Exploring the Best National Parks of Montana

National Parks of Montana are some of the most breathtaking and pristine natural areas in the United States. These parks offer a diverse range of landscapes, including majestic mountains, vast forests, sparkling lakes, and unique geothermal features. They provide habitats for various wildlife species and offer countless outdoor recreation and exploration opportunities.

Whether it’s the rugged beauty of Glacier National Park, the geothermal wonders of Yellowstone National Park, or the historical significance of sites like Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, Montana’s national parks showcase the state’s natural and cultural heritage. 

These parks attract visitors from around the world, who come to witness the awe-inspiring beauty, engage in outdoor activities, and immerse themselves in the rich history and wonders of Montana’s national parks.

Glacier National Park

Purple Fireweed flowers line the road at Glacier National Park
Purple Fireweed flowers line the road at Glacier National Park. DOI Photo/Shan Lin

Glacier National Park, located in northern Montana, is a true natural wonder that captivates visitors with its stunning features and attractions. Let’s explore its key aspects in detail:

Glacier NP is renowned for its exceptional scenic beauty. The park’s majestic mountains, including the iconic peaks of the Lewis Range, create a breathtaking backdrop. Towering over the landscape, these rugged mountains offer a sense of grandeur and provide numerous opportunities for hiking and adventure.

One of the park’s most remarkable features is its glaciers. With over 25 named glaciers, including Grinnell Glacier and Sperry Glacier, Glacier National Park showcases the remnants of the last ice age. These massive ice formations contribute to the park’s unique and awe-inspiring features.

The park also has an abundance of pristine lakes. Lake McDonald, the largest lake in the park, offers stunning reflections of the surrounding mountains and forests. Saint Mary Lake and Many Glacier Lake are equally mesmerizing, with crystal-clear waters that enhance the park’s scenic allure.

Hiking Glacier National Park 

There are a wide range of activities for outdoor enthusiasts. Hiking is particularly popular, with an extensive network of trails catering to all skill levels. 

The Highline Trail offers breathtaking views of the park’s iconic features, while the Grinnell Glacier Trail takes hikers on a scenic journey to the glacier’s edge. Other notable trails include the Iceberg Lake Trail and the Hidden Lake Trail, each offering its own unique perspectives and encounters with wildlife.

Wildlife to See at Glacier National Park

Speaking of wildlife, Glacier National Park is home to a rich array of species. Grizzly bears, black bears, mountain goats, and elk roam freely within the park’s boundaries. Visitors may also have the chance to spot elusive species such as lynx and wolverines. 

Birdwatchers will delight in the park’s avian residents, including bald eagles, ospreys, and various waterfowl.

Historical and Cultural Areas at Glacier

Beyond its natural wonders, Glacier National Park also holds interesting historical and cultural significance. The park has evidence of human habitation dating back thousands of years, with Native American tribes leaving their mark on the land. 

In the early 20th century, the development of the Great Northern Railway brought visitors to the park, leading to the construction of historic lodges and structures that still stand today.

Glacier National Park’s unique features, scenic beauty, abundant wildlife, and historical significance make it a remarkable destination for nature lovers, outdoor enthusiasts, and those seeking a connection with the natural world.

Yellowstone National Park

A bison grazes in a grassy field with mountains and a river in the background at Yellowstone National Park
A bison grazes in a grassy field with mountains and a river in the background at Yellowstone National Park.

Yellowstone National Park, located primarily in Wyoming but extending into Montana and Idaho, is a globally renowned natural wonderland that captivates visitors with its extraordinary features and diverse ecosystems. 

Spanning over 2.2 million acres, Yellowstone holds the distinction of being the first national park in the United States and the world, established in 1872. Its significance lies in its preservation of unique geothermal features, unparalleled wildlife, and stunning landscapes.

Geothermal Features of Yellowstone

One of the park’s most captivating attractions is its geothermal activity. Yellowstone sits atop the Yellowstone Caldera, one of the world’s largest active volcanic systems. The iconic Old Faithful geyser steals the spotlight with its predictable eruptions, shooting boiling water and steam high into the air, leaving spectators in awe. 

Other geysers, such as Castle Geyser, Grand Geyser, and Riverside Geyser, each possess their own distinct characteristics and mesmerizing eruption patterns. Yellowstone also showcases a collection of colorful hot springs, with the vibrant Grand Prismatic Spring and the enchanting Morning Glory Pool being particular highlights.

aerial view of Yellowstone's Grand Prismatic Spring
Fantastic aerial view of Yellowstone’s Grand Prismatic Spring.

