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19 best things to do in Cut Bank, Montana

Prepare to shiver in the winter because Cut Bank, Montana, is often the Lower 48’s coldest spot. Some places might try to hide that status, but Cut Bank embraces it. On Cut Bank’s east end, a 27-foot-tall penguin welcomes visitors. The 10,000-pound concrete bird even announces the frigid fact. Cut Bank’s choice of iconic cold animal is ironic because Cut Bank is far closer to polar bears than penguins.

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Closeup of the Cut Bank penguin dressed in a red stocking cap and standing on a red pedestal
Cut Bank’s penguin

How Cut Bank received its name

The city’s name comes from Cut Bank Creek to its south. The Blackfeet called it “the river that cuts into the white clay bank.” 

Meriwether Lewis and the Corps of Discovery stopped twice nearby. Cut Bank celebrates the Lewis and Clark Expedition, but it also celebrates William Shakespeare. Enjoy watching the trains or cross the bridge on Amtrak’s Empire Builder to Glacier National Park. Enjoy four seasons of recreation at Lake Frances and the Blackfeet Reservation.

Here are some of the best things to do in Cut Bank.

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The city, elevation 3,773 feet, is an hour from the east side of Glacier National Park, 1.5 hours northwest of Great Falls, two hours south of Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada, and five hours northwest of Billings. The Cut Bank International Airport trained bomber groups during World War II but currently doesn’t offer commercial service. Instead, Great Falls is the nearest commercial airport.

Related: Enjoy these day trips from Billings, including Pompeys Pillar.

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Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail brown sign pointing to the fight site marker with a road in between
The Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail sign at the fight site

1-2. Meriwether Lewis’ northernmost point and fight site

During the Corps of Discovery’s return to St. Louis, Captain Meriwether Lewis and three of his men examined the Marias River drainage at the end of July 1806. Its watershed determined the northern Louisiana Purchase boundary, and Lewis intended to specify its northern location. Instead, cloudy weather defeated Lewis’s mapping attempts. Because of this, he named the campsite Camp Disappointment. The mountains are visible to the west when the skies are clear.

Two Medicine Fight Site on a hill with cloud cover above
The partial tipi marks the Two Medicine Fight Site. Interpretive panels tell both sides’ versions of the story.

Meriwether Lewis Fight Site

The Corps members next met eight members of the Blackfeet Nation. They decided to camp together. Something went wrong the next morning, and the Corps shot two Blackfeet. The Blackfeet say the Corps members lost a gamble with some boys. The sore losers shot the Blackfeet when they claimed their bets. In contrast, the Corps said the Blackfeet were thieves.

The battered base of the Camp Disappointment obelisk
The obelisk marking Camp Disappointment’s site has often suffered vandalism.

The Camp Disappointment obelisk is about 22 miles west of Cut Bank near Highway 2. The fight site marker is about 45 minutes southwest of Cut Bank at Highway 89 and Robere Road. 

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3. Follow more Indigenous history on the Blackfeet Trail Tour

The Old North Trail’s origins may extend to the now-drowned prehistoric Bering Land Bridge from Siberia. The trail extends south, but no one knows how far south it extends. The North Trail and Corps of Discovery are part of the Blackfeet Trail.

The 28-stop, 70-mile Blackfeet Trail Tour requires most of a day on paved roads. Let your mind envision the immense herds of buffalo, the oceans of grass, the endless foothills and coulees, the streams, the Indigenous camps, and buffalo drives.

Roxie’s reliable recommendation: Download this map.

US, Canadian, Montana, and Blackfeet flags fly above sculptures of Blackfeet behind the Welcome to the Blackfeet Nation
Blackfeet Nation sign (Murray Foubister/Wikimedia Commons)

4. Explore Blackfeet Reservation outdoor recreation

The lakes on the Blackfeet Reservation west of Cut Bank often yield trophy trout. Seek advice from the Blackfeet Fish and Wildlife Department.

Apply for mountain goats, black bears, deer, bighorn sheep, moose, elk, wolves, mountain lions, and waterfowl hunting game tags. Buy bighorn sheep, elk, and moose tags via online auctions or lotteries. Other tags are first come, first served. Remember to buy licenses from both the Blackfeet and Montana.

Roxie’s reliable recommendation: Drive a high-clearance, four-wheel-drive vehicle and prepare for rough roads and high winds. 

Snowy shores of Lake Frances near sunset
The Rocky Mountain Front is visible beyond Lake Frances.

5. Enjoy all four seasons at Lake Frances

Lake Frances, near Valier (Vuh-LEER) half an hour south of Cut Bank, is a year-round destination. Fish for perch, pike, and walleye in the summer. Bring your boat or personal watercraft to enjoy motorized water sports. 

