This blog post was updated on April 21, 2021.
Today, Montana is the last remnant of a bygone era – The Wild West. You can still see buffalo roaming freely, walk through the tumbleweed-filled dirt streets of ghost towns, pitch a tent and stargaze while downing some whiskey, or play a straight up outlaw and ride your horse through acres and acres of untamed wilderness. Saddle up, for we’ve rounded up some authentic Western experiences in Montana that’ll bring out the cowboy or cowgirl in you. Yeeehaw!
Horseback Ride on a True Montana Ranch in West Yellowstone
Montana is practically made for horseback riding. Begin your Montana adventure by living out your cowboy fantasies at Diamond P Ranch. Founded by Martin “Port” Portmann and his wife Ocile Portmann, the ranch has been hosting horseback rides in the mountains near West Yellowstone since 1953. Located 7 miles west of the west gate of Yellowstone National Park, the rides take you through the Gallatin National Forest. In addition to horseback riding on the ranch, you can also take part in the Cowboy Fast Draw activity, where you get to shoot (not live ammunition!) a real 45-caliber revolver. You’ll be pitted against another cowboy to see who can draw and shoot the electronic targets the fastest.
Get Spooked at Some of the State’s Best Preserved Ghost Towns
Take your boots to the boardwalks of the state’s many ghost towns. The Wild West is alive and well (ironically) at Montana’s many ghost towns. You can explore several preserved ghost towns throughout the state including Bannack State Park and Nevada City and Virginia City. As one of the best-preserved ghost towns in the country, Bannack State Park exudes a true Old West feel. It was the site of Montana’s first major gold discovery in 1862 and has over 50 buildings with the historic log and frame structure. Nevada City and Virginia City, on the other hand, present more restored versions of Montana’s ghost towns. Throughout the two neighboring ghost towns, you can spot 150 buildings that are certified authentic by the Montana Historical Society. Nevada City even hosts live interpretations of historic events and showcases life in the late 1800s so that you can feel like you’re in an old Western.
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Watch Buffalo Roam at the National Bison Refuge
If you’re looking to find a home where the buffalo roam, you can explore the National Bison Range in the Mission Valley of northwest Montana. The 18,500-acre range was started in 1908 in order to help support the dwindling population of American bison. It remains one of the last places where bison live in the US and one of the oldest wildlife refuges in the nation. Home to roughly 350 to 500 bison, the range also boasts spot elk, white tail, and mule deer, pronghorn antelope, bighorn sheep, black bears, and coyotes along with over 200 species of birds. Administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, you can tour the range mostly by car (after getting to the area via cheap flights of course), but there are a few walking trails for wildlife viewing and photographic opportunities.
Trek up to Glacier National Park to Sleep under the Stars
Now that you’ve checked off horseback riding, hunting out the spirits of cowboys in Montana’s ghost towns, and spotting a buffalo or two, you can close out your Old West itinerary by partaking in the essential activity of sleeping under the stars. Home to more than 700 miles of trails through one million acres of wilderness, Glacier National Park lends the iconic Montana experience of sleeping under the stars. Thanks to very low light pollution in the park (as there’s essentially no development nearby) you can star gaze unencumbered. The park boasts 13 drive-in campgrounds and over a thousand sites to choose for camping overnight. Just outside of the park, you can also be a bit more of a high-maintenance cowboy and go glamping with Glacier Under Canvas. The company provides safari tents outfitted with beds, rugs, and wood-burning stoves, and some even with their own bathrooms. You can enjoy the night sky and the sound of nature without having to give up the luxuries of home.
Have a favorite western experience in Montana? Share your best Montana Wild West pit stop with us in the comments below.