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10+ [EPIC] Montana National Parks: An Expert Guide 2022 (+ Photos)

Montana National Parks include historic battlefields, national monuments, amazing parks and so much more. We’ve got 10+ reasons to go there.

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Montana National Parks

We'll give you ten reasons to make your next visit to Montana | Montana National Parks
More Than Just Parks will give you ten reasons why you’ll want to make Montana your next vacation destination

Montana National Parks! We’ve got ten incredible national park sites for you to see on your next visit to Big Sky Country.

Montana National Parks include historic battlefields, national monuments, amazing parks and so much more.

We’re going to give you ten reasons why you’ll want to make Montana your next vacation destination.

Montana National Parks

1. Big Hole National Battlefield

Big Hole National Battlefield | Montana National Parks
Big Hole Battlefield,10 miles west of Wisdom, Montana, on Montana Highway 43 | Courtesy of the National Park Service

Spoiler Alert: I’m a retired history teacher. When I go somewhere, I love to learn about the history of the place. My wife tells me that not everyone is made that way. I’m not sure I believe her, but just in case, I’ll keep this history lesson brief. And, no homework. I promise!

The Battle of Big Hole was fought August 9-10, 1877, in Montana, between the U.S. Army and the Nez Perce Tribe.  The Nez Perce were led by Chief Joseph. The U.S. Army by Colonel John Gibbon.

This was no cake walk for either side. Both experienced heavy casualties. The Nez Perce gave as good as they got. They were forced to withdraw from the battlefield, but Gibbon’s force was in no condition to pursue them.

The U.S. Army suffered 29 dead (23 soldiers and six civilian volunteers) and 40 wounded (36 soldiers and four civilians) of whom two later died. These casualties amounted to more than 30 percent of Gibbon’s force.

The Nez Perce fought a rearguard action as they made their way to Canada.

Acceptable Loss Or Acceptable Casualties

Chief Joseph and Col. John Gibbon met again on the Big Hole Battle site in 1889. It appears they were able to put aside their earlier differences. | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Now I did some research because I like to think of myself as a scholar. My wife likes to think of me as a nerd. She’s usually right. I just hate that!

Anyway, an acceptable loss, also known as acceptable damage or acceptable casualties, is a military term used to indicate casualties or destruction inflicted by the enemy that is considered minor or tolerable.

From what I was able to learn, casualties in excess of 10% are considered excessive. The Nez Perce inflicted over 30% casualties on Colonel Gibbons and his soldiers. That definitely qualifies as excessive.

Touring The Big Hole Battlefield

Big Hole National Battlefield | Montana National Parks
Lead Riders for the Chief Joesph Trail Ride enter Big Hole National Battlefield | Courtesy of the National Park Service

If you haven’t been to the Big Hole National Battlefield before then I recommend starting at the visitor center. It offers museum exhibits, a film, and a book sales area.

I’m someone who likes to do a “reconnaissance mission” before I go out into the field. This means that I like to gather as much ‘intel’ as I can. What better place to do that then in the visitor center. And, don’t be afraid to ask those friendly folks questions. That’s what they’re there for.

As part of my reconnaissance, I learned about the award winning film There’s No Turning Back: Battle at Big Hole. It’s impactful! The film provides an introduction to Nez Perce Flight of 1877 and the battle which took place at this site. 

Outside of the visitors center, there’s an observation deck which provides you with an opportunity to explore the battlefield year round.

Viewing scopes allow close inspection of the tipis, the 1883 granite monument, and the howitzer cannon from afar.

Explore The Battlefield Trails At Big Hole

Lodges representing Chief Joseph’s (right) and Ollocot’s (left) lodges, looking NW | Courtesy of the National Park Service

There are three trails open from sunrise to sunset daily year-round. The Nez Perce Camp Trail leads to the site where the sleeping Nez Perce were camped when the army attacked on the morning of August 9, 1877. 

The trail is a 1.6 miles round-trip walking trail with no elevation gain. Hikers should look out for ground squirrel holes. These can easily be stepped into. You don’t want to twist an ankle or ruin a squirrel’s day.

