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With summer right around the corner, now is the perfect time to start planning a trip to a state park you’ve never been to. Montana’s state parks are home to pristine lakes and gorgeous hiking trails – but they also include Buffalo Jumps, colorful limestone caverns and a real-life ghost town.
“Some of these parks are little-known, and a lot of them are on people’s bucket lists already,” says Pat Doyle, marketing and communications manager for Montana State Parks. “But summer’s coming, and now’s the time to check out some of these amazing places.”
Everyone knows how incredible sites like Yellowstone and Glacier National Park are, but there are 55 wonderful state parks across the state.
Here are the top 5 Montana state parks to visit this summer:
Located in the badlands of eastern Montana, this 13,000-acre park is the state’s largest, with tons of hiking and camping options. Its name comes from a Lakota phrase meaning ‘bad land’ or ‘bad earth.’
“It’s a total hidden gem,” Doyle says. “You can spend days there and not see everything. Out of all our parks, it’s the most significant backcountry experience.”
Come for the hiking, stay for the dinosaurs. You can check out the fossil remains of Tyrannosaurus Rex, Triceratops and more.
This park and National Historic Landmark, is home to one of the most significant buffalo jump sites in North America. (A buffalo jump is a cliff that indigenous tribes would use as for hunting by herding buffalo over the edge.)
The park offers a few miles of hiking trails where you’ll see prairie dogs and Burrowing Owls dotting the landscape. You can hike or drive a mile up to the top of the cliff for a gorgeous view of four different mountain ranges: the Big Belts, the Little Belts, the Highwoods and the Rocky Mountain Front.
Throughout the summer, the park offers native interpretive events, traditional native games for kids and guest speakers from a variety of indigenous tribes.
Montana’s very first state park and is home to an beautifully colored limestone caverns.
Take a guided 2-hour tour where you’ll see magnificent stalactites, stalagmites and columns. Be prepared to do some ducking, bending and sliding as you make your way through.
Bold visitors can take the “wild cave tour,” an introduction to caving in unexplored sections of the cave, where you’ll use only a headlamp.
“It’s just a really cool and unique thing to do in Montana,” Doyle says. “In a lot of parts of countries, caves are abundant, but in Montana, that’s not the case. This is super rare.”
“Bannack is a completely intact ghost town with a Main Street, hotel, church, school and store – and you can go into them all.
Located in southwest Montana, Bannack was the first territorial capital of Montana before it gained statehood. It was once a thriving city in the 1800s that dwindled in size after the gold rush.
In the third week of September, you can check out Bannack Living History Days where people come from all over the country to dress in period clothing, demonstrate traditional pioneer skills and bring the town back to life.
“It’s historically accurate in every sense,” Doyle says.
If you’re looking for pristine, stunning natural beauty, it doesn’t get much better than Flathead Lake State Park.
One of the park’s incredible areas is Wild Horse Island, a 2,000-acre island – accessible only by boat – that’s home to wild horses, – mule deer, and a herd of bighorn sheep.
Another beautiful part of Flathead Lake State Park is Wayfarers, a great spot to view the sunset from rocky cliffs. It’s right next to the charming town of Bigfork, where you can check out the local art scene and breweries.
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