Six of the Most Beautiful Drives in Montana

July 17, 2015 by

City Tours & Sightseeing, Day Trips, North America, Places to Go, Suggested Itineraries, Things to Do, Travel Advice & Inspiration

 

Montana is the fourth largest state in the U.S.A. and is home to a number of national parks and forests, making it a prime candidate for road trips. From the plains of the east to the Rocky Mountains in the west, Montana has no shortage of scenic drives. Here are some of the best:

Yellowstone Lower Loop

Disappearing Ice in Yellowstone Lake

Ice melting in the springtime at Yellowstone Lake.

Yellowstone National Park is often thought of as the wilderness epicenter of Montana, and consists of towering mountains in various shades of green, brown and snow white and valleys dotted with colorful wildflowers and buffalo. Yellowstone is massive. It covers nearly 3,500 square miles, making it hard to explore the whole park if you don’t have a ton of time. Make the most of your vacation in Yellowstone by doing the Lower Loop drive. This scenic stretch of road will take you to Yellowstone’s top sites, including Old Faithful, the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, Norris and Castle Geysers, Yellowstone Lake and more.

Beartooth Highway

Want a gorgeous way to get to Yellowstone from eastern Montana? Hit the Beartooth Highway, which starts just south of Red Lodge, a resort town located an hour southwest of Billings, and ends right before you reach Cooke City by the northeast entrance of Yellowstone National Park. You may find the 68-mile Beartooth Highway even overshadows Yellowstone in terms of rugged views under the famous “big sky” of Montana. One thing that makes the Beartooth Highway so special is the sheer elevation of it. The road takes you 12,000 feet up for views that spread out below you with wild plains, thick forests and mountainsides that seem untouched by civilization. You’ll also be able to see waterfalls and rivers along the Beartooth, sometimes from your car or with a short hike.

Paradise Valley Scenic Loop

Paradise Valley is adjacent to the college city of Bozeman, and is known for its vastness, spreading out between the Absaroka and Gallatin mountain ranges, and the Yellowstone River. Make your way through the wildflowers and brush of the stunning valley on the Paradise Valley Scenic Loop. The drive covers 62 miles and shows the plains side of Montana, though the mountains are never far from thought, as they tower in the distance.

Flathead Lake

Flathead Lake, Montana.

Sunrise at Flathead Lake, Montana.

Montana isn’t just mountains and plains. Flathead Lake, located in northwestern Montana, is the largest freshwater lake west of the Mississippi. Many would argue it’s also one of the most beautiful, thanks to its deep blue hue and the surrounding Rocky Mountains. It also close to the ritzy mountain towns of Kalispell and Whitefish. Experience all the scenery of Flathead Lake by doing a drive around it. Start in Bigfork on the northeast edge of the lake and head south along Highway 35 to loop the lake before heading north along US-93 to have lunch or dinner in Kalispell. (Whitefish is just 16 miles farther north along US-93.) Be sure to stop at a local fruit stand during your drive and try the famous Flathead Cherries.

Going-to-the-Sun Road

Views from the Going-to-the-Sun Road.

Views from the Going-to-the-Sun Road.

Travel into that big (hopefully blue) sky and get closer to the sun on the Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park. The 50-mile road heads high into the mountains through thick vegetation and along cliff-hugging roads and gravity-defying curves. Going-to-the-Sun Road may result in some white-knuckled driving, but the trade-off is well worth it, especially when you come to Logan Pass, the highest elevation of the drive. Logan Pass is the starting point for several hiking trails and the mountains framing the pass are often sprinkled with snow, even in summer.

Montana Scenic Loop

Then there’s the big one. For those who have the time and the desire to see as much of the gorgeous Montana landscape as possible, the aptly titled Montana Scenic Loop can’t be missed. It covers 400 miles of terrain in Western Montana along the Great Northern Rocky Mountains and goes past golden prairies, mountains and rivers. The drive can be done in a day with minimal stops, but it’s best to spread it out. The Montana Scenic Loop provides many opportunities to stop and learn about the history and culture of the area, such as at the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center, the Seeley Lake Historical Museum and the Lodgepole Gallery and Tipi Village.

No matter what drive you choose to do in Montana, you’ll find scenic wonders and impressive vistas, and will leave the drive better understanding why Montana is nicknamed “Big Sky Country.”

Conrtibuted by Gina Douglas Tarnacki

 

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