Whether you call it the “Treasure State”, the “Big Sky Country”, the “Last Best Place”, or don’t call it anything at all, because maybe you’re unaware of how insurmountably amazing the state is, Montana is arguably the most beautiful, important, and welcoming state in the United States.
Ok. I’ll admit it. I’m biased; I’m from there, but celebrities have been coming to Montana since the ‘90s to escape the hectic environments of LA and NYC. Most recently, Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner spent Ben’s Birthday at the exclusive Yellowstone Club where they own a condo. In recent years, many Montana all-inclusive resorts, which happen to also be some of the world’s most prestigious and luxurious resorts have gained notoriety due to the increased interest in “glamping” and dude ranch-style holidays. Just a few of these resorts to note are: the Triple Creek Ranch which was named the #1 hotel in the world by Travel + Leisure magazine in 2014; The Resort at Paws Up, named one of the 5 Best Resorts in America by a Conde Nast Traveler readers poll; and my personal favorite (its in my hometown), the World’s Only Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star Guest Ranch, The Ranch at Rock Creek.
Montana is one of the last places in the country where you can see more wildlife than people, from elk to bears, to moose, to mountain goats. Montana has some of the best trout fishing in the country. Montana has endless mountains to ascend, trails to bike, slopes to ski, rivers to raft, lakes to kayak, fields of wildflowers to lay in, and stars to gaze at. Its home to Glacier National Park, Yellowstone National Park, Custer had his last stand here, and Lewis and Clark did a lot of running around here during their Corps of Discovery Days. There is a reason it has its nicknames: its skies go on forever, at night or day, the land offers endless resources and natural recreation, and nowhere else in the lower 48 is like it.
If you’re not into highly active outdoor activities, fear not. Montana has something for everyone, from art, to epicurean delights, to shopping, to gold panning, and sapphire digging…oh, and how can I forget the amazing beer scene?! Montana is the state with the highest brewery per capita in the USA. And, the people are just the best!
I could go on forever about why Montana is awesome sauce and why you should absolutely plan a vacation here soon, but I’m going to give you a quick run-down of my most recent vacation there to give you an idea on what kinds of amazing things you can do while you’re in Montana.
Virginia City, Lewis and Clark Caverns, Butte, and Anaconda
In the southwest corner of the state, situated between the West Yellowstone gate and Missoula, these three destinations are a great representation of how Montana grew to be the state it is today. Virginia City is a well-preserved ghost town from the gold rush, Victorian era just outside of West Yellowstone – fun for the whole family! Lewis and Clark Caverns is a limestone cavern filled with amazing stalactites, stalagmites, and more. Its about one hour from Virginia City and has a nice campground right at the State Park. Access to the caverns is by guided tour only so make sure to plan for the 2-hour tour ahead of time. There are many steps; therefore, mobile capability is a must. The geologic wonders will impress the whole family!
Butte deserves an entire blog post on its own. This town is rife with history from being the center of the Industrial Revolution’s copper mining, to arguably starting the labor revolution and beginning the modern era’s union force, to being the birthplace of none other than Evel Knievel. It’s a somewhat depressed large town these days, but there are still MANY things to do here and I believe it is in the beginning stages of a cultural renaissance that could revitalize Butte beyond that of its glory days. While there, we stayed at the boutique Miner’s Hotel in the Kelley Suite, situated in “Uptown Butte” within walking distance to bars and restaurants. We enjoyed a dinner at Park 217 and a lunch at the Hummingbird Café. In between this, we took the Butte Chamber of Commerce’s Trolley Tour led by a local high school history teacher who provided all kinds of entertaining history to absorb along the ride. As part of the trip, we got to visit the Berkeley Pit, one of the world’s largest open pit mining operations. My daughter really enjoyed the trolley ride!
