Essential RV Montana:
The Ultimate Guide to
Discovering Big Sky Country
by Lindsay Menting
Montana is the fourth largest state in the U.S. and the forty-fourth in terms of population. Coupling stunning landscapes with sweeping adventures, it makes for a perfect RV getaway. From crystal clear lakes and river valleys to towering mountains and windswept prairies, the vast wilderness of Big Sky Country is a true outdoorsman's paradise. And though there might be more cattle than people (seriously, we fact checked it), western hospitality welcomes you to every community while rural traditions enhance your travels at every turn. RVers are guaranteed an epic trip in Montana's wide-open spaces.
Northwest Montana is known as Glacier Country, home to breathtaking scenery, adventure-packed recreation, hometown charm and—as you might guess—Glacier National Park. You'll be mesmerized by those legendary big blue skies and the towns that feel like they could be pulled right out of a storybook.
A trip to Montana is not complete without visiting “The Crown of the Continent.” The boundaries of Glacier National Park hold one million acres of natural wonderland, featuring a dramatic mix of mountains, water, and dense forests. Its ecosystem is unparalleled: here is where you'll find unique wildlife, including rare and endangered animals, like grizzly bears, Canadian lynx as well as mountain goats and bighorn sheep. One of the most treasured ways to “see it all” is the 50-mile Going-to-the-Sun Road. As a National Historic Landmark, it's one of the most scenic drives in the nation. It travels through the heart of the park, crossing the Continental Divide at Logan Pass where you'll be able to take in almost every landscape Glacier National Park has to offer. With several gnarly twists and turns, it is to be noted that RVs longer than 21 feet are not permitted on the road. Pull off to explore an abundance of hiking trails, as well as many lakes. Lake McDonald is the biggest and has tons of opportunities for water adventures.
A trip could solely be dedicated to the magic of Glacier National Park, but the northwestern region has even more to offer. Missoula is a vibrant college town and a favorite destination for mountain fun, whether you're in search of serene outdoor activities or leisurely shopping and dining. One of the best oddball attractions here is the Miracle of America Museum. The museum features all things American history, with dozens of buildings holding their own collection of themed exhibits, from vintage motorcycles to old toys.
Just north of Missoula is the expansive, picturesque Flathead Lake. As the largest freshwater lake west of the Mississippi, there's an endless array of activities to entertain you. Boating and fishing are a great place to start on these splendidly clear waters. Floating in the middle of the lake is Wildhorse Island State Park. Accessible only by boat, this state park is the perfect place to spend an afternoon. You'll also find that these waters are the home to many thriving cherry orchards. Stop by some of the farmers stands around the lake or pick your own fresh cherries at Hockaday Orchards or Fat Robin Orchard.
Whitefish is known as a gateway to Glacier National Park, meaning it has some of the best outdoor adventure opportunities. It was even named one of the Top 25 Ski Towns in the World by National Geographic. With that type of hype, you'll find some of the most magnificent ski slopes with unbelievable mountain backdrops. There's plenty of great dining, in-town entertainment, golfing, and boating at Whitefish Lake available in the warmer months. You can even go river rafting on Flathead River.
Just outside of Glacier Country is Great Falls, where you can meet almost 60,000 of the friendliest locals ever. The town is bursting with western history and, by the time you leave, you'll feel fully ready to dive into cowboy life. One of our top picks is the C.M. Russell Museum, celebrating the life and work of famed artist Charles M. Russell, known as the Cowboy Artist. You'll be transported to the Wild Wild West, where you can soak up his artwork and many fascinating exhibits. Another great pick is the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center, surrounded by the Giant Springs State Park. Interpretive trails let you follow in the footsteps of where Lewis and Clark once walked. (Much more on that later!)
Where to Stay
After a day of epic exploration, it's time to set up camp—luckily Glacier Country has plenty of options. You can camp with your RV in Glacier National Park but water, sewer, and electricity hook-ups are not available. If you're looking for a less primitive experience, head to Moose Creek RV Resort, a friendly community surrounded by lush forest along with a general store and an on-site restaurant. In the Missoula area, you can check out Jim & Mary's RV Park and their spacious sites as well as Bearmouth Chalet. Outback Montana RV Park is situated right on Flathead Lake and offers kayak, canoe, and paddleboard rentals. Columbia Falls RV Park is a great spot nestled right near Whitefish.
