Tag Archives: Montana

Glacier National Park

Overview

Officially, since 1932 this American-Canadian natural reserve has been called Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park.  We will focus on the U.S. side since you still need a passport to cross the border (when it is open).  The million-acre Glacier National Park was established in 1910 as a tourist destination and to protect its wildlife, including grizzly/brown bears.  It is open year round, but sees more than half its visitors in July and August.

Learn more in our guidebook to the National Parks, A Park to Yourself: Finding Adventure in America’s National Parks (available on Amazon).

Highlights

Going-to-the-Sun Road, St. Mary Lake, Logan Pass, Many Glacier Hotel, Iceberg Lake

Must-Do Activity

The world renowned Going-to-the-Sun Road was built to cross the park from east to west in the 1920s.  At its highest point (6,646-foot Logan Pass), the road crosses the Continental Divide, an imaginary line where a raindrop drains all the way into the Atlantic Ocean on one side and into the Pacific Ocean on the other.  Hidden Lake Overlook near the Logan Pass Visitor Center is known for sightings of mountain goats, bighorn sheep, and hoary marmots.

Best Trail

Avalanche Lake is located at the end of a two-mile one-way hike from the famous Going-to-the-Sun Road.  We spotted a grizzly/brown bear on the way back from our hike there.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Hidden Lake often reflects the image of Bearhat Mountain, which is why we chose it as our logo design for Glacier National Park (see below).

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/glac/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

$35 per vehicle or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

Vehicles over 21 feet in length or eight feet in width are prohibited in the middle sections of Going-to-the-Sun Road.  Good dirt roads lead to campgrounds at Bowman Lake and Kintla Lake on the west side of the park.

Camping

St. Mary and Fish Creek Campgrounds accept reservations and several others are available on a first-come, first-served basis.

Related Sites

Yellowstone National Park (Wyoming-Montana-Idaho)

Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site (Montana)

Big Hole National Battlefield (Montana)

This design we created to celebrate Glacier National Park is available on a variety of products at Cafe Press and Amazon.

Explore More – When were the iconic “red jammer” buses first introduced to the park?

We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.

Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area

Overview

Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area is an underappreciated gem in the National Park Service (NPS) system.  It has gorgeous scenery, a winding reservoir, and abundant wildlife, including bighorn sheep and wild horses.  The 525-foot tall Yellowtail Dam was completed in 1968, creating a 71-mile long reservoir, the majority of which is in narrow Bighorn Canyon where cliffs soar up to 2,000 feet above the water.

Highlights

Devil Canyon Overlook, Hillsboro Dude Ranch, Horseshoe Bend, Yellowtail Dam

Must-Do Activity

No road connects the north and south portion of the park, making for a long drive between the NPS visitor center in Lovell, Wyoming and the one at the Yellowtail Dam in Montana.  Thus, it is best to choose either one side or the other and explore the canyon by boat.  Devil Canyon Overlook and most of the 27 miles of hiking trails are in the southern section.  This is also where the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range enters into Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area.  In the summer there are lifeguards at the designated swimming areas at Horseshoe Bend and Ok-A-Beh.

Best Trail

The southern portion of Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area has trails to historic sites like Hillsboro Dude Ranch and several tipi rings found along Bad Pass Trail, a route which has seen over 10,000 years of human use.

Instagram-worthy Photo

If you are unable to get out on the water, the highlight of the park is Devil Canyon Overlook where the cliffs drop over 1,000 feet straight down to the lake.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/bica/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

None

Road Conditions

Almost every road is paved, but they are narrow and winding so may not be advisable for very long RVs.

Camping

There are drive-in campgrounds (fee) in both states, as well as free boat-in campgrounds on the Montana side.  Backcountry camping is allowed below the highwater mark of Bighorn Lake.

Related Sites

Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument (Montana)

Devils Tower National Monument (Wyoming)

Jewel Cave National Monument (South Dakota)

Explore More – The Yellowtail Dam is named after whom?

Nez Perce National Historical Park

Overview

Nez Perce National Historical Park is unique because it comprises 38 sites stretching across four states, not even including an 1877 incident inside Wyoming’s Yellowstone National Park.  Many of the locations (as well as Big Hole National Battlefield) cover the War of 1877, when a portion of the tribe fled more than 1,000 miles from Oregon towards the Canadian border only to be stopped 40 miles short by the U.S. Army at Bear Paw Battlefield in Montana.  Under the leadership of legendary Chief Joseph they crossed the Rocky Mountains at Lolo Pass, made famous by the Lewis and Clark Expedition that the tribe assisted in 1805.

Highlights

Museum, film, Heart of the Monster, Lolo Pass, Bear Paw Battlefield

Must-Do Activity

The main National Park Service (NPS) visitor center is in Spalding, Idaho on the Nez Perce Indian Reservation where the “heart of the monster” resides.  According to legend, after Coyote slew the monster that inhaled all the people, its heart and liver came to rest on the banks of the Clearwater River.  This park is also unique because the Nez Perce remain an active tribe with a strong sense of community, as documented in the excellent new film at the visitor center.  Highway 12 follows the beautiful Clearwater River through northern Idaho and provides access points for the unpaved Lolo Motorway (a section of the Nez Perce National Historical Trail) and its many scenic overlooks.

