Region: Plains to Peaks

Explore Helena: A Guide to Montana’s Capital

In the middle of the summer of 1805, the Corps of Discovery were following the Missouri River, when they found striking limestone cliffs that prevented access to the Rockies. Captain Meriwether Lewis named this area “the Gates of the Mountain”, and this beautiful scenery is just one highlight when you explore Helena. Helena is also near the site of an important part of the expedition. It was near Helena where the Corps of Discovery was provided horses by the Shoshone Native American tribe, due largely to the efforts of Sacajawea. These horses were able to aid the Lewis & Clark Expedition reach the Pacific Ocean.

Since the Gold Rush, Helena has been a lively city, and is currently the state capital. Once home to gold miners seeking fortune, Helena now offers travelers the opportunity to learn about the rich history of Montana, as well as to explore the same scenery that stunned Captain Meriwether Lewis. Helena is also home to a vibrant arts culture, and incredible restaurants. Offering experiences for every traveler, Helena is not to be missed during your journey along the Lewis and Clark trail. This blog will provide an overview of how to explore Helena.

How to Get to Helena

Helena is accessible via flight, bus, and train. Most major cities, including Seattle and Denver, offer direct flights to Helena. However, for the typical road trip experience, it is also easy to get to Helena by driving. Whether you are following the Lewis and Clark trail from the West Coast or East Coast, Interstate 90 will be the highway that takes you across Montana. Where Interstate 90 intersects with Interstate 15, go north on Interstate 15. You will reach Helena easily. 

Dive into Montana’s History

Helena originated as a gold camp in the 1860s, and has been lived in continuously since. The Lewis and Clark expedition is only one aspect of the city’s history, which has been home to Native Americans, settlers, miners, and millionaires. History is celebrated in Helena, and the city contains numerous well-preserved buildings dating back to the 1800s. The lives of the pioneers and miners that established Helena feature prominently across the city. Additionally, Helena’s status as the capital of Montana ensures that visitors can learn about all of Montana’s history, beyond Helena. Helena boasts several museums that showcase both state and local history for everyone to enjoy!

1. Montana Historical Society Museum 

The Montana Historical Society Museum displays a variety of artifacts from Montana’s history. The Museum features several long-term exhibits, including the Mackay Gallery of Russel Art, which showcases the artwork of Montana’s famous Cowboy Artist, and Neither Empty nor Unknown, an exhibit that delves into the history of the Native people of Montana during the time of Lewis and Clark’s expedition. The Montana Homeland exhibit offers an overview of the way of life in Montana throughout history! And, all visitors to the museum can see Big Medicine, a rare albino bison that was world famous for its unique condition in the 1950s!

2. Explore Helena’s Historic Downtown Pedestrian Mall

Want to shop while exploring Helena’s history? Or perhaps enjoy a craft beer? Then the Historic Downtown Pedestrian Mall is the right place for you! The mall was originally the site of a prospector’s camp in 1864. It served as a home for those searching for fortune during Montana’s gold rush. In modern times, visitors to the Pedestrian Mall can explore custom art galleries, drink locally-brewed beer, and purchase gifts from local vendors! The mall also features wonderful sculptures that honor Helena’s history. 

3. Explore Helena’s history at Reeder’s Alley

Explore Reeder's Alley in Helena
History comes alive at Reeder’s Alley!

A great place to get an overview of Helena’s early history while you explore Helena is to visit Reeder’s Alley! It is the oldest area of the city. The buildings located in Reeder’s Alley are red-brick tenement style and were originally constructed in the 1870s. Visiting is a fantastic way to see how the first residents of Helena lived. Additionally, visitors can enjoy a pioneer cabin that has been reconstructed to highlight the lives of the early American settlers. 

Explore Helena’s Incredible Nature:

Another highlight of when you explore Helena is the incredible scenery that surrounds it! The limestone cliffs and the Missouri River that the Corps of Discovery traversed are just some of the amazing natural sights that you can visit when you explore Helena. Whether you want to enjoy a challenging hike or simply relax with a picnic surrounded by gorgeous nature, Helena has something to offer you!

Explore Helena’s Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park

Explore Lewis and Clark State Caverns
Spectacular natural formations in the cavern!

