Summer Fun in Montana

If you’ve ever been to the state of Montana, you may have been instantly enamored by the glorious scenery that exists in abundance (and your camera most likely got a workout). What may not be as abundantly clear to the casual, non-resident visitor, is just how much fun there is to be had in this unique type of landscape and community. In the summer months, opportunities can be had that can’t be imagined unless you have put yourself in the position to enjoy them, with or our without a camera. With a little forward planning and preparation, Montana can be your amazing playground during the summer. Here are some suggestions that can help make your experience here unforgettable.

1. Go for a drive.
Montana is a the fourth largest state in the union when it comes to land mass. It covers about 559 miles from east to west and about 321 miles from north to south. The paved road system can get you to just about anywhere in the state, with the unpaved roads getting you even further. For the travel-minded adventurer who just wants to road trip their way through territory that is simply unmatched in its scope and glory, we suggest checking out, which provides plenty of maps, resources and suggestions. One excellent driving option is the Montana Scenic Loop, a 400-mile trip in the heart of Northern Rockies country. Give yourself plenty of time to explore as you should be aware that this route abuts the southern border of the must-see “Crown of the Continent,” Glacier National Park with its own epic “Going-to-the-Sun Road.” Another favorite is the Beartooth Highway which begins in Red Lodge, MT and terminates at the northeastern entrance to spectacular Yellowstone National Park. In our own backyard here in Missoula, a short distance in any direction is iconic Montana heritage and scenery. The central and eastern of parts of the state possess miles and miles of rolling plains, river valleys and geological formations that helped define what the West is all about. The major cities in terms of population, industry, academics and culture are Billings, Great Falls, Helena, Bozeman and Missoula. All of these are a good distance apart from each other and exist as islands of civilization among oceans of land mass. Make sure that your tires – and camera  – are in good shape!

2. Take a hike.
When the inevitable road-weariness sets in, it’s time to get outside and lace up them ol’ hiking boots. Because of Montana’s vastness, getting lost in the wilderness of Big Sky Country without another human soul in site is never a challenge. What to bring for a day hike? Water, snacks, bear spray ( it’s grizzly country, folks!), a map, a GPS unit, sunscreen, mosquito repellent, first aid kit, extra socks, a hat and a swim suit. You’ll eventually be tempted to take a dip in the nearest lake or river you encounter, but don’t forget to take off that camera around your neck first unless its of this nature. What to take for longer trips? More of the same, a sturdy backpack, light weight cooking gear, water filtration, a flashlight, a sleeping bag and a tent. If you go alone or if you don’t, always let someone else know your itinerary and where you’re headed. Here’s a handy-dandy listing of hiking and backpacking trails by region for your planning pleasure.

3. Get wet.
Speaking of water, there’s certainly no lack of the wet stuff around here. In fact, nearly 1,500 square miles of it saturates the state. In themselves, the rivers and lakes of MT are some of its largest tourist draws and ways of life for its inhabitants, and have shaped the history of the West for generations. Just ask these guys. Revered for its blue ribbon trout streams, it boasts a bonanza of meandering waterways that tumble in a never-ending journey from their origin high up in the Rocky Mountains. In Missoula, a river literally runs through it. It’s the historic Clark Fork. Flathead Lake exists as the largest natural fresh water lake in the contiguous U.S. and one of the cleanest. Sailing, speed boating, water skiing, paddle boarding, swimming and fishing make up a part of daily summer life on the surface of this rare gem. Many other alpine lakes pepper the region as well providing the framework for an abundant and wild ecosystem. And if adventure is your bent, when summer rolls around, you’ll probably want to join the annual “tube hatch” by launching yourself into a flotilla and soak in the amazing environment surrounding you via a river-view from your inner tube. Not to mention stowing yourself away on an inflatable raft, kayak or canoe for a leisurely day floating or slamming into some Class IV rapids. You simply can’t do summer right in Montana without getting wet. Do it!

