Montana is home to some unique landscapes in the country. If you love nature, you will want to bring your camera on this trip. From snow-capped mountain peaks to deserted badlands, there are plenty of opportunities to snap a picture of Big Sky Country’s untapped beauty.
The National Bison Range
Just north of Missoula, you can find the tiny town of St. Ignatius, and the home of the National Bison Range. Tucked in the Mission Mountains, this bison refuge was established in 1908 by President Theodore Roosevelt. The area protects over 18,000 acres of natural habitat for the bison and has about 500 of the animals roaming freely throughout the park. If you are looking for spectacular shots of these animals, this is the place for you. The National Bison Range is also a famous place to photograph the white-tailed deer and elk in the area. In addition to the deer, elk, and bison, you can also see bears, bighorn sheep, and birds as well. The Mission Mountains provide an excellent backdrop as the animals frolic in the habitat. If you are looking to capture some wildlife action, the early morning and late evenings are the best time to go. Many of the animals are out, and you can snap a few perfect shots. For those wanting to plan ahead, the spring through fall are the most active seasons for the animals, especially bison, deer, and elk.
Glacier National Park
Glacier National Park is one of the most visited locations in Montana. This protected area covers over one million acres of land between Montana and Canada, and it has the nickname “Crown of the Continent.” While you are there, you can see the various microclimates and ecosystems, along with 1,000 species of plants and animals, 130 named lakes, and 737 miles of trails. In other words, Glacier National Park has the most abundant wildlife and dramatic landscapes in the country. There is only one road that wraps around the park, but it will be the most awe-inspiring 50 miles you have ever driven on a highway. You will travel past the cliffs and mountains up to the top of Logan Pass. This area sits atop the Continental Divide, and it is the highest point on the road. At this location, many people start at the visitors center for their hiking or backpacking trips. It is not uncommon to see mountain goats wandering around the area and wanting a snack from visitors.
Make sure you bring your long lenses as moose, bighorn sheep, grizzly bears, and black bears call Glacier National Park home. The northeast section of the park has the largest concentration of grizzly bears in the entire lower 48 states. In the alpine meadows, you can snap a few pictures of the mountain goats roaming throughout the wildflowers. You will want to head there from July to October since the interior of the park is usually closed in the winter due to snow.
Makoshika State Park
The largest state park is Makoshika, and it is located near the town of Glendive. Makoshika is a Lakota word for “bad land.” This area gives you a look at the prehistoric past of Montana. Triceratops and Tyrannosaurus Rex bones were excavated from the site. Millions of years ago, the park was an ancient seabed that became the resting place for many of these dinosaurs. When you enter the park, you will feel like you have entered another planet. After the springtime rain, you will see the brown landscape come alive with sprouting green plants. The summer is another time to visit as the dramatic storms light up the sky for some excellent landscape shots. You can camp inside the park or grab a room at a local lodge. Late spring through late fall are the best times to visit but be aware; the summer temperatures can be sweltering.
Rocky Mountain Front
At the eastern slope of the Rocky Mountains, lies the geologic and ecosystem area is known as the Rocky Mountain Front. This area has been called “a nationally significant area because of its high wildlife, recreation, and scenic values” by the Bureau of Land Management. Of all the wild areas in Montana, this may be the most primitive of them all. The area stretches from south of Glacier National Park and throughout tiny towns such as Augusta and Choteau. You can see the mountains rising in the distance as the cattle graze in the plains. One of the largest wilderness areas (without a road) is the Bob Marshall Wilderness. At this spot, you can see the second-largest elk herds in the United States along with the largest band of bighorn sheep.
This area is so massive; you will need to spend multiple days to see most of the wildlife and gorgeous views. Late spring brings in huge blooms of wildflowers in the foothills, and early summer is another time to see the color pop throughout the park. Rocky Mountain Front has fewer crowds than Glacier National Park, so you may feel like you are the only person out in this wilderness.
While all these locations are great in the summer, most start to close around the fall. If you are looking for the picture-perfect autumn shoot, you need to head to Seeley-Swan Valley. Located in western Montana, you can experience some of the best fall colors in the state. The Swan Mountain Range surrounds this area on the east, and the Mission Mountains lie to the west. It is not just the snow-capped mountain ranges that will give you the best pictures, but the vast valleys are full of deciduous conifers that turn bright orange in the autumn. These landscapes views are amazing but don’t count out the wildlife either. Like most Montana parks, you can see elk, moose, and bear roaming the area along with loons, bald eagles, and waterfowl in the sky. Mid-October is usually the time that you can see the trees turn with vivid colors for the season.
Montana is a nature lover’s paradise with its breathtaking picture opportunities. These spots will have you walking away with some once-in-a-lifetime memories and gorgeous images on your camera.