Want to take an adventure underground? This state park near Helena provides visitors with the opportunity to admire limestone caverns. These caverns are some of the largest in the Northwest and contain numerous decorations for visitors to admire. If you wish to explore the caverns, you must pre-book a guided tour. Or, you can opt to enjoy the hiking and biking trails surrounding the cavern, and participate in activities such as canoeing and fishing. For full immersion, the park offers over forty campsites near the caverns. 

Gates of the Mountains Wilderness

Explore Helena’s nature preserve that remains just as stunning as it was when the Corps of Discovery ventured through it. You can admire the stunning canyons and limestone cliffs. The powerful Missouri River carves its way through the center of this reserve. Beyond seeing the scenery, there are opportunities to hike nature trails, have a picnic, or camp. 

Mount Helena City Park

Explore Helena's City Park
Breathtaking views at the City Park!

While Helena was not named after it, Mt. Helena is still one of its most impressive landmarks. It is part of the Big Belt Mountains, which are a section of the Rockies. The City Park is a fantastic way to view the mountain. It features nature trails for hiking as well as trails for mountain biking, and stunning viewpoints of the mountain. If you are feeling particularly adventurous, you can follow trails to hike the mountain itself. 

Enjoy Helena’s Art

When you explore Helena, it is important to delve into the local culture. Art is especially prominent in the city. Sites such as the Pedestrian Mall host a variety of locally-owned gift shops where you can purchase local art. In addition, Helena also features museums dedicated to the local art culture. 

Explore Helena’s Holter Museum of Art

The Holter Museum of Art features 17,000 square feet of exhibitions to explore! The art displayed ranges from contemporary to historical art, all from the Northwest. The expansive collection is sure to showcase a style of art for every visitor to enjoy. In addition, you can also purchase local artworks from the museum, and support Helena’s artists!

The Myrna Loy 

The Myrna Loy Center is an excellent site for fans of both art and history. The center is located in the historic Lewis and Clark County Jail. The historical building has been converted into a lively center for the fine arts. Several forms of art media are represented here, in a culturally enriching manner. Beyond the art exhibits, the Myrna Loy Center offers film screenings, and live music! 

Visit These Unique Sites:

Helena is not only home to fascinating history and wonderful nature, it also features some distinctive sites for visitors to enjoy! Taking the time to explore Helena’s more unique landmarks can be very rewarding. Here are some of the more unique places near Helena that are well worth the visit!

Explore Helena’s Guardian of the Gulch

This twenty-five-foot-tall tower is impossible to miss! It was first built as a fire tower in 1876. While it is no longer functional, a hike to the tower is a great way to get a view of Helena! Visitors can hike the path up to the tower, and enjoy viewpoints of both Helena and the surrounding mountain ranges!

Canyon Ferry Lake Cemetery Island 

This island is located in the center of Montana’s third-largest lake. Visitors can rent a boat to explore the island. It is home to a cemetery that was established in the 1860s, as well as a Catholic church that was constructed in 1875. A visit to this island is an opportunity to see history as well as nature! If you wish to explore the island, it is only possible to rent a boat between May to October. 

Keep Exploring Montana’s Lewis and Clark Trail

While Helena offers numerous unique activities for travelers to explore, it is also in a great location. There are several day trips from Helena for those who wish to extend their trip. More incredible cities and nature are only a few hours away from Helena!

Visit Bridger Bowl
Bridger Bowl is one of the incredible ski resorts in Bozeman!

Bozeman, Montana

Bozeman is a skier’s paradise! It is approximately an hour and a half away from Helena, is located in the spectacular Rocky Mountains, and has two incredible ski resorts. Big Sky Resort is home to nearly 6,000 acres of skiable land. Bridger Bowl has been a popular ski location since the 1940s. If you don’t like to ski, don’t worry, Bozeman still has plenty to explore! For history buffs, The Museum of the Rockies houses the United State’s largest dinosaur fossil collection. If you want to immerse yourself in nature, a visit to Drinking Horse Mountain is necessary. It features a 2.5-mile hike and spectacular views!

Missoula, Montana

Visit the Bitterroot Mountains
An amazing view of the Bitterroot Mountains!

Missoula is a great location to experience nature! Rattlesnake National Recreation Area & Wilderness stuns with the beautiful Rattlesnake Mountains and various outdoor activities. From horseback riding to hunting, there is sure to be an experience that you love! Another stunning mountain range is the Bitterroot Mountains, and the Bitterroot River is a popular fishing spot. Missoula itself also has a vibrant art culture, and museums such as the Montana Museum of Art and Culture, as well as the Dana Gallery, highlight both local artists as well as Montana natives. Missoula is approximately a two-hour drive from Helena.

