana!
With the miles of vast wilderness and untouched land, there’s always a chance that your day could take an unexpected turn. If you’re out on an adventurous Montana hike, make sure you prepare yourself by keeping these resources handy:
- US Forest Service Emergency Number in Montana: 406-682-4253
- General outdoor safety information from US Forest Service
- Madison Valley hiking safety guidelines
11. Get geared up for your outdoor adventure. If you’re going fly fishing on the Madison River, make sure to stop by one of the many fish tackle shops in Ennis, MT. Stop in for the latest “no-fail” fly or up-to-date local information on hatches. Also, if you happened to forget anything at home – your fishing rod or waders, perhaps – you can visit the local sports store where you can pick up any fishing gear you may need! Click on the links below to find out more about where you can prepare for your Montana fly fishing adventure:
- The Tackle Shop – Montana’s Oldest Fly Fishing Tackle Shop!
- Shedhorn Sports – From hunting licenses to high tech GPS, Shedhorn carries everything!
12. Spend your nights in a log cabin. Nothing completes your Montana adventure like coming home to a log cabin. El Western Cabins & Lodges in Ennis, MT built its first cabin in 1948 and has lodges of all sizes to accommodate your party. A western tradition with all the comforts – not to be missed!
13. Hit the links at one of Montana’s 119 golf courses. Test your skills at the “best little course in Montana”, Madison Meadows Golf Course.
14. Pan for gold! The historic towns of Nevada City and Virginia City were gold mining towns back in the day and visitors can still pan the river gold.
15. Go Montana Horseback Riding
There’s no more authentic – and better – way to spend your day than on the back of a noble steed, trotting through the untamed wilderness of Montana. With a strong cowboy heritage, working horses are still a fixture on most local ranches. Ride with experienced outfitters through the Beaverhead National Forest and enjoy amazing views in the Rocky Mountains.
16. Visit a fish hatchery. Since fishing is such a huge part of Southwestern Montana culture, it’s fitting that the Ennis is home to one of the largest broodstock hatcheries in the entire Forest Service National Broodstock Program. The Ennis National Fish Hatchery has been one of only two rainbow trout hatcheries in the federal US that hatches rainbow trout. 20 million rainbow trout eggs are produced each year and sent to more than 20 states.
17. See the abandoned cabins at Earthquake Lake. After Madison River flows out of Yellowstone, it keeps running its course, north, into Southwestern Montana. It steadily streams through Madison Valley on it’s way past the west entrance of Yellowstone and into Hebgen Lake. Just past Hebgen Lake, the river flows into the infamous Quake Lake. Quake Lake is a long whitewater section of the river that was created from the 1959 earthquake that struck the area and created the lake.
18. While you’re at Quake Lake, get a wholesome brunch at the Campfire Lodge. Since 1922, this riverside stopover has been feeding and lodging hunters, fisherman, and adventurers of all kinds.
19. Enjoy the museums, shops, and restaurants around the west entrance of Yellowstone. US 287 and US 191 converge at this park entrance, bringing visitors from Bozeman, Big Sky, Missoula, Idaho, Washington and more. It makes the west entrance a popular destination filled with many attractions.
20. Float Down the Madison River
The start of the Madison River is in Yellowstone National Park and it is very easy to get to. Whether you are an expert fly fisherman, a novice, or simply want to go for a relaxing float down the river, the Madison River is for you.
The Tackle Shop or the Madison River Fly Fishing Company can set you up with all the gear you need for an enjoyable jaunt down the river. Additionally, there are several shops in West Yellowstone that offer tubing.
21. Explore Montana art. Find authentic western art inspired by the early settlers or modern pieces created by famous Montana artists. Take an outdoor art tour or see all of the events and galleries in Montana.
22. Hike “up Jack Creek,” as locals say. Just east of Ennis, MT, Jack Creek comes racing out of the Fan Mountain foothills. The Jack Creek hike along the stream makes for a fantastic day with a combination of scenic drives and beautiful walks. A great way to spend an autumn day catching the leaves changing colors.
If you’re starting from Ennis, head out of town about 12 miles east until the blacktop becomes a dirt road. After a short drive, you’ll start climbing up into the mountains, past grazing elk and antelope chomping on the native prairie grasses. Once you’re high enough in the mountains, you’ll come across the Diamond J Ranch. Drive past that up toward the parking and trailhead that’s the start of the trail.
23. Find out why Montana is known as “Big Sky Country”, with a beautiful ascent into valleys and gorgeous displays of twinkling starts at night. Make sure to say hi to the neighbors while you’re here.
24. Dip your toe in the water. If you’re in search of how you can get your feet wet in some Montana waters, then visit the Montana Fish Wildlife & Parks website. There you are able to search for the nearest Fishing Access Site (FAS) of more than 300 locations.