You Can Get Your Steps In Too

Hiking in the great outdoors is a wonderful way to see the beauty of nature and get some healthy exercise | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The trail takes approximately one hour to complete. Remember, however, you’re getting those steps in. When my son calls me that’s the first question he asks. “Dad, did you get your steps in?”

I thought I was smarter than him when I kept telling him that the weather in my neighborhood was too terrible to go walking. Then he and his two brothers conspired against me. They got me a treadmill. But I digress . . .

The Siege Area Trail is 1.2 miles round-trip and climbs about fifty feet in elevation. The trail takes approximately forty-five minutes to complete. Visitors can look at the rifle pits dug by the soldiers and see the monument dedicated to the Seventh U.S. Infantry soldiers.

The Howitzer Trail is a 0.8 mile spur trail off of the Siege Area trail that climbs 320 feet in elevation. It takes approximately 40 minutes to hike. Visitors will find a replica cannon at the site.

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Map of Big Hole National Battlefield | Montana National Parks
Big Hole National Battlefield Map | Courtesy of the National Park Service

2. Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area | Montana National Parks

Bighorn Canyon | Montana National Parks
The Bighorn Canyon offers a diversified landscape of forest, mountains, upland prairie, deep canyons, broad valleys, high desert, lake and wetlands | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Bighorn Canyon boasts over 120,000 acres of wilderness that straddle the northern Wyoming and southern Montana borders That’s a lot of wilderness!

There are endless opportunities for adventure flowing all the way down to the end of the Bighorn Mountains. 

Things To Do At Bighorn Canyon

Bighorn Lake | Montana National Parks
Fishing on the Bighorn Lake | Courtesy of the National Park Service

Like most people, I’m someone who’s looking for fun things to do when I head off to a national park. When it comes to Bighorn Canyon, however, it might take me less time were I to list the things you can’t do rather then the things you can do.

Bighorn offers a wide range of recreation activities including:

  1. Bicycling-If you’re looking for a good workout take the South District park road where you parallel the ancient Bad Pass Trail or in the North District pedal the Ok-A-Beh road.
  2. Boating-You will enjoy the waters of the Bighorn Lake.
  3. Camping-There are five camping areas with over 100 spots.
  4. Fishing-At Bighorn, there is a diverse range of fish including trout and walleye.
  5. Hiking-There are over 27 miles of trails (see below).
  6. Historic Ranches– Visitors can see an amazing collection of ranches that have been kept in their original condition.
  7. Horseback Riding-The park allows horseback riding in the South District.
  8. Wildlife-From herds of wild horses to bears in their natural habitat to Bighorn Sheep roaming the high desert there’s a bevy of wildlife to watch.

Hiking At Bighorn Canyon

Hiking at Bighorn | Montana National Parks
If you’re looking to get your steps in hen Bighorn Canyon won’t disappoint you | Montana National Parks

The North District of Bighorn Canyon has 3 trails. They include:

  1. Beaver Pond Nature Trail which is a 2.6 mile round trip hike.
  2. Bighorn Head Gate which is .1 mile round trip.
  3. Three Mile Access which is 2 miles round trip.
Hiking at Bighorn | Montana National Parks

The South District of Bighorn Canyon has 12 trails. They include:

  1. Visitor Center Pond which is .26 miles round trip.
  2. Sykes Mountain Trail which is 4.6 miles round trip.
  3. Mouth of the Canyon Trail which is 1.8 miles round trip.
  4. State Line Trail which is 1.52 miles round trip.
  5. Ranger Delight which is .66 miles round trip.
  6. Sullivan’s Knob Trail which is .75 miles round trip.
  7. Two Eagles Interpretive Trail which is .25 miles round trip.
  8. Lower Layout Creek Trail which is 3.4 miles round trip.
  9. Upper Layout Creek Trail which is 1.8 miles round trip.
  10. Hillsboro which is 1-3 miles round trip.
  11. Barry’s Island Trail which is 4 miles round trip.
  12. Lockhart Ranch which is 0.5 or 2.1 Miles Round Trip.

What’s nice is that you can determine which trail is the right length for you given the level of adventure (and exercise) that you’re looking to get.

