Big Sky Country draws millions of visitors each year who are eager to experience Montana’s picturesque outdoors.
From the Rocky Mountains to the Great Plains, Glacier National Park to Yellowstone National Park, opportunities abound for meeting planners to ensure their guests relax, unplug and experience something new and adventurous when visiting Montana.
“Part of what makes Montana appealing for meetings is that we obviously have this fantastic scenery,” said Debbie Picard, tourism sales manager for Glacier Country Tourism in Western Montana. “We find that some of our assets are teambuilding and networking, because there are so many opportunities to relax and disconnect here.”
Along with the outdoor terrain, venue types run the gamut in Montana, from lodges and dude ranches to more traditional spaces located in such hubs as Missoula and Billings. And at a time when the meetings industry is in an uncertain position, Picard believes Montana could be a way to ease back into live meetings, when it is safe to do so.
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“If planners aren’t ready to hit the big cities, Montana might be a good way to dive into meeting again in person, but in a more rural setting,” she explained.
In the meantime, bookmark these six outdoor teambuilding activities for when you’re researching upcoming meetings and retreats.
1. Horseback Riding
“People who visit Montana really want to experience the West,” said Alyssa Voeltz, visitor services manager for Visit Billings.
What better way to achieve that than on horseback?
Photo: Horseback riding in Billings; Courtesy of Visit Billings
Just outside of Billings, family-operated Bitter Creek Outfitters can take attendees horseback riding through the Yellowstone Valley. A trail ride allows them to catch beautiful vistas and learn more about the region. No experience is required.
“If you’ve never ridden a horse or you’re not too confident on one, it’s really a great way to get introduced to riding a horse,” Voeltz said. “I’m not a horse rider by any means, but I’m very comfortable with [owner] Theresa and her staff. People just have so much fun.”
Bitter Creek Outfitters, who were featured on season one of the Travel Channel’s hit show Hotel Impossible, can typically take between six to seven people on a trail ride. Guests are also able to experience the owners’ scenic homestead. “It’s truly a unique experience,” Voeltz said.
2. Llama Trekking
In northwest Montana, also known as Glacier Country, planners who are looking for an out-of-the-box activity should look to Swan Mountain Llama Trekking, located southeast of Kalispell.
There, attendees can hike through Flathead National Forest beside llamas carrying gear and lunch supplies (or wine and cheese if hiking in the evening). A half-day llama trek comprises a 4.6-mile hike roundtrip and a stop at Bond Falls for a creek-side lunch. For especially warm days, attendees can even take a dip in the Bond Falls swimming hole.
Photo: Llama trekking is fun, memorable teambuilding experience; Courtesy of Swan Mountain Llama Trekking
“We experienced this last September, and people are still talking about it and posting online about it,” Picard said. “It’s an unusual teambuilding experience, and everyone still remembers their llamas’ names. That activity bonded us more than anything on our weeklong trip together.”
3. Views From the Rimrocks
One thing guests always comment on when visiting Billings for the first time, Voeltz said, is the community’s iconic sandstone cliffs, known as the Rimrocks.
“People get here and want to know, ‘How do I get on top of those?’” she said with a laugh. “We have over 48 miles worth of trails. To be able to walk or bike along our Rimrocks is such a cool experience. You can see five mountain ranges from Billings on a clear day.”
For all hiking comfort levels, planners should look to Four Dances Natural Area, where an easy hike to the cliffs’ overlook awaits. From the top, they’ll get spectacular views of the Yellowstone River, the longest undammed river in the U.S.
“We’ve taken meeting planners for a walk to the top of the overlook, and we’ve heard them say that the view doesn’t look real,” Voeltz said. “Being able to do that and experience Montana and Big Sky Country—that’s what people really want to do here.”
4. Wellness Activities
In Glacier Country, attendees can truly unplug and be one with nature with prepared wellness activities, including forest bathing and a visit to a lavender farm. The former is a practice that originated in Japan and involves guided meditation through a forest, engaging all of the senses.
“This is a fantastic activity for when a group first gets to Montana,” Picard said. “Many times, people are coming from larger areas or cities. It’s a great way to ground people and get them focused. Everyone shares afterward what they got from the experience. Some might think it’s hokey at first, but it’s interesting to hear what people come away with and how they look at nature like they never have before.”
(Photo: At Purple Mountain Lavender, attendees can learn to make creations from lavender grown onsite; Courtesy of Purple Mountain Lavender)
Just outside of Kalispell, family-owned Purple Mountain Lavender overlooks Flathead Lake, and private tours of the farm are available for six or more. Attendees can also learn to make creations from lavender, such as bouquets and sachets, and sample culinary lavender.
5. True Teambuilding
If you prefer the teambuilding activities come to you, Voeltz said one standout vendor in Billings is Canvas Creek Team Building, owned and founded by Karen Grosz. The art-centric company can arrive at your venue or facility in its mobile art studio to facilitate a collaborative art project for attendees. It can also host scavenger hunts and tower building.
For example, a group of NAIA basketball players who visited Billings recently were tasked with breaking into teams and attempting to build the tallest tower with only spaghetti noodles and marshmallows.
“Karen is an incredible resource for teambuilding,” Voeltz said.
6. Journey to Wild Horse Island
Wild horses are synonymous with idyllic visions of the West, and in Western Montana, attendees have the opportunity to see them up close.
Photo: Kayaking on Flathead Lake; Courtesy of Mountain State Parks
Located in Flathead Lake, Wild Horse Island is known for its incredible wildlife, from bighorn sheep, bald eagles to the eponymous five wild horses that call it home. The Kootenai Indians reportedly used the island long ago to pasture horses and hide them from warring tribes. Today, the 27-mile-long island is only accessible by boat or kayak and is a day-use-only park.
One With Nature
From wild horses to meditating in the forest, attendees in Montana can live out their fantasies of the West when work for the day is done. The state’s scenery and adventurous teambuilding activities are prime ways to help your attendees unplug and appreciate the nature around them. And the accessibility is a plus.
“Once you are on the ground here, it’s so easy to get around,” Picard said. “If you land at Missoula International Airport, you can be downtown, checked into your hotel and halfway through eating your lunch within an hour of landing. There are also 14 direct flight markets into Western Montana.”
When planners are ready to plan again, Big Sky Country may be just the tonic for something sure to leave an impression while easing attendee concerns about social distancing.
(Photo: "Forest bathing" is a guided meditation through the forest, which is a unique wellness activity in Glacier Country; Credit: The Ranch at Rock Creek)
“When we are able to reopen again, we’ll be able to facilitate and welcome those visitors in a really impactful way,” Voeltz said.
GLACIER COUNTRY TOURISM | 406.532.3234
VISIT BILLINGS | 406.245.4111
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