Stay and Play in Montana: Unique Hospitality Under the Big Sky

glacier national park
Limitless adventure in Montana. Photo: Courtesy of Visit Montana

This piece was produced with support from Visit Montana. Follow them on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Adventure travelers come to Montana for its unique outdoor offerings, but it’s also important to make sure that where you stay is as unique as what you do. There’s no reason that lovely accommodations shouldn’t be part of your travel story – because indoors and out, Montana is full of fun surprises.

From mountainside yurts to historic hot springs, the options in the “Big Sky” state are truly endless. Not to mention that anywhere you go, outdoor recreational opportunities abound.

Whether you want to be in the thick of the action, or get away from it all, here are some of the coolest places to stay in the entire state.

StoneHouse at Duck Lake, Babb

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The panoramic views from the StoneHouse will take your breath away. Photo: Courtesy of StoneHouse

With Duck Lake lapping just outside the window, Chief Mountain looming on the horizon and Glacier National Park just four miles away, the StoneHouse at Duck Lake is a perfect place to post up for a week’s worth of adventure, exploration and (not to mention) relaxation.

Montana folk musician, hard-core outdoorsman and outsized character David Walburn built the StoneHouse by hand. If you’re lucky, you might even catch him performing at one of the local venues.

stonehouse montana
A gorgeous sight from every window. Photo: Courtesy of StoneHouse

Duck Lake and the StoneHouse are located on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation. Walburn has partnered with native outfitters who can help you reel in enormous rainbow and brown trout – for which Duck Lake and the surrounding waters are known. Catches up to 12 pounds are common. Hiking or backpacking in Glacier is nearby and simply unbeatable, along with incredible whitewater rafting, horseback tours and so much more.

After getting your fix outdoors, chow down on a ribeye steak the size of your face at the historic Cattle Baron Supper Club, Bunkhouse and Bar. And for dessert, don’t miss the huckleberry pies at nearby Two Sisters Cafe. Trust us, you’re not going to want to share.

Copper King Mansion, Butte

copper king mansion
Built in the 1880s, the Copper King Mansion will take you back in time. Photo: Alamy

The famous mines of Butte, Montana are credited with electrifying America – at the end of the 19th century, Butte was the largest producer of copper in the world. With all that copper came enormous wealth, and with wealth came … mansions. Built for William A. Clark, one of the “Copper Kings” of Butte, the Mansion was constructed in the mid-1880s with 34 rooms full of brickwork, stained glass windows, frescoed ceilings, hand-carved woodwork and lavish antique furnishings.

Today, it’s available for anyone to enjoy as a unique B&B. Ready to bust out your best snooty accent and pour a few fingers of cognac? Come enjoy the 64-foot Elizabethan ballroom, immaculate billiard room and enviable library like the baller you always wanted to be.

There are numerous collections in the Mansion, including a room full of antique dolls, along with hats, toys, clocks, demitasse cups and steins from the heyday of Butte’s Copper King dynasty.

copper king mansion
Luxurious accommodations, fit for a Copper King. Photo: Courtesy of Copper King Mansion

When you’re ready for action, the trails await. Butte is home to excellent hiking, and also has a growing reputation for epic mountain biking, with hundreds of miles of trail accessible nearby – some are even ridable straight from town. Check out the Blacktail Ridge, Beaver Ponds and Toll Canyon trails (all connect to the 3,100-mile Continental Divide Trail) south of town.

mountain biking montana
No matter which trail you choose, you’re sure to be blown away by the epic terrain. Photo: Courtesy of Visit Montana

If pounding pavement is more your thing, grind up the steep, switch-backing grade of Highway 2 for a workout with a spectacular view. Rock climbing and bouldering on the surrounding Butte Batholith features incredible granite, with hundreds of quality projects and routes up to 600 feet high.

Butte is busy during the summer, and no town parties harder. Don’t miss the Butte 100 Mountain Bike Race (often described as “the most difficult race in the country”), the Folk Festival or even the Montana Irish Festival An Ri Ra. (Butte’s Irish heritage gives even Boston a run for its money.)

When you’re not living like a king, slaying the trails or taking in the party that is Butte, enjoy the historic district of uptown. Visit Gamer’s Cafe for lunch and order their famous Cornish Pasty (pronounced “pass-tee”) and have cold beer at the inimitable M&M Bar.