Bannack Ghost Town & State Park

On July 28th, 1862, the first gold discovery in Montana occurred in Bannack. While the town’s population grew immensely during the gold rush, once the value of gold decreased, the residents dwindled. It is now a ghost town. Visitors to the state park can explore 50 buildings from the period, and see how gold miners in Montana lived. For further immersion, there is a campground nearby. On the 3rd weekend of July, be sure to see the historical reenactment! It takes around 2 hours and 30 mins to visit Bannack from Helena. 

Great Divide Ski Area

 While skiing is very popular in Montana, the Great Divide Ski Area is unique, as it allows skiers to ski near the Continental Divide! The ski area has been in operation since 1941. There are over 100 trails, ranging in intensity. From experienced to unseasoned skiers, Great Divide has perfect trails for everyone! It is only a 40-minute drive from Helena. 

Where to Eat While Exploring Helena:

No trip is complete without a good meal! Helena has a variety of dining options, for travelers of any budget. Whether you are interested in fine-dining Italian or cozy cafes, an excellent restaurant awaits in Helena!


Shellie’s Country Cafe

For the classic American diner experience, look no further than Shellie’s Country Cafe! This diner is open 24 hours, with a variety of meal options. Offering delicious traditional American food, Shellie’s is the perfect way to begin your Helena adventure!

The Creperie

Eat crepes in Helena
Enjoy delicious crepes at the Creperie!

For lighter fare, the Creperie is a fantastic option! Both savory and sweet crepes are served in a cozy, French-inspired interior. 


Cafe Zydeco

Cafe Zydeco aims to bring Southern food to Helena. The menu features Louisiana classics such as beignets and gumbo. The restaurant also offers a wide variety of po’boys, as well as specialty sandwiches. 

Steffano’s Pizza and Sub Shoppe

This family-owned pizzeria has been a Helena staple for nearly 40 years. Diners can enjoy pizza and subs, in the historic Last Chance Gulch. 



Lucca’s was named the “Best Restaurant in Montana” by Business Insider. It offers Italian food in a fine dining setting. Reservations are encouraged. 

Benny’s Bistro

Benny’s Bistro is perfect for diners looking for local, fresh ingredients. The entire menu is farm-to-table, and all ingredients are sourced from Montana farmers. The menu is expansive, featuring Indian, Italian, and Spanish cuisine. 

Coffee and Sweets

Parrot Confectionery

Since 1922, this confectionery has served sugary treats to Helena. It is located conveniently in downtown Helena. Travelers can enjoy hand-dipped chocolates and wafers. There is also an original soda fountain to try!

1889 Coffee House

Try some of Helena's wonderful coffee
Stop at 1889 Coffee House for a refreshing drink!

Enjoy delicious coffee at 1889 Coffee House! All of the coffee beans are brewed locally in Montana. It is also locally owned and operated! Along with the coffee, 1889 offers breakfast sandwiches, soups, and pastries. 

Where to Stay While You Explore Helena:

If this guide has convinced you to travel to Helena, the next step will be looking for the perfect place to stay. Here are some great, locally-owned options to enhance your time in Helena!

The Carolina

This gorgeous bed and breakfast allows you to immerse yourself in history. It is located in a turn-of-the-century home, in the historic district. Staying here gives travelers easy access to the historic district, and the opportunity to stay in historic rooms!

Oddfellow Inn & Farm

If you would prefer to spend time in nature, this inn is located on a 41-acre working farm. It was originally built in 1928. The farm itself practices regenerative farming. The property has numerous nature trails for guests to enjoy, as well as spectacular views of Mt. Helena!

The Sanders

This hotel is another opportunity to live in history! It is a restored mansion that was originally constructed in 1875. The Sanders is within walking range of both the historic district and local shops.

As the capital of Montana, Helena offers an array of experiences for every kind of traveler! Whether you have an appreciation for history, art, or nature, Helena is an amazing place to visit. The rich culture, delicious food, and cozy lodging ensure that a trip to Helena is a wonderful way to spend your vacation! While you are traveling the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail, be sure to add Helena as a destination, because the capital of Montana is rich with amazing opportunities for all travelers. 