Fishing At Bighorn Canyon

Fishing at Bighorn | Montana National Parks
Bighorn Canyon has fishing for all ages and skill levels | Montana National Parks

I started fishing when I wasn’t much older than the boy in the photo above. Some of my fondest memories are of fishing along the Delaware River.

The good news for you is that you can enjoy fishing at Bighorn. There’s a much better selection of fish there than the little Crappies (such an appropriate name if you ask me) which I was pulling out of the Delaware.

Three Recommended Areas For Fishing

Courtesy of Wikimedia

There are three areas that are recommended for fishing either from a boat or along the shoreline. They are:

  1. Bighorn Lake-Walleye, brown and rainbow trout, yellow perch, carp, catfish, ling and crappie are among the fish sought by those plying the waters of Bighorn Lake.
  2. Afterbay-This unique section of water is located between the Yellowtail Dam and the Bighorn River. The Afterbay’s main species is rainbow trout.
  3. Bighorn River-Trout are the sought after prize of those fishing the renowned waters of the Bighorn River. Keep in mind though, the river is quite diverse. 38 different species of fish have been caught on its waters. (Source: NPS)

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3. Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site | Montana National Parks

Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site | Montana National Parks
Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site in Montana and North Dakota | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

I may be a retired history teacher, but I still love the past. The Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site is a part of that past. It’s a historical reconstruction of one of the most important fur trading posts on the Upper Mississippi.

I recommend beginning your trip by watching a wonderful film about the Fort Union. During its 39 years of existence, from 1828 to 1867, it was a center of economic and social exchange between Northern Plains Tribes and other cultures.

You come away from this film with an understanding that this was no ordinary post. It was the most important post of its time. The film is only 9-minutes long and you can see in the Bourgeois House Visitor Center Museum’s video kiosk during regular open hours. It’s worth it.

Fort Union’s Trade House

For Union Trade House | Montana National Parks
Park Ranger in period costume welcomes visitors into the Fort Union Trade House | Courtesy of the National Park Service

You have a wonderful opportunity to travel back in time with a visit to Fort Union’s Trade House. A costumed Park Ranger will explain how this place was the fort’s most important building.

I have to give these incredible Park Rangers a shout out. Not only are they friendly and helpful, but they get dressed up in these amazing costumes and go all out to make you believe they were actually there back in the day. What a wonderful bunch of folks they are!

Trading was the name of the game back in the day. American Fur Company Traders and the fort’s tribal trade partners, the Assiniboine, Crow, Blackfeet, Plains Cree, Plains Ojibwa, Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara, Lakota, and others, all entered this space for one purpose, the act of trade.

So it was more than just a store on the Upper Missouri River. The Trade House was where diplomatic negotiations transpired, families reconnected, stories were shared, and feasts were held.  It was truly a happening place.

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There’s A Wonderful Bookstore & Giftshop Too

Fort Union Trading Assn | Montana National Parks
The Fort Union Trading Post Association features a wonderful bookstore and a gift shop too where you can see a wide array of historical, fun and educational items | Courtesy of the National Park Service

So many books, so little time. I enjoy researching and writing articles for the Pattiz Brothers who happen to be my sons. And the best part of all is that they pay me in books! It works for them and it works for me.

The only one it doesn’t work for is my wife who tells me that we’re running out of bookshelves, but I digress . . .

RELATED: 30+ Best National Parks Books (Great Gifts For Park Lovers)

4. Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park | Montana National Parks
Glacier National Park | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

George Bird Grinnell, who some people consider “America’s First Environmental Activist,” called it the “Crown of the Continent.” We know it as Glacier National Park. This magnificent park features stunning waterfalls, captivating wildlife, and gorgeous mountain slopes covered in a blanket of wildflowers.

My youngest son, the one who isn’t a part of More Than Just Parks, recently returned from a trip to Glacier. He said it was one of the most incredible experiences of his life. He told me the next time I go I need to bring bear spray so I’m telling you too.