The true spirit of Montana is arguably captured in its southwest region. From mountain peaks to the amazingly curious Lewis and Clark caverns, the area is jampacked with awe-inspiring destinations and exactly the kind of thing you hope for in a Montana vacation. You'll be planning another trip back long before the first one is over.
Though the majority of famed Yellowstone National Park resides in Wyoming, small stretches of the majestic landscape fall in Idaho and Montana. The western gateway into the park, West Yellowstone, Montana, is an utterly charming town in which to set up your base camp and take on America's first national park. Only have time for a taste of Yellowstone? This is the perfect place to dip your toes in. The outdoor haven has abundant fly-fishing opportunities, river rafting, hiking, cross-country skiing and wildlife watching. West Yellowstone is home to Explore the Yellowstone Museum's extensive exhibits. You can also find plenty of tasty dining and shopping along Yellowstone Ave and Faithful Street if you're looking to relax after an adventure-packed day.
Undoubtedly, one of the coolest spots to visit is the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center where you can see bears and wolves up close and personal. The sanctuary is home to several animals that were orphaned or had simply grown too comfortable around humans. You'll be able to learn all about the species, observe them in their natural habitat, and even play with the cubs or hear the wolves' majestic calls in the mornings or evenings. You'll leave feeling deeply connected to nature and some of its most incredible creatures.
Bozeman is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Montana. Set amidst the Rocky Mountains, the town is abundant with historic Old Western charm (as well as spectacular views). You'll quickly find there's something here for everyone. The Bozeman Brewery and Bozeman Hot Springs are two notable stops if you're looking to sip and bubble soak your cares away.
The real gem, of course, is the Museum of the Rockies. An affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution, it’s hosted by Montana State University, which subsequently calls Bozeman home. It boasts everything from its own planetarium to a full T-Rex skeleton and preserved pioneer log cabin. The Yellowstone and Native American exhibits package this place up as a must-see.
At the turn of the century, Butte was the largest city west of the Mississippi, a mining hotspot, and you'll find much of that heritage still preserved here. It's only right to begin your trip with a visit to the World Museum of Mining and honor those that settled Butte with a fascinating look at their lives. You can also check out The Berkeley Pit, an abandoned copper mine that's now filled with acidic water. Curious historic landmarks dot the town, so you can take a trolley tour to see them all.
Montana may be Big Sky country, but the town of Big Sky is skiing country—one of the best winter sports destinations in the world. The Spanish Peaks Primitive Area and the Gallatin National Forest encircle this picturesque small town that lies 45 miles southwest of Bozeman. As you might imagine, winter is when Big Sky gets its shine one. There are more than 5,800 skiable acres across four mountains, and snowfall averages 400 inches per year. The town is the perfect escape, with luxury resorts and delectable dining. Had enough of the slopes but still want to enjoy some wintertime magic? You can snowmobile, dog sled, or even take a sleigh ride.
If you’re heading out in summertime, Big Sky still has plenty to offer, including whitewater rafting on the Gallatin River, backcountry hiking, mountain biking, ziplining, horseback riding, and fishing blue-ribbon trout streams. You can also check out a favorite hiking trail—Beehive Basin—to circle the lake and gaze upon the beauty that’s Lone Peak.
As the state's capital, Helena perfectly encompasses Montana spirit and all that is distinct to the Treasure State. It's the ideal place to set up a base camp and explore the southwest portion of the state. Originally developed as a gold rush town, history abounds, featuring many historic buildings and attractions from those who were trying to strike their fortunes. The main attraction is the state capitol building itself, a sandstone and granite beauty: it features a copper dome and is home to many incredible murals centered on Montana’s past. We recommend checking out the Montana Historical Society Museum, the Visitor Center (featuring an authentic Pioneer Cabin), the Last Chance train tour, and St. Helena's cathedral. The hand-carved Great Northern Carousel and 19th century Old Fire Tower are also notable stops.
