There's no denying that Montana is jam-packed with enough to see and do to keep you busy for days on end, but the fun doesn't have to stop when the sun sets. It's one of the better states for observing the night sky as well! Its northern location, clear and clean air, and relative lack of light pollution allow the stars to shine bright across the state. And, if you keep your eyes peeled, you might be able to spot rare phenomena that you can't observe everywhere-- like the Northern Lights and the Milky Way.
"Big Sky" means plenty of room for the stars to shine! Basically, no matter where you are in Montana, you're pretty much guaranteed to get an awesome view of the night sky and all it has to offer. But, if you're looking for a prime place to set up your telescope, then head to Lost Trail Pass, on the Montana/Idaho border. It's 7,000 feet above sea level, giving you a sweeping, panoramic, and totally unobstructed view of the stars. Or head to Missoula, also near the Idaho border, for views of the impressive mountains backlit by the glittering stars. Hyalite Canyon is another sweet spot for stargazing. Just outside Bozeman, it's secluded enough to allow you to see the night sky in all its glory without having to drive hours into the wilderness. Camp out at the canyon to make it an all-night adventure!
When most people think of the Northern Lights, they think way north-- like Canada, Alaska, or Scandinavia-- but what many people don't realize is that, on occasion, you can spot the magical phenomenon as far south as Montana! Bozeman is a great spot for Aurora-spotting, and it allows you the convenience of a town nearby, so you're not totally stuck out in the cold. Bozeman is hardly the only place to see the Aurora in Montana; you can spy it just outside Billings and Kalispell, as well. And, just when you thought Glacier National Park couldn't get any prettier, imagine seeing it illuminated by bright ribbons of color dancing across the night sky. Some tips for Northern Lights hunting in Montana: winter, late fall and early spring are the best times for experiencing the phenomenon, usually around midnight or 1 AM. Facing north and staking out a spot in an area with little light pollution gives you the best chance to see some action, and remember to bundle up, because it might be chilly!
The Beartooth Highway is one of the best places to see beyond the stars-- into the furthest reaches of our galaxy. Drive the scenic route at sunset to reach the top of the road just as the night sky begins to settle over the state. You'll be well above the treeline for a perfect, unobstructed view of the Milky Way. Clear nights will offer a view of the swirling band of light that makes up our home galaxy-- something that only the darkest skies in our country can offer. The Bitterroot Valley also has plenty of epic stargazing that will offer views of the Milky Way. Or, if you're feeling super ambitious, hike Sinopah Mountain near Two Medicine Lake in Glacier National Park to get up close and personal with the galaxy. The view is out of this world!
Header via Flickr/GlacierNPS