Jewel Basin Yurt, Bigfork

Jewel Basin Yurt
Miles away from ordinary. Photo: Courtesy of Jewel Basin Yurt

For an off-the-grid, but not too off-the-grid, experience that’s sure to please, check out the Jewel Basin Yurt, located 12 miles outside of Bigfork. You can drive a USFS road directly to the rustic (but comfortable) 24-foot-diameter yurt.

However, don’t expect running water, flush toilets or electricity. A wood stove knocks the chill from those cool summer evenings and a propane cookstove makes for easy meal prep. What else do you need, really?

jewel basin yurt
An amazing place to enjoy a little digital detox. Photo: Courtesy of Jewel Basin Yurt

Relaxing on the deck and taking in the sunset with a cocktail is great in its own right, but it’s the hiking that really draws people to Jewel Basin. With no motorized vehicle, bicycle or horse access, the 15,349-acre Jewel Basin Hiking Area is peaceful, quiet and ripe for exploration on foot. From the Camp Misery trailhead, 1.7 miles above the yurt, hikers can choose to explore 35 miles of connected trails, 27 named lakes and 16 peaks. For a bonus, come in late summer when the huckleberry harvest is going on – your taste buds will thank you.

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You won’t hear any motorized vehicles out here. Photo: Courtesy of Ian R. Cameron

Bigfork is close enough to justify pizza and beer in town after a day of adventuring. Check out the rodeo or just enjoy a cocktail at Whistling Andy Distillery. (Spirit of Sperry huckleberry vodka is beyond refreshing.) Or, head down for a day of watersports on Flathead Lake.

Grand Union Hotel, Fort Benton

grand union hotel
The oldest operating hotel in Montana is still welcoming guests over 130 years after opening. Photo: Courtesy of Visit Montana

Once called the “World’s Innermost Port,” Fort Benton was the farthest point of navigable water on the Missouri River. The steamboat traffic it supported brought thousands of fur trappers, miners and pioneers to Montana from the late 1840s to the completion of the transcontinental railroads in the late 19th century.

Built on the banks of the Missouri in 1882 (seven years before Montana became a state), the Grand Union is Montana’s oldest operating hotel and a uniquely historic place to stay in one of Montana’s favorite small towns.

grand union hotel
The charming historic decor will take you back to old Montana. Photo: Courtesy of Visit Montana

Guests at the Grand Union, which underwent an award-winning renovation in 2000, are treated to a taste of old western elegance. From the brickwork and flooring to the finishes and fixtures, it’s easy to imagine oneself visiting the saloon at the height of the Montana gold rush, or rubbing elbows with pioneer settlers headed west to Washington and Oregon via the infamous Mullan Road.

Modern-day adventurers have plenty of opportunity for excitement and solitude in this part of Big Sky Country. The Mighty Missouri is right outside and provides excellent fishing and floating. After a few nights at the Grand Union, camp at nearby Cow Island Recreation Area, which is only accessible by boat.

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The possibilities for adventure are endless in Big Sky Country. Photo: Alamy

There’s hiking and mountain biking in the island mountain range of the Highwood Mountains, 30 miles south of Fort Benton. Check out the 16-mile Windy Mountain Loop to get above tree line at almost 6,000 feet and enjoy expansive views of the plains and Upper Missouri Breaks.

And when you’re ready to quench your thirst, grab a pint at Golden Triangle Brew Company, which will be opening late summer 2019. Named for the local geographic area, this brewery is located in one of the best grain-producing counties in the country – perfect for locally crafted beer.

Dreamcatcher Tipi Hotel, Gardiner

dreamcatcher tipis
You’d be hard-pressed to find a hotel as unique as the Dreamcatcher. Photo: Courtesy of Dreamcatcher Tipi Hotel

For a Montana twist on glamping, check out the Dreamcatcher Tipi Hotel, located on the banks of the Yellowstone River in Gardiner (just five miles from the north entrance to Yellowstone National Park). Ten 22-foot tipis are scattered around the property, complete with white linens, memory foam mattresses, heaters and even Wi-Fi.

Six private bathrooms are shared by guests. With heated floors, rain showers, luxurious towels and complimentary toiletries, it’s not like any “camping” you’ve ever done before. Each night, there’s a campfire where guests can meet and converse (and make s’mores, of course), and complimentary breakfast is ready when you rise.

dreamcatcher tipi hotel
Taking glamping to another level. Photo: Courtesy of Dreamcatcher Tipi Hotel

After a restful night of almost-but-not-really camping, belly up to Gardiner’s veritable smorgasbord of outdoor adventure. Whitewater raft down the mighty Yellowstone River (the longest un-dammed river in the Lower 48), or paddle a personal kayak for a more one-on-one experience. Hire a guide and cast a line in one of Yellowstone’s storied trout streams, surrounded by wild bison, coyotes and other wildlife.

