From Emerald Forests to Sapphire Lakes: Discovering the Treasure State

Montana is the state on everyone’s bucket list. The gorgeous and varied scenery catches eyes and drops jaws year-round from Glacier to Glendive. By foot, ski, bike, horse, car and boat — travel with us to a selection of Instagram-worthy sites near HGTV Dream Home 2019. No filters needed!

By: Carrie Hamblin

Photo By: Visit Montana

Photo By: Visit Montana

Photo By: NPS / Tim Rains

Photo By: Visit Montana

Photo By: NPS / Tim Rains

Photo By: Visit Montana

Photo By: Visit Montana

Photo By: NPS / Jacob W. Frank

Photo By: Visit Montana

Photo By: Visit Montana

Photo By: Visit Montana

Photo By: Visit Montana

Photo By: U.S. Forest Service / Aubree Benson

Photo By: U.S. Forest Service / Preston Keres

Photo By: NPS / Jacob W. Frank

Photo By: PryorWild / Steve & Nancy Cerroni

Photo By: Visit Montana

Photo By: Visit Montana

Photo By: Visit Montana

Whitefish Mountain Resort

Step out your door in Whitefish and you’re literally surrounded by beauty. Glacier National Park rises behind this ideally situated Rocky Mountain village, and Whitefish Lake is a great place for binge-watching nature from boat or bank. Just minutes up the mountain from HGTV Dream Home 2019 are the trails around Whitefish Mountain Resort. In winter, strap on your skis or snowshoes and get a feel for the neighborhood, enjoying the vistas of the mountains and valleys below. Take a memorable bike ride or hike in autumn to admire the brilliant fall colors, and during the warm season when the fields transform from snowy to showy with blankets of wildflowers.

Glacier National Park

The backdrop to HGTV Dream Home 2019 is stunning Glacier National Park, the million-acre home to—you guessed it—glaciers galore (26 of them) as well as hundreds of lakes and mountains. The scenery is magnificent, the opportunities endless for exploration. Throw your selfie stick in the backpack; we’re going to visit a few must-sees in the park. Let’s begin with the Going-to-the-Sun Road.

Going-to-the-Sun Road, Glacier National Park

The 50-mile Going-to-the-Sun Road cuts through Glacier National Park from west to east and showcases the park’s many offerings as it winds past mountains, waterfalls, lakes and resident wildlife. By car, bike or shuttle, you’ll find travelling this road is a treat in its own right. Stretch your legs on one of the numerous hikes (easy to strenuous) with trailheads along the road. Portions of the route are closed at particular times of the year due to weather, so check the park website for current conditions.

Trail of the Cedars and Avalanche Lake Trail, Glacier National Park

Forget your hiking shoes? Trail of the Cedars is a short, wheelchair-friendly loop trail, wending its way through an ancient forest of enormous red cedar and western hemlock. Its midway point is impressive Avalanche Gorge, where glacier water forces its way down the mountain. If you had a good breakfast and brought your hikers, opt here for the backcountry 4.5-mile Avalanche Lake Trail. The payoff is amazing views of the mountains and waterfalls. Start the hike early and arrive at the lake in time to capture the sun rising above the mountains.

Grinnell Glacier, Glacier National Park

Grinnell Glacier Trail in Many Glacier Valley rewards the tenacious trekker with breathtaking scenery that will totally Ansel Adams your Instagram feed. If the arresting sight of real live glaciers isn’t enough to entice you, the path to get there offers bird’s-eye views of the gorgeous lakes, wildflower meadows, waterfalls, cliff faces and resident wildlife, including bighorn sheep and goats. Don’t forget the bear spray: Grizzly bears don’t know we’re just in it for the scenery.

Ptarmigan Pass Trail, Glacier National Park

The Many Glacier area is considered the heart of Glacier National Park, and several memorable trails originate from the Iceberg Lake trailhead. Ptarmigan Pass Trail is a strenuous daylong commitment and you’ll be captivated from start to finish by the exquisite scenery. The tunnel through the mountain at the end of this trail took three months to drill and offers dramatic passage from breathtaking to awe-inspiring.

Virginia Falls Trail, Glacier National Park

Glaciers plus mountains equal an abundance of waterfalls, so there is no shortage of fodder for your photo stream in Glacier National Park. You may have noted the turn-off for Ptarmigan Falls on the last trail, and a few falls can be seen from the road. For quantity and quality, head over to the Virginia Falls Trail. Accessed via the St. Mary Falls Trailhead, this easy few-mile hike offers visitors the multitiered St. Mary Falls and Virginia Falls as well as a couple of unsung beauties in between.

Lake McDonald, Glacier National Park

With clear air and little or no light pollution, this region of the country has all the variables for fantastic skies. Dramatic sunrises and sunsets are only the half of it. If you know where to go and when to go there, you may get a real treat. Glacier National Park’s Lake McDonald, the largest in the park, is a great place for sky-gazing and, on special nights, Milky Way and aurora borealis viewing.

