By Trent Jonas
Western Montana is defined by the Rocky Mountains, while Eastern Montana’s sweeping plains and grasslands let everyone know why it’s known as the Big Sky State. And there’s no better way to enjoy all the nature under that Big Sky than to celebrate it with a crowd of other like-minded folks. These are our favorite outdoor festivals in Montana.
At the end of each June, the Gallatin River Task Force celebrates the sport of fly fishing as well as conservation of its namesake river with the Gallatin River Fly Fishing Festival. Learn about the species that inhabit the Gallatin and what can be done to preserve their habitat—as well as ways to catch them. Fly fishing and tying clinics, as well as seminars and contests take place over the three festival days. A big thanks to Gallatin River Guides, Lone Mountain Ranch, Yellow Dog Flyfishing Adventures, and Wildwood Nursery for chipping in their efforts to make this event possible.
Every September, the Flathead DragonFlies host the Montana Dragon Boat Festival on the relatively-flat waters of Flathead Lake in the northwest corner of the state. In addition to several races, including kids’ events, there are also shoreside parties and performances, as well as other fun events like paddle board boxing. The folks at Glacier Bank, Kalispell Regional Healthcare, Fun Beverage and Toyota make the event possible.
Bikes, Brews and Blues Festivals happens during September, encompassing Memorial and Centennial Parks in Helena. In addition to music and craft brews, festival goers will also enjoy shuttles to Helena’s award-winning singletrack and camping. This awesome festival partners with Prickly Pear Land Trust and Helena Parks & Recreation.
The Flathead Valley is a natural stopping—or end—point for many of the bird species that migrate across Montana every year. And that’s why Montana Audubon hosts the Wings Across the Big Sky Bird Festival in Kalispell every June. Tours, field trips, speakers and even a silent auction will be on hand. Upper Missouri Breaks Audubon Society, Montana Land Reliance, Abbot Valley Homestead, and American Prairie Reserve help make the festival happen.
During the weekend closest to July’s full moon, folks head up to Continental Divide at Powder Mountain for the Lost Trail Fest for three days of live music, hiking, mountain biking and camping. There will also be a live art show, morning yoga, and a 300-foot slip ‘n slide at this family-friendly event.
Adrenaline-fueled paddlers wait all year long for June—and the Gallatin Whitewater Festival—to roll around. The festival brings an entire day of kayak and raft races, as well as a raffle, prizes and awards, All brought to you by the likes of Aerie Backcountry Medicine, the Mountain Project, Northern Lights Trading, and Werner Paddles .
Every August, aficionados of all things Celtic descend upon the Daly Mansion in Hamilton for the Bitterroot Celtic Games and Gathering. In addition to food, music and dancing, there are side-by-side whisky tastings—Scotch versus Irish—as well as tug-o-war, skillet tosses, herding demonstrations and classic Highland athletic competitions. Without Framers State Bank, and Bitterroot College are a huge part of this event.
Montana is—at least partially—defined by two major waterways: The Yellowstone and Missouri Rivers. And the two explorers most associated with the Missouri River, the longest in the country, are Lewis and Clark. The annual Lewis and Clark Festival in Great Falls celebrates their legacy and heritage, as well as the river they explored. Music, food, historical reenactments and demonstrations, as well as tours that follow in the explorers’ footsteps mark the days of the festival. Spectators can thank Cherry Creek Media, STARadio, the Portage Route Chapter , and many more sponsors for bringing this festival to life!
Late August brings mountain bikers to the Lost Trail section of Powder Mountain Resort for some awesome singtrack action in the Bitterroot Mountains and National Forest. Live music, shuttles to and from the trails, camping, food and, of course, beverages will make sure the weekend is awesome. The event is made possible by the Lost Trail Sli Patrol, Bitterroot Backcountry Cyclists, and Ravalli County Search and Rescue.