Make Montana Your Top Travel Destination Part 2: Montana State and National Parks
March 2013 (updated 3/7/23)
by rebecca stewart | photo by max archila
In the March issue of Simply Family Magazine we gave you our top five reasons for adding Montana to your top-travel destinations. From there we brought you Part 1 of our Montana travel series, where we looked at water parks across the state, dabbled in Montana History, and shared a few exciting rodeo opportunities with you.
In this second installment we’ll be exploring some of our beautiful State and National Park options. With 54 State Parks and two National Parks, how could we not give the Parks their very own section? Come back for Part 3, where we’ll explore Montana’s hot springs, even more Montana History, and we’ll top everything off with a bit of random Montana awesomeness.
Montana’s State and National Parks
Because there are 54 State Parks we clearly won’t list them all here, but you can check out Montana State Parks website for complete details. If you’ve got a personal favorite, let us know in the comments below.
- Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park – Take an interactive (and odds are more fascinating) trip back to your Earth Science days with a trip to Lewis and Clark Caverns, which features “one of the largest limestone caverns in the Northwest.” Take a two-mile guided tour through the caverns lined with stalactites, stalagmites, columns, and helictites; the kiddos will enjoy the tour’s “famous Beaver Slide.”
- Bannack State Park – In Part 1 we promised to include Bannack State Park in our Montana travel series because not only is it touted as being one of the best preserved ghost towns in the country, but it’s the site of Montana’s first major gold discovery. This particular ghost town and State Park boasts year ‘round activities – from ice skating through the winter to bicycling, camping, and guided tours.
- Crystal Park – Three miles south of Dillon, this Montana Park comes with an enthusiastic recommendation from the Thomae family of Laurel. They make the trek to Crystal Park nearly every summer with their three children. Though it’s open for day use only, this park is tons of fun for the whole family. The Thomaes recommend bringing buckets and shovels for your little explorers to use while digging for crystals. Crystal Park has picnic areas, restrooms, rock map/guides, and 220 acres waiting to be explored.
- Madison Buffalo Jump State Park – Immerse yourself in Montana’s rich Native American history by visiting this State Park. The park includes “all the main geographical features of a jump site and other evidence remains to provide visitors with a glimpse into the cultures that used this hunting style. Interpretive displays help visitors understand the dramatic events that took place here for nearly 2,000 years. Buffalo bones still lie buried at the cliff's base, and archaeologists have located the tipi rings of an extensive village.”
- Yellowstone National Park has been in the news a great deal recently, along with Glacier, as the National Park Service copes with budget cuts that have the potential to impact spring openings for the parks. Regardless, let’s talk Yellowstone and why it should fall on your list of must-visit Montana-Wyoming travel spots.
Whether I was 5, 15, or 25 the beautiful wonders to be discovered at Yellowstone National Park never failed to fascinate me. Montana’s travel guide lists Old Faithful Geyser, Lamar Valley, Mammoth Hot Springs, and Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone as the park’s top destinations. While Old Faithful always struck me as magical, it’s Mammoth Hot Springs that I remember most vividly from my childhood. The smells, for sure, but the beauty as you walked along the boardwalk. Yellowstone’s website notes that the park is always changing; odds are you can expect a varied experience with every visit.
- Glacier National Park – For tips on getting the best out of your visit to this Montana gem, I turned to Max Archila who has worked at, and explored the Park for years. He was kind enough to share with us, via email, his top three Glacier spots, with a bonus he just couldn’t leave out.
Max’s top choice is the Two Medicine area, the first destination of the park when it started (100 years ago). You have the origins of Glacier Park, and it is not as crowded as the other entrances, plus you get to stop by East Glacier Park, which is a nice village where you can visit the Glacier Park Lodge or other businesses without the long lines.
Going-to-the-Sun Road is a must-visit for the park; amazing views of the heart of the park, wildlife along the road, glacier-fed river streams and Logan's Pass Visitor Center. Going-to-the-Sun Road is named after the mountain (and it seems like you are driving all the way up to the sun, while the visitor center is named after the first park's warden). It is 50 miles of amazing and heart-stopping drive into one of the most beautiful roads of America.
Iceberg Lake, one of the most famous hikes in the park, 6 miles in (12 round trip) will take you to one of the most beautiful places in the park. Frozen solid eight months out of the year, this lake will make you wonder if the water color is real or a painting. The trail has the most grizzly bears sightings/encounters in the park due to berries along the trail, and you will be able to see mountain goats and big horn sheep along the edges of the cliffs along the hike. You will enjoy every bit of this area.
And last but not least, you have Lake McDonald, which hosts the park headquarters and one of the lodges; the largest lake in the park, it has amazing views and is also the west entrance to the park in Going-to-the-Sun Road.
That brings us to the end of the road for part-2 of our Montana travel series, stay tuned for Part 3’s look at hot springs, museums, and more…