Montana contains 10 National Park sites within this large state. Two of the parks are among the major 63 national parks, along with 2 national trails, and 6 other national park units.
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Two of the 63 major National Parks can be found within Montana. Yellowstone only has a small section of the park in Montana with the majority of the park in neighboring Wyoming.
Glacier National Park
Established in 1910, the 1583 square mile park is one of the most incredible National Parks in Montana if not the entire United States. Glacier National Park protects the beautiful rugged nature of the Montana Rocky Mountains up to the Canadian border. Actually even beyond the border as the park is a “co-park” with nearby Waterton Lakes National Park of Canada. There are several glaciers in the park as is the park’s namesake, however years of global warming has reduced their size. The going-to-the-sun road is the park’s main thoroughfare and an incredible and at times nerve wracking ride along the mountain edges. Hiking is the most popular activity in the park. Visitors can witness various forms of fauna including grizzly and black bears, mountain goats, big horn sheep, moose, and the adorable pika.
Yellowstone National Park
Established in 1872, Yellowstone National Park has the distinction of being not only America’s but the world’s first National Park. The park covers nearly 3,500 square miles and protects much of what is known as the Yellowstone Caldera. The park is big, like really big, and can take hours of driving to traverse and has portions in 3 different states. The park is very geothermically active with many various geysers and mudpots. It includes several well known sites including Old Faithful, Grand Prismatic Pond, Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, and Lamar Valley. The park does touch into Montana and the north gate of the park is in Gardiner Montana just north of Mammoth Hot springs. The northeast gate of the park is far east in Silvergate closer to Lamar valley.
Other National Park Units
The following are units of the National Park Service such as Battlefields, Historic Sites, Recreation Areas among others. They are still administered and maintained by NPS however have different protections and allowed activities based on their designations.
Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area
The Bighorn Canyon NRA protects the beautiful canyon carved by the bighorn river. The park became a national recreation area in 1966 after the construction of the Yellowtail Dam. The park is known for it’s stunning views, wild horse reserve, herds of bighorn sheep, and historic ranches. You can enjoy boating, hiking, wildlife viewing and more within the recreation area. It is known for not being highly trafficked so often you’ll have many areas to yourself.
Big Hole National Battlefield
Considered also one of the 38 sites of the Nez Perce National Monument, the Big Hole National Battlefield, preserves the site of the largest battle between the Nez Perce and the US Army during the 5 month Nez Perce war. Chief Joseph had tried in vain to keep his people on the promised Wallowa Valley land only to have it broken by settlers and then by the president. Facing conflict with the settlers and concerns of US army intervention he tried to escape with his people to Canada. The Nez Perce and US Army clashed at White Bird canyon with the Nez Perce being victorious but still on the move. Later, the American troops performed a pre-dawn raid while the Nez Perce were camped at Big Hole, causing great losses to the Nez Perce. The tribe fled to Yellowstone and then north through Montana. Miles from the Canadian border, starving, sick, and tired from running the Nez Perce were forced to surrender to the US Army and relocated to Colville reservation in Washington.
Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site
Between 1828 and 1867, Fort Union was the most important trading post in the upper Mississippi. The person at the post when I visited even described it as the “center of the world” of the early 1800s. The park was established in 1966 and comprises of 444 acres across Montana and North Dakota. If you visit, note that the parking lot (North Dakota) and the site (Montana) are in different time zones.
Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site
Did you know the the National Park Service runs a working cattle ranch? Established in 1972, Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historical Site protects the ranch built by Johnny Grant and later owned by Conrad Kohrs, a working cattle ranch that was donated to the NPS. The site gives visitors a look at how an actual ranch operates, and the ranch does operate, with various rangers and folks who do work the day to day of the ranch.
Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument
Custer’s last stand. Or at least what it was always known in many US textbooks. This national monument protects the location of the June 1876 Battle of Little Bighorn that saw the clash of the US 7th Cavalry and combined Lakota and Cheyenne forces that would mark one of the last Native American armed conflicts. The battle would make names such as General Custer, Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse into well known names across America. The story is one of course of tragedy and loss, and it took many years before the Native American troops who died received recognition as well. The site was established in 1879 as a US National Cemetery and later in 1991 it was named to it’s current designation.
Nez Perce National Historical Park
Established in 1965, the Nez Perce National Historical Park protects 38 sites across Idaho, Montana, Washington and Oregon that are significant to the Nez Perce across the ancestral lands. The visitor center and many of the sites sit within the borders of Idaho. Sites within Montana Include Bear Paw battlefield, Big Hole National Battlefield, Canyon Creek, and Lolo Pass.
National Trails are trails that often span across states for various geological or historical nature. Two of these trails traverse the state of Montana. They are also national park units (with cancellation stamps) but are so diverse and connect across various parks and other sites that its not necessarily just one spot to visit. You can often visit (and get cancelation stamps) at various sites along these trails.
Ice Age Floods National Geologic Trail
The Ice Age Floods trail covers 16,000 square miles and spans the 4 states (Montana, Idaho, Washington, and Oregon). The trail connects various different national and state park lands and brings visitors through areas that were carved by glaciers and flooding during the last ice age. Sites such as Glacial Lake in Missoula and Eddy Narrows are found along the trail in Montana.
Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail
The Lewis and Clark National Historical Trail runs about 4,900 miles from Pittsburgh Pennsylvania to Astoria Oregon. Across the trail you can visit quite a few National Park and State Park sites that comprised the journey of the Corps of Discovery. It follows the historical trail of the Corps as well as the preparatory sections between Pennsylvania and Illinois. Several sites such as Pompeys Pillar and Beaverhead Rock are included along this National Historic Trail in Montana.
Check out Nearby States National Park Sites