4. Experience a rodeo.
In terms of western traditions, the cowboy and ranching heritage of this place is alive and kicking. Wide-open range land, cattle driving, sheep sheering and horse breaking are all a way of life for many Montanans. So are rodeos. From the tikes, to tomboys, to grey-hairs and everyone in between, on any given weekend in a town in Montana, they come together and compete for bragging rights in their local community rodeo. The annual Augusta Rodeo in late June is one of Montana’s biggest and oldest such affairs and brings in crowds far & wide (including our Summer Intensive students) to this sleepy little town for heck of a great time. Plan ahead for mapping out your rodeo tour. Here’s a great listing of them occurring this summer. Don’t forget your boots and cowboy hat unless you want to stick out like a sore thumb, city slicker!

5. Experience a powwow.
The Native American peoples of the state are as much a part of what makes Montana special as the landscape. For thousands of years, their tradition of bringing families and tribes from all over the region together to commune, celebrate, honor each other, drum, dance, sing, tell stories and trade foods & goods has been one of critical importance. All over, the rites of the powwow take place and all respectful observers are welcome. See for yourself how the colorful tradition of family and celebrations of peace flourish in the native culture. Here’s another great listing of powwows to schedule your visit around.

6. Festivals, festivals, festivals.
Like huckleberries? Then how ’bout taking in a festival dedicated solely to this delicious fruit. Blue Grass Music? Mother Earth? Melons? Festivals, festivals, festivals. They all take place in abundance in Montana during the summer. Unlike just anywhere you may have been, this regional lively culture just naturally sprouts them and for good reason. With the long winter months of the northwest, spring, summer and fall are all about taking advantage of sunshine and inventing excuses to commune with your fellow man and celebrate…something! Any ol’ reason will do. There’s even the annual – eh em – Testicle Festival in Rock Creek, MT if deep fried delicacies (and debauchery) are your thing. In the historic mining town of Butte, several huge multi-day events take place with the Montana Folk Festival,  Evel Knievel Days and the An Ri Ra Montana Irish Folk Festival. See this complete list of celebrations to give you an idea of how much people love throwing a shindig around here.

7. Taste the wares.
My goodness…don’t get me started! Everything from the aforementioned huckleberry, freshly snagged & grilled rainbow trout, Montana-raised beef or bison, and local organically grown produce galore; our home state rocks it with culinary delights. Farmers’ markets are the crucibles of organic community  fare all over the state. We are also graced with an abundance of microbreweries, wineries and distilleries (see “festivals” above) to help keep our palates refreshed. Chili cook-offs (more festivals), barbeques and really good beer…what could be better? And you haven’t lived unless you’ve tasted a freshly baked huckleberry cheesecake, rhubarb pie or smacked down one of Missoula’s favorite delights, a Big Dipper Ice Cream cone (go for my fav, maple walnut – yum!).  Literally, whatever your heart desires can be found in Montana…and then some. Did I mention beer?

8. Seeking antiquing?
Okay, you’ve crossed off all of the above on your bucket list and want to take something back home with you to remind you of that-place-you-promise-not-to-tell-anyone-aboutwhen-you-get-home. Montana people have a thing for preserving things. “Shiny and new” often isn’t a major priority to them. What is a priority is keeping things simple and preserving a part of the heritage. This ethic exists with architecture and artifacts that can be found literally everywhere. Just driving down the road a ways, it’s not uncommon to see rusty plows, dilapidated barns & farmhouses, vintage trucks in working order, or the occasional restored schoolhouse or church. Ghost towns such as Garnet or Bannack are stuck-in-time reminders of the lifeblood of the state’s economical and political existence; its mining history. The melting pot of “Butte, America,” as it’s know around these parts, is full to the brim of the historical past that made it the Pittsburgh of the West in American history. Secondhand and antique stores have become depositories for any imaginable object of age known to man, often possesses a ranching, hunting or fishing theme of some sort. Re-purposing gives purpose to the practical-minded, and Montanans in general are practical people. Seek out the discarded relics of a past that still exists in this fabulous territory. Good luck and happy hunting!

Did we leave out some adventures that you may have experienced in Montana during the summer? Feel free  to share your stories in the comments below!