Don’t Waste Your Time at the Montana National Parks

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View of Glacier National Park in Montana

Montana National Parks are some of the most gorgeous national parks in the country. With over a million people residing in the state, you may think these national parks aren’t crowded.

Think again. Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks, while two of the most scenic sites are also two with the most visitors.

Add in the other national park designations in the state, and Montana starts to feel a bit crowded. Maybe you shouldn’t even visit this year.

Read on to learn more, and decide if it’s not a waste of time. Let’s get started!

How Many National Parks Are in Montana?

National parks are some of the most beloved and iconic places in the United States.

The government trusts the National Park Service with the care of over 400 national park units, including historical sites, monuments, national seashores, trails, and more.

Regardless of which agency manages the national parks and the national park units, they are all unique places offering diverse opportunities to connect with nature, learn about our country’s history, and enjoy some of the most beautiful scenery in the world.

In Montana, there are eight national park units, including two national parks and six national park service designations. The two national parks are two of the most iconic locations, making them very busy.

Those two parks are Yellowstone, which is also in Wyoming and Idaho, and Glacier. The six other units include two historic sites, a monument, a battlefield, a historical park, and a recreation area. 

About Montana National Parks

Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks usually don’t need an introduction.

With Glacier’s famous Going-to-the-Sun Road and Yellowstone’s Old Faithful, these parks have made it to almost everyone’s bucket list of must-see places.

However, does that mean they should be on your bucket list, too? With 61 other national parks across the country, maybe these Montana National Parks aren’t worth your time. Although, we beg to differ.

Glacier National Park 

Glacier National Park is one of the most popular national parks in Montana. The government established it in 1910, famous for over 700 miles of hiking trails and breathtaking scenery.

Visitors can enjoy various activities, including the scenic drive across the park on Going-to-the-Sun Road. 

Another trendy place is Lake MacDonald, where you can hike, paddle, or take a boat tour. The park is also home to several glaciers, making it a sought-after destination for those interested in geology and glaciology.

It also draws in those interested in connecting to the mountain peaks that call Glacier home.

View of Glacier National Park in Montana

Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone is well-known for its many geysers, especially Old Faithful. But Lamar Valley is another place you shouldn’t miss when touring this Montana national park.

You’ll find fewer crowds and possible animal sightings like bears, elk, bison, and maybe even wolves. 

Yellowstone became the first national park in 1872 and is one of the most famous.

According to CNN Travel, it is the third most visited park in the country, with just under five million visitors annually.

Pro Tip: Start planning your RV trip to Yellowstone by taking a look at our Yellowstone campground recommendations!

View of Yellowstone National Parks in Montana

Don’t Miss These Other National Park Designations in Montana

National parks can seem to overshadow the other national park units. In Montana, you don’t want to let that happen.

With three historic sites and parks, two sites honoring landmark battlefields, and one for recreational use, the following places deserve your attention, too. 

Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site

Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site is full of history. Sitting in western Montana near Deer Lodge, the ranch was once part of a ten-million-acre cattle empire.

It is a working ranch that continues to commemorate the cattlemen of yesteryear. 

Visitors can explore the historic buildings, learn about the ranching lifestyle, and even participate in ranger-led programs. With 10 miles of trails, there’s plenty to experience.

Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument 

The Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument is a national park unit in eastern Montana, near Billings.

The park commemorates the Battle of the Little Bighorn, which took place in June of 1876 between the US Army’s 7th Cavalry and the Lakota and Cheyenne Indians.

The park offers educational videos, museum exhibits, memorials, and the opportunity to visit the battlefields and the National Cemetery. 

Nez Perce National Historical Park 

Sitting in four states across the western US, including Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington, Nez Perce National Historical Park commemorates and preserves the history and culture of the Nez Perce people. 

The Nez Perce traveled with the seasons between hunting buffalo on the Great Plains and fishing for salmon along the many rivers. Today, this Montana national park unit pays homage to one of America’s most historic indigenous groups. 

Big Hole National Battlefield

One national park in Montana that is worth visiting is the Big Hole National Battlefield. It is part of the Nez Perce National Historical Park. You can find it in southwestern Montana, near the town of Wisdom.

The Big Hole National Battlefield commemorates the lives lost in a battle in August 1877 when U.S. soldiers attacked a sleeping camp of Nez Perce.

Today, you can hike amongst the history and follow ranger-led programs to learn more about this tragic event. 

Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area

One of the most beautiful national park units in Montana is Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area. In Montana and Wyoming, this 120,000-acre park is home to 10,000 years of human history. 

With almost 20 miles of trails to explore, several campgrounds, and boating and paddling on Bighorn Lake, there’s plenty to do here.

Four historic ranches are onsite so that you can learn about the area’s ranching history. The scenery is gorgeous, and the history and beauty are abundant. 

Keep in Mind: Are you planning to go camping this winter? Think again! Here are 5 Reasons we think you should Avoid Winter RV Camping

View of Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area near montana national parks

Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site

Near the small town of Sidney, this national park unit was once one of the most critical trading posts along the Missouri River.

When visiting, you’ll step back in time to a place of peaceful coexistence between several groups of people along the northern plains of Montana and North Dakota. 

You can tour the trading post and other historic buildings to get a feel for what life was like on the trading floor.

Whether you’re interested in history or want to explore a national park that’s off the beaten path, Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site is worth a visit.

View of Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site near montana national parks

When Is the Best Time to Visit Montana?

While we may have made you wonder if visiting Montana’s National Parks was a waste of time, there’s a chance that you’ve decided that they aren’t.

The best time to visit Montana is whenever you’re there. However, since many people enjoy warmer weather, you might want to consider staying in the summer months, especially July and August.

There are more crowds at this time, but Going-to-the-Sun-Road at Glacier is often open by then. Suppose you’re not interested in the groups surrounding Lake MacDonald, head north toward Polebridge. Yellowstone never disappoints.

Old Faithful draws the crowds, but if you want to lose the people, visit Lamar Valley. You might catch a glimpse of a wolf. 

But perhaps the best time to visit is in the fall. Both parks will be vibrant with the colors of changing leaves. You won’t need to worry about reservation tickets at Glacier.

The traffic in Yellowstone will start to lessen, opening up more opportunities to see the wildlife you’ve always dreamed of seeing.

Whatever season you visit Montana, embrace it. If you know what to expect, you’ll enjoy it, even with the crowds.

Make Big Memories in Big Sky Country

Most people think of national parks as places where you can see glaciers, go hiking, and maybe spot a bear or two.

While that’s true of Montana’s national parks, they offer a chance to step back in time and learn about the state’s rich history. 

Hundreds of years ago, people crossed the plains and mountains of Montana, seeking what Big Sky country offers.

Today, we do the same. While the journey may be a bit different than in the past, by visiting Montana’s National Parks, we might glimpse Big Sky Country as it should be, full of memories instead of people. 

Will you risk the crowds in summer, or will you visit the national parks of Montana during another season? Let us know! 

1 comment
  1. As a resident who has visited and camped in Glacier National Park many times, trust me when I say save your money and go elsewhere. We’ll all be doing the wildlife and this sacred Native American place a favor staying away. The visitor numbers are soo bad now you have to purchase a pass ahead of time to visit. Humans have done what humans do best – over-exploit things.

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