Wildlife to see at Yellowstone

Yellowstone National Park is renowned for its remarkable wildlife diversity. It provides a home for iconic species such as grizzly bears and black bears, which roam freely through its vast wilderness. Wolves, successfully reintroduced in the 1990s, play a vital role in the park’s ecosystem. Bison, elk, moose, bighorn sheep, pronghorn, and white-tailed deer can be spotted throughout the park. 

With its vast grasslands, the Lamar Valley is often called the “Serengeti of North America” and provides prime wildlife-watching opportunities.

Yellowstone is also a haven for bird enthusiasts, with over 300 bird species recorded, including bald eagles, ospreys, trumpeter swans, and various waterfowl.

Geological Features of Yellowstone

The park’s landscapes are a sight to behold. The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, carved by the mighty Yellowstone River, presents awe-inspiring views of colorful rock walls and thundering waterfalls, including the Lower and Upper Falls. 

Mammoth Hot Springs showcases terraces formed by the interaction of hot water and limestone, creating beautiful cascading formations. Yellowstone Lake, the largest body of water in the park, offers breathtaking vistas and opportunities for boating and fishing. 

Recreational Activities at Yellowstone

Yellowstone National Park offers various recreational activities for visitors to immerse themselves in nature. Hiking trails traverse the park, catering to different skill levels and leading to geothermal areas, canyons, and pristine backcountry.

Wildlife viewing and photography opportunities abound, with designated areas like Lamar Valley and Hayden Valley offering frequent sightings.

Fishing enthusiasts can cast their lines in Yellowstone Lake and various rivers and streams. At the same time, boating, kayaking, and paddleboarding are additional popular water activities.

In the winter, the park transforms into a snow-covered wonderland, attracting snowshoers, cross-country skiers, and snowmobilers.

With its geothermal wonders, diverse wildlife, breathtaking landscapes, and abundant recreational opportunities, Yellowstone NP remains a testament to the importance of preserving and appreciating our natural heritage. It stands as an enduring symbol of the awe-inspiring beauty and power of the natural world, captivating the hearts and minds of visitors from around the globe.

Glacier vs. Yellowstone National Park

Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks are both stunning destinations in the United States, each offering unique experiences and natural wonders. While there are some similarities between the two parks, there are also notable differences in terms of features, landscapes, ecosystems, wildlife, conservation efforts, and visitor experiences.

What Glacier National Park Known For?

Glacier National Park is renowned for its rugged mountain ranges, pristine lakes, and numerous glaciers. Its landscapes showcase towering peaks, including the famous Garden Wall, as well as picturesque valleys carved by ancient glaciers. 

The park boasts over 25 glaciers, adding to its distinct charm. In terms of ecosystems, Glacier National Park is characterized by its alpine meadows, dense forests, and crystal-clear lakes. 

The park is home to various wildlife species, including grizzly bears, mountain goats, and elk. Efforts to conserve and protect wildlife populations are ongoing, with initiatives aimed at preserving their habitats and managing human-wildlife interactions. 

Visitors to Glacier National Park can enjoy a range of activities such as hiking, camping, fishing, and wildlife watching, with an extensive network of trails providing opportunities for exploration and immersion in the park’s stunning natural beauty.

What Yellowstone National Park Known For?

On the other hand, Yellowstone National Park, spanning parts of Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho, is renowned for its geothermal features, diverse ecosystems, and iconic wildlife. 

Yellowstone is known for its remarkable wildlife populations with species such as grizzly bears, wolves, bison, and elk captivating visitors. It is also known for showcasing the world’s largest concentration of geysers, including the famous Old Faithful, which erupts regularly with impressive displays.

The landscape encompass a range of natural wonders, from the stunning Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone with its vibrant colored walls and waterfalls, to the terraces of Mammoth Hot Springs. 

Conservation efforts in Yellowstone focus on maintaining healthy ecosystems, managing wildlife populations, and preserving the park’s unique geothermal features. Visitors to Yellowstone can partake in a wide array of activities, including hiking, wildlife viewing, fishing, boating, and winter sports like snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.

adorable baby bison calf seen at Yewllowstone National Park
An adorable baby bison calf seen at Yewllowstone National Park. NPS Photo

Similarities and Differences Between Yellowstone and Glacier

While Glacier and Yellowstone both offer breathtaking natural beauty, they differ in terms of their dominant features, landscapes, and ecosystems. 

Glacier National Park is characterized by its glaciers, rugged mountains, and alpine lakes. In contrast, Yellowstone is renowned for its geothermal activity, diverse ecosystems, and iconic geysers. 