The Lake Frances Triple P Triathlon each June exchanges kayaking for swimming. The Triple P refers to paddle, pedal, and pace (run). In the winter, catch Lake Frances’s snowmobile drag races. Enjoy ice fishing, skating, and tubing when the ice is otherwise unoccupied.

Roxie’s reliable report: Pack your Lake Frances picnic meats and cheese at Christiaens Meats Inc. in Valier.

View of the Coulee Trail and the Montana sky
The unpaved Coulee Trail winds around Cut Bank.

6. Hike Cut Bank’s trails

Explore Cut Bank Creek on the City of Cut Bank’s 2-mile Coulee Trail. While hiking, look for the gorge on the south and the Rocky Mountain Front to the west.

Roxie’s reliable report: Add a strenuous 12.4-mile hike from the Cut Bank Area of Glacier National Park to your repertoire. The Medicine Grizzly Lake trailhead is between East Glacier and St. Mary.

A BNSF train crosses the Cut Bank Creek Ravine
For the best view, park at Big Sky Foods and walk down the slope.

7. Scratch your railfan itch at Cut Bank Creek

Just west of Cut Bank, a 1,200-foot long, 160-foot high Warren deck trestle spans Cut Bank Creek. Forty trains per day cross the quarter-mile-long bridge. During World War II, the Army guarded the trestle around the clock to prevent sabotage of the crucial oil transportation network.

Walk around Cut Bank’s west edge for the best views. On both sides, walking trails take visitors to the gorge’s edge for trestle views. Visit the tracks before sunrise and sunset to watch the lighting change. Look for hawks soaring above the gorge.

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8. Explore 14 acres of Glacier County history

The Glacier County Historical Museum informs guests about Lewis and Clark, Blackfeet culture, homesteading, the oil boom, and railroading. Additionally, view one of Montana’s last oil rigs.

Roxie’s reliable report: Historic murals accent the buildings in Downtown Cut Bank.

Blue and white Empire Builder Amtrak trail with Glacier National Park mountains and foothills behind it.
The Empire Builder enters East Glacier Park.

9. Ride Amtrak’s Empire Builder to Glacier National Park

The Great Northern Railway built Glacier National Park’s tourism infrastructure and advertised park travel with a “See America First” campaign. 

Instead of driving, relax on Amtrak’s Empire Builder while viewing the scenery. Marvel at the park’s views all the way to Whitefish on the park’s west side. Check the schedules from Cut Bank (CUT) to East Glacier Park (GPK), West Glacier (WGL), and Whitefish (WFH). During the summer, the park’s East Side Shuttle connects East Glacier Park to the National Park Service Shuttle at St. Mary. St. Mary is the eastern end of the Going-to-the-Sun Road.

Roxie’s reliable recommendation: Follow Montana Glacier Country’s instructions for the best Empire Builder experience. 

10-12. Absorb local culture at annual events

Cut Bank’s summers are short, and the city crams many celebrations into its warm season. Montana Shakespeare in the Parks comes to Cut Bank City Park annually. The park is next to the Parkview Senior Center and Joe Meagher Memorial Civic Center.

Enjoy vintage cars, motorcycles, an airplane fly-in, and drag races at the Cut Bank Municipal Airport’s Montana Fun Weekend. The airport also holds a brewfest to support Cut Bank’s trail system.

Cut Bank goes all out during July’s Lewis & Clark Days Festival. Activities include a parade, chili cook-off, obstacle courses, goldfish and rubber duck races, golf, corn hole, horseshoe, and softball tournaments. Purchase and wear a festival button for admission.

  • 13-16. Savor Cut Bank’s best eateries

    Cover all the entertainment options at the Water to Wine Steakhouse, Pioneer Bar, and TNT Casino. Try the ribeye steak, steak fingers, or the daily special, and then shoot some pool.

    At Garden of Eat-In, eat the Indian tacos chased with huckleberry lemonade. 

    The combination of Montana barley and pure water produces delicious beer at Cut Bank Creek Brewery. In honor of the chilly penguin, drink the Penguin Piss Amber and the Penguin Punch Raspberry Wheat. Switch species to eat the Bison Dog.

    Try the mushroom Swiss or pizza burger at the Messy Apron Drive-In.

    17-19. Stay in Cut Bank

    For a unique lodging experience, stay in a vintage caboose, oil worker’s house, or homesteader’s cabin with the museum’s Overnight in History program. Campers should stay at the Sunset RV Park. Glamping and cabin options are available.

    See more lodging options below.

    Book your trip

    Let’s add your trip to your calendar! Roxie’s reliable recommendations will get you ready.

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