Five Hidden Gems of Montana

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Beaver pond in sceneic Montana wilderness
Beaver pond in scenic Montana wilderness  (iStockphoto/Thinkstock)

In Montana, the sky is big for a reason: There's a lot of ground to cover below it. There are high-profile destinations (Glacier, Yellowstone) and lowbrow ones (Jack Kerouac described the M&M in Butte as “the end of my quest for an ideal bar”), and then there are all the places in between. With so much ground to cover (the state is more than 600 miles wide), it's easy to miss some of the diamonds in the Treasure State's rough. And there are plenty of them. Here are five great, lesser-known places in Montana to get sidetracked for a few hours—or a few days.

Makoshika State Park
Rugged badlands break up the vast sea of grassland and wheat fields of far eastern Montana, and there is no better place to delve into one of these seemingly extraterrestrial landscapes than Makoshika State Park near Glendive. A craggy jumble of soaring spires, toadstool-like rock formations, and colorful geological strata laid bare by erosion, Makoshika (meaning “bad earth” in Lakota Sioux) has about five miles of established trails as well as a number of off-trail backpacking routes on its 11,531 acres. Montana’s largest state park also has a campground, a frisbee-golf course, and a visitor center featuring a triceratops skull found in the fossil-rich park.

Yaak Valley
The far northwest corner of the state, near the intersection with the Idaho state line and the Canadian border, is where the wild things live. Despite heavy logging and some unsightly clear cuts, the near-mythic Yaak Valley is home to a dazzlingly intact wildlife population, including grizzly bears, wolverines, lynx, moose, and peregrine falcons. It also encompasses the only rainforest in the state of Montana. The Yaak River is an isolated fishing and paddling destination, where you'll likely see more wildlife than humans. There are also some terrific trails here, including the Vinal-Mt. Henry-Boulder National Recreation Trail, a moderate, eight-mile hike (one-way) to a panoramic view atop Mt. Henry as well as a good launching point for longer overnight trips. Pitch your tent near the trailhead at the Caribou Campground, a fee-free, three-site campground on Caribou Creek that is as tiny as it is picture-perfect.

Published: 30 Apr 2012 | Last Updated: 10 May 2012
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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