Packing Tips for a Summer Vacation in Montana with Kids
Montana conjures up a rugged, untamed and quintessentially natural image. A state with both sharp mountain peaks and flat prairie lands where tumbleweeds lope along the broad plains.
We are known appropriately as both Big Sky country where the blue sky is seemingly endless and The Last Best Place which is a cherished expression that describes the millions of untouched and unspoiled acres of land. We are a place where dinosaurs once roamed and Lewis and Clark explored, where dreams and endless possibilities are still entwined. Glacier National Park and Yellowstone National Park grace our boundaries with their majestic beauty and the Continental Divide crosses and forms the backbone of the Rocky Mountain Front.
People live in Montana to take advantage of the outdoors and the year-round recreation offered, to simply enjoy the amazing quality of life. Every year thousands of tourists travel around the world to visit, to experience the great outdoors unsurpassed with its glory.
Although we have amazing winter activities, generally most people will visit late spring through early fall. These are the prime months to explore the national parks, fish world-class streams and enjoy a stroll through a well-preserved ghost town.
In addition, kids age 10 or in fourth grade and their families can receive a voucher for a free pass to any national park! Montana has eight national parks, approximately 10 national natural landmarks, and 26 national historical landmarks. The program, called Every Kid in a Park, began this year on September 1, 2015 and runs until August 30, 2016. This pass makes it even more affordable to bring your family to Montana!
Now that you have decided this is the year to visit Montana, you may be wondering what to pack. It is widely known that our weather can be as unpredictable as a grizzly bear. It is not uncommon to experience all four seasons within a single afternoon in the middle of summer! Yes, blizzards are known to sweep through suddenly in July or a heat wave in April. To enjoy your vacation, especially with children, it is best to be prepared for all kinds of weather. I am often asked by my guests what to pack for Montana so I decided to compile a list of the most needed items to make your vacation as enjoyable as possible.
What to Pack for a Montana Summer Vacation with Kids
People in Montana are pretty laid-back and not too fussy when it comes to style. It’s more about practicality and less about flash. You know you are at a formal event when people are decked out in their finest black jeans and laughing over a glass of locally brewed craft beer.
In all seriousness, don’t fret about bringing resort style clothes. Leave that for the cruise ships. Generally a visit to Montana means you will be spending a lot of time outdoors and layering will be your best bet to accommodate the changing weather conditions.
Mornings and evenings are almost always cool even in the middle of summer. I recommend packing hiking shorts and short sleeved shirts as well as long pants (the kind you can convert to capris or shorts are awesome), jeans, and long-sleeved shirts. Clothing made out of quick-dry material is optimal as cotton stays wet forever. A lot of great clothing can be found at REI. In fact, Montanans tend to dress as if they are REI catalogue models. For women, a comfy packable dress is the perfect way to fit in like a local.
By all means bring a waterproof jacket! My family loves the 3-in-1 Triclimate jackets by NorthFace and we use them year round. They are the perfect layering jacket as they can be a simple waterproof shell, a light jacket to keep the chill off or used all together to pack more punch against really cold weather. Finally, don’t forget to pack a pair of long underwear, warm pajamas, a pair of gloves, a wide-brimmed hat to keep the sun off your face, a bathing suit, and sunglasses.
Comfy, comfy, comfy is the motto here. I highly recommend bringing a good pair of walking shoes to explore the urban areas and waterproof hiking shoes once you get up into the mountains. Water shoes are also necessary, especially for the little ones, as you will undoubtedly visit a stream, river or lake. Make sure you bring socks that don’t slip and slide in your shoes! Socks like Smartwool really work best in our neck of the woods.
Unfortunately, Montana is not immune to ticks or mosquitoes and the occasional horse fly that has a bite packed with a punch. Bringing bug repellent will help make you more comfortable against these little annoyances. Ticks in Montana can carry Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. Although not terribly common, keep a watch out for any fevers that develop after a tick bite and seek medical attention if you fall ill after being bitten.
Our high elevation also means that you are at a higher risk of exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays. Skin burns easily even on cloudy days and can feel dry due to our semiarid climate. Pack plenty of sunscreen with high SPF to protect you, lotion to keep your skin moisturized and lip balm to help prevent chapped lips. Other basics items you will need are deodorant, shampoo, conditioner, clippers, small scissors and toothpaste. I also recommend non-scented toiletries to prevent attracting wildlife.
A basic first aid kit is great to have on hand. I keep one in my car and when we hike I have one for my backpack. Many size kits are available at Target or your local sporting goods store. No need to go all out with a kit stocked better than a local emergency room. Not only are they heavy to lug around, most of the time a topical antibiotic and bandage are what is necessary.
If you even remotely plan on doing some back-country hiking, I recommend you bring bear spray. I carry it, especially in Glacier National Park. Fortunately, I have never had to use it. But as the saying goes, it’s best to be prepared.
Many people come to Montana to spend at least a night or two camping. If you are not an experienced camper, I recommend going to a sporting goods store and talking to someone about what you will need to have an enjoyable time outdoors. If you will be camping, look into a decent all-season tent with a rain fly to protect you from wet weather (and bugs) and you will need a sleeping bag rated to a least 30° F, if not warmer.
An absolute must when camping is a bear proof box to put your belongings in. The last thing you want is a four-legged visitor rummaging through your things. Also, you can be fined for not storing food and toiletries properly when camping.
Don’t forget a flashlight, extra batteries and any other basic survival gear you may need in an emergency while out in the wild. Oftentimes cell service is at best spotty and often non-existent so a topographic map is a good idea to have on hand.
Recommendation: You will find Hilton hotels throughout Montana. All offer superb lodging and are the perfect base to explore all that Montana offers.
You may also enjoy:
- Glacier National Park for the Day with Kids
- Top 10 Things to do in Missoula, MT for Families
- Visiting the Most Popular U.S. National Parks
- Free National Park Days in 2016
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Moving to Missoula, Montana was the best choice for Lara — she found her soulmate and loves the connection she feels to this vibrant community. Her two young…