A Short History Lesson

Glacier National Park | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Before we get to all of the wonderful things that you can do at Glacier, let’s begin with a short history lesson. Don’t roll your eyes. I promise it will be short and remember I don’t give any homework. After all I’m retired. And grading it was never that much fun anyway.

As for Glacier, it officially became a national park in 1910. Fast forward to 2019 [I told you the lesson would be brief] and Glacier National Park is the 10th most visited park, making this one of the most popular national parks to visit in the United States.

Now if you want to learn more about the man who has a glacier, a lake and a mountain named after him at Glacier National Park then check out the article below.

RELATED: America’s First Environmental Activist

Things To Do At Glacier National Park

Dusty Star Mountain | Montana National Parks
Dusty Star Mountain centered, Glacier National Park, Montana | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

With over a million acres to explore, there’s no shortage of things to do at Glacier. The park has over 700 miles of hiking trails. A great place to get familiar with the place is the 50 mile Going-to-the-Sun Road which is he main thoroughfare for many park explorations.

In addition to hiking, there’s boating, fishing, stargazing, bicycling, and taking guided excursions such as the park’s iconic Red Bus Tours. There’s so much to do that your toughest job will be deciding which great activity to partake in. Now isn’t that a fun problem to have!

If it’s wildlife watching that you love, common sighting include marmots, mountain goats, and bighorn sheep, as well as the occasional grizzly and black bear.

There Are Places I Remember | Places You’ll Want To See While At Glacier

Stone parapet along new trans-mountain highway. Lake MacDonald side of Glacier National Park. (Ranger in photo to show height of parapet). Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Remember that old Beatles song (you may or may not depending on your age). It starts out, “There are places I remember . . .” Well, I’m going to give you a list of places I believe you’ll remember too.

Lake McDonald is the largest lake in the park at approximately 10 miles long. It has incredibly clear water, colorful rocks, and the mountains that make it for a perfect sunset or sunrise.

Avalanche Gorge and Avalanche Lake are definitely worth seeing. Given the surrounding scenic beauty, they’re among the most popular trails in the park.

Trail of the Cedars is a short loop hike – less than a mile – that begins and ends on the Going-to-the-Sun Road. It features a raised boardwalk that passes through a fragrant, old-growth red cedar forest, but the highlight is at the midway point.

Hidden Lake is another great place to visit especially at night as you’ll be treated to a spectacular star show. If you’re planning to make the hike you’ll have a couple of options. Choose the one that makes the most sense for you given your level of experience.

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5. Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site

Grant Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site | Montana National Parks
The Home Ranch Complex (a component landscape) represents the growth and development of the ranching industry on the Northern Plains. The ranch was established by John Grant in 1862 and operated by Conrad Kohrs from 1866 to 1920. Courtesy of the National Park Service.

Where’s the beef? I’m glad you asked.

Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site commemorates the role of cattlemen in American history. It was once the headquarters of a 10 million acre cattle empire.

And, you don’t have to be a carnivore to enjoy this place.

“They were a rugged set of men, these pioneers, well qualified for their self-assumed task. In the pursuit of wealth a few succeeded and the majority failed,…the range cattle industry has seen its inception, zenith, and partial extinction all within a half-century.

The changes of the past have been many; those of the future may be of even more revolutionary character.”

-Conrad Kohrs, 1913

The Legacy Of The Grants & The Kohrs

Dreams of wealth first lured the cattle men to Montana. The range was open and unfenced, and they could fatten their cattle on the lush grass and push on to new pastures when the old areas were overgrazed.

By 1885, cattle raising was the biggest industry on the High Plains. Investors and speculators rushed to get in on the action. As ranches multiplied and the northern herds grew, there came a predictable consequence: overgrazing.

This and the fierce winter of 1886-87 caused enormous losses, estimated at one-third to one-half of all the cattle on the northern plains. One of those forced to liquidate his holdings was a young Theodore Roosevelt whose ranch was in North Dakota.

Many cattlemen never recovered.

I just snuck in another history lesson. But it didn’t hurt, did it?

The Open Cattle Range Industry Didn’t Last

The open-range cattle industry lasted only three decades. Unfortunately, few of its pioneering men and women who made their fortunes are remembered today.

