A 3-day guide for what to do + where to stay in Montana by Natasha Lee.
Sharp mountain silhouettes and infinite valleys. Bubbling mineral springs and blazing sunsets. Every inch of of “Big Sky Country” radiates undeniable allure; from the breathtaking landscapes in every direction, the brisk mountain air, and the all-around warmth shared by its residents. From the moment we arrived in Bozeman, I was swooning over the log cabin decor of the airport (fireplace included!) as it welcomed us into the “The Treasure State.” Of course, it’s possible to immerse in all of Montana’s spectacular natural offerings infinitely, but if all you can spare is a long weekend, here are some highlights to partake in.
Enveloped by mountains on all sides, Bozeman is the ideal blend of nature and culture. Its bustling downtown is home to distilleries, artisanal shops, and cozy restaurants and its proximity to hiking and skiing makes it the perfect getaway at any time of the year.
Meander the downtown area and stop in at the Montana Honey Bee Company. In a warm and welcoming atmosphere, sample their local raw or infused honeys (the lavender vanilla infused honey was a standout) or ask the owners anything about beekeeping and they’ll be sure to enlighten you about this age-old craft. If you’re able to resist the urge to purchase something in every flavor, mosey over to Bozeman Spirits, a local distillery and order a variation of the huckleberry cocktails. Slightly sweet and slightly tart, huckleberry vodka is distinct to the region (they cannot be cultivated) and toast to a uniquely local experience.
Head east towards downtown Livingston. On the National Register of Historic Places, Livingston is home to charming and eclectic businesses, many of whom have been there for generations since its days as a major stop on the Northern Pacific Railroad. Stop into Neptunes Brewery, a warmly eclectic pub with maritime overtones and taste one of their in-house brews alongside an Asian-infused bar menu. Their brews are highly sought after by other bars and businesses in the area and locals often stop in with an empty growler. Browse local titles at Sax and Fryer, a classic old-timey bookstore that takes pride in showcasing hometown authors and photographers.
Lastly, it is impossible to pass through Livingston without stepping into the lobby of the iconic Murray Hotel, who has hosted western luminaries like Robert Redford, Sam Peckinpah, Calamity Jane, and Buffalo Bill as various productions were filming in the area. Legends and mystique permeate this historic destination; you may hear a ghost story or two if you ask.
Continue south to Paradise Valley, which sits in between the Absaroka Range on the east and the Gallatin Range on the west, meaning it’s impossible to snap a picture without magnificent mountainscapes in the background. Check into the locals go-to getaway, Chico Hot Springs, which dates back to the height of Montana’s gold rush, and soak your troubles away in pools of natural mineral water that run from the hot spring on the property. If you end up having the luxury to stay longer, a trail ride is highly recommended and an phenomenal way to experience the boundless expanse of the golden prairie.
Time to head to Yellowstone National Park, Montana’s shining gem. Upon entering the park, stop to observe the buffalo roaming the vista. We were awash in a sense of pure awe watching them graze among the sweeping landscape. At the Fountain Paint Pots, the stench of sulfur permeating the air and heat of the thermal forces bubbling just underground was a visceral reminder that we all small beings in this wondrous universe.
As the afternoon starts to fade, drive onward to Big Sky for a glamping adventure under the stars with Collective Retreats. The campsite is surrounded by views of Lone Peak, where snow was just starting to gather at the highest point during our time there. Upon arrival, we felt transported into a Wes Anderson film at the “lobby,” a gigantic teepee decked out with string lights, plaid blankets, and eclectic tchotchkes. Back at our tent, no detail was too small, from the Moonrise Kingdom-inspired decor to the mix of textured bedding and rugs that felt so cozy and inviting. Barbecuing a gourmet steak and having S’more ingredients brought out to us as we huddled next to the roaring campfire gazing at the star-studded sky was an unimaginably perfect way to end a long weekend of adventure and exploration.
Natasha is a Travel + Lifestyle Photographer whose clients include Food & Wine, Refinery29, and Time Inc, among others. She loves nothing more than globe-trotting and sharing all the lustworthy locales that inspire wanderlust. Follow her finds at @talktonatasha.