Montana is referred to as the “Glory of the West” in its state song, and that’s not far from the truth! With its rolling plains, towering mountains and historic past, Montana is an outstanding location for student travelers.
Culture and History Collide
While Montana was at first seen as simply territory within the Louisiana Purchase, it eventually became the site where early settlers’ interactions with the Native peoples defined the culture of the land and created important moments in United States history. At the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail Interpretive Center in Great Falls, students can retrace the expedition’s route, visit its landmarks, and explore their interaction with the Indian tribes of the Plains and Pacific Northwest. The Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument commemorates the Indian victory led by Sitting Bull over Lt. Col George Custer’s 7th Calvary in 1876. Student groups can take a walking tour through the battlefields and learn about Custer and Plains Indian life in the museum. Every summer in communities across Montana, students can view Powwows, where participants share their tribal traditions in a public setting.
World Museum of Mining in Butte preserves the town’s history and mining heritage. Visitors can walk the streets and visit 50 exhibit buildings in this Western town or venture inside the Orphan Girl Mine. Grand-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site in Deer Lodge looks at the role of cattlemen in American history. Students can view its historic buildings, go on guided tours and enjoy other ranger-led activities such as cowboy talks, blacksmith demonstrations and wagon tours.
Beautiful Landscapes and Hidden Treasures
A visit to Montana would be incomplete without viewing some of its picturesque parks. Known as the “Crown of the Continent,” Glacier National Park has more than 700 miles of trails. Students can venture into the great outdoors with an overnight hike or take a scenic day trek. Home to hundreds of animal species including bears, wolves, bison and elk, Yellowstone National Park (part of which is in Montana) is America’s first national park. Sitting atop a volcanic hotspot, it includes flowing rivers, lush forests, geysers like Old Faithful and deep canyons.
For those that want a bit of history with their nature, Pictograph Cave State Park in Billings is the perfect location. Students can view rock paintings more than 2,000 years old and explore caves that were the homes for prehistoric hunters. At Bannack State Park in Beaverhead County, visitors can explore the site of Montana’s first major gold discovery in 1862. This ghost town includes over 50 log and frame structures that line Main Street. First Peoples Buffalo Jump State Park in Ulm is an archaeological site that used to be one of the largest buffalo jumps in the U.S. Students can walk the trails where 14 tribes hunted buffalo above and below the cliffs, and tour the visitor center to learn the importance of plains animals to Indian tribes.
Thrilling Outdoor Escapades
Students looking for a spine-tingling outdoor experience should visit West Glacier the site of Montana Raft Company, which guides whitewater rafting trips down the Flathead River. Or check out Glacier Highline, an aerial adventure park featuring 29 activities throughout the treetops at varying heights.
At Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center in West Yellowstone, students can learn about grizzly bears and the gray wolf by viewing them in their natural habitat or by participating in one of the center’s many educational programs. Montana Dinosaur Trail is a network of 14 sites on the plains of Montana. It features some of the greatest paleontological finds of the last century and several museums. Students can take an excursion boat tour on the Missouri River and view the famous Gates of the Mountain, a passage traveled by Lewis and Clark. During this journey they can see animals such as eagles and osprey, observe Indian pictographs painted on the rock walls and view the Mann Gulch, site of the infamous 1949 forest fire that killed 13 smokejumpers.
The Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman is recognized as one of the finest research and history museums in the world. Located in the heart of the Rocky Mountains, it features exhibits on dinosaur fossils and American Indian history. Montana Historical Society Museum in Helena focuses on art, historical and archaeological artifacts that are important to the history of the state of Montana and its geographic regions.
The Miracle of America Museum in Polson makes history fun with its numerous exhibits and whimsical statues. Humor is a big part of this entertaining museum, which has outhouses and a make-believe ride at the real controls of a Huey helicopter, and a UFO from Area 51. SpectrUM Discovery Area, on the campus of University of Montana in Missoula, is a hands-on science center with numerous exhibits that encourages and promotes students to pursue careers in STEM.
Montana has many more student-friendly activities to offer and is an exciting location for student travelers. If you’ve visited Montana before, tell us about it below!