Looking for more ideas for future trips? Be sure to browse our other blogs

Top 10 Public Farms in Southwest Montana

How to Fulfill Your Montana Farmhouse Fantasy 

When you think of Montana, you often think of vast open land, breathtaking mountains, and farms. Thanks to TV shows and movies, most of us associate rancher culture with life in Montana, so it would only make sense to fulfill these dreams on your vacation! There are many different ways to experience Montana farm life, ranging from low interaction, such as purchasing fresh produce from a local stand, to staying overnight on a farm and indulging yourself in the lifestyle. No matter what public Montana farm adventure you’re looking for, we’ve got you covered!

U-Pick Farms

One activity we highly recommend participating in if you visit a public Montana farm is U-Pick! U-Pick is essentially what it sounds like. A farm will grow fresh produce like peaches or blueberries, and then they allow the public to come, pay a fee, and pick their own to take home! There are many options for U-Pick in Montana; here are two of our favorites:  

Located by Rocky Creek near Bozeman, Rocky Creek Farm is run by the Rothsciller family. Though they have a wide variety of hands-on opportunities, one of the most unique is their U-Pick berries and apples! You can pick berries ranging from strawberries to raspberries, but most uniquely, the Aronia berry. 

U-pick options along the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail
U-pick options along the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail

They offer picking on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays during the same hours their Farm Stand is open. For the most up-to-date information, check on their social media pages!


  • Red Hen Farm

Red Hen Farm in Missoula focuses on providing local, and fresh produce and fruit to the community or visitors and peace from the farm for anyone to come enjoy. They offer various kinds of fruit to pick from, the most popular of which are strawberries and raspberries. Red Hen Farm offers many other amenities, including a CSA share. CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture, which is when a set of individuals pledge to support a farm operation. This makes that farmland more or less the community’s farm through mutual support and sharing. The share from Red Hen Farm comes with different benefits, from eggs to flowers. All in all, Red Hen Farm has a great homegrown feel!

Overnight Stays

If you’re looking for a more immersive experience, you may be interested in staying overnight at a public Montana farm for your vacation! This way, you can really feel what it’s like to see fresh dew on the field, have a rooster as your alarm clock, and live the simple, slow life. Here are some of the best overnight stays on farms in Montana.

  • ABC Acres

ABC Acres, located in the Bitterroot Valley, offers four rental cabins for your perfect getaway vacation! You can stay at the Guest House, Gate House, Range View Cabin, or Yellow House. The Guest House has 4 bedrooms and 2 ½ baths and is located in the center of the farm. From your front porch, you will be able to experience wildlife, such as elk, as well as the farm staff keeping this public Montana farm running with daily duties.

The Range View Cabin is the way to go if you’re looking for something a little bit more simple. Range View is just 1 bedroom and 1 full bath, with a pullout bed sofa if needed. As for how the cabin earned its namesake, it is located at the highest elevation on the farm, combined with grand windows on the South and West, providing breathtaking views of the Bitterroot Mountain Range. Depending on the season you choose to stay at ABC Acres, they offer many different activities ranging from Fall Festivals and rodeos to skiing and farmers markets! 

  • Bodhi Farms

 If you’re looking to experience a less structured or “normal” public Montana farm experience Bodhi Farms is the place for you! Bodhi Farms identifies as a boutique eco-resort and permaculture farm, offering activities such as glamping in tipis, saunas, massages, farming activities, and farm-to-table dining. They offer three different package types for tipi glamping, including Locals Staycation, Romance Package, and Your Bodhi. While you are more than welcome to reserve a tipi without these packages, they are helpful if you’re looking for something specific in your stay.

Those of you looking for a romantic getaway with your loved one should absolutely book the Romance Package! It includes a bottle to share, flowers, and a delicious treat after your dinner in the restaurant. All this, paired with a nearby creek singing you a lullaby while you stargaze, will make you feel like there is no one else in the world but you two. If you’re looking to have a bigger party, such as a Bachelor/Bachelorette Party of a family reunion, you can rent this whole public Montana farm plus amenities and adventures with the Your Bodhi package. If you decide to stick with a regular reservation, you still have many opportunities to explore all of these amenities, plus many more!


Fresh Produce Farm Stands

Maybe you don’t have time on your trip to directly participate in the homestead lifestyle on your trip, but still want to purchase local produce, not to worry! There are many opportunities to get fresh produce straight from public Montana farms!


