The Best Trip to Montana and the National Parks
Adventurer & Photographer
Montana and the National Parks
Start / End
Glacier, Yellowstone, Grand Teton
At least 14
Spring through Fall
This itinerary begins and concludes in Bozeman, Montana, and will take you through several charming small towns in the Northern Rocky Mountains. Additionally, you will visit some well-known places including Missoula, Helena, Glacier National Park, and Yellowstone National Park.
The majority of your journey will be through the picturesque state of Montana, with a couple of days spent exploring Yellowstone and Grand Teton in Wyoming.
To fully experience everything that this trip has to offer, we suggest allocating at least 14 days for your journey, as there is quite a bit of driving involved as you cover ground in two states. While the larger towns along the way offer plenty of options for nightlife and entertainment, the smaller towns have a unique Western charm that is well worth an overnight stay. This itinerary includes recommendations for the best places to stop, particularly during the longer days on the road. So, plan your trip wisely to ensure you get to see the destinations that interest you the most. It’s worth noting that these areas can get crowded in the summertime due to various events and beautiful weather. To avoid the crowds, we suggest traveling in late spring or early fall. Alternatively, visiting the smaller towns on weekends and the national parks and bigger towns on weekdays can also help you avoid crowds. Lastly, even though wintertime is beautiful in these areas, some roads may be closed, and you may not be able to visit certain areas.
ARRIVAL IN BOZEMAN MONTANA
1 HOUR 40 MINUTES/97 MILES
While Bozeman is a fantastic town that we highly recommend visiting, we suggest waiting until the end of the trip to explore the town. To kick off your Montana road trip, we suggest landing in Bozeman, picking up your baggage, and getting your rental car. From there, you’ll head north to Helena, which is the capital city of Montana and the county seat of Lewis and Clark County. This city has an abundance of cultural and historical attractions, and we suggest taking full advantage of your stay by exploring some of them. However, considering that you’ve had a long flight, you may want to head to Mt. Helena Park to breathe in the fresh Rocky Mountain air. You can take the 1906 Trail, which is a 3-mile round-trip hike to the top of Mt. Helena that provides stunning views of Helena and the surrounding mountains. After your hike, return to town to enjoy the many activities and attractions that Helena has to offer.
HELENA TO GREAT FALLS
1.5 HOURS/90 MILES
As you depart Helena, your route will take you up the 15, which follows the Missouri River’s banks as it winds through the scenic landscape. Prior to reaching Great Falls, make a stop at Tower Rock State Park, located approximately halfway between Helena and Great Falls. This lovely park is an excellent place to snap some photos of the Missouri River and offers a delightful respite. Great Falls, Montana’s most populous city, boasts a variety of attractions and activities to enjoy. We recommend starting with the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center, which is situated on a bluff overlooking the Missouri River in Giant Springs Heritage State Park. The visitor center provides information and exhibits about Lewis and Clark’s legendary expedition, including their arduous portage around the “Great Falls of the Missouri.”
Great Falls is renowned for its museums, with at least a dozen to choose from. We highly recommend visiting the Malmstrom Air Force Base Museum, which is free to the public. This museum is home to the most comprehensive collection of model military aircraft displays in the Northwest and features a reconstruction of World War II barracks. Additionally, the museum houses 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 base’s history and heritage.
GREAT FALLS TO EAST GLACIER PARK
2 HOURS 18 MINUTES/117 MILES
Today, you’ll travel west towards Glacier National Park and the border town of East Glacier. You have two route options to get to East Glacier: I-15 or the more picturesque Hwy 89, which we recommend. East Glacier Park is situated in stunning surroundings and has amenities such as motels, restaurants, grocery stores, and gas stations. However, you should note that you will NOT find certain amenities such as banks, hospitals/clinics, or auto parts stores here.
We recommend that you spend at least three days in Glacier National Park to fully appreciate its majesty. On the third day, you can drive through the park to Kalispell, MT.
GLACIER NATIONAL PARK
Glacier National Park, a 1,583 square-mile wilderness area in the Rocky Mountains, is a life-changing experience. It boasts glacier-carved peaks and valleys extending to the Canadian border. The park contains 25 active glaciers, which can be seen from the Going-to-the-Sun Road, a scenic drive that also features towering granite spires and crystal-clear alpine lakes. There are over 700 miles of hiking trails to explore, and plenty of turnouts and parking areas for capturing breathtaking photographs. The hike to Hidden Lake is one of the park’s great attractions, which begins from the west side of the Logan Pass Visitor Center. Additionally, visitors can partake in activities such as backpacking, cycling, and camping. The park is home to a diverse range of wildlife, including mountain goats and grizzly bears. Before embarking on your exploration of the park, we recommend visiting the East Glacier Park Chamber of Commerce for information and maps about the area. After getting acquainted with the region, head to the Saint Mary Entrance.
