Montana is, quite possibly, the most unique states in all the US (at least as far as nature is concerned)! From the towering peaks of the Rocky Mountains to the serene prairie and plains, it’s a totally stunning region to explore the great outdoors. Plus, regardless of what region you’re visiting, you’ll find a fair few of the best hikes in Montana that’ll take you right to these natural gems.
Now, from an international perspective, Montana might not seem like your first port of call when exploring the best places in the US; though, trust me, it’s beautiful. I visited here on a road trip from New York State to Los Angeles which was a trek in itself… though, it was all made much easier with a set of wheels!
Anyway, rambling away once again but I wanted to share some of the best hikes in Montana to explore whilst you’re travelling through the state. I’ve chosen a range of hikes so, if you’re as picky as Goldilocks is with her porridge, you’ll at least find one that’s totally perfect for you…
… Just watch out for the bears!
Have the best time hiking across Montana.
1.) Black Canyon Lake Trail, Custer National Forest
Nestled within the magnificent Beartooth Mountain Range, this tough fourteen-mile trail is unquestionably a hike for the experts. It’s tough, you’ll work up a sweat and will need to a good deal of prepping to fully complete this hike – but you’ll be the reward with the most epic views.
The first part of the hike (starting at the end of Lake Fork Road) is relatively moderate – well, that’s if you’re an experienced hiker. A few miles in, you have the opportunity to follow a side trail (if safe to do so) down to Lost Lake, which is certainly worth the extra few minutes and short but steep detour.
At roughly the halfway point, the trail gets much tougher. In the colder months, it can be treacherous, so only go out if you’re familiar with the trail or experienced in conquering those snowy hikes.
Make no mistake, the true gem of this hike is arriving at Black Canyon Lake itself, which is gorgeous. The vividly coloured turquoise lake sits at the base of majestic Beartooth Mountain, and the visuals are just so unique.
Beware, you’re in bear country here, so be sure to hike responsibly and check out these bear safety tips if you’re unsure.
2. )The Boulder Pass Trail, Glacier National Park
Tough for beginners and moderate for pros, the Boulder Pass Trail is one of the best hikes in Montana if you’re within Glacier National Park. It’s incredibly stunning and with around thirty miles in total, you’ll get to see some of the best will be treated to the scenery in all of Glacier National Park.
From the starting point at Kintla Lakes, you will traverse approximately nineteen miles to the gorgeous Boulder Pass, which overlooks the infamous Hole in the Wall waterfall. Now, it’s worth mentioning the trail up to Boulder Pass is tough to say the least but the views are just too good to miss.
Be aware that you are in very remote backcountry here, so be sure to pack plenty of appropriate gear and be advised that the weather can turn quickly. If you’re unsure, don’t set off; and if you do go, check the National Parks Service website for the most up-to-date information for hiking the park.
While you do want to bring a good supply of food and water, this is grizzly bear country, so be sure to observe precautions when storing food and/or cooking.
Oh, and whilst you’re in the area, give your legs a break and head out canoeing on the lake itself. Just stunning.
3.) Danny On Memorial Trail, Flathead National Forest
Located in Whitefish, this trail pays homage to Danny On, a man who was not only a photographer and ecologist but also someone who’s an unadulterated passion for Montana and its beauty inspired many others to explore Big Sky Country.
The moderately paced hike is a little under six miles, and while you will experience some tough gain in elevation, the view at the top offers an amazing panoramic view of Big Sky.
If you do this hike in the springtime, you will get a chance to experience the gorgeous wildflowers that carpet the area as well!
4.) Grinnell Glacier Trail, Glacier National Park
A Toughie but a goodie!
If you ever find yourself in Glacier National Park, you’ve gotta save time to complete this 11-mile+ trek out to the most frequently visited glacier in the area.
You begin your journey on the picturesque shores of Swiftcurrent Lake before you begin to gain elevation quite fast (this means it can get tough on your legs at times).
Now, don’t be fooled by the “slow start” on this hike, it’s one of those that get more beautiful as you move higher up. Plus, there is a very good chance you will spot some local wildlife, such as bighorn sheep, elk, and possibly even bear. Though, again, if you do see a bear act responsibly and follow all safety advice.
