Montana Road Trip Itinerary 10 Days
Two simple words perfectly describe my feelings when I think about a Montana road trip, JUST GO! Between its wide-open spaces, a lifetime supply of Rocky Mountain vistas, and beautiful western towns, Montana might be the best American state for a road trip. Montana is the 4th largest state in terms of land area, so there are lots of chances to escape the crowds and feel like you have nature to yourself.
Given the sheer size of Montana and its countless natural wonders, 10 days will only scratch the surface. I’ve made some painstaking decisions to pick my absolute favourite gems across the state for you to witness on this itinerary. From the jagged peaks and turquoise lakes of Glacier National Park to the bubbling hot springs near Yellowstone, I’ve packed this road trip with non-stop adventure.
For those who also like to visit cultural sites don’t worry, I’ve got you covered too. My itinerary courses through many of the most populated cities in the state, and they each boast unique cultural and historical sites.
Of course, you have plenty of options to remain in the great outdoors and connect with nature like never before as well.
A road trip through Montana is a life-changing journey that will open your eyes to the raw beauty of the American West. The guide below gives you many activities in each destination, and it’s okay not to check every single one off your list. My goal was to provide lots of alternatives to make this Montana road trip itinerary work for you. Hopefully, it makes the road trip planning a lot easier and helps you feel more prepared when you hit the open road in “Big Sky Country.”
Montana Road Trip Itinerary 10 Days
Day 1 – Kalispell to Glacier National Park
Day 2 – Glacier National Park
Day 3 – Flathead National Forest
Day 4 – Missoula | Helena
Day 5 – Bozeman
Day 6 – Billings
Day 7 – Big Sky Country
Day 8 – Butte
Day 9 – Whitefish
Day 10 – Depart Kalispell
Day 1 – Kalispell to Glacier National Park
Your road trip begins at Glacier Park International Airport, located just outside of Kalispell. The airport is less than 30 miles from the entrance of Glacier National Park and the best location if you want your Montana road trip to begin near the “Crown of the Continent.” Glacier Park International Airport has several car rental agencies inside the terminal and other ground transportation links in the Kalispell area. While the rental companies at the airport are the most convenient, it’s worth researching the area to see if you can score a better deal.
Once you’ve secured the car rental, it’s time to venture onwards to Glacier National Park to begin your trip. The main activity of the day is driving the Going-to-the-Sun Road to witness the unbelievable vistas inside the park. Coursing 50 miles through the park, the route is by many accounts the most spectacular drive within the United States.
The scenic drive passes several of Glacier National Park’s iconic places such as Lake McDonald, Trail of the Cedars, Hidden Lake Lookout, and the Logan Pass Visitor Center. Along the way, you’ll cross the Continental Divide, and the pullouts dotting the route reveal every type of terrain imaginable. From snow-capped peaks and glacial lakes to hanging valleys and cedar forests, the Going-to-the-Sun Road is your ticket to Montana’s alpine wonderland.
It’s important to note that the full route is open only a few months of the year. Although some portions of the road are accessible throughout the year, many are dependent on the amount of snowfall inside Glacier National Park. Normally, the ploughing crew can fully open the route by late June or early July, but heavy snowstorms can deter progress. The Going-to-the-Sun Road usually remains fully open until mid-October, but this varies each year.
Day 2 – Glacier National Park
One day is not enough time to appreciate the splendour of this incredible national park. That’s why I recommend camping inside the park at one of the 13 front-country campgrounds. In total, Glacier National Park offers more than 1,000 campsites, but there are also places to camp just outside the park in West Glacier and St. Mary.
Many of the campsites operate on a first-come, first-served basis, and I highly advise you to reach your desired campground early in the morning. Camping fees usually range from $10-$23 during the high season, and you’ll find detailed instructions on how to secure your campsite at the campground entrance. If you’d rather skip camping, there are hotels, lodges, chalets, bed & breakfasts, and other types of housing near the park.
Since your legs are still fresh, hiking is a must on this full-day inside Glacier National Park. There are more than 730 miles of hiking trails, but I’ve listed some of my favourites below to give you a solid baseline to start.
The 11.4-mile Highline Trail is the classic Glacier trek that leads you to the jaw-dropping alpine vistas along the Continental Divide. To reach the trailhead, drive the Going-to-the-Sun Road to either the Logan Pass Visitor Center or the Loop. At only 2.8 miles, the Hidden Lake Overlook Trail is an easier alternative you can access from the Logan Pass Visitor Center. For a gruelling but rewarding hike, the 11.3-mile Grinnell Glacier Trail provides breathtaking views of enormous glaciers, alpine lakes, and colourful meadows.
You could spend a lifetime exploring Glacier National Park and still find new places that leave you speechless. For the sake of this road trip, I’d highly suggest visiting Saint Mary Lake, Avalanche Lake, Cracker Lake, and Jackson Glacier.