Can’t miss it:
Best hike to see the glaciers:
Best short hike:
Best picnic spot:
Classic National Park eatery:
Best hike in for an overnight stay:
Best place to take a selfie:
Quick stroll to a waterfall:
1 HOUR 23 MINUTES/69 MILES
Today, you’ll be leaving the wilderness behind and heading to the city of Kalispell. Depending on how much time you spend traveling on the scenic Going to the Sun Road, you’ll probably arrive in Kalispell in the afternoon. Be sure to give yourself enough time to venture out to discover all the fantastic things to see and o in Kalispell!
Best place to stock up on gear:
KALISPELL TO MISSOULA
2 HOURS/122 MILES
Go Griz! On today’s itinerary, you’ll be making your way to the charming college town of Missoula, but before you get there, you’ll pass through the small lakeside community of Polson, along the shores of Flathead Lake. While you’re there, make sure to stop by the Miracle of America Museum, which is one of the most unique museums you’ll ever come across.
Once you arrive in Missoula, you’ll be faced with the delightful dilemma of deciding between the numerous outdoor and indoor activities available in the area. To help with your decision-making process, we recommend stopping by the Destination Missoula visitor center for some guidance. In the meantime, below are a few suggestions to get you started.
Great place for a hike:
Best Missoula thing ever:
MISSOULA TO BUTTE VIA PHILLIPSBURG
Today, your destination is Butte and you’ll be driving through the scenic Lolo National Forest. To kick start your day, we suggest having a leisurely breakfast at Missoula’s top breakfast spot, Paul’s Pancake Parlor, before heading south towards Phillipsburg, a charming mining town. At Montana Gems, you can mine for precious stones and then visit the Granite County Museum for an hour or so. After Phillipsburg, it’s a short drive to Butte, the county seat of Silver Bow County. Butte has a fascinating mining history and you’ll find multiple tours and museums dedicated to it. One must-see tour is the Old Butte Historical Adventure Tour, which takes you through some of the most interesting and unique aspects of the town, including a visit to the old jail.
Great place for a hike:
Best historical visit:
BUTTE TO WEST YELLOWSTONE VIA VIRGINIA CITY
3 HOURS/150 MILES
As you leave Butte, you’ll embark on a journey back in time on your way to Yellowstone National Park. Virginia City, Montana was established after the discovery of gold in Alder Gulch in 1863. It was a boom town in the post-Civil War era and served as the Montana Territorial Capital for a decade until the gold reserves were depleted. Nevada City, a western town made up of structures from other ghost towns, lies just a mile away. Both towns have been extensively restored and preserved and now serve as living examples of the Old West. Make sure to allocate a few hours for exploring these two towns as they are well worth your time.
Situated at an elevation of almost 7,000 feet and approximately halfway between the equator and North Pole, West Yellowstone provides an opportunity to re-enter modern civilization after visiting a couple of ghost towns. Located in Gallatin County, Montana, West Yellowstone offers a plethora of attractions to experience, such as museums, historical centers, an IMAX, and zipline rides. It’s an excellent place to stay and explore.
Best way to fly through the air:
YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK
Spending fewer than three days exploring the two magnificent national parks in Wyoming would not do justice to the grandeur of the place. Upon reaching the eastern entrance of Yellowstone National Park, be sure to pick up a park map that highlights all the points of interest. Yellowstone encompasses a vast area of land, and spending a night within the park can provide a more immersive experience without having to drive long distances.
NOTABLE ATTRACTIONS IN YELLOWSTONE:
- LAKE BUTTE OVERLOOK
- FISHING BRIDGE VISITORS CENTER
- YELLOWSTONE LAKE
- MUD VOLCANO
- SULPHUR CALDRON
- VIRGINIA CASCADE
- BERYL SPRING
Best place for wildlife:
GRAND TETON NATIONAL PARK AND JACKSON
After enjoying the wonders of Yellowstone National Park, it’s time to bid farewell to the geothermal marvels and head south to Grand Teton National Park. You won’t truly grasp the beauty of these mountains until you’re up close and personal. Today, you’ll explore crystal-clear lakes, flowing rivers, and picture-perfect spots with the rugged Grand Tetons as your backdrop. If you want to enjoy the park without the crowds, we recommend biking on the many trails throughout the park.
Once you’ve been awed by the Tetons, make your way to Jackson. As you approach the famous tourist town of Wyoming, keep your eyes peeled to the left, as the National Elk Refuge is nearby and offers plenty of activities for a close-up experience with the herd. Once you reach Jackson, it’s time to indulge in the art, culture, cowboy bars, and delicious restaurants. For a bird’s-eye view of it all, we suggest taking a ride up the Aerial Tram at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. No matter the time of year, you’re bound to have a great time in Jackson.
Best road for photo ops:
BACK TO BOZEMAN
2.5 HOURS/142 MILES
Bozeman, Montana! What a wonderful town to end your trip on a high note. As a college town, Bozeman is a hub of fun and excitement, but it’s also a cultural and artistic city with plenty of outdoor recreation opportunities.