Breathe in the purest of air at the Gates of the Mountains Wilderness Area, aptly named by Meriwether Lewis. As part of the Lewis and Clark Trail, as well as the two million-acre Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest, the 1,200-foot tall limestone canyon walls open up in spectacular glory to the Missouri River. There are 28,000 acres to discover and 50 miles of hiking trails. You can also join the Gates of the Mountain Boat Tour, a classic way to take it all in on the water. Hiking along the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail is a tried and true favorite, along with the chance to see big game at the Elkhorn Wildlife Management Unit.
The Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park was Montana's very first state park, and some may say, the most impressive. The elaborate limestone caverns are true geological wonders, brimming with fascinating stalactites, helictites, and stalagmites. You may even see some resident bats in these colossal caves! Take a guided tour of the caverns, where you'll notice much cooler temperatures (a welcome respite in the summer.) There's even a winter holiday candlelight tour during the colder season. One of the funnest features is the Beaver Slide, a natural formation that lends itself to a slippery slope. The rest of the park is filled with stunning scenery where you can picnic, canoe or hike.
Where to Stay
With so many towns to stop in, southwestern Montana is brimming with great RV campgrounds. Yellowstone Grizzly RV Park and the West Yellowstone KOA are stocked with helpful amenities and beautiful scenery. In Bozeman, you can quickly cruise out to Bozeman Trail Campground, a great jumping point to any landmark. Bozeman Hot Springs Campground has excellent sites, and of course, easy access to relax in the hot springs. The Butte KOA is your best bet if you’re traveling that area since the visitor center is right next door—and you can hop right on the trolley tour that boards there. While you can't camp directly in Big Sky, you can day park your RV there, and there are many close-by options like Red Cliff Campground. In Helena, Kim's Marina and RV Resort is a stunning spot to park your RV right on Canyon Ferry Lake. The Helena North KOA is another excellent option to visit the Gates of the Mountains Wilderness. Finally, the Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park features wonderful RV camping on site.
In southeast Montana, the pace slows a bit and you feel as if you’re transported to a different time—one where cowboys still ride the open range and American Indian lore lives on. It’s here where you'll get to fill your soul with the heart of America as it once was.
As the largest city in Montana, there is a bit more hustle and bustle in Billings. (By “large” we really mean a town with a population that falls under 200,000. Rest assured you'll still find many opportunities for a serene moment and that rugged rancher charm found throughout much of the southeastern part of the state). Considered "Montana’s Trailhead," Billings has direct access to the Beartooth Mountains, which are home to the state's highest peaks. There are 45 miles of multi-use trails to be discovered…perfect for hiking, biking, or just a stroll. There's also the Billings Brew Trail, a jaunt downtown where you can hit six breweries, two distilleries, and a cider house (not necessarily in that order or all at once).
At the Western Heritage Center, you'll find over 35,000 historical items encompassing the people and places of the Yellowstone River Valley and the Northern High Plains. As another affiliate of the Smithsonian, the museum holds fascinating exhibits and workshops housed in the old Parmly Billings Memorial Library, built in 1901. You can also visit the Moss Mansion, listed on the National Register of Historic Buildings. This turn-of-the-century home was built in 1903 and belonged to Preston Boyd Moss; not only can you learn of the legacy that greatly influenced Billings' culture, the house is also rumored to be haunted! (Bonus!)
A bit east of Billings is Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, landmarking the Battle of Little Bighorn in 1876, an infamous struggle between the US Army and the Sioux and Cheyenne American Indians that resulted in thousands of deaths. It was the Native American's last efforts to preserve their land and their way of life. The site includes the Custer National Cemetery, the 7th Calvary Memorial, the Reno-Benteen Battlefield, and a museum and visitors center.
Overlooking the Yellowstone River is Pompey's Pillar National Monument. This towering sandstone formation holds the last remaining physical piece of evidence of the Lewis and Clark expedition, marking their trail across the newly acquired Western territory. The rock features carvings and etchings by hundreds of travelers, settlers, and Native Americans who littered it with petroglyphs and animal drawings—like a who's who of western frontier history. In 1806, Captain William Clark famously made his mark, etching both his name and the date. Clark also recorded in his journal that the rock provided his party with an incredible vantage point to look out over the river. For the all-encompassing experience, you can start at the Riverwalk, meander your way to the Interpretive Center, and finish your tour at the famous rock. The Yellowstone River is also a stunning spot to kayak, canoe, watch wildlife and spend the day. Paradise Valley is a major river valley of the Yellowstone River that features numerous rustic guest ranches for you to enjoy—and it’s one of the best places in the state to traverse the countryside by horseback.
