The recent tourism boom in Montana has brought a wide variety of lodging options to the state. Generally speaking, rooms in hotels and motels are rather expensive in the summer season and are often in short supply. Reserve rooms several days in advance, especially if you want a specific type of room or a special hotel. Especially around the national parks, but anywhere on a summer weekend, expect the lodging situation to be tight.
Prices in this guide reflect summer high season rack rates. These prices are usually for the least expensive standard room. Room prices will often change according to the night of the week (weekends may be more expensive). If you’re traveling outside high season, expect to find cheaper room rates, especially in tourist areas.
The development of the interstate system has led to clusters of chain motels around the off-ramps on the edges of towns. Better deals on lodgings are often found away from these developments, along the old arterials. Also, don’t dismiss staying at old downtown hotels. Some are renovated and reflect the splendor of yore; others, for the more daring, have survived as residential hotels. Chances are you’ll have a unique experience.
Guest Ranches and Resorts
High-end resorts have begun to spring up across the state, many with the ambience of a country lodge or guest ranch. More traditional dude and guest ranches and hot-springs resorts, many with a lengthy pedigree, abound. There’s scarcely a community in Montana now that does not offer some form of guest ranch accommodation. Some of these can be wonderfully rustic and located in beautiful rural settings, and most offer unlimited horseback riding in addition to other recreational activities. Some small guest ranches enjoy a quiet fame with a long-standing blue-chip (and even royal!) clientele. Hot-springs resorts vary from the full-blown convention-sized facilities, such as Fairmont Hot Springs, to modest mom-and-pop affairs. Some ski resorts like Big Sky and Whitefish Mountain Resort (formerly Big Mountain) have reputations that precede them. They are open year-round for hiking, fishing, and other summer activities.
Other guest ranches and resorts can be much more modest. Your rustic farm vacation might call for you to sleep in the sheep wagon. When you’re deciding on a guest ranch vacation, ask plenty of questions on the phone before booking, and make sure that you’re comfortable with the accommodations and facilities. The guest ranches and resorts recommended in this guide have each been inspected and represent good values; any of them should guarantee an enjoyable stay.
Another good source for information on guest ranches is the Montana Dude Ranchers’ Association (1627 W. Main, Ste. 434, Bozeman, MT 59715, www.montanadra.com), which can provide information on its member ranches.
Bed-and-breakfasts are found across Montana. Many are newly built and luxurious, with swimming pools, trendy New West decor, and hot tubs; others are located in historic homes or buildings and provide a wonderfully evocative insight into the Old West.
If you are among those people leery of B&Bs or have had bad experiences at homestays where it was too much like staying in the back bedroom under Aunt Lulu’s watchful eye, rest assured that all of the B&Bs listed in this guide have been personally inspected and are heartily recommended. Another good source for information on quality B&Bs is the Montana Bed and Breakfast Association (www.mtbba.com), a self-policing membership organization whose accommodations are inspected and approved according to a rigorous standard of requirements. These standards provide for the highest degree of cleanliness, convenience, and comfort for the traveler and are regulated with regular inspections by the association.
Camping and Rv Parks
If you’re at all inclined toward camping, bring along your gear and head out to the wilds of Montana. Western Montana is especially well-endowed with public campgrounds in national forests and state parks. Tent campers need to plan ahead in other parts of the state if they want formal campsites, because public campgrounds thin out on the prairies. Ask to camp in town parks; the locals will be glad to have their parks appreciated. RV campers will find campgrounds in most towns. Fees in public campgrounds usually range from free to $17; privately owned campgrounds charge $10–30 per night (most have rudimentary facilities for tent campers).
In between a motel and a campground are Forest Service cabins and lookouts, which are rustic accommodations generally with outhouses and without bedding or cooking utensils. They normally rent for $25–50 per night. Contact the USDA Forest Service, Northern Region Office, 200 E. Broadway, Missoula, MT 59802, 406/329-3511, www.fs.fed.us/r1, for a cabin directory.
© W.C. McRae & Judy Jewell from Moon Montana, 7th Edition