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The 10 Best State Parks in Montana

Key takeaways...
  • There is something for everyone to enjoy at Montana’s many state parks
  • Some state parks are not open year-round, so research operational dates and times before you travel
  • Take steps to protect yourself from the elements and wildlife while exploring Montana’s natural areas

Montana is known as Big Sky Country, and this name accurately describes the state’s vast areas of unspoiled wilderness. Montana is the fourth largest state in size, but it ranks 48th in terms of population density.

There are plenty of wide open spaces for you and your family or friends to explore. State parks and forests are preserved areas that have infrastructure that can make your time outdoors more enjoyable.

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Altogether, there are 44 state parks and seven state forests in Montana. These protected areas are scattered across all six counties in the state, and they feature a wide range of landscapes and are home to many plant and animal species.

From fishing and hiking to camping, bird watching, and more, there is an adventure around every corner when you spend time in these parks. These are among the best state parks in Montana.

The Best State Parks in Montana

#1 – Hell Creek State Park

Area: 337 acres
Established: May 1, 1966
Highlight: Fort Peck Lake and the Hell Creek Marina

Situated in the eastern-central section of the state, Hell Creek State Park is a popular lake destination for locals and visitors.

Fishing, boating, and camping are the most popular activities here, and visitors can also picnic, swim, water ski, and more.

The park allows overnight tent and RV camping, but the park office is only open from May 15 through October 1 each year from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. There is no fee for residents to enter, and non-residents will pay $6 per vehicle to enter.

#2 – Missouri Headwaters State Park

Area: 532 acres
Established: October 15, 1966
Highlight: Historical significance from Lewis and Clark expedition

The Missouri Headwaters State Park is appropriately named because it sits at the convergence of the Missouri, Madison, Gallatin and Jefferson Rivers. Lewis and Clark notably passed through this area on their westward journey.

Here, visitors can enjoy fishing, boating, canoeing, kayaking, and camping. The park is open year-round, and the office is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. You can stay overnight in a tent, cabin or RV.

The daily entrance fee is waived for residents of the state, and non-residents must pay a fee of $6 per vehicle.

#3 – Thompson Falls State Park

Area: 36 acres
Established: June 3, 1960
Highlight: Mountains, rivers, wildlife

Thompson Falls State Park is one of the smaller state parks in the area, but it offers plenty for visitors to enjoy. It sits in the scenic Clark Fork Valley.

The Clark Fork River runs through the area and is banked by pine-covered mountains.

Camping, fishing, swimming, boating, and bird watching are just a few of the many activities that you can enjoy at this park.

The park is open for camping from April 29 through October 10, and day-use walk-in visitors are permitted year-round. Park office areas are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Campers can choose between tents, RVs, cabins and yurts.

The daily entrance fee to the park is $6 per vehicle for non-residents, but this fee is waived for residents of Montana.

#4 – Flathead Lake State Park

Area: 67 acres
Established: September 2, 1969
Highlight: Flathead Lake, mixed species forest

If you are looking for a picture-perfect place to enjoy water recreation, Flathead Lake State Park is an ideal location to visit. Camping, picnicking, and nature walks along the lake’s shore are popular.

You can also canoe, fish, and view wildlife at this park. The daily entrance fee to the park is $6 per vehicle for non-residents, and entrance is free for state residents.

You can enjoy day use of the park year-round, but the park is only open for camping from March 15 through November 15. Park hours are from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

#5 – Makoshika State Park

Area: 11,538 acres
Established: November 10, 1953
Highlight: Badlands, dinosaur bones, fossils

Makoshika State Park is Montana’s largest state park, and it is also one of the most unique destinations in the area.

This huge park is characterized by fascinating rock formations and badlands, and visitors can walk along an actual dinosaur trail and view several dinosaur fossil remains.

In addition to archaeological activities, this park is also popular for camping, hunting, photography and other activities.

It is open year-round from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Camping is available in a tipi, yurt, cabin or tent. The daily entrance fee per vehicle is $6 for out-of-state visitors, and local residents can enter for free.

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#6 – Painted Rocks State Park

Area: 23 acres
Established: 1963
Highlight: Wildlife, boat dock

Situated at the base of the scenic Bitterroot Mountains, Painted Rocks State Park is a scenic area with an abundance of wildlife.