Best Trail

Nez Perce National Historical Trail stretches 1,170 miles from Oregon to Montana, ending at the NPS site at Bear Paw Battlefield where a five-day fight finally led to the tribe’s surrender in October 1877.

Instagram-worthy Photo

At a roadside pullout on Highway 95 in Idaho, the NPS interprets White Bird Battlefield where 34 U.S. Army soldiers were killed on June 17, 1877 escalating the U.S. government’s conflict with the Nez Perce into a war.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/nepe/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

None

Road Conditions

Most of the major roads are paved, with the notable exception of the Lolo Motorway which requires a high clearance vehicle (and four-wheel drive on its western end).

Camping

There are camping opportunities ranging from dispersed to developed located throughout Clearwater, Nez Perce, and Wallowa-Whitman National Forests.

Related Sites

Big Hole National Battlefield (Montana)

Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site (Montana)

Whitman Mission National Historic Site (Washington)

Explore More – After the 1863 “Steal Treaty” reduced the Nez Perce Reservation by 90%, what was the 1887 federal law that allowed another 90% to end up in white ownership?

Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument

Overview

You may not recall the 1876 battle at the Little Bighorn River in southern Montana, but most Americans (even children) recognize its label “Custer’s Last Stand.”  For such a relatively minor skirmish in the bloody 1800s, it has an outsized legend that only grows with time.  At this site more than 140 years ago, a large portion of the 7th U.S. Cavalry met their demise for tactical reasons still debated to this day.  The blame is generally placed upon Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer who was believed to be jockeying for a presidential nomination in the 1876 election.  Today this National Park Service (NPS) site is located on the Crow Indian Reservation in southern Montana, just off Interstate 90.

Highlights

Museum, Custer National Cemetery, driving tour, Last Stand Hill, Indian Memorial

Must-Do Activity

On June 25, 1876, with only 600 soldiers, Custer attempted to defeat a temporary village composed of multiple tribes numbering over 7,000 individuals.  Never before had so large an American Indian encampment been collected anywhere on the Great Plains.  Renowned war chiefs Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, Two Moons, and many others have their words memorialized at the Indian Memorial, not built at Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument until 1997 near the mass grave on Last Stand Hill.  Be sure to come in late June for the opportunity to witness a historical reenactment of the famous battle, which is held on the Crow Indian Reservation adjacent to the 765-acre National Monument.

Best Trail

None

Instagram-worthy Photo

The Battle of the Little Bighorn Reenactment is a two-hour, fully narrated presentation explaining the significance of the Battle of the Greasy Grass (as the American Indians call it).  The site of the reenactment is a ford where Lieutenant Colonel Custer’s battalion came closest to the encampment where 1,800 warriors of the Sioux, Cheyenne, and Arapahoe Nations were gathered to protect their families.  American Indian riders go bareback, leaping on and off their ponies with ease, while saddled 7th U.S. Cavalry re-enactors splash through the fast-flowing Little Bighorn River astride powerful horses.

Peak Season

Summer (the best time of year to visit is around the June 25 anniversary when a reenactment of the battle is held)

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/libi/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

$25 per vehicle or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

There is a small, private campground at the exit from Interstate 90, but the nearest NPS campground is 40 miles away at Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area.

Related Sites

Washita Battlefield National Historic Site (Oklahoma)

Big Hole National Battlefield (Montana)

Devils Tower National Monument (Wyoming)

Explore More – When was Custer National Cemetery originally established and when did it become part of a National Monument?

Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site

Overview

When you park at Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site you are in Montana, but as you walk to the fort you cross into North Dakota, changing time zones from Mountain to Central Time.  Strategically located near the confluence of the Yellowstone and Missouri Rivers, the trading post lasted from 1828 to 1867 when it was sold to the U.S. Army who dismantled it to build Fort Buford two miles downstream.  Fort Union primarily traded with Plains Indians for bison hides, since beaver skin top hats were out of fashion by that point.

Highlights

Museum, reconstructed fort, Fort Buford State Historic Site, Missouri-Yellowstone River confluence

Must-Do Activity

The National Park Service (NPS) visitor center is located inside the reconstructed Bourgeois (field agent) House, one of several buildings and palisades rebuilt between 1985 and 1991 using rot-resistant fir instead of the original cottonwood.  After touring Fort Union, drive to Fort Buford State Historic Site where a visitor center (fee) opened at the two rivers’ confluence in August 2003 as part of the Lewis and Clark bicentennial celebration.

Best Trail

The Bodmer Overlook Trail climbs one mile to a point where Swiss painter Karl Bodmer sketched the fort in 1833.  The trailhead is located north of Highway 1804.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The colorful Bourgeois House is where the trading post manager lived.  A four-day fur-trade rendezvous is held annually at the park in June.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/fous/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

None at the NPS site, but there is an entrance fee at Fort Buford State Historic Site.

Road Conditions

Access roads are paved.

Camping

There is a campground at nearby Fort Buford State Historic Site.

Related Sites

Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site (North Dakota)

Fort Vancouver National Historic Site (Washington)

Theodore Roosevelt National Park (North Dakota)

Explore More – What famous ornithologist stayed at the fort in 1843?