  • SweetRoot Farm

Getting fresh produce from SweetRoot Farm is like borrowing a cup of sugar from a neighbor. As advertised on their website, they are open 24/7, all 365 days a year! They offer many different goodies at their stand, such as greens, potatoes, garlic, eggs, coffee beans, stir-fry packs, and much more. What they have to offer will vary from season to season, but you can double-check what is available via their social media. 

Many public Montana farm stands are available for fresh produce along the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail
Many farm stands are available for fresh produce along the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail.

SweetRoot wants you to come any time that works for you; seriously, they say even if they are sleeping, you can come in through the door and take what you need. As for payment, they accept cash, checks, or “please bill me receipts.” They have a purchase book you can tally your purchases on, change you can make for yourself if you need, or you can even just leave a note that you’ll be back later to pay or how they can reach out to you for you to pay. SweetRoot wants it to be easy for anyone to get fresh produce when they need it and trusts all their customers.


  • County Rail Farm

County Rail Farm and Field Five Flowers are both run by a queer couple in Huson, MT. They worked for many different farms before settling into County Rail. Their farm stand is open every day from dawn till dusk and is reliant on an honor system. All they ask is you take what you need and leave what you can, and you are able to pay with cash, Venmo, PayPal, check, or farm share credit. What they have to offer can vary from season to season but can include orange tomatoes, lettuce, arugula, and much more.

On top of their delicious fresh produce, County Rail Farm hosts many events such as Queer Dance Parties, Planting Parties, and Farm Dinners! County Rail pays their respects, acknowledges, and honors the tribes who originally owned the land their farm is on. However much time you can or want to spend on this public Montana farm County Rail is more than happy to have you!

Family Friendly Farms

If you’re thinking about bringing the kids on your trip, there is an abundance of public Montana farms that cater to a more kid-friendly environment! Children are never too young to learn the joys a farm can provide, as well as all the important goods and services they provide!

Public Montana farms are great places to take your children while on the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail
Public farms are great places to take your children while on the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail.

Turner Farms 406

Turner Farms was actually built from the ground up by a family. When the children wanted bunk beds, the parents told them they had to contribute to their funds. After setting up a little stand for extra produce grown that year, it soon became clear to the Turner family that this was something they wanted to grow. They have seasonal activities available, like their pumpkin patch, as well as their self-serve farm stand.

Most interesting though may be their farm tours! Tours are available to anyone from bigger groups, such as schools, to individual families. When they are all booked for tours, they still encourage anyone who is interested to come out and explore this public Montana farm on their own! Turner Farms has a great atmosphere for the younger generation who may be interested in learning more about what farm life looks like or how we all benefit from their hard work!

Bison Range

For a more unique public Montana farm experience, you may want to check out the Bison Range! The Bison Range focuses less on products and more on wildlife. They also focus on conservation, so rather than being a working farm, the range was made to show the beauty of this species that almost went extinct! You can drive through the range and watch the bison graze and live their everyday lives. The National Wildlife Refuge, along with the Salish and Kootenai Tribes, currently manage the range.

Seasonal Exclusive Public Montana Farms

Farms are heavily influenced by the change in seasons, whether it be the produce they can grow or the activities they can offer. This can also mean that you can have a unique experience if you visit in one season versus the next. Here are some of our favorite public Montana farms for seasonal fun!

  • Applestem Corn Maze and Pumpkin Patch: Fall Winner

Looking for some fall fun? Applestem has got you covered! They are open for the general public, pumpkin patch, and corn maze Friday through Sunday. You do have to pay for admission, but once you do, you have access to their corn maze, duck races, corn tent, tube slide, farm animals, and many more fun activities! The pumpkin patch price varies on the pumpkin you pick. Classic fall fun mixed with the unique opportunities they offer and the beautiful changing leaves combines to make an experience you just can’t pass up!

Fall fun opportunities are a plenty on the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail
Fall fun opportunities are plenty on the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail.

The Ranch at Rock Creek is an overnight resort that offers many different types of stays, you can even stay in a homesteader wagon! They want you to be able to have a worry-free stay, so once you pay one of the rates offered, you don’t have to worry about paying extra fees once you are there. There are a few activities that have extra fees, but overall there are plenty to choose from for no extra cost! During the Winter, you could enjoy ice skating, sledding, snowshoeing, skiing, snowboarding, or horseback riding. Summer, Fall, and Spring offer even more outdoor adventures, such as archery, fly fishing, mountain biking, hiking, sapphire mining, and much more!  


