things to do outdoors
Glacier Country is known for big blue skies and endless views, but the adventure overhead doesn’t end when the sun goes down. Jaw-dropping starry nights are part of Montana’s allure because light pollution is at a minimum out here. In fact, Glacier National Park is internationally recognized as a Dark Sky Park, but you’ll find some of the country’s best stargazing throughout Western Montana. Discover observatories across the region and plenty of places to camp and stargaze, or just lay out a blanket and explore the cosmos in awe. It’s not hard to spot the Milky Way out here, and, if the stars align, you may even see the northern lights.
The Crown Jewel of America's Rails to Trails, enjoy 15 downhill miles through 10 tunnels and over 7 high trestles. Shuttle and rental bikes available.
Glacier National Park is one of 26 parks to be internationally recognized as a Dark Sky Park and the first park to span an international border—the designation extending into the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park.
At the east entrance to Glacier National Park sits St. Mary and the St. Mary Observatory. This Star Dome is equipped with a 20-inch telescope, one of the largest telescopes in the National Park Service and the largest in Montana, which gives visitors high-resolution views of planets, galaxies and nebulae. If you're not looking through the telescope you can view the images on one of two 55-inch monitors mounted on the observatory. The Half the Park Happens After Dark program hosts guided viewing and star parties June through September on clear nights at rotating locations.
The Payne Family Native American Center, located on the University of Montana campus in Missoula, includes the Star Gazing Room which hosts celestial stargazing shows open to the public. Learn about the constellations, planets and upcoming celestial events. Each show will also cover a unique topic from star lore of different cultures to the evolution of our universe.
Just outside Missoula, the Blue Mountain Observatory sits atop Blue Mountain at an elevation of 6,300 feet. It's about a 45-minute drive from the heart of downtown Missoula, a perfect distance from town resulting in minimal light pollution. Attend a public observation night to explore planets, star clusters, distant galaxies and nebulae. You'll also learn how to spot celestial objects with binoculars or the naked eye. Bring a blanket and bundle up—a treasure trove of stars and sweeping views of the Milky Way await. Be sure to make a reservation ahead of time and know before you go—driving on a narrow dirt road at night may not be in everyone's comfort zone.
Here's a Dark Sky Destinations map of Montana for further reference.
Stay in your own geodome just outside Glacier National Park at Clear Sky Resorts with epic views of Glacier's magical, starry night sky. Clear Sky Resorts offers a luxury sky dome experience and stargazing trip of a lifetime.
When the earth's magnetic field has been energized from solar events it will send charged electrons toward the poles. These collide with the upper atmosphere and produce light that we call the northern lights or aurora borealis. You can sometimes view the northern lights from the northern parts of Western Montana. Glacier National Park (Lake McDonald, Looking Glass Road, Bowman and Kintla lakes, Polebridge), the Northwest Corridor and the East Glacier Corridor are prime viewing areas. For a picture-perfect experience, head to Glacier National Park, or travel just a bit out of town on one of our scenic corridors. Northern lights are most active between September and March.
Taking in the Western Montana landscape by the light of a full moon is a surreal experience. Find information on upcoming full moons here.
Big Sky Astronomy Club in Kalispell hosts public events and offers stargazing information and online tools.
Western Montana Astronomical Association in Missoula provides a Clear Sky Chart of the area and other helpful stargazing resources.
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