Best Hikes in Montana: 11 Unmissable Trails in Big Sky Country

From Beehive Basin to Boulder Pass, and Iceberg Lake to the Ice Caves, this list features the most stunning hikes in Big Sky Country, including highlights from each and descriptions of the area.

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Written by: | Reviewed by: Kieran James Cunningham
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From the snow-capped summits of the Rocky Mountains to the sprawling grasslands of the Great Plains, Montana is home to an impressive diversity of breathtaking landscapes and ecosystems.

Known as Big Sky Country, this beautiful state with acres of pristine wilderness is an outdoor lover’s paradise. Whether it’s trekking past crystal-clear alpine lakes in Glacier National Park or climbing the unique rock formations in the Badlands, there’s no shortage of natural wonders to explore in Montana.

In this guide, we’ll explore the state’s 11 most incredible trails and share important details from each one, including highlights, difficulty, and length. 

1. Beehive Basin Trail

Beehive Basin Trail, Montana
A picturesque and popular hike to incredible vistas of a towering glacial cirque. 
  • Type: Out and back
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Length: 6.6 miles

Known as one of the top treks in Big Sky Country, the Beehive Basin Trail is a must for hiking enthusiasts in Montana. This 6.6-mile out-and-back to a half-moon-shaped glacial cirque and a crystal-clear alpine lake features some of the most spectacular vistas around.

The Beehive Basin trailhead is found near the Big Sky ski resort’s chair lifts. The well-marked hike starts off with some steep switchbacks, but the overall incline of 1,500 feet trek is mostly gradual. After the initial climb, the stunning views of Lone Peak will begin to appear. For even more jaw-dropping vistas, scramble up to the top of the basin. 

Beehive Basin is considered one of the top spots to see wildflowers in the summer and wildlife (mainly mountain goats!) in the fall. 

2. Holland Falls National Recreation Trail, Flathead National Forest

Holland Lake, Montana
A family-friendly trek to 50-foot tall cascading falls by Holland Lake.
  • Type: Out and back
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Length: 3.2 miles

Located in northwestern Montana, Holland Lake encompasses 400 acres for swimming, kayaking, and boating. Its shores provide breathtaking vistas of the snow-capped Swan Range. 

Holland Falls National Recreation Trail is the best hiking trail in the area. It’s an easy, family-friendly hike to a gorgeous waterfall with epic views of Holland Lake and the Swan Mountains.

The hike begins at the trailhead parking lot located east of the campground’s Bay Loop. Take that path for about 500 feet until you reach a junction where you’ll take the East Holland Lake Connector Trail #415. The path follows the north shore of the lake for a bit with beautiful views of the mountains, then starts a gradual climb up 750 feet to the base of the falls.

The picturesque 50-foot cascading falls are surrounded by lush forest with towering trees sprouting from the rocky terrain.

3. Avalanche Lake via Trail of the Cedars

Avalanche Lake via Trail of the Cedars, Montana
Several spectacular cascading waterfalls surround this crystal-clear alpine lake in Glacier NP.
  • Type: Out and back
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Length: 5.9 miles

A must-see in Montana, the iconic Glacier National Park encompasses part of the Rocky Mountains. This striking national park features over 700 miles of hiking trails through glacier-carved valleys, high-elevation meadows, and alpine lakes.

The hike to take in the captivating vistas at Avalanche Lake is one of the most popular in the park. The clear blue waters of the lake are surrounded by majestic mountain peaks covered in conifer forests with rushing waterfalls winding down their slopes – a sight to behold!

The trailhead is in the Avalanche Campground Area just south of the Avalanche Gorge Footbridge on the Trail of the Cedars. It meanders through an old-growth cedar and hemlock forest and reaches a boardwalk. The boardwalk follows a creek to a glacial melt lake. From here the path winds next to Avalanche Creek up to Avalanche Lake.