Montana is a great place to live out your farmhouse fantasy. Every location has something unique and fun to offer, so if you have time, visit as many as you can! The best part is all of these locations are along the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail, so if you want to visit a couple of places in a weekend, you can follow the trail and see many more sites. With all these opportunities and much more, there is something for everyone! 


Looking for more inspiration? Check out our website and socials!


Montana Tourism: Marketing Director Pat Doyle Shares Insights and Advice

Looking for the next great adventure? Put Montana on your travel bucket list! Montana is a part of Lewis and Clark’s Peaks to Plains region, which covers the states of Montana and Idaho, and is among the most underrated states for outdoor recreation and activities. But why exactly should you choose to specifically visit Montana along the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail (LCNHT)?

Hear from expert Pat Doyle, who is a marketing manager at the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, or Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks for short. He explains what his role entails, and the responsibilities of his government agency to manage state-owned park resources, and the sustainability of Montana’s great outdoors. He also shares some of the must-sees and hidden gems of Montana that all visitors traveling along the LCNHT should know about before heading out the front door. Here’s why you should visit Montana along the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail.

Glacier National Park, Montana
A stunning view of Glacier National Park, Montana

Why Montana Tourism?

Despite Montana being the 4th largest state in the United States, this state has a low population density with only 1.062 million inhabitants. That makes it the 43rd most populous state! Additionally, there are 12 Native American tribes living in Montana, representing 6.5 percent of the state’s total population. This Northwestern state is part of the 16 states and tribal lands that make up the National Historical Lewis and Clark Trail. The trail’s history can be traced back to Meriwether Lewis and William Clark’s exploration of the western portion of the United States following the Louisiana Purchase; they were the first explorers who were a part of the United States that managed to cross Montana during their expedition that lasted from 1804 until 1806. 

Today, Montana remains the same wild and preserved land that it was over 200 years ago. What makes Montana unique from other states is its hidden beauty that is often overshadowed by neighboring states. As a plus, it has unlimited outdoor recreation potential due to the topography of the land that most tourists aren’t aware of. It is also home to one of the biggest and most popular national parks in the country — Yellowstone. What is more, many of the sites in Montana hold great cultural and historic significance, which only contributes to the hidden beauty of this state.

Although Montana outside of Yellowstone is not advertised as a default tourist destination, Pat Doyle agrees that Montana offers serene views unlike no other state in the U.S., and tourism outreach is a priority for informing Americans of Montana’s unique outdoor recreation activities. “There is a lot of untapped potential, and I don’t think Montana is ever going to be a historical tourist destination. But, I think that there can be a lot more done to develop a lot of those assets on the ground,” Pat confirmed. 

What exactly does Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks do? How does it benefit Montana tourism?

Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks’ role is to “provide for the stewardship of fish, wildlife, parks and recreational resources of Montana while contributing to the quality of life for present and future generations.” As a marketing manager, Pat’s role centers around communicating and gaining relevancy for high-profile issues, such as Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD), which is invasive across aquatic species, as well as developing the Landowner Relation Program. He is also involved in partnering with people across the tourism industry and economic development spectrum by discussing the value of Montana’s state parks, as well as the state’s historical sites and cultural areas.

When asked about his role, Pat replied, “For me personally, the most rewarding parts of it are working with our state-wide cultural and historic sites, which many of our state parks make up. And I think one of the challenging parts relates specifically to state parks, that people aren’t necessarily cognizant of who is managing what property.” He briefly mentioned that many people do not recognize the difference between national and state parks. Pat clarified that national parks have a national significance, which is also a state park’s attribute, but state parks also exist to display the history and culture of said state.

Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks has a variety of different funding sources. Some examples include the state putting excise taxes on ammunition and fishing supplies and an optional fee for registered vehicles that go directly into supporting the state government’s mission to protect Montana’s state parks. “Pittman Robertson and Dingle Johnson funding are national taxes that are levied on those kinds of supplies, and then we are fortunate that in Montana, all of our parks are free for the residents, but they do have the option when they register their vehicle every year to pay an optional $9 fee that goes back to the operations and maintenance of our parks. We’re really lucky that the vast majority of people who register their cars pay that fee,” Pat commented. 