From their humble beginnings, this business has evolved into the more scientific ranching of today, with its own risks and uncertainties.

That is the legacy of the Grants and the Kohrs, whose pioneer ranch, complete with original furnishings, is a reminder of an important chapter in the history of the West. (Source: NPS)

Things To Do | Grant Kohrs Ranch

Grant Kohrs | Montana National Parks
Explore historic buildings at the Grant Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site | Courtesy of the National Park Service

You can see how the cowboys lived at the Grant Kohrs Ranch. There’s a self-guided tour of the bunkhouse and the working ranch.

Remember, it’s a working ranch. This means you’ll be able to see today’s cowboys carrying on an old and proud tradition. You will need to be careful, however, as you won’t want to get in harm’s way.

You might see a team of horses waiting for a harness in the barn, or a cowboy riding out to check the herd. I cannot overemphasize the importance of being aware of your surroundings.

I want you to be able to safely explore the ranch as opposed to telling your friends about your trip to the Emergency Room and how many stitches they had to put in your head.

Tour The Ranch House At Grant Kohrs

Augusta Kohrs photo, ca 1874, on display in the Formal Parlor of the Ranch House | Courtesy of the National Park Service

The Ranch House was built by Johnny Grant in 1862. You can take a guided tour which offers a unique look into the lives of both of the families. Visitors can see how they lived through viewing their original furnishings and personal items.

There’s also a Wagon Tour which will take you around the ranch. You’re actually hitched up to a team of horses and it doesn’t get any better than that.

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Grant Kohrs Wagon Tour | Courtesy of the National Park Service

6. Ice Age Floods National Geologic Trail

Columbia River Gorge | Ice Age Floods National Geologic Trail (Courtesy of the National Park Service)

Ice Age Floods National Geologic Trail tells the incredible story of how some of our most amazing natural wonders were formed. It’s a region with a variety of places and activities for people of all ages to enjoy.

Did you ever wonder how these amazing geologic formations came into being. When I went to college, I always wanted to take a geology course so I did. Of course, being that it was a California school the course I took was all about earthquakes. It gave the expression “shake, rattle and roll” a whole new meaning for me.

Back to my geology story. These amazing places were formed by an incredible network of routes connecting natural sites and facilities. This provides geologists and laypeople with an interpretation of the geologic consequences of the Glacial Lake Missoula Floods of the last glacial period.

This occurred about 18,000 to 15,000 years ago. It includes sites in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Montana.  School’s out!

There Are Some Wonderful Museums To Visit

Columbia Gorge Discovery Center & Museum (The Dalles, OR) | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Well, maybe school’s not entirely out. There are some wonderful museums for you to visit to learn more about this amazing story. They include the following:

  1. Idaho-Museum of North Idaho, 115 Northwest Blvd, Coeur d’Alene, ID 83814, (208) 664-3448
  2. Montana-Montana Natural History Center, 120 Hickory St # A, Missoula, MT 59801, (406) 327-0405
  3. Oregon-Columbia Gorge Discovery Center, 5000 Discovery Drive, The Dalles, OR 97058, (541) 296-8600
  4. Washington-Columbia Gorge Interpretive Center, 990 SW Rock Creek Drive, Stevenson, WA 98648, (509) 427-8211

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7. Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail

Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail at Decision Point | Courtesy of the National Park Service

The Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail follows the historic outbound and inbound routes of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. I don’t know about you, but I get goosebumps just thinking about the Corps of Discovery.

Commemorating the Lewis & Clark Expedition (1804-06), the Lewis & Clark Trail connects 16 states (Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, South Dakota, North Dakota, Montana, Idaho, Washington and Oregon).

This trail is administered by the National Park Service. It’s not a hiking trail, but does provide opportunities for hiking, boating and horseback riding at many locations along the route.

It’s a great opportunity to see the USA while learning about the brave men (and one woman) who weren’t able to make the journey in an air-conditioned SUV.

What Can I See In Montana That’s Connected To This Historic Trail | Montana National Parks

Lewis & Clark Trail Map | Courtesy of the National Park Service

I’m so glad you asked. After all, our focus in this article is on Montana.