25. Camp in Montana
Montana camping offers some of the best camping experiences in the US, and possibly throughout the world. If you like natural landscapes and gorgeous views, Montana campgrounds should be on your list of top vacation spots for your next trip. There are camping areas made for remote camping and there are that offer a little bit in the way of amenities, such as toilets and running water. Whatever you’re looking for in your Montana camping experience, you’ll find it.
If you’re planning on adventuring on the Backroad to Yellowstone, and are looking for camping opportunities before you get to your destination, the most popular area is the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest.
Visit the Montana State Parks website to see a list of more campsites around Montana.
26. Hike the 12 mile loop on Bear Creek Trail. Bear Creek Hiking Trail offers views and access to the most beautiful mountains in the Madison Valley. As an easy, non-technical hike, the Bear Creek Trail features gorgeous views, high elevation and switchbacks.
27. Be entertained by the hilarious sketch comedy show called Brewery Follies. They perform out of the old H.S. Gilbert Brewery in historic Virginia City; a venue as unique as the performance. Word of warning: Leave the kids at home!
28. For adrenaline junkies, take a white water rafting trip! The infamous “Kitchen Sink” rapid in Bear Trap Canyon rates a IV in the spring run-off. Not for novices!! Limited guided trips available through the Bear Trap Express. Or for the milder-wild, ride the rapids in the Gallatin River with Montana Whitewater Company.
29. Drive the beautiful Gallatin Canyon and take a zip-line in at Big Sky Resort in the summer. Named by Merriweather Lewis of Lewis & Clark, this beautiful canyon features Gallatin River where the angling opportunities are abundant. All part of the Gallatin Forest. The Gallatin offers miles and miles of off-road motorized vehicle adventurers summer or winter!
30. Head up to the Gravelly Range
If you’re in the mood for beautiful views of Big Sky Country, then the Gravelly Range is where you want to head. A trip to this beautiful mountain range, where you can hike, picnic or just hang out, makes for a great way to spend your day in Montana.
31. Look for hidden treasure…Montana is a geocaching gold mine! GPS is a great tool for any outdoor adventure in Montana – especially when you are on a treasure hunt in the Treasure state!
32. Go bird watching, and capture some spectacular views of Montana’s feathered friends. Did you know that Madison Valley is designated as an Important Bird Area in 2004? You might see anything from horned owls to waterfowl! Or check out Red Rocks National Refuge near Lima, Montana for amazing water fowl.
33. Attend the Air Fair at Ennis Big Sky Airport, where planes perform high-flying twists, turns, and flips! If you’re not into airplanes, then check out the classic cars or fantastic food at any of the food stands.
34. Head over to Willie’s Distillery for the Annual Pig Pickin’ event, featuring famous Montana moonshine and music. Not to mention the delicious, authentic Montana food!
35. Tour the Lewis & Clark Caverns
The Lewis & Clark Caverns are a sight to behold among Montana tourist attractions. Designated as a national monument by Teddy Roosevelt, these caverns are named after the famous expedition of Lewis & Clark who passed over the caverns more than 200 years ago – come see why!
36. Spend a few hours shopping at the locally-famous, Otter Banks, where the motto is: “Where you’ll find everything you want, and want everything you find!” If you’re a shopaholic, Otter Banks is calling your name. Or try Benjie’s for amazing prices on silver jewelry.
37. Get out your mountain bike and hit the trails! Your legs will never be the same!
38. Spend a few hours learning about Montana and the Rocky Mountains at the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman. MOR features stunning exhibits of dinosaurs and American Indian history, as well as activities such as a planetarium and walkable garden.
39. If you love state history, then soak up as much as possible at the Montana Capitol Building. The gorgeous building was built in 1896 and is considered the “People’s House.” For more than a hundred years, the Montana State Legislature has been governing from the capital, Helena. With a tour conducted by the Montana Historical Society, gaze at the famous rotunda, standing atop the building and more.
40. Learn At The Madison Valley History Museum
The Madison Valley History Museum is where the history of the Madison Valley comes to life. Through a collection of exhibits featuring artifacts, videos, photographs and stories, the museum educates visitors on the hundreds of years of Madison Valley life and culture.
Get Going to the Backroad Now!
If any of these things to do in Montana sound appealing to you, then take a look at the adventure awaiting you on the Backroad to Yellowstone. On US Highway 287, you’ll have an authentic Montana vacation, seeing the wild west for what it truly is: A beautiful, majestic, often unforgiving, but never uninspiring destination for the outdoor enthusiast.
The next vacation you take has the chance to be a great one. Plan your trip to Southwest Montana today.