Challenge accepted – road trip to the best of Montana’s State Parks

Narrowing it down to 6 of our favorites was no easy feat!

Sure, Montana is most famous for being home to Glacier National Park (and for being the Gateway to Yellowstone, too!) but just because you can visit National Parks here doesn't mean the state parks are any less awesome. From unique wildlife and stunning scenery to historic caves and rugged hikes, you'll find that Montana has some really awesome state parks that are unlike anything you've ever experienced. Grab your camera, lace up your hiking boots, and adventure out to a few of Montana's best state parks!

Pictograph Cave State Park: This is definitely not your average state park! While it's centered around a unique natural feature (several sandstone caves) you might wind up with more mystery and history than you bargained for. In 1936, hoards of ancient artifacts (tools, weapons, and tons more) from Native Americans were discovered inside the three caves ... but that's not even the coolest part. Researchers also found paintings on the walls of the caves; and even today, they're not entirely sure what they mean. Check out the visitor center and hike the interpretive trail to the caves to learn what we know about the first people to settle this area, and then head into the caves to see the pictographs. You'll spend the rest of the trek back mulling them over ... who knows! Maybe you could be the one to solve their mysterious meaning.

Sluice Boxes State Park: You never know what you'll stumble across on a hike through this rugged park! Tucked among the cliffs and canyons of Sluice Boxes, you can find the remains of old mines, abandoned cabins, leftover bits of railroad, and more. And if hiking isn't your scene, Belt Creek provides excellent fishing, thrilling floats, and some pretty stunning wild beauty. Backcountry camping is allowed with a permit for those who really want to get back to nature, and don't mind roughing it a bit!

Hell Creek State Park: Head into the wild badlands of Montana's gorgeous Missouri Breaks from this scenic state park, which is located on the edge of the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument. It's located on an arm of Fort Peck Lake, and makes the perfect destination for boating and camping. Whether you want to hit the lake for some water skiing, or you want to unwind by fishing for some walleye, the lake provides tons to do, and the camping amenities provide everything you need for a relaxing weekend trip to the park. 

Lone Pine State Park: There's so much to do at this park that you'll probably want to bring a tent or camper and make it a weekend trip! There's swimming and sunning on the beach, hiking through forests and up cliffs, horseback riding along scenic trails, an archery range, and an excellent visitor center, among other things. It's even well worth visiting in the winter for the snowshoeing and cross-country skiing! And, as an added bonus, it's conveniently located Kalispell, which means awesome views of the city, Flathead Lake and the surrounding valley without journeying too far away from the conveniences of civilization!

Lake Elmo State Park: This little lake is perfect for the whole family! It's known for having awesome swimming, boating, fishing, and even paddleboarding and windsurfing. Plus, there's a little beach where you can unwind between activities, and a dog park for any furry family members to enjoy. And when the lake freezes over in winter, you can try your hand at ice skating and ice fishing. All that combined with its convenient location near Billings make it no surprise that this is Montana's most popular state park!

Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park: Even though Lewis and Clark didn't actually explore these caves, you'll definitely want to check them out. The large cavern system is filled with crazy stalactites, stalagmites, and other limestone formations, and you can take a guided tour that will help you navigate your way past some of the cave's best features. Be prepared to get a little dirty as you make your way down hundreds of stairs and through some twisting passages and tunnels ... but it's well worth it. Highlights of the tour include the bat colony and the famed Beaver Slide-- which make it the best state park where you can really get down and dirty!

More Montana magic...

An Essential Montana Road Trip


11 Reasons Why You’ll Fall in Love with Glacier National Park


Header via Flickr/David J Laporte and Flickr/AllAroundTheWest

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This was originally written for Roadtrippers, a great resource for anyone interested in travel.
Want more articles by Anna Hider? Find them here!