Day 3 – Flathead National Forest
After spending a second night in Glacier National Park, it’s time to start driving south towards Flathead National Forest. The crowds begin to disappear as you get lost exploring the 2.4 million acres of untouched wilderness lying just south of the Canadian border. Since the forest lies within the Rocky Mountains, rugged peaks endlessly stretch across the horizon. With numerous sparkling lakes, meandering rivers, and hundreds of wildlife species, Flathead National Forest is a nature lover’s playground.
More than 1,700 miles of roadway wind through the forest, leading to countless ways to bask in the Montana landscape. Flathead Lake is one of the largest freshwater lakes in the United States and offers tons of recreational activities. Lakeside dwellers flock to its shores for a relaxed day of swimming, fishing, boating, or waterskiing, and each section of Flathead Lake State Park provides a unique way to enjoy the lake’s beauty.
The Hungry Horse Reservoir lies closer to Glacier National Park, and the glorious mountain vistas surrounding the dam are a local favourite for hiking, cycling, and fishing. For serious trekkers, the 6-mile Mount Aeneas Summit Trail is a challenging activity for the day that’s sure to break a sweat. Don’t be surprised to encounter lots of mountain goats along the trail before reaching the sensational views at the summit.
If you’d rather spend the afternoon floating downstream, the Three Forks of the Flathead River offers a plethora of excursions. Whether you prefer a peaceful kayaking trip or pulsating whitewater rafting adventure, there’s a thrill for everyone.
Day 4 – Missoula
Missoula was once a humble trading post but is now Montana’s second-biggest city with around 77,000 residents. The town sits south of Flathead National Forest, and you can drive either U.S. Route 93 or Montana Highway 83 towards I-90.
If you decide to use U.S. Route 93 to reach Missoula, the National Bison Range is a fantastic stop for a glimpse of American bison. These majestic creatures roamed the continent by the millions of years ago, and the sanctuary lets you view all sorts of wildlife. In addition to bison, the refuge is home to grizzly bears, deer, elk, coyotes, bighorn sheep, and much more.
The Clark Fork Riverfront Trail ambles through downtown Missoula, well-maintained city parks, and lets you wander onto the University of Montana campus. Some of the state’s top cultural attractions reside in Missoula, and you should save time on your trip itinerary to visit one or two.
Check out the Historical Museum at Fort Missoula shows you what life was like for the 19th-century settlers living here. Exhibits detail the town’s history, and the property contains many restored buildings reminiscent of the Old West. For art enthusiasts, the Missoula Art Museum provides free admission and showcases remarkable pieces of indigenous and contemporary art.
Missoula has plenty of outdoor activities if you’d rather spend the day in nature before hitting the road again. The Rattlesnake National Recreation Area is only four miles from town, and its rugged terrain boasts numerous hiking, cycling, and horseback riding trails. Mount Sentinel rises directly above the University of Montana and hiking to its summit gives you a stunning panorama overlooking Missoula.
Day 5 – Helena
Helena is the capital of Montana and 113 miles east of Missoula. Our itinerary takes you to some incredible places within city limits and in the surrounding area, so it’s crucial to get an early start from Missoula.
Just 25-miles north of Helena, the Gates of the Mountains Wilderness is one of Montana’s treasured gems. Famous explorers Lewis and Clark coasted along the Missouri River more than 200 years ago and were overwhelmed by its surreal beauty. Gates of the Mountains Boat Tours let you capture the pioneer spirit by cruising through the sheer canyon and gazing native wildlife. There are also dozens of hiking trails to explore the landscape, and you can bring a sack lunch for a relaxed picnic.
Head towards the state capital to cap off the day relishing some of Montana’s other cultural attractions. The Cathedral of Saint Helena stands out with its Gothic architecture and mesmerizing stained-glass windows. Located in downtown Helena, Reeder’s Alley has an intimate connection to the city’s early mining history. If you have time, tour the inside of the Montana State Capitol to marvel at the beautiful paintings decorating its halls.
To witness the sunset or sunrise the next day, head to the trails inside Mount Helena City Park for the best views overlooking the capital.
Day 6 – Bozeman
Bozeman is less than a two-hour drive from Helena, but it’s packed with several of Montana’s greatest natural and cultural wonders. Its quaint downtown boasts a lively atmosphere with boutique shops, charming restaurants, and cheerful locals. Montana State University, the state’s largest institution by enrollment size, gives the city a youthful appeal.
Before you reach Bozeman, you’ll have the chance to visit the geologic wonderland inside the Lewis & Clark Caverns State Park. Just 50 miles outside of Bozeman, the park enchants you with some of North America’s most beloved limestone caverns. Stalactites and stalagmites adorn the caves, while the illuminated pathways offer a break from the heat.
After delving into Montana’s underground mysteries, make the drive to Bozeman to visit possibly its most fascinating museum. The Museum of the Rockies is a world-renowned institute lauded for its paleontological collection. One of the world’s largest collections of dinosaur fossils, the Siebel Dinosaur Complex is the star attraction of the museum. The enormous Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton named ‘Big Al’ is a rare glimpse of this marvellous specimen that once walked the Earth.