4. Highline Trail, Glacier National Park

Highline Trail, Glacier National Park, Montana
Enchanting views of Glacier National Park without an extreme elevation gain.
  • Type: Point-to-point
  • Difficulty: 11.6 miles
  • Length: Moderate

Highline Trail is one of the top day hikes in Glacier National Park, also known as The Crown of the Continent. This must-do hike takes visitors along from the Logan Pass Visitor Center to the Loop Trailhead with absolutely stunning vistas of pristine alpine meadows, mountain peaks, and glaciers along the way. 

If you’re looking for a longer trek, there’s an option to extend the Highline Trail by taking a spur to the Grinnell Glacier Outlook.

The hiking path travels above the park’s scenic Going-to-the-Sun Road for even better views than driving. The great part about this trek is that you get incredible alpine vistas without having to do a strenuous uphill hike. Total elevation gain is only 800 feet. 

Since this is a point-to-point hike, you’ll need to take the free park shuttle to return to your car.

5. Middle Fork Sweet Grass Trail, Crazy Mountains, Custer Gallatin National Forest

Crazy Mountains, Montana
Explore an isolated mountain range surrounded by green prairies. 
  • Type: Out and back
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Length: 5.1 miles

Located in southwestern Montana, the Crazy Mountains are a lonely, island-like section of the northern Rockies. This tiny mountain range juts out from the green prairies below and stretches for 30 miles from the Yellowstone River to the Musselshell River.

The Middle Fork Sweet Grass Trail is situated in the Custer Gallatin National Forest section of the “Crazies”. It takes you from the junction with Sweet Grass Trail to the Middle Fork Sweet Grass Divide, located above Campfire Lake. It also provides access to Trespass Creek and the Shields River. 

6. Lava Lake Trail (aka Cascade Creek Trail)

Lava Lake, Custer Gallatin National Forest, Montana
Keep an eye out for moose on this magical trek through Custer Gallatin National Forest.
  • Type: Out and back
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Length: 6 miles

Another gem within Custer Gallatin National Forest, Lava Lake Trail is a 1600-foot ascent from the Gallatin River to Lava Lake. This gorgeous hike is also known as Cascade Creek Trail. 

The trail begins at the pull-off just north of the Gallatin River bridge. From there, the rugged trail enters Cascade Canyon and meanders next to Cascade Creek as it traverses an evergreen forest. The path passes by an alpine meadow and several cascades before reaching the tree-lined lake. 

Be patient. While the rocky path doesn’t provide much of a view in the beginning, the expansive vistas reveal themselves once you get closer to Lava Lake. The lake has impressive views of the 10,412-foot-high Jumbo Mountain and multiple other 10,000 feet high peaks above Cascade Creek Valley.

Watch for moose grazing in the meadows!

7. Pacific Northwest Trail

Gable Mountain behind Belly River, Montana
An iconic thru-hike stretching from Glacier National Park to Olympic National Park in WA.
  • Type: Point-to-point
  • Difficulty: Hard
  • Length: 1,200 miles

The PNT is an iconic thru-hike that starts (or ends) in Big Sky Country. It’s a national scenic trail that spans 1,200 miles from the Continental Divide to the Pacific Ocean. 

The route passes through Montana, Idaho, and Washington and traverses five main geographic areas: the Rocky Mountains, Columbia Mountains, North Cascades, Puget Sound, and Olympic Peninsula. 

Section 1 of the PNT begins in the Rockies and the eastern terminus is located in Glacier National Park’s Belly River Valley. While hiking the other thing is a months-long affair, many hikers enjoy shorter day treks along sections of the PNT. The Rocky Mountains segment of the trail offers a chance to explore Montana’s scenic backcountry.

8. Kootenai Creek Trail

Kootenai Creek Trail, Montana
A stunning canyon trek along Kootenai Creek in the Bitterroot Mountains.
  • Type: Out and back
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Length: 19.4 miles

Bitterroot National Forest encompasses 1.6 million acres of forested land in west-central Montana and east-central Idaho. This stunning national forest forms part of the Northern Rocky Mountains and boasts the largest area of continuous pristine wilderness in the lower 48 states. 

