Western Montana is one of the most beautiful places in America. Millions of people flock here every year to see things like Glacier National Park, in fact many of them ONLY come to see Glacier.
I have been exploring this region for two years now in search of the best things to do in Montana. After buying a piece of land, building my dream vacation home, and renting it out on Airbnb to other travelers; it has become my own personal mission to discover amazing things to do near Flathead Lake, Glacier National Park, and the entire Western Montana corridor.
Here I’ve compiled a list of hidden gems I’ve discovered during my time here. They’re not completely unknown, especially to the locals, but they’re off the beaten path enough that you wouldn’t hear about them if you’re only researching a trip to Glacier National Park.
Location: Saint Ignatius
The Mission Reservoir is located just outside of St. Ignatius. A pristine location at the foot of the Mission Mountains, this is a great place for fishing, camping, or just relaxing. There is also a trail that takes you to a beautiful lookout in about fifteen minutes. You can also continue on into the deep wilderness to Lucifer Lake if you dare.
Garden of One Thousand Buddhas
If you are looking to truly slow down and find your inner peace, look no further than the Ewam Garden of One Thousand Buddhas. The Garden of One Thousand Buddhas is a public park, botanical garden and Buddhist center in the Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism. If you’re not interested in the meditation aspect, the garden itself is a beautiful sight to see.
Mission Valley Super Oval
If you’re seeking a place where the locals go, then look no further than the Mission Valley Super Oval. Hobby Stock Car Racing is deeply rooted in Montana culture and the MVSO is the best track in Montana. The track is also home to the major event, the Montana 200, an epic Legends race.
Garnet Ghost Town
From the 1860s to the 1890s there was a gold rush in the hills of Montana. Gold was struck and people flocked from all over to try and earn fortunes for themselves. Today there are several ghost towns that are still preserved with original buildings still standing. Garnet is one of the most well preserved and full of history. You can see dozens of buildings that take you back in time. You can even spend a night in a haunted cabin during the wintertime.
Location: Columbia Falls
When people ask me about things that are a “true Montana experience” there’s one thing that comes to mind, the Brash Rodeo. It’s an amazing sight to see if you’re a first timer like I was. Even if you’re from a place where the rodeo is common, the Brash Rodeo will live up to your expectations.
Hungry Horse Dam
Location: Hungry Horse
Towering at a staggering 564 feet in height, the Hungry Horse Dam was the third largest and second highest concrete dam in the world at the time of its completion in 1953. It’s a quick detour right off the highway on your way to Glacier National Park and a beautiful sight to see.
Miracle of America Museum
This place is straight out of an episode of American Pickers. The owner started off as a collector of Americana and eventually built such a large collection that in 1981 Gil & Joanne Mangels just had to begin showcasing it for the public to see. The collection is unbelievable, it is one of the largest single collections of American history in existence. It’s so massive that it took us over 3 hours to even see it all.
Location: Missoula (can purchase elsewhere)
My wife has been a cider drinker (she can’t drink beer due to her Celiac’s). So naturally when we first visited Montana she found us a local cidery to try. We were both blown away and now I prefer Western Cider over any beer you put in front of me. You can find 6 packs in just about any grocery store or gas station on Route 93 and enjoy these incredible and refreshing adult beverages for yourself.
Being from Philadelphia, we have been pretty spoiled by access to incredible restaurants. You don’t hear Montana talked about as one of the top places for cuisine (although I argue it should be). Montana Bonfire is a perfect example of an incredible restaurant located in a tiny town on the shores of Flathead Lake. Their new-American seasonal rotating menu is comparable to some of the best food I’ve had on the east coast, and their cocktails are as good as the food. Don’t drive past this place if you’re in Bigfork around dinner time.
I can’t mention Montana without mentioning my favorite place in the world, Mount Forge. This is our Airbnb cabin that humbly sits on 63 acres in the heart of Western Montana. It’s ten minutes from Flathead Lake and just over an hour from Glacier National Park. It’s also right in the middle of everything on this list, giving it the nickname “The Gateway to Western Montana”. If anything on this list sounds like something you have to experience, then come stay at Mount Forge and see it for yourself.