Two national parks fall within the Montana boundaries, Glacier and Yellowstone, but there are also a variety of beautiful state parks. 55 of them, to be exact. From fishing to hiking, there are endless opportunities to enjoy a Montana state park. Here are five unique state parks every Montana resident and tourist should see.
Pictograph Cave State Park
Designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1964, the Pictograph Cave site was a camping site of prehistoric hunters. Over multiple generations, these hunters left over 100 paintings on the rock walls of the three main caves. The oldest art in the cave is over 2,000 years old! In addition to the paintings, over 30,000 additional artifacts were found in the caves such as painting tools and weapons. Pictograph Cave State Park also has a nice easy hiking trail around the caves. It also has picnic tables available for day use.
First Peoples Buffalo Jump State Park
First Peoples Buffalo Jump is also an archeological site, but instead of a site for camping and painting, researchers believe it to be the largest bison cliff jump in North America. It is estimated that nearly 2,000 years before Lewis and Clark’s expedition through Montana, Native peoples were using this mile-long cliff as a buffalo kill site. Today, the site is home to a picnic area, a protected black tailed prairie dog town and an education center. Here visitors can learn about the Native peoples of the area and the history of the buffalo cliff jump.
Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park
Less than an hour from Butte, this state park is home to limestone caverns full of stalactites, stalagmites, columns and helictites. During the summer months, visitors can take guided tours through the caves to explore the amazing, underground geology. There are also nearly 10 miles of hiking trails as well as camp spots and cabins available for rent. While the name of this state park might suggest otherwise, Lewis and Clark did not actually discover the caverns on their expedition. They did, however, come within sight of the caverns on July 31, 1805.
Wild Horse Island State Park
Located in the middle of Flathead Lake in northwestern Montana, Wild Horse Island is a very unique state park. It is only accessible by boat and is reported to have been used by Kootenai Indians as a place to pasture horses to keep them from being stolen from other tribes. Wild horses, mule deer, bighorn sheep, bald eagles, bears and other animals all inhabit the island. Visitors can spend time exploring the island and swimming off of the shores, but no pets are allowed.
Brush Lake State Park
This state park is located on the northeastern border of Montana and is home to a 280-acre lake formed by a glacier during the Ice Age. When the glacier finally melted, the 60-foot-deep Brush Lake was created. Brush Lake is known for its clear blue water, white sandy beaches and brush surrounding. Because of the mineral build up in the lake, there are no fish. It is, however, a safe, fun place to boat, swim, picnic and camp.
Montana is Full of History
The five state parks described in this article are full of historic significance. So are the remaining 50 that are not mentioned here. From Ice Age glaciers and prehistoric hunters to Native tribes and the Lewis and Clark expedition, Montana is full of opportunities to learn about the people who came before us and how we can continue to take care of the land to pass it on to those who will come after us.
Other great historic and educational sites in the state of Montana include downtown Butte, Fort Missoula and the Moss Mansion in Billings.