Believe it or not, the Lewis and Clark route covered more miles in Montana than any other state. The campsite at Slaughter River was used by the Corps of Discovery on both legs of their journey through Montana.

Today, Lewis and Clark’s Slaughter River is known as Arrow Creek. It’s located within the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument in Lewistown, Montana. The camp includes a shelter and two outhouses. It’s a great place to visit in Montana while you retrace their historic route.

Undaunted Courage | Lewis & Clark

Before setting out on your adventure, I highly recommend reading Stephen Ambrose’s Undaunted Courage. There’s nothing like reading about their amazing story and the incredible hardships they faced to put you in the mindset of Lewis and Clark as get you ready for your own adventure.

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8. Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument

Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument in Montana | Courtesy of the National Park Service

Folks, were not going to get into the subject of casualties or what Custer was thinking when he attacked a force many times the size of his own.

George Armstrong Custer. So much has been said, so much has been written and so much has been researched about his final Battle at the Little Bighorn. We may know what happened on that fateful day, but there’s always more to learn.

“Under skies darkened by smoke, gunfire and flying arrows, 210 men of the U.S. Army’s 7th Cavalry Unit led by Lt. Colonel George Custer confronted thousands of Lakota Sioux and Northern Cheyenne warriors on June 25, 1876, near the Little Big Horn River in present-day Montana.

The engagement was one in a series of battles and negotiations between Plains Indians and U.S. forces over control of Western territory, collectively known as the Sioux Wars. 

In less than an hour, the Sioux and Cheyenne had won the Battle of the Little Bighorn, killing Custer and every one of his men. The battle has been ennobled as “Custer’s Last Stand”—but in truth, Custer and his men never stood a fighting chance.”

-Annette McDermott, What Really Happened At The Little Bighorn

The Aftermath Of The Battle Of The Little Bighorn

The Battle of Little Bighorn Map | Courtesy of the National Park Service

Despite their overwhelming victory, the Battle of Little Bighorn had severe consequences for the Sioux nations and Plains Indians. Prior to the battle, the American public generally agreed with the government’s policy of trying to negotiate peacefully with these Native Americans.

However, once the news spread that 200 U.S. soldiers had been murdered by the Sioux, public opinion quickly turned against them. The U.S. Army dispatched more troops. Their mission was to seek them out and “deal” with them.

The Lakota hunting grounds were invaded by powerful Army expeditionary forces determined to conquer the Northern Plains Indians. Most of the declared “hostiles” had surrendered within one year of the fight. The Black Hills were taken by the U.S. government without any compensation.

Little Big Man | Battle of the Little Bighorn

The Custer Fight Painting by Charles Marion Russell | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

If you’re a film buff, like me, there’s a 1970 western movie titled, “Little Big Man.” It’s based on the 1964 novel by Thomas Berger of the same name. It’s the story of a white man who was raised by members of the Cheyenne nation during the 19th century. 

The film is sympathetic in its treatment of Native Americans. The main character of this story incredibly survived both the Battle of Washita River and the Battle of the Little Bighorn. He is portrayed by a young Dustin Hoffman.

Of course, remember that it’s fiction so he really wasn’t there. Nevertheless, the historical details are accurately portrayed for the most part.

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Things To Do At Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument

7th Cavalry Monument at Little Bighorn Battlefield | Courtesy of the National Park Service

I recommend beginning at the Little Bighorn Visitors Center. There’s a wonderful 25 minute orientation video for visitors unfamiliar with the history leading up to the battle. There are also some fascinating exhibits there which illustrate the events surrounding the Little Bighorn.

From there you can take a self-guided tour of the Indian Memorial, Custer’s Last Stand and walk through the Deep Ravine Trail which is a .25 mile self-guided walking tour. You can also walk through the national cemetery.

If you have additional time then I recommend driving the 4.5 mile tour road to the Reno-Benteen Battlefield, the second stage of the Battle of the Little Bighorn.

