Montana is undeniably vast—it’s roughly the size of Germany—but with a population of only about one million residents. This expansive state encompasses wide-open prairies, towering mountain peaks dusted with snow, rushing rivers, and a sky so vast it defies description. For groups and international travelers, visiting Montana promises an unforgettable experience. Beyond the iconic Glacier National Park, there’s a wealth of hidden gems waiting to be discovered in Western Montana.

To assist you in planning your itinerary, I’ve curated a list of the top 11 most remarkable places in Western Montana’s Glacier Country—some of which you may not have heard of before. These destinations, though often off the beaten path or considered undiscovered, offer unique experiences that are well worth adding to your Montana travel plans.

No. 1 Smokejumper Visitor Center

In Missoula, the Smokejumper Visitor Center provides a fascinating glimpse into the world of smokejumpers—firefighters who parachute into remote or inaccessible areas. If you happen to visit Missoula during early summer, usually from late April to early June, you might even witness smokejumpers in action as they undergo practice jumps in preparation for the upcoming fire season. These courageous individuals are truly heroes. The center is open from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend, offering regularly scheduled tours. Outside of these dates, tours are available by appointment.

Learn about professional smokejumpers in Missoula.

No. 2 The Garden of One Thousand Buddhas

Nestled just off U.S. Highway 93, north of Arlee, the Garden of One Thousand Buddhas awaits. This remarkable site encompasses a public park, botanical garden and Buddhist center, all designed to evoke enlightenment and awakening. Its inception traces back to a prophetic vision experienced by Tulku Sang-ngag Rinpoche in his childhood, and the captivating Montana backdrop only amplifies the serenity of the surroundings. What truly sets this garden apart is its primary purpose: a center for peace. It stands as a testament to inclusivity, inviting individuals of all backgrounds and beliefs to discover tranquility amid one of Montana’s most picturesque valleys.

Find a peaceful moment at the Garden of One Thousand Buddhas.

No. 3 St. Mary’s Mission

Located in Stevensville, the Historic St. Mary’s Mission holds a significant place in Montana’s history as one of the first non-native settlements in the state. Preserving the essence of its time, this historic site offers guided tours of its complex, providing insight into the early pioneer era. Explore Chief Victor’s cabin, adorned with remarkable American Indian photographs, and delve into the rich history of the Salish Indians and the Christian missionaries known to the Salish as the “Black Robes.”

Visit the charming town of Stevensville and don’t miss the Historic St. Mary Mission.

No. 4 St. Ignatius Mission

If you’re passing through St. Ignatius along U.S. Highway 93, the St. Ignatius Mission might escape your notice unless you cast a glance northeastward as you enter town. However, it’s well worth the brief stop to explore the mission’s grounds and marvel at its interior. Designated as a National Historic Site, the mission boasts 58 exquisite hand-painted murals dating back to the late 1800s. What sets it apart is the remarkable artwork adorning its walls and ceiling, meticulously crafted by Brother Joseph Carignano, who served as the mission’s cook and handyman during that era.

The St. Ignatius Mission is an underrated stop that your group will love. Photo: Andy Austin

No. 5 Blackfeet Indian Reservation

The Blackfeet Indian Reservation, comprising 1.5 million acres, is home to 10,000 members of the 17,000-member Blackfeet tribe—one of the 10 largest tribes in the U.S. The reservation is located east of Glacier National Park bordering the Canadian province of Alberta. It’s easy to incorporate the reservation into an itinerary if you’re traveling on U.S. Interstate Highway 15 north of Great Falls or traveling east on U.S. Highway 2 near Glacier National Park. For small groups looking for a deeper cultural immersion, Iron Shield Creative offers Tribal Traditional Stories Workshop Hikes led by tribal members, where groups can hike the land around Glacier National Park while learning Indigenous stories.

Schedule a group hike with Iron Shield Creative. Photo: Andy Austin

No. 6 Holland Lake and Holland Falls

Another cherished spot in Western Montana is Holland Lake, nestled in the picturesque Seeley-Swan Valley between the breathtaking Mission and Swan Mountain ranges. Renowned for its stunning beauty, Holland Lake offers a easy 3-mile (4.8 km) out-and-back hike along its shoreline, culminating at a cascading waterfall. Note: Holland Lake Lodge makes for a great post-hike place to pull up a barstool or have a Montana-inspired dinner. 

