Western Montana’s Glacier Country is a traveler’s dream—offering tour options that’ll excite every type of group traveler. Home to stunning natural wonders like Glacier National Park and Flathead Lake, the region holds millions of acres of pristine Rocky Mountain terrain, blue-ribbon trout streams, two American Indian reservations, and over 75 charming small-town communities in eight counties.
Tour operators planning a trip to Western Montana will find the area rich in student tour options, stargazing locations, arts and culture venues, and sightseeing opportunities.
For tour operators seeking a destination beyond crowded urban settings for student groups, Western Montana’s Glacier Country is the place to go. Outdoor adventures and learning opportunities give students real-life experiences they’ll cherish for a lifetime.
Glacier National Park is a top stop for student groups. The park’s more than 1 million acres are home to intact ecosystems and some of the darkest night skies in the world. Students can join in on stargazing parties at Logan Pass or participate in ranger-led activities within the park, like guided walks and hikes. Tour operators can also work with the Glacier Institute, which offers a wide range of guided hikes, camps, and educational programs for all ages and abilities.
Climate change is another topic that student groups can explore in Western Montana. The University of Montana in Missoula utilizes the Wild Rockies Field Institute to offer educational climate change programming. Or, students can visit Lubrecht Experimental Forest, east of Missoula, to learn how climate change affects forests.
For operators planning student service trips, Glacier Country has an abundance of options. Meaningful volunteer experiences allow students to connect with the region on an entirely different level. The city of Missoula alone has more than 1,200 registered nonprofits, which is more per capita than any other city in the U.S.—so opportunities are plentiful. Volunteer experiences can include clearing trails at a state park or forest, providing music lessons to underprivileged children, or helping at one of the two American Indian reservations in the region, while also learning about Indigenous culture.
Other student activities can include performances (both watching them and performing themselves), whitewater rafting, fly-fishing lessons, and biking, just to name a few.
By day, Glacier Country offers seemingly endless blue skies, and at night those clear skies fill with stars—offering jaw-dropping views. It is not tough to spot the Milky Way, and, on some evenings, visitors might even see the famed northern lights dancing across the horizon. Glacier National Park is internationally recognized as a Dark Sky Park, but groups can find starry views all across Western Montana.
On clear nights, the Blue Mountain Observatory, just outside Missoula, is a great spot to view planets, galaxies, and nebula. Astronomers from the University of Montana enjoy connecting with visitors to share what folks are seeing through the telescopes, discuss current discoveries, point out constellations, and demonstrate how to find interesting celestial objects with the naked eye or a pair of binoculars.
The Payne Family Native American Center on the University of Montana campus in Missoula includes a Star Gazing Room, which hosts celestial stargazing shows open to the public and for private group events.
Educational programs from the National Park Service like “Half the Park Happens After Dark” provide Glacier National Park visitors an opportunity to take in the awe-inspiring sky with sophisticated telescopes. These ranger-guided talks help stargazers zero in on the cosmos while learning about how Montana tribes looked to the sky to guide their seasonal movements.
Arts and culture
With so much natural beauty and outdoor fun, it can be easy to overlook Western Montana’s robust arts and culture scene. Glacier Country’s communities are home to artists, galleries, and many cultural experiences.
Groups can visit the town of Hamilton to see the Daly Mansion, the 24,000-square-foot home of copper baron Marcus Daly. Tours detail Daly’s life and showcase his extravagant home.
American Indian culture and traditions are present throughout the region. The Museum of the Plains Indian on the Blackfeet Reservation in Browning and Three Chiefs Cultural Center on the Flathead Reservation in St. Ignatius are two must-stop locations. The Museum of the Plains Indian displays clothing, weapons, and many other artifacts from regional tribes, while special exhibitions feature contemporary American Indian artists. Three Chiefs Cultural Center is a place to experience the rich cultures of the Salish, Kootenai, and Pend d’Oreille tribes. Ninepipes Museum of Early Montana in Charlo is another great opportunity to see how the tribes and early settlers were able to work together and create community
Other itinerary stops can include Historic St. Mary’s Mission in Stevensville, Missoula Art Museum, Missoula Smokejumper Visitor Center, Conrad Mansion Museum and Northwest Montana History Museum in Kalispell, Lewis and Clark Historic Sites, and the Historical Museum at Fort Missoula.
Whitefish and Bigfork boast several boutique art galleries.
Guided sightseeing tours
A guided tour led by a local expert can elevate the tour experience, especially in an expansive destination like Western Montana.
A popular tour for groups is Red Bus Tours of Glacier National Park. The park’s fleet of red buses has been providing visitors unparalleled experiences for decades; the current fleet was built by the White Motor Company between 1936 and 1939 and is as much a part of Glacier National Park as the mountains and wildlife. Scenic interpretive tours enhance the Glacier National Park experience. The buses seat 17 people each and have canvas roll-top roofs so groups can feel the fresh mountain air.
Glacier Park Boat Company offers narrated tours aboard historic, wooden vessels on one of Glacier National Park’s many lakes.
Sun Tours provides sightseeing tours mixed with cultural immersion. Sun Tours’ guides are all enrolled members of the Blackfeet Nation and tell the story from the Blackfeet perspective, explaining what the land now known as Glacier National Park has meant to them and their culture. Many of the peaks, valleys, and waterfalls are named after bygone Blackfeet tribal members.
Other sightseeing tour options include Far West Boat Tours on Flathead Lake, hiking and backpacking trips with Bitterroot Backpacking, llama trekking and horseback riding with Swan Mountain Outfitters, Taste of Missoula Food Tours, and fly-fishing with Adventure Missoula.
For more information about Glacier Country Tourism, visit glaciermt.com.
Hidden Lake, Glacier National Park
Credit: Mikey Gibbon