Get the ultimate Instagram shot with the help of a professional photography clinic – in Yellowstone it’s easy to get the shot of a lifetime. Hike to a highpoint and take in the wilderness views on a hiking, backpacking or llama-supported trip through the park. Or just read a book next to the river and unwind. (Montana’s good for that.)

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The amazing hiking and backpacking in Montana will certainly never disappoint. Photo: Courtesy of Jacob W. Frank/NPS

No need to eat like you’re camping, either. Gardiner has a comprehensive bevy of delicious restaurants, but be sure to grab a drink on the awesome deck at the Iron Horse Bar. High above the river, with afternoon shade, it’s the perfect place to kick back after a day in America’s Wonderland.

Pass Creek Ranch, Wyola

pass creek ranch
Are you looking for a taste of real ranch country? Well, this is it. Photo: Courtesy of Pass Creek Ranch

If it’s cowboy mystique you’re after, then Southeast Montana is where it’s at. This is real ranch country – leave the mountain bikes and climbing gear at home and get ready for some time in the saddle. At Pass Creek Ranch you can learn horsemanship and riding with working cowboys and cowgirls, move cattle, mend fence and maybe even partake in branding. This is a 10,000-acre working cattle ranch, so work is play and play is work. You can participate in ranch chores as much as you like … or just hang out in your private cabin with a glass of wine and re-read “Lonesome Dove.” But riding for the brand is the way to go.

pass creek ranch
You’re free to get your hands as dirty as you want at Pass Creek Ranch. Photo: Courtesy of Pass Creek Ranch

Not far down the road is Bighorn Canyon Recreation Area, where fishing, boating, hiking and camping are all available. Fish the Bighorn, Little Bighorn and Tongue Rivers. Visit the Little Bighorn Battlefield, where General Armstrong Custer was famously defeated by the Sioux and Cheyenne in 1876 – in fact, the ranch is located on the Crow Indian Reservation. Crow Fair and Rodeo takes place in August and is well worth the low price of admission to see traditional dances, games, horse racing and rodeo, drawing an estimated 50,000 spectators and participants.

Sleeping Buffalo Hot Springs, Saco

sleeping buffalo
If you’re looking to relax, Sleeping Buffalo Hot Springs is the ticket. Photo: Courtesy of Sleeping Buffalo Hot Springs

Located 160 miles north of Interstate 90, 35 miles south of Saskatchewan, and way closer to North Dakota than the rest of Montana, Saco is such a great place to visit (especially with its mineral-rich hot water at Sleeping Buffalo Hot Springs).

No natural seep, the water that fills Sleeping Buffalo was discovered in the 1920s by an oil speculator looking for crude. He drilled to 3,200 feet and hit hot water rather than oil – and the rest is history. The 108-degree water is renowned for its high mineral content and therapeutic qualities.

You won’t find too much nightlife (bring your own food and drink, or plan to drive at least 20 miles to find a restaurant), but there are clean, comfortable cabins at reasonable rates, and Murph’s Landing serves cold beverages nearby. If hot water and cold beer aren’t enough, there’s plenty of open space to get away from the everyday noise of the city life.

sleeping buffalo hot springs
Are you ready to unwind? Well, you’ve come to the right place. Photo: Courtesy of Sleeping Buffalo Hot Springs

Just down the road, Bowdoin National Wildlife Refuge is home to over 15,000 protected acres of native mixed-grass prairie, wetland and migratory bird habitat in the Milk River Valley. The refuge attracts migrating waterfowl and shorebirds by the thousands and provides breeding and nesting habitat for ducks, geese, grassland songbirds and colonial nesting water birds. As a result, it also attracts wildlife watchers and photographers.

Just a bit farther east is perhaps the country’s most overlooked and under-fished fishery: the 134-mile long Fort Peck Reservoir. Here, there are over 1,520 miles of shoreline (more than the California coast), resulting from a 3.8-mile-long dam across the Missouri River. The lake produces many trophy walleye, northern pike, paddlefish, sauger, lake trout, small mouth bass and chinook salmon for determined anglers – if you’re into fishing, you need to fish Fort Peck!

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Just breathe, and take it all in. Photo: Courtesy of Visit Montana

Of course, with that much water, there’s more than enough room for watersports, and the Fort Peck area has multiple places to pick up rentals. There’s plenty of lake to go around.

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