Active groups will appreciate the easy hike and spectacular view at Holland Falls. Photo: Journal of Lost Time

No. 7 Lolo Creek Steakhouse

When in Western Montana, indulging in a steak dinner is a must, and Lolo Creek Steakhouse consistently ranks among the best steakhouses in Montana. Situated just south of Missoula in Lolo, this rustic log lodge-style eatery exudes a quintessential Montana vibe, complete with an array of mounted animals adorning the walls and an open-flame grill at its center. Pro tip: Arrive a bit early for dinner and explore the Lolo Creek Distillery located behind the restaurant. Don’t miss their signature cocktails like the Rippin’ Lips (a fishing term) or the Griz Mule (an homage to the University of Montana Grizzlies). The steakhouse will notify the distillery when your table is ready.

Lolo Creek Steakhouse is a community favorite, with an ambiance your group won’t soon forget.

No. 8 Flathead Lake

A Montana fun fact: Flathead Lake is the largest freshwater lake in the West (yes, larger than Lake Tahoe). And due to its sheer size—as in its 185 miles (298 kilometers) of shoreline—Flathead Lake is a fun destination in Western Montana. Our best advice: Drive U.S. Highway 93 and State Highway 35 around the lake, stop at The Raven for lunch, visit one of the state parks along the shore of the lake and take a cruise with Far West Boat Tours.

A Far West boat tour is the best way for your group to explore Flathead Lake. Photo: Andy Austin

No. 9 Clearwater Canoe Trail

If you want one of the most peaceful experiences you could ever have, coordinate a rental from Tamaracks Resort and plan to paddle the Clearwater Canoe Trail. This 4-mile canoe trail is a calm stretch of meandering river that empties into the northern end of Seeley Lake. The waterway is closed to motorized boats, creating a serene float through a dense willow marsh. Depending on the time of year, and how fast you paddle, the float takes about two hours. It’s one of our favorite ways to explore the waters of Western Montana. If you’re lucky you’ll see an otter, turtles or a great blue heron. 

People of all fitness levels will enjoy the leisurely paddle through the Clearwater Canoe Trail.

No. 10 Kootenai Creek Trail

Hiking trails are numerous in the Bitterroot Range, and the views are awe-inspiring. Kootenai Creek Trail, located in Montana’s Bitterroot Valley just north of Stevensville, is one of the best places to take a hike. Wander through granite canyon walls, following the Kootenai Creek, along a 9-mile hike. The Kootenai lakes are 9 miles in, but turn around anytime on the hike—even a short distance will immerse you in the serenity of the Bitterroot National Forest. Contact Bitterroot Backpacking to go with a guide. Insider tip: After hiking in the Bitterroot National Forest, plan to end your day in Stevensville with a visit to the local brewery.

The Bitterroot Mountain Range has more that 1,600 miles of hiking trails. Book a guide to discover the right trail for your group.

No. 11 Garnet Ghost Town

Garnet Ghost Town, noted as Montana’s best-preserved ghost town, is located about 30 minutes east of Missoula and 11 miles off State Highway 200. The town resides at an elevation of 6,000 feet in the Garnet Mountains and is named for the ruby-colored stones found nearby. Garnet became a boomtown with the discovery of gold in the 1850s, and by the 1890s around 1,000 people called Garnet their home. Today it offers a glimpse of life in a turn-of-the-century gold camp with 30 buildings still remaining, including a jail, post office, blacksmith shop, school, cabins and a hotel.

A visit to a real ghost town should be a part of every Montana itinerary. Photo: HoneyTrek

For more information on where to stay throughout Western Montana, visit our tour operator website. If you need additional tour itinerary assistance, feel free to drop me a line; I’m always here to help.

Happy Adventuring!


April 23, 2024

Related: American Indian, Bitterroot Valley, Blackfeet Nation, Browning, Darby, East Glacier Park, FIT, Flathead Lake, Greenough, Group Tours, Lolo, Missoula, Motorcycle Tours, Outdoor Adventure, Seeley Lake, Seeley-Swan Valley, Stevensville, Tour Operator