You only need a few minutes in Montana to appreciate why it’s known as the Big Sky State: from horizon to horizon, the sky is all-encompassing. And beneath that incredible blue is a state whose landscapes are just as majestic, from the Rocky Mountains to the arid badlands and glacial lakes to dense evergreen forests.

Grab your camera and your sense of adventure! Here are five of the most scenic places to visit in Western Montana.

Going-to-the-Sun Road/Lake McDonald

Kayaking in Glacier National Park
Kayaker on Lake McDonald in Glacier National Park

One of the most breathtaking parks in the country, Glacier comprises 1,500 square miles of soaring mountains, crystalline lakes, and wildflower-dotted meadows, all traversed by the Going-to-the-Sun Road. The 50-mile drive hugs cliffsides, winds past tumbling waterfalls, and provides a front-row seat to Glacier’s most spectacular landscapes, making it near-impossible to choose a favorite spot. If we had to pick, however, it would be Lake McDonald, the largest lake in the park, whose stunningly clear waters reveal a chorus of multi-colored rocks extending out into the depths.

Lone Mountain

lone mountain sunset
Lone Mountain at sunset from Big Sky | Photo courtesy of Eric Moreno

Lone Mountain’s name is a little misleading—its snow-capped slopes are flanked by two other mountains, and from the 11,000-foot summit you can see clear to the rippling peaks of Yellowstone. But as the flagship mountain of Big Sky Resort, Lone Mountain commands an incredible majesty: snow-frosted evergreens below and the deep blue sky above. Whether you’re trekking up a hiking trail, whipping down a ski run, or riding the sky tram to base camp, you’ll be greeted with panoramic views at every turn.

Flathead Lake

flathead lake picture
Kayakers in the distance on Flathead Lake | Photo courtesy of m01229

Flathead Lake’s water is so clear it can be hard to tell where the land ends and the reflections begin. Tucked away in the shadow of Glacier National Park, Flathead offers all the beauty of Glacier’s alpine lakes without the difficulty of reaching them. And as the largest freshwater lake in the western United States, there’s plenty of space to enjoy the water without ever feeling crowded. Kayak, swim, or scuba dive through some of the clearest water you’ve ever seen, or impress everyone with a catch of the lake’s trophy-sized trout.

The Chinese Wall

bob marshall chinese wall
Hiker posing victoriously after climbing the Chinese Wall | Photo courtesy of Robert Elzey

A backpacker’s dream, the Bob Marshall Wilderness covers nearly as much ground as Glacier National Park to the north and sees a fraction of the traffic. Dead smack in the middle of it all is the Chinese Wall, an incredible limestone cliff more than 1,000 feet high and 12 miles long. Its sheer enormity certainly brings to mind the actual Chinese wall it’s named for, but the truth is even more impressive. This towering monolith is one of the most dramatic examples of the United States Continental Divide: the point where the Atlantic and Pacific watersheds collide. Although the park itself is slightly remote, it’s certainly worth the effort; spend the night at scenic Flathead Lake before heading southeast for a day or two out in the wilderness.

Whitefish

Whitefish Lake with fall colors
Photo courtesy of Lam Thuy Vo

If there’s one western Montana location that encapsulates the very best of the state, it might be the picturesque town of Whitefish. Located due north of Flathead Lake, Whitefish offers pristine lakes, snow-smothered peaks, and the friendliness of a quaint mountain village, all within minutes of each other. Mountain bike through verdant green meadows in the summer, ski down a 2,300-foot vertical drop in the winter, or stroll through downtown’s vibrant foliage in the autumn. No matter what time of year, it’s not hard to see why visitors and locals alike consider Whitefish one of western Montana’s most beautiful destinations.

Featured image courtesy of Eric Moreno

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Author: Will Preston

A Virginia native, Will has traveled throughout Europe, Asia, and the U.S. His writing has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and has appeared in numerous publications, including Smithsonian Folkways, The Masters Review, Maisonneuve, and PRISM International. Most nights you can find him cooking, crafting the perfect gin & tonic, or finishing his first book.