Where to Stay
The Billings Holiday KOA has glowing reviews—rightfully so, with everything from mini golf to ice cream socials. The Yellowstone River RV Resort is a quainter downhome spot where you can still access full hookups and scenic sites. Both provide easy access to Pompeys Pillar. The 7th Ranch RV Resort is the closest campground to the Little Bighorn National Monument and features 70 long pull-through sites.
Northeast Montana offers a much different landscape, one that mimics its neighbors—the Dakotas—with rolling hills, dusty bluffs, and badlands. While not considered a tourist hot spot, these great plains are rich in history, tradition, and subtle beauty. The land might be sparse, but the adventures are not.
Fort Peck Lake is Montana's largest body of water: there are over 1,520 miles of shoreline. That distance actually surpasses the length of the California coast, meaning the opportunities for recreation are endless. The lake is actually a reservoir created by the Fort Peck Dam, constructed in 1937 to collect the Missouri River's waters. The small town of Fort Peck was developed by the operation of the huge dam—you can still find some of those New Deal era buildings. You’ll find an abundance of animals in their native element here, all protected by the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge, including elk, bighorn sheep, pronghorn, and migratory waterfowl. Any possible way to enjoy the water is available at Fort Peck Lake, along with touring the dam at the Powerhouse Museum. There are also activities for virtually every season, including the region’s claim to fame: world-class fishing.
Montana’s northeast region is known as Missouri River Country and can only be described as a fisherman's paradise. Between Fort Peck Lake and the crisscrossing Missouri and Yellowstone rivers, the opportunities to cast your line and reel in the action are endless. Walleye, northern pike, sauger, lake trout, smallmouth bass, chinook salmon, sturgeon and yellow perch are among the species you’re most likely to encounter. You can even try your hand at paddle fishing; the 100-plus-pound paddlefish are native to the region and offer a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to try a different method to "snaggle" one of these ancient creatures.
Elk hunting also comes highly recommended in the River Country. In these parts, you may even be outnumbered by these stately and stealth creatures. You can also find game birds, deer, and antelope. The land has been left so untouched, you may feel the spirit of Lewis and Clark coursing through it as you discover your way through this prairie of unrivaled beauty. Be sure to read up on the rules and regulations wherever you plan to stake your claim.
Montana’s history reaches even deeper in the northeast, featuring one of the world's biggest concentrations of fossils. Montana’s oldest inhabitants put the region on the map in 1902 when a Tyrannosaurus Rex was discovered and excavated, the first of its kind to be uncovered. After that, more T-Rex remnants were found here than anywhere else. Head to the Fort Peck Dam Interpretive Center to check out the skulls of Triceratops and T-Rexes, as well as many other incredible fossil exhibits. Garfield County Museum, Great Plains Dinosaur Museum, and Phillips County Museum are all great options to learn more about the digs (and even participate in some!) that perpetrated Montana's earliest history. Makoshika State Park is another fascinating place to discover fossils—you can even set up camp for the night there.
Lewis and Clark's legendary journey encompassed what is now Montana but was, then, a newly purchased Western territory. In some of those spots not much has changed since 1805. You can go on an incredible journey, following in the two explorers' footsteps by heading out on a five-day loop around the region. Discover all the best stopping points here: https://www.visitmt.com/places-to-go/trip-ideas/footsteps-of-lewis-and-clark.html
Where to Stay
Fort Peck RV Campground and Marina will put you right on the lake, ideal for fishing and boat parking. A number of sites do offer water and electric. Hell Creek State Park is a beautiful setting along the Missouri River with plenty of electrical sites to choose from. At Miles City KOA, you'll be close to the Yellowstone River and enjoy full hookups under majestic cottonwood trees. Finally, Big Sky Camp and RV Park is a friendly community near the Yellowstone River with full hookup options.