Backpacking in Montana: TOP 5 Multi-Day Trails

Ultralight Backpacking in Montana: A hiker ascending a steep trail in Glacier National Park

In this post, we'll take a look at:

Backpacking in Montana offers immense variety for outdoor enthusiasts, from the rugged peaks of Glacier National Park to the windswept prairies of the Great Plains, including popular destinations like the Bob Marshall Wilderness.

And that’s what this post is all about – backpacking in Montana. We’ll provide tips to help you prepare for backpacking in this diverse state as well as showcase the TOP 5 multi-day trails in Montana.

Interested? Let’s get started.

Key Tips for Backpacking in Montana

  • What to expect: Montana has beautiful scenery and wildlife. There are rugged mountains, clear alpine lakes, meadows filled with wildflowers, and dense forests. The trails vary from well-kept to more basic and challenging. The weather can be unpredictable, with cold nights even in the summer.
  • Essential gear: Make sure to bring a water filter or purification tablets for lakes and streams. Don’t forget important items like navigation tools, a first aid kit, bear spray, bug repellent, and sun protection. If you’re camping in the backcountry, especially in bear-heavy areas like Glacier National Park, you’ll need a bear-resistant food canister.
  • Wildlife: Montana’s trails are home to a variety of potentially dangerous wildlife species that hikers need to be alert for, including bears, mountain lions, bison, moose, rattlesnakes, wolves, and ticks. Bears, including grizzlies, black bears, and wolf packs roam Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks. Bison and moose also inhabit the parks and can charge if threatened. Rattlesnakes are common in the grasslands and forests. Ticks can transmit harmful diseases.
  • Wild camping in Montana is allowed in certain areas but comes with restrictions. National forests generally permit dispersed backcountry camping, though national parks like Glacier and Yellowstone only allow camping in designated backcountry sites with permits. State forests and parks along with private lands typically prohibit camping outside of developed campgrounds. If you’re determined to go wild camping, don’t forget to take a look at our post on stealth camping.
  • Best times to go are late spring to early fall. In late spring, you can see pretty wildflowers, but there might still be snow in higher places. Summer is great for warm weather, but watch out for afternoon thunderstorms and big crowds. Early fall has nice temperatures and colorful leaves.

Top 5 Backpacking Trails in Montana

In our opinion, these are the best multi-day trails Montana has to offer:

1. Red Eagle Lake via Pitamakan Pass and Triple Divide Trail

Saint Mary Lake, a sparkling turquoise alpine lake ringed by rugged snow-capped peaks, sits peacefully under a bright blue Montana sky

Length: 30.8 mi / 49.6 km
Type: Out and back
Difficulty: Hard
Elevation Gain: 5606 ft / 1709 m
Location: Glacier National Park
Estimated Hiking Calorie Burn: 7680 calories
More Details: See on AllTrails

This strenuous 30-mile out-and-back trail to Triple Divide Pass in Glacier National Park is only for experienced backpackers. The rewarding 14+ hour, steep route along streams and past alpine lakes leads to sweeping summit views, wildlife sightings, and wilderness campsites. Though demanding, especially with full packs, the magnificent scenery of glaciated peaks and flower-filled meadows makes this classic Glacier backpacking trail unforgettable. Permit to camp overnight in the wilderness required.

2. Lamar River Trail

A vivid orange and pink sunset casts a glowing light over the wide open grasslands of Lamar Valley in Yellowstone National Park

Length: 32.9 mi / 52.9 km
Type: Out and back
Difficulty: Hard
Elevation Gain: 3605 ft / 1099 m
Location: Yellowstone National Park
Estimated Hiking Calorie Burn: 8200 calories
More Details: See on AllTrails

Trek through vast wildflower-strewn meadows and forested river valleys on this demanding 33-mile out-and-back trail near West Yellowstone. Prepare for panoramic views of Yellowstone’s mountain peaks and plunging canyons as you traverse this route, which takes most hikers over 13 hours to complete.

Keep your eyes peeled for Yellowstone’s famous wildlife as you hike, including great herds of bison grazing on the grassy hillsides and lone pronghorn antelope bounding through the sagebrush. Listen for the telltale chirping of ground squirrels and songs of meadowlarks. And be bear aware – this trail passes through prime grizzly habitat. Carry bear spray and make noise to avoid surprise encounters. A fee is required to enter Yellowstone National Park.

3. North Circle Loop

Surrounded by towering pines and jagged mountain peaks, the pristine turquoise waters of Lake Josephine mirror the rugged beauty of Glacier National Park in northwestern Montana

Length: 50.4 mi / 81.1 km
Type: Point to point
Difficulty: Hard
Elevation Gain: 10 826 ft / 3300 m
Location: Glacier National Park
Estimated Hiking Calorie Burn: 12 500 calories
More Details: See on AllTrails

This challenging 50-mile loop through Glacier’s stunning Many Glacier region rewards backpackers with alpine vistas, glacial lakes, and wildlife sightings. Traverse high passes, hike through flower-filled valleys, and spend nights at scenic backcountry campsites on this 2 to 5-day adventure. From the rocky Swiftcurrent Pass to the historic Granite Park Chalet, the variety of terrain showcases Glacier’s best. With proper precautions for bears and routefinding in remote sections, the rewards of this iconic backpacking trip will last a lifetime.