Each and every one of the funding sources used to protect Montana’s backyard are important in their own right, as each of them has a specific purpose. For example, Pat revealed that “Pittman Robertson funding money can only go to things like wildlife habitats […] Dingle Johnson money can go to the water-based conservation and recreation things, and our State Park funding really has to stick with our state parks, so it can be for cultural and historic preservation purposes.” 

Where should I visit in Montana?

Montana is an underrated state rich in natural resources and beauty. Don’t just hear it from us — here is the anticipated list of all of the must-see locations that Pat Doyle mentioned, and are perfect for any visitor eager to explore Montana. 

Imagine yourself here, visiting Flathead Lake, Montana Tourism
This could be you relaxing at Flathead Lake, Montana

1. Flathead Lake

Flathead Lake is a large natural lake in Northwest Montana and features several small islands with a variety of fish species. It sits to the south of Glacier National Park, and with so much wildlife in the area, it is a truly wonderful destination for everyone to visit. The lake is highly accessible and gives countless recreational opportunities for kayaking, sailing adventures, fishing and many more. 

2. Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area

Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area is a vast and massive landscape with over 12,000 acres, and it offers visitors the opportunity to experience natural wildlife, ecosystems and many more. Whether you’re interested in camping, hiking or boating — the recreation area is a perfect place for such adventures. It has two visitor centers — one near Fort Smith in Mont. and one near Lovell, Wyo.

Breathtaking scenery at Bighorn Canyon, Montana Tourism
Breathtaking scenery at Bighorn Canyon, Montana

3. Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument

Upper Missouri River Breaks in central Montana is one of my favorite places in the States,” Pat replied while discussing Montana’s top destinations for any tourist, visitor, or local. 

This monument protects the Missouri Breaks of North Central Montana with the landscape containing an array of biological, wildlife and cultural resources. The monument is covered with sedimentary rocks that covered central and eastern Montana during the Cretaceous period. Thanks to its remote location, the site is still in its original condition and now offers countless cultural tourism opportunities. 

4. First Peoples Buffalo Jump State Park

This state park is a National Historic Landmark (NHL) in Cascade County, Mont. and is believed to be the largest bison cliff jump in North America. The site holds significant historical and cultural value as it was used by Indigenous Americans for thousands of years before Lewis and Clark passed through that area. The park has a visitor center, interpretive trail, picnic tables and a protected black-tail prairie dog town to help visitors understand the captivating history of hunting on the High Plains. 

Yellowstone National Park and sustainable Montana tourism 

Montana is extremely lucky to be home to one of the most popular national parks in the U.S., Yellow Stone National Park. Unfortunately, Yellowstone has been dealing with over tourism over the past several years. We asked Pat what he thinks of the situation and how this challenge could be solved with sustainable tourism, while promoting what Montana has to offer outside of the National Parks.

“One of the things that we do see, specifically in the case of international visitors is that the first time they come to the United States, it’s mostly New York, L.A., Disney World, and when they reach Montana, they’re primarily coming for Yellowstone or Glacier. So if they do want to come back after they’ve seen those two parks and explore off-the-beaten paths parts in Montana, that’s usually their second or third visit to the U.S., so it might not be easy,” Pat said. As a result, Montana’s government is working on promoting sustainable tourism and being respectful while visiting any state or national parks. Montana tourism is doing the background work

Pat also mentioned that state parks in the U.S. have different systems, and they are differently operated and funded. “When people are coming to a national park, they may have an expectation of a visitor experience that we can’t back up at our state parks.” Therefore, it can be really hard to fulfill the users’ expectations when trying to spread people across different sites and even different states. Pat agrees that state parks offer the same incredible experience that national parks offer to millions of visitors per year. 

Grand Prismatic Spring located in Yellowstone National Park, Montana
Pictured is the Grand Prismatic Spring located in Yellowstone National Park, Montana

As you can see, Montana is an incredibly diverse state that is rich in wildlife, cultural and historic resources. No matter where your interests lie, Montana has a place for you. Thanks to Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks’ hard work, the government agency does an incredible job of protecting the state’s natural assets while communicating their value and significance for the tourism economy. Therefore, we must all work together to protect the great outdoors by being conscious of our actions as visitors and tourists so that generations to come can enjoy Montana’s beauty. Hopefully, you now feel inspired to stop by Montana while traveling along the LCNHT, and you are ready to experience all of the fantastic sights that it has to offer.

Want to learn more about Montana Tourism? Visit our website to learn about the top things to do and see in this beautiful state.