Montana cannot be contained even within the confines of the collective American imagination. That may seem like a hyperbolic statement. However, a state that includes parts of the Rocky Mountains, the Great Plains, Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks, the Badlands, and the mighty Columbia River simply can’t be neatly imagined, explained, or defined.
Often referred to as “Big Sky Country” and “The Last Best Place,” it is a relic of another day, even in the present age. It’s as expansive as the endless blue western sky and as rugged and untouched as it might’ve been over 100 years ago in some places. But visiting Montana feels simultaneously like stepping back in time and entering an area utterly divorced from time itself.
One could look across a wide, sprawling Montana plain and feel as though an ancient Indigenous Tribe could ride across the horizon line at any moment, or perhaps a crew of fur traders from the 19th century might amble along loaded for bear with beaver pelts.
To be sure, the state is not some antiquity to be looked upon with curiosity. Instead, it is a living, breathing testament to the wild American West that continues and invites visitors to dive into and experience for themselves to this day.
Thankfully, many of these experiences, sights, and sounds can be found in one of Montana’s greatest treasures: its State Parks.
Giant Springs State Park: Recorded by the legendary explorers Lewis and Clark in 1805, the namesake Giant Springs is one of the largest such springs in the whole country. Its singular geological features and wealth of activities for outdoor lovers make this State Park one of the most popular around. Go for a run or a hike on one of the many trails, fish the Roe River, enjoy the opportunities for birding, or take the short drive to the nearby Missouri River Falls. Fun fact: The Roe River was once an entrant into the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s shortest river. There is something for everyone at this incredible spot.
Wild Horse Island: This site offers as unique an experience as any searcher is likely to find. Accessible only by boat, Wild Horse Island is pure, unadulterated Montana wilderness in its best form. Its more than 2,000 acres are classified as primitive land, so leaving a light footprint is a must. The Island offers a dizzying array of local wildlife, from bighorn sheep, deer, bald eagles, falcons, and of course, the wild horses that still inhabit the island. Centuries ago, the island was used by Kootenai Tribes as a hideaway for their horses to keep them from being stolen by rival Tribes. To this day, those horses’ descendants still roam freely in what is now this spectacular destination.
Madison Buffalo Jump State Park: This park is where the two Montana worlds, the long rolling plains and the imposing cliffs, hills, and mountains, meet. Madison Buffalo Jump garners its name from an old hunting tactic used by Indigenous Tribes for centuries. Hunters would stampede the great buffalo herds off the massive limestone cliffs, sending the great beasts to their deaths, where they would be harvested and used to feed, shelter, and clothe the Tribe. Today, the park offers its vast beauty for visitors to enjoy and explore via its many hiking trails. Additionally, exhibits are onsite to learn more about the people who lived, thrived, and hunted here hundreds of years ago. This site is a can’t-miss!