Anaconda is about 20 minutes northwest of Butte and also played an important role in the
industrial revolution as much of the copper smelting took place here. Anaconda is home to one of the world’s largest freestanding masonry structures, the Anaconda Smoke Stack. Anaconda is also home to the best steak in the world! In my not-so-humble opinion (I have spent a lot of money on steak in some very upscale steak restaurants around the world), the best steak you’ll ever eat is at Barclay II in Anaconda, Montana. Period. End of story. But, seriously, they dry age their prime steaks and I just can’t enjoy a rib steak anywhere else. They also craft a mean martini and all dinners are served “supper club style”, which means they come with antipasti, salad, breadsticks, shrimp cocktail, spaghetti, and ravioli, with a side of your choice potato, and it all ends with a nice scoop of spumoni or ice cream. I seriously recommend you go out of your way to eat here.
Philipsburg, my hometown, is the winner of Sunset Magazine’s Best Municipal Makeover/ Reinvention. When I was a kid, this place was struggling. It had been a booming mining community in its heyday, but as times changed, the community struggled. Meanwhile, some ambitious and creative people in town literally painted the buildings, planted some flowers, and presto! It is now a flourishing cultural small town that has a growing tourism economy. I’m not going to lie. It took more than a few cans of
paint and some flowers and there are definitely people still going through hard times there, but the community bands together better than any other place I’ve seen in the USA (and I’ve lived in many places!) This town exhibits what it means to be American and I encourage you to check it out. Aside from that, there are some really fun things to do here as well. Depending on the season, you could be fly-fishing to your heart’s content or skiing in some world-class powder. Or, if that’s not your thing, you can shop ‘til you drop, mine sapphires, attend the theater, check out a ghost town, visit some museums, drink award-winning beer, or eat some delicious grub. Lodging ranges from cozy vacation rentals to comfortable B&Bs, to the World’s Only Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star Guest Ranch, The Ranch at Rock Creek. There is always some kind of event going on in town, no matter what time of year, so plan to visit and let me know how I can help you!
The state capital of Montana, Helena is a growing city rich in history. Self-described as halfway between Yellowstone and Glacier, it is a lovely little city that keeps me wanting to go back to explore more. A couple of my favorite spots are the Blackfoot River Brewing Company and Last Chance Gulch, a nice little area to take a stroll. I still need to go and ride the Last Chance Tour Train, because I hear its pretty fun!
Bozeman & Livingston
My husband (and I) fell in love with Bozeman on this last trip. It’s like the perfect
combination of a cowboy town and a hippie town. If you think that is crazy, you haven’t been to Bozeman yet. Bozeman is right outside of Yellowstone National Park and is bordered by mountains, making it uber accessible to the slopes for those that love to ski or snowboard. It’s home to the Montana State University, so it definitely has the hippie, artsy, cultural vibe that typically comes with a college town (and I admittedly love.) While there, we stayed at the modern, hipster hotel, the LARK. It was right in the downtown area and was home to a delicious breakfast burrito food truck, Victory Taco and a really tasty ice cream truck, Genuine Ice Cream. The room we stayed in came with a set of red bunk beds, that my daughter loved and the walls were decorated in infographics of Montana factoids and other contemporary murals. We fell in love with the walkable downtown area, which included Montana Ale Works, Townshends Tea House, and the Garage Soup Shack & Mesquite Grill.
No visit to Bozeman is complete without going to the Museum of the Rockies. The museum’s Siebel Dinosaur Complex alone is worth the visit. T-Rex and Triceratops are among the fossils on display here. The curator for the exhibit is none other than Jack Horner, the man that served as the scientific advisor for all the Jurassic Park films. NBD, right? But seriously, this is a great museum. My husband and I were very impressed, even after living in Washington, D.C. where we had access to some of the best natural history museums in the world.
I think I’ve taken up enough of your time for this week and have hopefully sold you on the idea of going to Montana if you haven’t already yet. Next time, I’ll continue with the rest of my favorite Montana places:
- Yellowstone National Park, Beartooth Highway, and Red Lodge
- Billings, Pompeys Pillar, & Little Bighorn Battlefield
- Kalispell, Flathead Lake, Whitefish, Glacier National Park
Stay tuned, my friends!