Although the climb is fairly strenuous, it is well worth it for the awesome views afforded at the top of the magnificent glacier and its ethereally beautiful blue lake! The views alone make it one of the best hikes in Montana for sure.
Oh, also, don’t forget you will need to pay a fee to enter the national park. Currently, this is around £35 per vehicle.
5.) Hidden Lake Overlook Trail, Glacier National Park
Another one of the best hikes in Montana, right within Glacier National Park, the Hidden Lake Overlook Trail is quite a bit easier than the Grinnell Glacier Trail.
Though don’t think it’s a walk in the park, it’s still got a fair few spots that make this moderate for abilities. Around 3-miles, this hike is short and sweet, this is a wonderful day hike for anyone who wants to experience the beauty of Glacier National Park without the commitment of a longer, more strenuous hike.
The trail begins behind the Logan Pass Visitor’s Center (nice and easy) and continues over Hidden Pass before you arrive at the overlook.
From here, you get an absolutely jaw-dropping view of the pristinely beautiful lake, as well as the Sperry Glacier Basin itself. Round trip, the hike is just under a mile and a half each way, and the pace is relatively easy, however, if you choose to continue from the overlook on the trail to the lake’s shore, be prepared for a very steep, strenuous additional mile each way!
6.) Highline Trail
Located in Glacier National Park, the Highline Trail (Google Maps reference point, here) is pretty difficult.
You begin your hike at the magnificent Logan’s Pass and traverse through some of the most spectacular scenery in the park, including creeks and stunning avalanche chutes.
During the springtime, the beauty of this hike is even more magnified by the plethora of alpine flowers and the rushing streams fed by melting snow. The highlight of this hike is the breathtaking, panoramic view of the Logan Valley at the summit. Be sure to pack a lunch, as this is a wonderful spot to relax and take in a picnic before beginning the hike back.
7.) Lava Lake, Custer Gallatin National Forest
Located in Gallatin Canyon, this is one of the most popular hikes in the area. While the entire walk is a day hike, the elevation gain between the beginning of the trailhead and the lake itself is significant, so be sure to stop and take frequent rests to avoid exhaustion. After all, this isn’t a beginners hike!
You will cross overly the lovely Cascade Creek before arriving at Lava Lake, which lies in the crater of a volcano from long ago. There is a multitude of wildlife around here, including pika, deer and plenty of songbirds.
8.) Mount Aeneas Summit Trail, Flathead National Forest
Frequently nominated as the most accessible summits in Montana, this hike is located near the town of Bigfork that spans just under six miles.
Now, although it’s one of the most accessible summits in the state, this hike is still extremely hard. Don’t attempt this hike if you’re used to easy to moderate trails.
To set context, the most difficult part of the trail is the mile or so stretch of upward switchbacks, though there are a few steep sections afterwards as well.
Once you reach the top, your efforts are well-rewarded with a panoramic view of Glacier National Park as well as the Flathead Valley itself.
9.) Mystic Lake Trail, Custer Gallatin National Forest
Just under six miles, this moderately paced hike is unique and perfect if you want to explore the wilderness of the Beartooth Mountains.
Along the way, you’ll venture through an impressive rock field which is very exposed, so is sure to plan your trip so that you are not hiking in this area during the hottest part of the day. This can make the hike very tough!
Once you arrive at the overlook, you will find yourself face to face with some of the most beautiful scenery. These are the views you’ve been for and easily make it one of the best hikes in Montana for this very reason.
Be sure to spend some time exploring the lake, which is distinguished as both the deepest and largest lake in the Beartooth region.
10.) Palisade Falls, Bozeman
Just outside Bozeman (10-15 min drive) lies this easy and very popular hike that is a delight for hikers of all ages. A little over a mile in length, it’s one of the easiest and best hikes in Montana if you want a short trip.
Along the way, you’ll follow the trail to the magnificent falls, which is a wonderful spot to stop to take in. Now, if you really want to see the power of the falls, head here in the springtime. You see, the increased amount of rainfall and snowmelt makes the falls an even more impressive sight.
Be advised that the trail can become quite crowded, so it is best to start early in the morning if you can.