10 Memorable Ways to Explore Each of Montana's Tourism Regions
Montana’s Yellowstone Country is one of the most-visited areas of the state, and for good reason. From the dramatic peaks of the Gallatin Mountains to the sweeping, novel-worthy landscape of the Paradise Valley and beyond, Yellowstone Country is home to rugged mountains, wide-open prairies dotted with cattle, and the northernmost reaches of Yellowstone National Park. Adventure is in no short supply in Yellowstone Country, and here are 10 of our favorite outdoor adventures.
It’s hard to imagine a more "Montana" landscape than the rugged Yellowstone River as it flows through the stunning Paradise Valley. The valley, running between the towns of Livingston and Gardiner, is lined with snow-topped peaks and forested mountains, while the wide sweep of the valley is dotted with working ranches and cattle. Find your way into a raft or drift boat and sit back to simply take in the scenery. You won’t be disappointed.
The 68-mile Beartooth Highway, which runs through the Beartooth and Absaroka Mountains, is often dubbed the most beautiful road in America. The winding highway runs from Red Lodge to Cooke City and climbs to an elevation of 10,947 feet, offering hiking, camping, fishing, and sightseeing opportunities along the way. You’ll see 20 peaks that soar over 12,000 feet along the route, as well as high-alpine plateaus, glacial lakes and forested valleys. You’ll find lots of opportunities to stop the car for scenic views that include waterfalls and the abundant wildlife.
The breathtaking Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness is rugged country—suited to the mountain men of yore and to bold adventurers of the present. The wilderness is comprised of 937,032 acres, 913,338 of which are in Montana. While ambitious backpackers venture into the backcountry, the best way to cross these mountains is by horseback. Savvy outfitters know the best way over mountain passes and alongside wild rivers and can showcase this wild land to its full magnificence.
Feel like you need to gain some elevation—and not by hiking? Grab your harness, climbing shoes, rope, and a trusty belayer and head to the Paradise Valley. From quality bouldering in Yankee Jim Canyon to traditional climbing at Mill Creek or alpine climbing at Mount Cowen, there is no shortage of options along the valley. Check in with local outdoor shops to see where they recommend. After a solid day of climbing, head into downtown Livingston for a burger and beer at the famed Murray Bar.
The Gallatin River was perhaps made most famous when several of the fly fishing scenes from A River Runs Through It were filmed in the canyon section of the freestone. Anglers from around the world travel to the 90 miles of free-flowing trout water to see where the film was shot and to chase the river’s approximate 2,500 to 3,000 fish per mile. With meadow, canyon, and valley sections, the river offers diversity of scenery and fishing while also maintaining easy access.
No visit to Montana is complete without a summit hike. The popular Hyalite Peak trail, located just south of Bozeman, is less than a 30-minute drive from downtown. The 16.2-mile, out-and-back trail receives relatively heavy traffic in the summer months, so be sure to head out early to avoid both crowds and late afternoon thunderstorms. The dog-friendly trail climbs 4,045 feet to the summit of Hyalite Peak, offering stunning views down Hyalite Canyon and into the Gallatin Valley.
The Lower Madison River flows through Bear Trap Canyon 30 miles west of Bozeman, crafting one of locals’ favorite playgrounds. In the blazing dog days of summer, the relatively shallow and calm waters of Bear Trap are filled with float tubers, relaxing in the cool water while taking in the stunning canyon scenery. Tube rentals and shuttles are readily available in Bozeman, making logistics carefree.
Montana is cowboy country, and arguably one of the best ways to explore the Big Sky State is by horseback. In the resort town of Big Sky, nestled in the Gallatin Range south of Bozeman, several outfitters offer half-day, full-day, and even multi-day horseback trips into the backcountry. Riders of all skill levels will find something to their taste, and from the back of a horse it’s easy to imagine you’re back in the wild days of the Old West.
Tucked into the far southwest corner of Montana near the Idaho border, Red Rock Lakes National Refuge boasts a wildly diverse landscape. From the large wetland system to grassland, scrubby sagebrush, steppe, and forest, this is the ideal backdrop for hiking, fishing, photography, and bird watching. The last known breeding ground for trumpeter swans, the refuge is also home to many other species of birds and other wildlife.
The popular "M" Trail rests on the Bridger Mountains just northeast of Bozeman. Easy to spot, thanks to the large white “M” stenciled on the mountain by Montana State University students in 1915, the trail offers several different routes, ranging from relaxed and mellow to a challenging climb. Many locals use the 1.7-mile trail for a quick post-workday run, and you can expect to be greeted by friendly mountain-town dogs and stunning wildflowers.
After a hectic week of outdoor adventure, sometimes the body just needs rest. Chico Hot Springs near Pray is the ideal stop for a soak in Chico’s two open-air mineral hot springs pool. Open year-round, the hot springs are a social hub for locals and an inventive place to gain some local knowledge for your next adventure. Chico offers comfortable lodging and quality dining on-site—it serves as is an excellent "home base" while exploring the region.