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To Learn More About The Battle Of The Little Bighorn

Author Nathaniel Philbrick has written an excellent book about the battle titled, The Last Stand: Custer, Sitting Bull, and the Battle of the Little Bighorn. I have read it. Remember, I’m the guy who works for books. Philbrick is a gifted author and he tells a powerful story.

9. The Nez Perce National Historic Park | Montana National Parks

Nez Perce National Historical Park’s Visitor Center | Courtesy of the National Park Service

This is a whirlwind experience. The Nez Perce National Historical Park offers thirty-eight sites in four states.

While you may have neither the time nor the money to see it all, there are three sites in Montana. One is the Big Hole National Battlefield covered earlier.

The other two are Canyon Creek and Bear Paw Battlefield.

Canyon Creek

A photo of the Canyon Creek battlefield where the Nez Perce Indians fought against the U.S. army in 1877 | Courtesy of the U.S. Forest Service

Canyon Creek-After emerging from Yellowstone National Park, the Nez Perce were pursued by Colonel Samuel Sturgis’ Seventh Cavalry. In a rearguard action on September 13, 1877 the Nez Perce were able to gain time by stopping Sturgis’ troopers.

Directions: From Interstate 90 continue north on US Highway 310 into Laurel and past the statue of Chief Joseph. Continue up First Avenue until it changes to Montana Highway 532. The monument and interpretive signs are approximately 8.3 miles from the freeway. (Source: NPS)

Bear Paw Battlefield

When available, staff at Bear Paw Battlefield give tours of the battlefield to the public and local schools | Courtesy of the National Park Service

Bear Paw Battlefield-Just 40 miles short of the Canadian border, the Nez Perce were besieged by the U.S. Army. With losses mounting, Joseph gave his rifle to General Oliver O. Howard, ending the siege on October 5, 1877.

They had traveled 1,170 miles in the nearly four months since the first skirmishes.

Directions: The visitor center is located at the Blaine County Museum, 501 Indiana Street in Chinook. The battlefield is 16 miles south of Chinook, Montana on County Highway 240. (Source: NPS)

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10. Yellowstone National Park | Montana National Parks

yellowstone river, waterfall, wyoming-258591.jpg
Yellowstone National Park | Montana National Parks

Last, but certainly not least, we have America’s oldest national park.

In 2020, Yellowstone National Park attracted 3.8 million visitors. This park features more than two million acres of a high mountain-ringed plateau which have been set aside for permanent protection as a natural preserve.

If you thought you were going off without a history lesson then you haven’t figured me out yet. Here we go . . .

No One Believed It Was Real Until The Washburn Party

bison, wyoming, yellowstone-5066629.jpg
Wildlife at Yellowstone National Park | Montana National Parks

Before it became America’s first national park in 1872, people explored this fantastic place. They told tales of its magnificent beauty and amazing natural wonders. Few people believed these stories however.

Putting myself in there shoes, I know I’ve heard my share of tall tales. As a schoolteacher for over 25 years, I’ve had a ringside seat for some of the most creative stories I’ve ever heard. You’d be truly amazed at the what the dog can do with that child’s homework.

In the case of Yellowstone, however, these stories were true.

In 1869, C.W. Cook saw some of Yellowstone’s incredible geysers with two traveling companions. Cook was so moved by his experience that he submitted an article to Lippincott’s magazine.

He received a curt reply from them which read as follows: “Thank-you, but we do not print fiction.” Don’t you just love publishers.

When the writer passed into the field of vents in the surface of the earth which suddenly shot tons of water two hundred feet into the air; one such monster that obligingly erupted every hour on the hour; fountains of boiling water that played continuously; explosions of multicolored muds that plastered the landscape; hills made of solid brimstone; ice-cold streams with hot stones on the bottom; a valley of smokes, or a hillside that looked like a New England factory town with its belching chimneys–well, it was said what Artemus Ward would have called “2 mutch.”

-Freeman Tilden, The National Parks

Old Faithful | Yellowstone National Park

Old Faithful at Yellowstone National Park | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

It was left to the Washburn Party, led by Henry Washburn and Nathaniel Pitt Langford, to convince a skeptical public that this place was as magnificent as people were describing it.

