MONTANA IN SUMMER
“I’m in love with Montana. For other states I have admiration, respect, recognition, even some affection. But with Montana it is love. And it’s difficult to analyze love when you’re in it… Montana seems to me to be what a small boy would think Texas is like from hearing Texans.”
– John Steinbeck, “Travels with Charley: In Search of America”
Called the “Last Best Place”, the “Treasure State”, and “Big Sky Country,” it is hard to explain Montana in a worthy manner. One has to see its “purple mountain majesty,” rolling golden hills, and breathe its fresh crisp mountain air to fully understand how Montana is one of the United States’ final great treasures. The western side of the state is capped by Glacier National Park in the north and braced by Yellowstone National Park in the south and the land in between will make you wish for a time long ago and want to stay forever.
If you love snow sports do not miss Montana in the winter! However, we want to focus on summer as it is a season for all in Montana. First, the dry and pleasant weather is a nice break from the scorching heat of the southwest and strangling humidity elsewhere in the country. Second, there is so much to do and experience in the wide-open spaces of Montana in the summer, we believe every American should make a pilgrimage there at least once in their lives!
Summer events in Montana include, but are not limited to: various Native American festivals and pow wows like the Crow Native Days in June, various rodeos like the Bozeman PRCA Rodeo in August, Evel Knievel Days in Butte, and the River City Roots Festival in Missoula in August. For some old-school fun, don’t forget all the county and state-wide fairs either!
Drive the “Going-to-the-Sun” Road in Glacier National Park and the Beartooth Pass between East Yellowstone and Red Lodge. Pan for gold and sapphires in Philipsburg, Montana. Raft in the Yellowstone River. Fly fish the Blackfoot River, just like Brad Pitt in “A River Runs Through It.” Hike in just about any of Montana’s 55 state parks or of course, Glacier and Yellowstone National Park. While you’re up in the mountains, keep your eyes peeled for huckleberries growing close to the ground!
Visit the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument to see where Custer had his “last stand”. One of the many ghost towns in the state like Bannack State Park. Amazing dinosaur fossils at the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman. The many geysers and wildlife of Yellowstone National Park.
If it says wild huckleberry (jam, pie, pancake, milkshake, etc.), eat it. Montana has some of the best beef in the country. Eat a dry-aged steak or prime rib at one of Montana’s many steakhouses – our favorite, Barclay’s II in Anaconda. Flathead cherry season is in the summer – buy them fresh! If you see morel mushrooms on the menu, order them! For those that are brave, try the deep-fried Rocky Mountain Oysters (calf testicles). Fried pork chop sandwiches with pickles and mustard are sort of Montana’s century old answer to the south’s fried chicken sandwiches. Finally, get a taste of the Cornish miners’ heritage dish, pasties (especially in Butte).
Did we mention sapphires yet? Montana is famous for its deep blue, brilliant, and clear “Yogo” sapphires. Mine for them, get them faceted, and set in jewelry all in Montana! Don’t miss one of the world’s best old-school candy stores, The Sweet Palace in Philipsburg, featuring home-made chocolates, fudge, and saltwater taffy. Any huckleberry products are sure to taste 100 times better when procured in Montana as these tart/sweet berries grow wild in abundance here in the summer. Lodgepole pine furniture here is rustic, beautiful, and sold for a premium outside of Montana.
We like to stay in and around Montana in a variety of ways. Depending on the location and purpose of your stay, we recommend the following kinds of accommodations. Book in-park lodges like, Many Glacier Hotel or Lake McDonald Lodge well in advance because they fill up fast! For a true glamping experience, check out places like Under Canvas in West Yellowstone. For a nice urban boutique, we love the Northern Hotel in Billings. If you’re looking for some old west history, try the Murray Hotel in Livingston. Finally, for a crème-de-la-crème experience, stay in Forbes only 5-star ranch resort, the Ranch at Rock Creek in Philipsburg.
Montana weather can vary depending on the location in the state. After all, it is a huge state (4th largest in the nation)! July and August temps in Missoula are highs of 85°F/ 84°F and lows of 52°F/ 51°F/, respectively. This is a dry heat so it is not too bad during the day and quite cold at night. There is little rain during these months and as such, forest fire danger can be high.
You’ll find that most of Montana is quite affordable relative to many other tourist destinations in the United States. Summer is peak season and lodging is usually quite a bit higher in the summer. We typically work with four and five-star hotels in order to ensure our clients get the best service while traveling. Expect to pay $100-200/ night for our recommended hotels and $400+/ night for our favorite glamping and luxury dude ranch resorts.
Potpourri – Did you know that no state has as many different species of mammals as Montana? For one, Montana has the largest migratory elk herd in the nation and the largest grizzly bear population in the lower 48. There are over 8000 moose in the state. In fact, the elk, deer, and antelope populations outnumber humans in Montana!
You’re going to need a car to get around this state, preferably with 4 wheel or all-wheel drive if you want to go off-roading. Like we mentioned, it is a huge state! Give yourself plenty of time to get from one side of the state to the other. When driving in the mountainous west, you’ll also want to allow plenty of time for site-seeing, because you’ll probably come across many stunning vistas and see a lot of wildlife!
For trips to Glacier National Park, we recommend flying into Missoula. For Yellowstone, we recommend flying into Bozeman. Sometimes you can get cheaper tickets in and out of Billings, Helena, and Great Falls. You’ll just have to drive two or three more hours to get to where you likely want to go. You’ll always want to rent a car though. The only other way we like to get to Montana is via Amtrak. The Empire Builder runs from Seattle to Chicago, stopping in Whitefish and Shelby, MT along the way.
How long do I need?
You’ll probably want to move here, or at least buy a second home here, because it’ll harken within you a peace and pride you may never have felt before. Otherwise, for a first-time visit, try to come for at least one week (if you are not including Yellowstone). If you are including Yellowstone in the visit, give yourself at least 10 days.
Montana is a kid’s paradise. With unlimited outdoor activity, kids are sure to find something they love from fishing, to boating, to camping, to horse-riding, to wildlife seeing. Kids also especially love the Dino Lab in Billings (see fossils being cleaned and excavated), the Sweet Palace candy story in Philipsburg, dog sledding, the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center, and the carousel and playground at Caras Park in Missoula.