Kootenai Falls Swinging Bridge

Leaving Glacier behind, we travel west to Kootenai National Forest, which takes up the northwest corner of Montana with miles of trails from which to enjoy its lush forests, diverse wildlife and beautiful mountainscapes. An easy-to-access highlight is Kootenai Falls Swinging Bridge. From a precarious height (2,100 feet), watch the Kootenai River turn into Kootenai Falls. The vertigo-testing bridge was built by the Forest Service for practical uses, but luckily the rangers allow visitors access to gape at the majestic surrounds. Visit in winter for the marvel that is cascading ice.

Flathead Lake and Ninepipe National Wildlife Refuge

Nestled at the base of the Mission and Swan mountain ranges, the impressive Flathead Lake was created by the same masses of ice that carved Glacier National Park. They left behind an expansive natural resource for birds and unmitigated beauty for the rest of us. If birdwatching is your thing, turn your ringer off and head south to the Ninepipe National Wildlife Refuge, part of the Flathead Indian Reservation. The viewing area is located off Highway 93 and access to the Refuge itself is dependent on bird-nesting activity.

National Bison Range

We found the home where the buffalo roam! Part of the National Wildlife Refuge System, the National Bison Range was established in 1908 in western Montana’s Mission Valley and encompasses thousands of acres of grassland—abundant roaming space for its elk, antelope, deer, bighorn sheep, bear and bison residents. Pack the zoom lens; there are some short walking trails here but the Refuge is primarily accessed by vehicle to limit disturbance to wildlife.

Bitterroot National Forest

Bitterroot National Forest in west-central Montana is a mandatory stop on our vista expedition. As the glaciers moved through this area, they created steep canyons and rich valleys that can be enjoyed by car or foot. Drive to Lost Horse Observation Point or Trapper Creek Vista Point. Up for a climb? The out-and-back Trapper Peak Trail takes you to the top of the highest mountain in the range and rewards your efforts with breathtaking views of west-central Montana and central Idaho.

Seeley Lake, Lolo National Forest

Double the drama of a spectacular sky with the gigantic mirror of a still Seeley Lake in Lolo National Forest. This glacier-formed lake is a great place to relax or recreate. For both, take the couple-hour canoe trail down the Clearwater River that feeds into the lake. Follow the walking trail through the old-growth forest back to the parking lot, stopping at the wildlife viewing blind along the way.

The Gravelly Range, Beaverhead- Deerlodge National Forest

Northwest Montana has enough natural beauty to max out your camera storage, but we can’t stop here. Upload those photos to the Cloud and let’s visit a few stunners well worth the gas tank fill-up. The Gravelly Range in Beaverhead- Deerlodge National Forest is a good place to begin. For a truly unique perspective, pack the picnic basket and plan a day-drive along the crest of the mountains during wildflower season to view miles upon miles of color. Visit the Forest Service website or Madison Ranger District office in Ennis for a map and plant list.

Electric Peak, Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park resides primarily in Wyoming but extends into Montana and Idaho as well. Known for its geysers and wildlife, our nation’s first national park also includes wonderful mountains and canyons. Electric Peak is one big example at 10,969 feet. With its foothills in Wyoming and the summit in Montana, Electric Peak can be whatever you’re up for: a killer day hike, an easier couple-day hike or a beautiful backdrop to a wander around its foothills.

Wild horses, Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range

Montana is known for its free spirits and that extends to horses too. In addition to the working horses on ranches across the state, a herd of historically significant wild mustangs makes its home in the south. Ancestors of these horses roamed the hills centuries before Montana was a state. Their protected natural area is known as the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range. Travel up Pryor Mountain Road, south of Bridger, to catch a glimpse. Call or visit the Mustang Center on the Wyoming side for information, directions and a guided tour of the area.

Bighorn Canyon

No vista list-a is complete without a canyon. Working our way east, we stop over at Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area in southeast Montana. The stunning cliffs are home to its namesake bighorn sheep as well as mountain lions, bears and deer. Give yourself time to experience both equally impressive vantage points: looking up from a boat on Bighorn Lake and down from the trails.

Makoshika State Park, Glendive

Makoshika—derived from the Lakota "bad land" or "bad earth"—in the eastern portion of the state is the largest state park in Montana and not to be missed. It features otherworldly landscape you’ll see nowhere else in the state, and fossils of animals you’ll never see at all—dinosaurs! Take your hiking shoes or bike for the best experience. Stop at the visitor center at the park entrance for a quick geology primer before you start your trek.

Whitefish Lake

Heading home after our greater Montana journey, we stop off at Whitefish Lake to catch the sunset. The city of Whitefish has a dark skies lighting ordinance so it’s a great place for star viewing too. On special nights, the aurora can be seen from City Beach. This sweet spot in the Rockies is a truly beautiful place for Dream Home 2019.