Montana and the National Parks

Montana has some of the most staggeringly beautiful landscape in the world, and you will be travelling this state from the very top to the very bottom, before slipping into Wyoming and Yellowstone National Park.

#thisismyroute

Prepared by:
James

States: 
Montana, Wyoming

Start/End: 
Bozeman, Montana

Total miles:
1,600

Suggested days: 
At least 14

Type: 
scenic road trip

Recommended for: 
First-timers to the United States, honeymooners, photographers, road trippers

Suggested season: 
Spring through Fall

Overview

This trip takes you in a loop that will start and end in Bozeman Montana. The trip takes you through some of the best untravelled small towns in the Northern Rocky Mountains as well as some of the more famous destinations like Missoula, Helena, Glacier National Park and Yellowstone National Park.
You will travel mainly through the beautiful state of Montana before crossing the border into Wyoming the National Parks before crossing back into Montana and the park border-town of Gardiner. From there you head back to Bozeman before you fly back home.

How to Prepare

We recommend at least 14 days to accomplish everything there is to do in the trip. This trip takes you through two states and you will have a lot of driving. The bigger towns are well worth the stops and can offer you many opportunities for nightlife, but the smaller towns have a western charm to them that is well worth an overnight stop and will add a uniqueness to your trip. This itinerary is full of suggestions of some of the best places to stop, especially during your longer days on the road. So plan your trip accordingly so that you can experience the places that spark your interest the most. These areas can be crowded in the summertime, and for good reason. There are multiple events and the weather is beautiful. If you want to avoid crowds we suggest traveling at the end of spring or the beginning of fall. If you can’t make that happen then we suggest visiting the smaller towns on the weekends and the National Parks and bigger towns on the weekdays. Wintertime is still beautiful in these places, however, many roads are closed and you cannot drive into some of the parks.

DAY 1: arrival in Bozeman Montana

1 hour 40 minutes/97 miles

Bozeman is a great town, and one that we would recommend spending some time in, but not today. That will come at the end of the trip. For the start of your trip, we would recommend landing in Bozeman gathering your bags and getting your car. From Bozeman you will begin to head north to Helena on your great Montana road trip. Helena  is the state capital of Montana and the county seat of Lewis and Clark County. There is a wealth of things to do here and you should take full advantage of your stay here by visiting the numerous cultural and historical points located through this city of nearly 30,000, but you’ve had a long flight and we would recommend heading to Mt. Helena Park and getting some of that fresh Rocky Mountain air. Take the 3 mile round-trip 1906 Trail to the top of Mt. Helena for amazing views of Helena and the surrounding mountains. After your hike, head back into town and enjoy the many things to do in Helena.

Best quick bite:

Karmadillos

Best shopping and history lesson:

Reeder’s Alley

Best people watching:

Last Chance Gulch

Best place to shop local:

The Base Camp

Best place to grab dinner:

Silver Star Steak House

Best place for a local brew:

Blackfoot River Brewing Company

DAY 2: Helena to Great FAlls

1.5 hours/90 miles

Leaving Helena, you will be traveling up the 15 as it winds its way along the bank of the Missouri River. Before you get to Great Falls, however, take the time to stop at Tower Rock State Park. Located about halfway between Helena and Great Falls, its a great little park and the perfect spot to get some some photos of the Wide Missouri. Great Falls is the largest town in Montana and has a myriad of things to do, but your first stop should be the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center. Located on a bluff overlooking the Missouri River in Giant Springs Heritage State Park, this visitors center provides information and exhibits about Lewis and Clark’s famous journey, including their infamous portage around the “Great Falls of the Missouri”. Great Falls is a city of museums, and there at least a dozen to choose from, but the Malmstrom Air Force Base Museum is definitely not too be missed. Free to the public, this museum is the largest collection of model military aircraft displays in the Northwest and a reconstruction of World War II barracks. Other parts of the museum include uniforms, a section of a module from an early Minuteman launch control center, a cutaway of a Minuteman silo, and several displays that preserve the history and heritage of the base.

Best place to grab a quick bite:

5th Street Diner

Best way to stretch your legs:

River’s Edge Trail

Best place to cool off:

Electric City Water Park

Best place to get a drink while also watching women dressed as mermaids swim in a pool behind the bar:

Sip and Dip Bar

Best place to stay:

Murphy’s House

Best place to for coffee and breakfast:

A Family Affair

DAY 3 through 6: Great Falls to East Glacier Park

2 hours 18 minutes/117 miles

Today you are leaving the Missouri behind and striking west to Glacier National Park and the border town of East Glacier. There are two ways to get to Eat Glacier, but we would recommend taking the more scenic route of Hwy 89, instead of I-15.
East Glacier Park is a small village amid spectacular scenery. You’ll find motels, several restaurants, grocery store and deli, picnic supplies, car rentals and shuttle services, horse rentals, historic lodge, nine-hole golf course, the east entrance to Glacier National Park, bars, gift shops, laundromats, ATM, Catholic Church, and filling station. 
What you will NOT find here are banking, health care, prescription pharmacy, beauty salon, automotive mechanic, big-chain hotels, fast-food or nightlife, so keep this in mind as you prepare to spend a few day here. Why a few days? Because Glacier National Park is an experience of a lifetime and to not spend at least three days here would be a mistake. On the third day you will drive through the park to the Our recommendation would be to arrive in East Glacier, find a room in one of the many great motels, and head into the park.

Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park is a 1,583-sq.-mi. wilderness area in Montana’s Rocky Mountains, with glacier-carved peaks and valleys running to the Canadian border. It is at once a transformative experience. The towering granite spires and crystal clear alpine lakes crossed by the mountainous Going-to-the-Sun Road highlights the 25 active glaciers in the park. With more than 700 miles of hiking trails, Glacier National Park, has plenty of elbow room for you to sound your barbaric yawp, but there are plenty of road turnouts and parking areas for photogenic masterpieces. One of the great hikes of the park is to Hidden Lake. The hike to Hidden Lake in Glacier National Park begins from the west side of the Logan Pass Visitor Center. Other activities include backpacking, cycling and camping. Diverse wildlife ranges from mountain goats to grizzly bears. Our advice for forays into the park would be to first head to the East Glacier Park Chamber of Commerce for information and maps about the area. After acclimating yourself to the area, head north on to the Saint Mary Entrance and Visitor Center. From here, the whole of the park is at your fingertips.

Can’t miss it:

Going to the sun road

Best hike to see the glaciers: 

Garden Wall Trail

Best short hike:

Trail of the Cedars Nature Trail

Best picnic spot:

Avalance Creek Picnic Area

Classic National Park eatery:

Ptarmigan Dining Room

Best hike in for an overnight stay:

Granite Park Chalet

Best place to take a selfie:

Logan Pass

Quick stroll to a waterfall:

Running Eagle Falls

Best overlook:

Goat Haunt

Best place for home-made huckleberry pie:

Nell’s at Swiftcurrent

DAY 7: Kalispell

1 hour 23 minutes/69 miles

It’s back to civilization today and the big west town of Kallispell. Depending on how long you spend going over Going To The Sun Road, you will most likely be getting into Kallispel in the afternoon. The first thing you should do is grab a bite to eat, find a place to stay and head out to explore all the great things there are to do in this city.

Best place to stock up on gear:

Snappy’s

Best taco:

Red’s Taco House

Best place to go for a hike:

Wayfarers State Park-Flathead Lake

Best place to see wild horses and big horn sheep co-habitate:

Wayfarers State Park-Flathead Lake

Best place to shop local:

Kalispell Farmer’s Market

Where the locals go for dinner:

Desoto Grill

Drink local:

Kalispell Brewing Company

Dance local:

Blue Moon Nite Club

DAY 8: Kalispell to Missoula

2 hours/122 miles

Go Grizzlys! Today you head to the fantastic university town of Missoula. But on your drive down Flathead Lake you will go through the small lake town of Polson. In Polson, there is a museum called the Miracle Museum of America. Stop here. It is one of the craziest, most interesting and slightly alarming museums that you will ever go to. There really isn’t any way to describe it so we will let it describe itself. “The Miracle of America Museum is a non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation of one of the largest collections of American history.” Make time for this museum, you will not be disappointed. Missoula is a really fun town and you are going to have to make a choice if you want to do all the outdoor activities, all the indoor activities or a mixture of both. A great place to start you decision making process though, would be to head to the visitor’s bureau; Destination Missoula. They wil be able to help you fine tune your trip, but in the meantime, here are a few suggestions.

Great place for a hike:

Blue Mountain Recreation Area

Best Missoula thing ever:

A Carousel For Missoula

Best place to grab a quick bite:

Five on Black Brazilian Cafe

Can’t miss it:

Brennan’s Wave-a man made kayaking wave in the heart of downtown Missoula

Best place for a picnic:

Caras Park

Where the locals eat:

The Depot

Drink local:

TAke your Pick-Missoula has 10 breweries, 2 distilleries and one cider house

Best place to catch a show:

The Top Hat

DAY 8: Missoula to Butte via Phillipsburg

2 hours

Today you head out through the Lolo National Forest to Butte. Its a relatively short drive, but this will give you a chance to have a lazy breakfast at the best breakfast joint in Missoula, Paul’s Pancake Parlor. After that, head south to little mining town of Phillipsburg. Stop at Montana Gems to mine for precious stones before spending an hour or so at the Granite County Museum. From Philipsburg, its just a short drive into Butte. Butte is the county seat of Silver Bow County, Montana and has a long and fascinating history with mining and the mining industry. There are numerous tours and museums dedicated to this rich history, but one not-to-be-missed tour is the Old Butte Historical Adventure Tour. Two hours in length, the tour takes you through some of the more interesting and quirky aspects of Butte, including a tour through the old jail.

