The supreme nature of Montana sets the stage for a holiday full of unforgettable childhood experiences and encounters.

Wide-open landscapes let the imagination run free, and the Western spirit evokes a sense of adventure far from home. Between the scenery, wildlife, adventures and activities, Montana will leave kids with core memories for life.

A young boy fishes in a river near Bozeman, Montana in the afternoon sun
Bozeman, Montana is great for children © Cavan Images / Getty Images

Is Montana good for kids?

Any adult would be lucky to experience Montana through the eyes of a child. Between the free-flowing nature and the friendly communities that value early education, kids stand to have a transformative experience in the Treasure State. That same Western intrigue that has attracted explorers, artists and conservationists to Montana tends to spark a child's imagination too.

The state has a wide selection of family-friendly hiking trails, accessible campgrounds and easy ways to explore outside. But your family doesn't have to be outdoorsy to enjoy the Montana experience fully. The state is a treasure trove of history, and you can’t help but have fun immersing yourself in Montana’s museums, ghost towns and frontier aura.

However, don’t underestimate the size of Montana – and not just in geographical terms. Every experience here has a grandeur that qualifies even a community river trail as a small-scale adventure. This imprints Montana on your mind long after visiting but also leads to accidentally overstuffing itineraries. The best bet is just to book a couple of extra days.

Where in Montana is best for kids?

The university cities of Bozeman and Missoula are great basecamps for kid-friendly vacations. Each has easy access to family hiking trails, outdoor experiences and various community attractions for every age. Similarly, Montana’s other big cities, such as Great Falls, Billings, and the state capital, Helena, are also home to children’s museums and accessible nature.

Whitefish Mountain Resort viewed from the shores of Whitefish Lake in Whitefish, Montana -
The shores of Whitefish Lake are ideal for entertaining little ones © Nathan Dugan / Getty Images

Best things to do in Montana with babies and toddlers

1. Relax at Whitefish City Beach

Bring the baby bonnet and sunscreen for a relaxing day on the shores of Whitefish Lake, just a short drive or bike ride from the charming mountain town of Whitefish. Abundant sand and shaded grass invite all-day lounging overlooking the mountains, while older kids can enjoy quick dips in the cold water or paddle around in the kayaks that are available to rent in season.

2. Family fun on the Missoula riverfront

Mountain landscapes and family attractions line both sides of the Clark Fork River in downtown Missoula. Caras Park anchors the public space as the core destination for free community events, adjacent to the hand-crafted A Carousel for Missoula and multi-story Dragon Hollow Playground. The stroller-friendly path connecting everything also has a great viewing platform for watching kayakers tackle Brennan’s Wave, a manmade wave on the Clark Fork River.

A family stand with bikes in Whitefish, Montana during summer.
The Hiawatha bicycle trail in Montana is a great way to see the mountains © Craig Moore / Getty Images

Best things to do in Montana with kids

1. Ride the Hiawatha bicycle trail

Spanning seven trestle bridges and 10 railroad tunnels, the 15-mile Route of the Hiawatha is well regarded as the crown jewel of Montana’s rail-to-trail conversions. As the trail is mostly downhill, pedaling is barely required, and it’s suitable for almost all ages. (There’s a shuttle bus back to the top.) Base camp for this memorable day trip is Lookout Pass on the Idaho border, where you can organize trail passes and mountain bike rentals. Advance reservations are recommended.

2. Meet the residents of the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center

West Yellowstone is Montana’s gateway to Yellowstone National Park and a prime spot to see wildlife. For guaranteed sightings in a controlled environment, head to the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center on the edge of town to spy on bears and wolves that are not fit to live in the wild. Families should arrive early to guarantee a spot in the Keeper Kids program, a twice-daily chance to hide the bears’ food throughout their enclosure and then watch them sniff it out.

3. Spend a starry night in Glacier National Park

Adventure by day and explore by night in Glacier National Park. Snag a campsite or coveted lodge room at this world-renowned outdoor space, dubbed 'the Crown of the Continent,' and see what it means for Glacier to be an International Dark Sky Park. Free nightly astronomy programs occur on both sides of the park throughout July and August and are popular with all family members.

4. Uncover Montana’s prehistoric past at the Museum of the Rockies

Adults and kids can transport themselves to the late Cretaceous era when roaming the halls of the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman. That’s because this Smithsonian-affiliate museum has one of the world’s most comprehensive collections of North American dinosaurs. Alongside a mounted T. Rex and several triceratops skulls, this acclaimed education space also features a popular planetarium and other engaging exhibits.

5. Explore underground at Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park

Discover the depths of Montana’s first state park at Lewis and Clark Caverns, home to one of the most extensive known limestone caverns in the Pacific Northwest. Guided tours along the paved and lit passageways are the only way to see the incredible stalagmites and soda straws. There are three types of tours, only two of which are open to children under 14. The easiest is the 90-minute Paradise Tour, offered daily between May and September and free for kids under four.

Young man wades in a mountain stream in Jewel Basin, Montana
Jewel Basin, Montana, is dotted with streams and lakes - some ideal for bathing © Larry Mayer / Getty Images

Best things to do in Montana with teens and tweenagers

1. See some mountain goats in Jewel Basin

The uphill hike is hard to complain about when the fantastic views are so immediate. Start at the misleadingly named Camp Misery Trailhead for an easier hike into the unique Jewel Basin Hiking Area in Flathead National Forest (high-clearance vehicle required). Alpine lakes and a herd of resident mountain goats define this craggy mountain landscape full of hiking opportunities, including a long-distance view of Flathead Lake.

2. Flyfish blue-ribbon waterways

Teach a kid how to fly fish, and they might get hooked, especially if they’re in Montana, where there’s a smorgasbord of blue-ribbon trout fishing, including the Blackfoot, Bitterroot and the Big Hole, to name a few. Hiring a local guide, like Montana Angler out of Bozeman, is the best way to dial down the logistics of a river trip.

3. Wander around Garnet Ghost Town

It takes a good dose of steep terrain to explore Garnet Ghost Town, an hour’s drive into the mountains east of Missoula. The Bureau of Land Management oversees this decaying 1890s mining settlement, which stands as one of the best-preserved ghost towns in the state. For a $3 admission fee, visitors can freely wander the dusty roads between the general stores and boarding houses and get a feeling for what life was like during the gold rush.

Planning tips

Montana’s cities are generally more walkable and stroller-friendly the closer you stay to the center. But a personal vehicle is almost always necessary for exploring outside town or getting outdoors, especially with any additional gear the family might need.

Montana follows four distinct seasons, typically hitting the extreme of each at some point of the year. Heat waves throughout the summer and buckets of snow in the winter occur annually, and naturally, the weather plays a significant role in enjoying a Montana vacation. But as locals might tell you, there’s no bad weather in Montana, just bad outfit choices.

Summer hotels and campgrounds tend to fill up fast at the most famous Montana destinations, like Glacier National Park, where reservations are all but required.

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