Kootenai Creek Trail is a gorgeous trek through the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness section of the national forest. The trailhead off Kootenai Creek Road provides access to Kootenai Creek Trail #53. The path has several creek crossings and provides beautiful canyon views before ending at North Kootenai Lake. 

Those looking for a backpacking adventure can camp at the lake – it makes for one of the most scenic camping spots in Montana

9. Natural Bridges Trail, Terry Badlands Wilderness Study Area

Terry Badlands, Montana
Experience the unique landscapes and mesmerizing rock formations of the Terry Badlands.
  • Type: Out and back
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Length: 2.2 miles

The Mars-like landscapes of the Terry Badlands Wilderness Study Area in eastern Montana provide a stark contrast to the lush forests on the state’s western side. The Terry Badlands WSA features banded, jagged peaks and cliffs with unique rock formations like sandstone bridges, mesas, spires, and buttes. It is located about 3 miles northwest of Terry in Prairie County.

The Natural Bridges Trail is a well-known hiking path popular with day hikers interested in seeing this natural wonder. You will need a four-wheel drive to drive across Calypso Trail and reach the trailhead for Natural Bridges. 

Once there, it’s a bit over a one-mile hike to the Natural Bridges rock formations shaped by millions of years of erosion.

10. Ice Caves Trail, Big Snowy Mountains

Crystal Lake, Big Snowy Mountains, Montana
Starting at stunning Crystal Lake and ending at incredible ice caves!
  • Type: Loop
  • Difficulty: Hard
  • Length: 11.9 miles

The Big Snowy Mountains in central Montana are situated thirty miles from Lewiston. They are part of the Snowies’ geographic area in the Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest. The mountains are covered in coniferous trees with barren rock and tundra above the treeline. The landscapes are beautiful, but the most interesting thing to see here is the year-round ice cave.

The Ice Caves Trail begins at the Crystal Lake Campground. From here, the path quickly gains 2,200 feet in elevation within the first three miles to reach the top of Snowy Crest. Once at the top, the trek traverses the flat ridge for two miles along Trail 490 until it reaches the cave.

The 100-foot-wide ice cave contains magical limestone rock formations that remain frozen throughout the year.

11. Boulder Pass Trail, Glacier National Park

Boulder Pass Trail, Glacier National Park, Montana
An off-the-beaten-track backpacking route to the edge of the Canadian Rockies.
  • Type: Point-to-point
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Length: 30.9 miles

One of Glacier National Park’s best off-the-beaten-track backpacking routes, Boulder Pass Trail is a true alpine adventure! This breathtaking and challenging trail begins on the shores of Kintla Lake and ends in a glacier-carved valley just south of the Canadian Rockies.

It takes most backpackers about 3 days to complete this scenic hike with more than 3,000 feet in elevation gain.

Best Hikes in Montana!

From the glittering ice cave in Big Snowy Mountains to the towering spires of the Badlands, there’s something for every type of hiker to explore in Big Sky Country.

What are your favorite hiking trails in Montana? Feel free to share them in the comments below. If you enjoyed this article, please send it to your hiking buddies!

Last update on 2024-06-20 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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Kristina Large Avatar

Kristina Ros is an adventure travel writer and outdoor enthusiast. Whether it's backpacking to alpine lakes in Colorado or camping on white sand beaches in Mexico, she’s always seeking more time in nature.

A lifelong native of southern California, she had much to learn about cold weather living after moving to Colorado. A few slips on the ice and numb fingers later, she adapted to life in the snow. Moving to the mountains allowed her to enjoy a greater variety of outdoor activities, like snowboarding and snowshoeing, aside from her previous experience as a certified scuba diver and avid snorkeler.

Kristina has been traveling full-time since 2018, including many hiking, backpacking, and camping adventures. Most recently, she and her husband have spent over a year exploring the western United States and Mexico in their self-converted Sprinter van. 

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