Wildlife populations vary between the parks, with Glacier National Park featuring grizzly bears and mountain goats, while Yellowstone is known for its wolves and bison. That being said, conservation efforts are prioritized in both parks, aiming to protect the unique natural resources and wildlife within each area.

In terms of visitor experiences, both parks offer a range of activities and opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts. Hiking is popular in both parks, with Glacier National Park providing access to numerous scenic trails, while Yellowstone’s trails allow visitors to explore geothermal areas and magnificent landscapes.

Wildlife watching is a highlight in both parks, with the chance to observe iconic species in their natural habitats. 

Visitor experiences may differ slightly due to the unique features and attractions of each park, but both offer opportunities for nature immersion and unforgettable memories.

Whether it’s the glaciers and rugged mountains of Glacier National Park or Yellowstone’s geothermal wonders and iconic wildlife, both parks provide exceptional opportunities for exploration, adventure, and appreciation of the natural world.

Glacier National Park to Yellowstone

To travel from Glacier National Park to Yellowstone National Park, you can follow a scenic route through Montana’s beautiful landscapes. Here is a brief description of the general route:

  1. Departing from Glacier National Park, head southeast on Highway 2 towards the town of Browning.
  2. From Browning, continue on Highway 89 South, passing through the towns of Choteau and White Sulphur Springs.
  3. In White Sulphur Springs, join Highway 12 East, which will take you through the stunning Helena National Forest.
  4. Continue on Highway 12 until you reach the town of Townsend, where you will connect to Highway 287 South.
  5. Follow Highway 287 south, passing through the town of Ennis and skirting the scenic Madison River.
  6. As you approach West Yellowstone, you will enter Yellowstone National Park through the park’s west entrance. (pro tip: this is a great town to stay in if you want to see popular attractions like Old Faithful or Grand Prismatic Spring.

Other National Parks and Monuments in Montana:

ravestones line the grassy fields of Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument
Gravestones line the grassy fields of Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument.

In addition to Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks, Montana is home to several other national parks and monuments, each offering unique features and historical significance.

One such site is the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, which preserves the site of the famous Battle of the Little Bighorn that took place in 1876.

Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument holds great historical and cultural importance. It commemorates the battle between the U.S. 7th Cavalry Regiment, led by General George Custer, and the Lakota Sioux, Cheyenne, and Arapaho tribes. The battle, also known as Custer’s Last Stand, resulted in a significant victory for the Native American tribes.

Visitors to Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument can explore the battlefield and gain insights into the clash of cultures and the historical context of the event. The site features interpretive exhibits, markers, and monuments that provide information about the battle, the participants, and the broader history of the conflict between Native American tribes and the U.S. government.

This monument offers an opportunity to understand the historical significance of the Battle of the Little Bighorn and its impact on Native American history, as well as the ongoing efforts to preserve and interpret the site for future generations. It serves as a reminder of the complex interactions between different cultures and the importance of understanding and appreciating diverse perspectives in our shared history.

It’s important to note that Montana is also home to other protected areas and national monuments, such as Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area and Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument, which offer stunning landscapes and recreational opportunities.

Final Thoughts:

Montana’s national parks, such as Glacier and Yellowstone, are true treasures that showcase the breathtaking beauty and significance of nature. Glacier National Park captivates with its rugged mountains, glaciers, and pristine lakes, while Yellowstone National Park mesmerizes with its geothermal wonders, diverse wildlife, and stunning landscapes. 

Both parks offer a wide range of recreational activities, from hiking and wildlife viewing to fishing and winter sports. Montana’s national parks are not only awe-inspiring in their natural beauty, but they also hold historical and cultural significance. 

It is crucial to recognize the importance of preserving these natural wonders and the ecosystems they support. By visiting these parks firsthand, we can connect with the awe-inspiring beauty of nature and develop a deeper appreciation for the need to protect and conserve these pristine landscapes.

Montana’s national parks are waiting to be explored and cherished by all who appreciate the beauty and importance of our natural world. So what are you waiting for? Plan your trip to this spectacular region of the American West today! 

Want a FREE complete list and recap of all our US National Parks as well as downloadable maps and other great resources? Check out our US National Parks List and Map guide!

About Me

My husband and I have three precious daughters and live in the Kansas City, KS area. One of our favorite things to do is travel across the country visiting our extraordinary US National Parks!

Let us know what you think about our content and if you have any questions, suggestions, or have any favorite memories or tips you would like to share. We would love to hear from you!

Happy Travels! Sandy

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