Wildlife viewing and photography are popular here, and visitors can see bighorn sheep, elk, deer, bear, moose, and other animals in the park. Camping, picnicking, hiking, and boating are also popular ways to spend time here. The park is open daily from dawn until dusk year-round.

The daily entrance fee is waived for in-state residents, and out-of-state visitors will pay a $6 per vehicle entrance fee. Tipis, yurts, cabins and tents are camping options.

#7 – Brush Lake State Park


Area: 280 acres
Established: December 29, 2004
Highlight: Huge lake, water recreation

Brush Lake State Park gives you a beautiful place to spend the day or to enjoy a full vacation with family and friends. This park boasts ample opportunities for water recreation, and camping, hiking, picnicking and bird watching are also common.

Brush Lake State Park is open daily from May 1 through November 1 from 7 a.m. until 10 p.m. In-state residents enjoy free daily entrance into the park, and out-of-state visitors pay $6 per vehicle to enter.

Tent camping is available in rustic and developed sites, or you can stay overnight in a cabin, yurt or tipi.

#8 – Whitefish Lake State Park

Area: 10 acres
Established: April 29, 1960
Highlight: Kayak, paddle board, and peddle boat rentals on-site

Situated close to the Whitefish Mountain ski resort, Whitefish Lake State Park is a small, popular park for locals and visitors alike.

There is an on-site rental concession for kayaks, paddle boards, and peddle boats. In addition, visitors can hike, picnic, view wildlife, and more. Yurt, tipi, cabin, and tent camping are available.

The park is open throughout the year from 7 a.m. until 10 p.m. The daily entrance fee is $6 per car for non-residents and free for in-state residents.

#9 – Fort Owen State Park

Area: One acre
Established: May 26, 1956
Highlight: Native American heritage and cultural exhibits

If you want to learn more about the state’s fascinating history, you can tour exhibits and displays at Fort Owen State Park. Picnicking and photography are also popular at this park.

The park office is open year-round, and office hours are from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. in the summer months. Camping is not permitted. The daily entrance fee is waived for in-state residents, and out-of-state visitors will be charged a fee of $6 per vehicle.

#10 – Giant Springs State Park

Area: 50 acres
Established: November 29, 1972
Highlight: Natural spring, Roe River

The Giant Springs State Park is characterized by wide open spaces and a river clear water and a rocky shore.

Lewis and Clark passed through the area, and today’s visitors enjoy bird watching, hiking, bicycling, picnicking, and nature tours here.

The park is open year-round from 8 a.m. until sunset, but camping is not available. In-state visitors will not pay a daily entrance fee, and out-of-state visitors will be charged a daily fee of $6 per vehicle.

Driving Safely in State Parks


Whether you plan to spend a few days at state parks this year or you want to enjoy a weeks-long tour of the parks, it is important to follow basic driver’s safety rules.

First, ensure that you have the right auto coverage before you travel so that you are fully protected. Natural weather events, encounters with animals, car accidents and more can damage your car, and you need to be financially protected.

Your policy should include:

  • Personal injury coverage – To pay for expenses if you are injured in an accident
  • Liability coverage – In the event you cause damage to another person’s car or property while operating your vehicle
  • Comprehensive coverage – To protect you from loss related to animal encounters and natural disasters
  • Towing and rental car coverage – To pay for additional fees you may incur if your vehicle is damaged

Remember that you can comparison shop before you leave for your trip to get quotes for the best rates on the most protective policy available.

You also should follow basic safety practices while driving to avoid having to file a claim on your insurance policy. For example, cyclists, hikers, and runners may be common when traveling through state parks.

Drive slowly and always be alert so that you do not run into wild animals. In some cases, boulders, trees, and other items may fall into roadways.

Another smart idea is to equip your car with basic safety and first aid supplies before you travel into the great outdoors.

An emergency kit that includes a flashlight, flares, and other related items can be helpful if you have car trouble at night.

Wildlife accidents may be more common at night because of reduced visibility, so you should stock your car with supplies like a blanket, water, non-perishable food, and a first aid kit in case you must spend one or more nights in your car while you wait for help to arrive.

Remember that many state parks are located far from the closest town. Other items to keep in your car include a tire gauge, bear spray, a window defroster, and a simple toolkit that can also function as survival supplies.

Many great memories can be made in Montana’s state parks. If you intend to camp at a state park, make a reservation ahead of time to ensure that you have a site or cabin available.

Enter your zip code below now to make sure you have the right coverage before your trip!

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