Montana’s Hidden Gems: 5 Mountain Ranges Off the Beaten Track

Montana’s rugged moun­tains are no secret but a few ranges steal all the glo­ry. While every­one should make a trip to Yel­low­stone and Glac­i­er, the state is loaded with oppor­tu­ni­ties to explore off the beat­en track in moun­tains that see less traf­fic but remain wild and filled with trea­sures.

Mission Mountains1. Mis­sion Moun­tains
Take a dri­ve between Mis­soula and the pop­u­lar Flat­head Lake and the Mis­sion Val­ley will leave you in awe. The val­ley is home to won­der­ful stops like the Gar­den of 100 Bud­dhas in Arlee and the Nation­al Bison Range just out­side of Char­lo. The moun­tains, how­ev­er, are hard to miss and they cre­ate a dra­mat­ic back­drop of rugged peaks that jump straight up from the val­ley floor. While no short­age of cars pass­es through the val­ley, the moun­tains them­selves are less vis­it­ed. The hikes are steep and griz­zly bears are preva­lent but the moun­tain lakes and trails are well worth the trip.

Cabinet Mountains2. Cab­i­net Moun­tains
Tucked in the remote north­west cor­ner of the state, the Cab­i­net Moun­tains sit at a low­er base ele­va­tion than any oth­er range in the state but they rise sharply with the high­est point, Snow­shoe Peak, sit­ting at 8,634 ft. The lush Koote­nai Clark Fork Riv­er val­ley offers raft­ing, fish­ing and spec­tac­u­lar views of the moun­tains as a back­drop. Head into the thick tim­ber and you will find trails that are shared with tro­phy white­tail deer, elk, bears, and moose. After walk­ing through the low­land cedar and fir forests, the high alpine zones are scat­tered with lakes, streams and moun­tain goats cling­ing to the cliff walls. Con­sid­er trekking the Cab­i­net Divide trail to real­ly expe­ri­ence every­thing this range offers.

Mount Baldy3. Big Belts
North-Cen­tral Mon­tana has sev­er­al moun­tain ranges that rise above the plains, cre­at­ing island-like refuges for wildlife and wilder­ness. The Big Belts are one of these incred­i­ble places and the out-there loca­tion means they see much less traf­fic than oth­er pop­u­lar moun­tains like the Gal­latin Range. While pop­u­lar with hunters in the fall, the miles of trails that nav­i­gate for­est ser­vice lands makes this a great place to escape. Sum­mits like Big Baldy climb over 9,000 feet and you can expect to have pri­va­cy while explor­ing the beau­ti­ful back­coun­try. The dri­ve through rur­al farm­lands where pheas­ants and deer dart across dirt roads is a bonus en route to the trail­head.

Gravelly Range4. Tobac­co Roots
South­west Mon­tana is a major des­ti­na­tion and places like the Madi­son and Gal­latin val­leys see fair­ly heavy foot traf­fic from hik­ers and tourists. The great thing about this region, how­ev­er, is the numer­ous oth­er moun­tain ranges worth vis­it­ing. The Grav­el­ly Range sits oppo­site of the Madi­son Range and is well worth explor­ing. The Tobac­co Roots are also sit­u­at­ed in this area and they fly under the radar. From the road, the moun­tains are not all that impres­sive, espe­cial­ly con­sid­er­ing they are often over­shad­owed by big peaks in the Madi­son Val­ley. Dri­ve up one of the long dirt roads into the tree­line and Nation­al For­est lands how­ev­er and a dif­fer­ent world awaits. The Tobac­co Roots are rich with trails, streams, lakes, and peaks. They are also a lit­tle less Griz­zly than the sur­round­ing ranges, mak­ing them attrac­tive if you want an area with less bear den­si­ty. Hol­low­top Moun­tain sits at 10,604 ft, offer­ing views of sev­er­al val­leys and moun­tains in south­west Mon­tana from the peak.

Sweetgrass Hills5. Sweet­grass Hills
The Rocky Moun­tain Front is essen­tial­ly the east­ern slope of the Rocky Moun­tains in north­ern Mon­tana. Small towns like Augus­ta and Choteau are scat­tered along the plains where the Rock­ies drop into the prairie. The views here are big and on a clear day, you can see a long-dis­tance across the plains. Look to the north and a set of small hills are often vis­i­ble on the hori­zon. These are the Sweet­grass Hills and although they look small from Chotaeu or even Con­rad, the hills are a large expanse of grass­land moun­tains sit­u­at­ed on the Cana­di­an bor­der. The peaks are called Buttes and they are more stren­u­ous to climb than the ini­tial appear­ance from a dis­tance. Com­posed pri­mar­i­ly of grass­lands, they also have pock­ets of tim­ber and are rich with wildlife. Elk, deer, and ante­lope are all pro­lif­ic. Pub­lic lands are avail­able but knock­ing on doors for per­mis­sion to cross pri­vate prop­er­ty opens a ton of excel­lent, unpop­u­lat­ed ground to explore.