Lonely Planet just named Montana one of the best places to travel to in 2024.
I was born and raised in Helena, the state's capital. I've been exploring Montana for years.
From Glacier National Park to a mermaid-themed dive bar, here are five things to do when you visit.
Lonely Planet, a leader in the travel industry best known for its blue-spined guidebooks, just released its annual Best in Travel report.
The expansive analysis ranked the best cities, regions, and countries to visit next year, as well as the best places to go based on factors like sustainability and value. While seeing Montana make the list may come as a surprise to some, to me — a Montana native — the state's designation is a no-brainer.
I grew up in Helena, Montana's capital, and am thrilled to see my home listed among places like Tuscany, Italy, and Southern Thailand. I've spent years exploring the Big Sky state, and have a few recommendations for people wanting to visit a must-see travel destination.
From the quirky (a mermaid-themed dive bar) to the classic (Glacier National Park), here are my can't-miss picks for a trip to Montana.
I think everyone should see Glacier National Park at least once in their lifetime.
Located in northwestern Montana, Glacier National Park is one of my favorite parts of the state.
I think it's one of the most beautiful places the state has to offer, with soaring mountains, winding rivers, and, as the name suggests, glaciers — for now.
But if you go, be sure to plan your trip well in advance. Its new booking system can be challenging to navigate and slots are coveted, so a trip to Glacier requires some foresight.
Grab a cocktail and meet mermaids at the Sip 'n Dip Lounge in Great Falls.
The bar, located in Great Falls, is one of Montana's most renowned dives — so much so that it was named the Campiest Place on Earth by The New York Times.
A window behind the bar looks directly into a swimming pool, which is part of the hotel on the property. Add real-life mermaids to the pool, and you've got yourself a Montana institution: The Sip 'n Dip Lounge.
Every afternoon, a professional mermaid arrives for a shift at the pool and spends a few hours swimming and doing tricks for guests. If you find yourself in Great Falls, the Sip 'n Dip is a must-visit.
Eat ice cream at the Big Dipper, a local staple.
The Big Dipper, with locations in Helena, Missoula, and Billings, is arguably some of the best ice cream in the state.
Unique flavors like yellow cake, cardamom, and black licorice make the Big Dipper a must-visit all year round. Any time my family and I go out to eat in downtown Helena, it's virtually guaranteed we'll stop for a cone afterward.
The place is so popular that the line is typically long — sometimes even in the colder months — but it's worth the wait.
Admire the Garden of One Thousand Buddhas.
If you're staying in Missoula and looking for something to do outside of town, visit the Garden of One Thousand Buddhas.
A roughly 30-minute drive from Missoula, the site is a public park, botanical garden, and Buddhist center replete with — you guessed it — 1,000 hand-cast Buddha statues, according to its website.
While Montana naturally serves as a respite from the hustle of big-city life, I've found that the garden can help you lean further into slowing down. Taking a walk through the park and admiring the surrounding nature and statues is an unexpected joy.
"The purpose of the garden is to bring about positive transformation within those who visit, in response to the negativity that abounds in the world today," the site reads.
Try fast-casual Brazilian food at Five on Black.
I would liken my first time eating at Five on Black to a spiritual experience.
The restaurant, a chain with locations in Missoula, Bozeman, and Great Falls, serves up Brazilian street food, with menu items like Brazilian stew and coconut-roasted sweet potato.
Think of it like a Chipotle or Sweetgreen, where you choose from a slew of side and main dishes to put over a bed of rice or salad — except better. The flavors mix spicy and sweet, smoky and zesty, to create a mix that you might not expect to find in a mostly rural state like Montana.
It's become such a staple in my visits home that I plan to eat there at least once while visiting family — and the nearest location is more than an hour away.
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