Members of the party made detailed maps and observations of the region, explored numerous lakes, climbed mountains, and observed an incredible array of wildlife.

The Washburn Party traveled to the Upper and Lower Geyser Basins. They were so fascinated by the regular eruptions of one geyser in particular that they decided to name it Old Faithful. And the name stuck!

The Official Report Of The Washburn Party

The Washburn Expedition to the Yellowstone and Firehole Rivers in the year 1870 | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The official report of the Washburn Party was written by Lieutenant Gustavus C. Doane. He described, day by day, what the party saw in Yellowstone.

As Freeman Tilden writes, “He [Doane] climbed the peak now known as Mount Washburn on a day when the pure air of the country revealed everything with crystal clarity.

He saw the snowy summits above the Gallatin Valley, and from them traced almost an unbroken circle of mountains, of which he thought the Tetons were a part.” (Source: The National Parks, Freeman Tilden)

Doane’s report authenticated earlier descriptions of Yellowstone. A skeptical public finally began to believe these fantastic tales of this wilderness wonderland.

RELATED: 10+ (FASCINATING) Yellowstone National Park Facts You Probably Didn’t Realize

Things To Do At Yellowstone National Park

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There are so many wonderful things to see and do at Yellowstone National Park | Montana National Parks

There are so many wonderful things to see and do at Yellowstone National Park. With apologies to David Letterman, I will give my Top Ten List though yours may differ:

10. Go Camping-There are many campsites inside the park though you should check availability before you arrive.

9. Go Fishing-Try the trout waters north, south and west of Cody. They’re filled with native brown trout, rainbow trout and brook trout.

8. Check Out The Local Culture-See the Plains Indian Museum or visit one of five museums at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West.

7. Explore The Rocks & Fossils-Inside Yellowstone you will find basalt columns formed by lava and a petrified forest.

6. Go Rafting-Raft down one of the nearby rivers or check out the information on rafting trips which is available at the park entrances.

Are You Ready For The Top Five?

It may not be the David Letterman Top Ten List, but it’s still a good one | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

5. Take A Hike-There’s a 1,300 mile trail system. Some of the most popular hikes are Bunsen Peak, Fairy Falls and Uncle Tom’s Trail.

4. Visit The Grand Canyon Of The Yellowstone-This incredible place includes three glorious waterfalls. The overlook of the lower falls offers a breathtaking view.

3. See The Incredible Wildlife-Yellowstone is home to more wild animals than anyone else in America. There are are Bears, Wolves, Moose, Elk, Bison, Badgers, Otters, Fox and so much more to see inside the park.

2. See The Geysers Erupt– What would a visit to Yellowstone be without a trip to the Old Faithful Geyser. You don’t have to stop there, however, as Yellowstone is home to the most active geyser field in the world.

1. (Can I Get A Drum Roll Please) Sit Back, Relax & Soak It All In-After all, you’re on vacation. You can do as little or as much as you want. I’m very good at doing as little as I want. My wife tells me if that they gave out a Ph.D. in the subject, I’d have one. But that’s a story for another day.

Map Of Montana National Parks

Flathead National Forest Video

WATCH: Our breathtaking video on the Flathead National Forest

Situated in the northwestern corner of Montana, the Flathead National Forest comprises 2.4 million acres of dramatic mountain beauty. In the wild heart of the Flathead lies over 1 million acres of pristine wilderness.

Lynx, grizzly bears, timber wolves, and a vast and diverse array of other wildlife call the Flathead home. With over 1 million acres of wilderness, 2,600 miles of hiking trails, 250 species of wildlife and 22 species of fish, the Flathead National Forest truly has something for everyone.

Explore iconic mountains, emerald lakes, and vast forests of deep green and brilliant gold. This is the Flathead!

List Of Montana National Parks

  1. Big Hole National Battlefield
  2. Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area
  3. Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site
  4. Glacier National Park
  5. Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site
  6. Ice Age Floods National Geologic Trail
  7. Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail
  8. Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument
  9. Nez Perce National Historic Park
  10. Yellowstone National Park
Tony Pattiz

Tony Pattiz is a retired history teacher currently researching and writing articles for More Than Just Parks.

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