4. Chinese Wall Trail

Ringed by dense conifer forests and craggy granite peaks, the crystalline blue waters of Big Salmon Lake stretch out serenely under the big sky backdrop of the Bob Marshall Wilderness in northwest Montana

Troy Smith, CC BY-SA 2.0, via flickr

Length: 53.5 mi / 86 km
Type: Point to point
Difficulty: Hard
Elevation Gain: 7814 ft / 2382 m
Location: Bob Marshall Wilderness
Estimated Hiking Calorie Burn: 13 300 calories
More Details: See on AllTrails

This demanding 54-mile point-to-point trail near Augusta, Montana leads through scenic mountain landscapes to the remote Chinese Wall in the Bob Marshall Wilderness. Expect challenging terrain, scenic vistas, wildlife sightings, and dispersed backcountry campsites on this multi-day hike, which takes experienced backpackers over 24 hours. While the trail can be crowded at times, the sweeping views and pristine wilderness at the Chinese Wall make this a premier Montana backpacking adventure. Proper preparation for limited water sources in sections and respect for the terrain are key.

5. Bangtail Divide Loop

Rising majestically above the pine forests and grassy meadows of Paradise Valley, the snow-dusted pyramid peak of Emigrant Peak towers over Yellowstone National Park and the Custer Gallatin National Forest in southern Montana

Length: 30.9 mi / 49.7 km
Type: Loop
Difficulty: Hard
Elevation Gain: 4284 ft / 1306 m
Location: Custer Gallatin National Forest
Estimated Hiking Calorie Burn: 7700 calories
More Details: See on AllTrails

This scenic 31-mile loop near Bozeman rewards hikers with alpine lakes, waterfalls, and panoramic mountain vistas. The challenging terrain with steep switchbacks takes most hikers over 13 hours to complete but makes for a memorable day hike or overnight trip. While a popular route for its stunning views of the Gallatin Range, quiet moments can be found during the week and earlier in the day. Bring bear spray and plenty of water as you explore this iconic hiking trail near Bozeman. The variety of mountain landscapes encapsulates the beauty of the Montana outdoors.

Annual Weather Averages

Montana’s weather varies across seasons:

  • Spring (March-May): Daytime highs range from 40-70°F, with the possibility of snow at higher elevations in March. Wildflowers bloom, and conditions can be variable.
  • Summer (June-August): Warm temperatures prevail, with daytime highs averaging 70-90°F. However, be cautious of afternoon thunderstorms, especially in mountainous areas.
  • Fall (September-November): Daytime highs range from 40-75°F, with cooler temperatures at night. Fall foliage is vibrant, especially in higher elevations.
  • Winter (December-February): Colder conditions with daytime highs around 20-40°F and nighttime lows in the teens and 20s°F. Snow is common, particularly in the mountains, creating opportunities for winter activities.

Before making your gear selection, take a look at the weather statistics for Montana (Missoula):

High °F333950586775868573584231
Low °F182128334047515042322517
Rain/Snow (D*)767799555688
Note: This table is approximate; weather can change with altitude.
D* – Days of rain or snow.

Alternative Backpacking Destinations

Not sure if Montana is right for you?

Don’t forget to check out our backpacking guides for Idaho and Washington.


Can I have a campfire while backpacking in Montana? 

When backpacking in Montana, be aware that campfires are limited. In most areas, you can only have fires in established fire rings in specific campgrounds, not in backcountry sites. Some places don’t allow fires at all because of the high risk of wildfires. Instead of fires, use portable stoves for cooking.

What are some safety tips for backpacking in Montana?

When embarking on a backpacking adventure in the beautiful but remote wild areas of Montana, proper preparation and caution are essential. Before leaving the trailhead, check in with land agencies about trail conditions and download maps to stay oriented while exploring nature far from cell service. Pack essential gear like a warm sleeping bag, backpacking stove, navigation tools, and extra food and water. Make noise and stay alert for wildlife like bears on the trail and always carry EPA-approved bear spray, knowing how to use it safely. Follow rules on proper food storage away from camps at night to avoid confrontations. Hiking with others, sharing trip plans, and frequently checking weather will help you travel safely and respectfully through Montana’s majestic landscape. With the right gear and responsible practices, backpackers can enjoy immersing themselves in the scenic wonder of Big Sky Country.

How to deal with wildlife encounters while backpacking in Montana?

When you come across wildlife in Montana, the best thing to do is keep your distance and avoid interacting. Make noise on the trail to avoid surprising bears, moose, or other animals. Stay alert and don’t get too close for photos. Learn how to use bear spray in case of an attack and when to stand your ground or back away slowly. If you encounter a bear, move out of its way calmly without running. Pay attention to signs like antler rubs and droppings, indicating mountain lion territory. Never feed or chase wildlife. Report aggressive animals to rangers.

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Why you should trust us

At Hikinglite, we're all about helping you hit the trails with lightweight and ultralight outdoor gear that won't weigh you down. Our crew of content creators? Real outdoor enthusiasts who've logged countless miles on the trails.

Leading the pack is our editor-in-chief, Alex Jardine – an ultralight evangelist who's hiked over 10,000 trail miles across the globe. He's basically a walking outdoor encyclopedia. This dude loves testing out the latest and greatest products, so you can trust his recommendations are always well-informed and reliable.

We treat all our suggestions like advice from close trail buddies. No fluff, just real insights from folks who live and breathe the outdoor life.

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