Great place for a hike:

Big Butte Open Area

Best historical visit:

The Dumas Brothel

Other best historical visit:

The Mai Wah
 

Best place for a quick bite:

Front Street Market

Best place to cool off:

Ridge Waters Park

Best place to have a upscale dinner:

The Uptown Cafe

DAY 9: Butte to West Yellowstone via Virginia City

3 hours/150 miles

As you pull away from Butte you are going to take a little trip back into time s you head towards Yellowstone National Park. Virginia City Montana was born with the discovery of gold in AlderGulch in 1863. A boom town of the post Civil War era, Virginia City served as the Montana Territorial Capital for 10 years, until the gold ran out. Just a mile away lies Nevada City, a western town created from a collection of buildings from other ghost towns. Both towns have been largely restored and preserved and have become living examples of the real Old West. These two towns are definitely worth your time, so plan on spending at least a few hours here. At almost 7,000 feet above sea level and almost exactly halfway between the equator and the North Pole, West Yellowstone is a great place to get some civilization after your sabbatical in the wilderness. Located in Gallatin County, Montana, West Yellowstone is a great place to stay and experience many of the great museums, historical centers, an Imax and, of course, zipplines!

Best way to fly through the air:

Yellowstone Aerial Adventure

Best store-ever:

Eagle’s Store

Best place to learn about wolves

Grizzly And Wolf Discovery Center

Best place to grab a bite:

Canyon Street Grill

Best place to stay:

Stage Coach Inn

Best place to grab coffee and breakfast:

Running Bear Pancake House

DAY 10 and 11: Yellowstone National PArk

You can’t come all the way to Wyoming and not spend at least four days exploring these two amazing parks, there is so much to do and see, to try to do it in one day would be depriving yourself of a truly grand experience. . Once you reach the eastern entrance of Yellowstone National Park don’t forget to grab a park map. In that map you will be able to see anything and everything that may spark your interest during your park journey. Remember, Yellowstone covers a huge area of land. If you want to get the best experience without a lot of driving we suggest staying one night within Yellowstone National Park.

SOME ATTRACTIONS IN YELLOWSTONE:

LAKE BUTTE OVERLOOK
FISHING BRIDGE VISITORS CENTER
YELLOWSTONE LAKE
MUD VOLCANO
SULPHUR CALDRON
VIRGINIA CASCADE
BERYL SPRING

Best place for wildlife:

The Lamar Valley

Best hike:

Storm Point Nature Trail

Best place to ride a horse:

Lodges of East Yellowstone

Best point of interest:

Lake Yellowstone Hotel

Best Iconic American Landmark:

Old Faithful

Cant’s Miss it:

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and Emerald Pool

DAY 11 and 12: Grand Teton National Park and Jackson

Grand Tetons during our Yellowstone road trip

We hope that you explored all you wanted to in Yellowstone National Park because it’s time leave the geothermal natural wonders behind and head south for a more relaxed experience in Grand Teton National Park. You really aren’t prepared for the beauty until you actually experience these mountains up close. Today you are going to explore crystal clear lakes, flowing rivers, and great spots for photography all with the rugged Grand Tetons next to you. If you really want to enjoy Grand Teton National Park you can avoid the crowds and bike on the many trails throughout the park. We have attached a map below of the park so you can plan your trip to its full potential. After you have been blown away by the Grand Tetons let’s head towards Jackson. As you approach the famous tourist town of Wyoming, look left. That is because the National Elk Refuge is right here, which offers tons of activities to explore if you want to get up close with the herd. Once you get to Jackson it’s time to enjoy the art culture, cowboy bars, delicious restaurants, and vibrant vibes! If you want to see it all from above we suggest taking a ride up the Aerial Tram! It really doesn’t matter what time of year you are in Jackson, you will definitely have a great time!

DAY 13 and 14: Back to Bozeman

2.5 hours/142 miles

Ahhh Bozeman, Montana! This is a really fun town and a great way to finish off your trip. It is a university town, and has all the fun that goes along with that, but it is also a great cultural and artistic city with a myriad of outdoor recreation opportunities. Once you get into town, find a place to stay. There are many places but we would recommend you get a room at the The Lark. Located near all the great things there are to do in Downtown Bozeman, the Lark was voted “Loved by Guests-Most Wanted” award from hotels.com. It’s a great hotel with the added bonus of having one of the best taco trucks, Victory Tacos located right on the property. From here, Bozeman is at your fingertips. The staff at the hotel are trained and immensely helpful in providing you with all kinds of information on things to do, so just ask.

Best short hike:

Grotto Falls Trail

Best place to catch the sunset:

Peets Hill/Burke Park

Most eclectic shopping:

East Main Trading Company

Best place to catch a live show:

Rialto Bozeman

Best place to get some history:

Gallatin History Museum

Stock up on gear:

Crazy Mountain Outdoor Company

Best place for a stroll:

Downtown Bozeman

Best place for dinner:

Anywhere on Main Street

Best night out:

Bozeman Spirits Distillery

Where the locals get breakfast:

CatEye Cafe