The Gallatin History Museum highlights local history closer to the current age and highlights artefacts from past generations. Browse through historical photos, view a pioneer cabin, Native American artefacts, and learn about the building’s history as a jail.
For a chance to rest your legs and unwind halfway through your Montana road trip, schedule a visit to Bozeman Hot Springs. The facility is only eight miles west of Bozeman and has 12 pools that let you soak in water anywhere from 59 to 106 degrees Fahrenheit. For an up-close encounter with wildlife, Montana Grizzly Encounter provides rescued bears a sanctuary while also educating the public.
Day 7 – Billings
Get ready for another busy day on your itinerary as you venture onwards to Billings, the largest city in Montana. Billings features beautiful city parks, cultural attractions, and astonishing nature on its doorstep. Whether you’re looking for another adventure into Montana’s bewildering scenery or an in-depth history lesson, the Billings area gives you a range of options.
A two-hour drive along I-90 separates Bozeman and Billings, but Montana’s most famous historical landmark rests a little farther east. The Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument is about 60 miles past Billings and remembers the lives lost during the conflict between the United States Army and the Lakota, Arapaho, and Northern Cheyenne tribes.
The battle is commonly known in American history as Custer’s Last Stand due to the death of the decorated general. Today, the memorial on the preserved site honours those who fought on both sides. The historic site includes the Custer National Cemetery, artefacts from the battlefield, 7th Calvary Monument, and Indian Memorial.
After walking around this emotional place, hop in the car to drive towards Billings for an evening of city sights and natural wonders. The sandstone cliffs lying next to the Four Dances Recreation Area are a striking geologic formation just before sundown. Pictograph Cave State Park sits less than 10 miles south of the city and shows you prehistoric rock art.
Downtown Billings delves into the rich culture of the Yellowstone region and offers several intriguing venues to visit. The Yellowstone Art Museum features the largest collection of contemporary art in Montana, and the Western Heritage Center showcases artefacts from the Yellowstone River Valley.
Day 8 – Big Sky Country
Rugged peaks, rejuvenating hot springs, and dreamy sunsets are just a few things to describe Big Sky Country. Billings is a fantastic launching pad to continue your road trip through southwest Montana.
Gardiner is one of the gateways into Yellowstone National Park, and it’s famous Roosevelt Arch marks the entrance into the world’s first national park. Snowy mountaintops overlook the landscape, the Yellowstone River courses through town, and wildlife sightings are frequent. Gardiner’s entrance to Yellowstone National Park is the only one open to vehicles year-round, making it the best base to visit during the winter.
If you’d like to add a few days to this Montana road trip, drive into Wyoming to explore the best sights of Yellowstone National Park. The Grand Loop courses 142 miles around the park and connects classic natural wonders like Old Faithful and Grand Prismatic Spring. Continue south past Yellowstone to reach the craggy peaks and enchanting lakes of Grand Teton National Park.
Although I wouldn’t recommend the detour into Wyoming if you’re pressed for time, it makes an unforgettable 2-3 day extension to this itinerary.
For this Montana itinerary, I would suggest taking the scenic drive along the Beartooth Highway. Climbing to nearly 11,000 feet, the 68-mile stretch of U.S. Route 212 is one of America’s most jaw-dropping road journeys. The drive crosses the Beartooth Pass and rewards you with vistas of sharp valleys, alpine lakes, serrated peaks, blooming wildflowers, and lodgepole pine forests.
The Beartooth Highway stretches from Red Lodge, Montana to Cooke City, Montana, and this thrill of a lifetime can only be done between May and October. Give yourself plenty of time to complete the journey since there will be dozens of heart-racing viewpoints to snap a picture.
Day 9 – Butte
Wherever you decide to spend the night in Big Sky Country, make sure to find a comfy spot to watch the sunset and sunrise. Watching strands of orange and purple linger over the snowy peaks creates a landscape portrait you must see to believe. The more you stare at the spacious skies stretching endlessly over the precipitous mountain ranges, you know why they call this ‘Big Sky Country.’
Continue your drive north towards Butte and gain a better understanding of Montana’s rich mining history. During its heyday, Butte attracted mine workers during the industrial revolution due to its abundance of copper. Remnants of its glory days are still present, and lots of cultural attractions teach visitors about the town’s importance to once ground-breaking technology.
The Berkeley Pit is one of the more bizarre places you’ll see on this road trip. The toxicity of the former open-pit copper mine has turned it into one of the most visited attractions in town. Gain more knowledge about mining by going underground at The World Museum of Mining to study old equipment and unique artefacts.
Learn more about Butte’s history by taking a walking tour or hopping on a trolley tour through town. Butte is also known for its energetic festivals, and it’s worth seeing if there is an event during your visit. Just like other Montana towns, there are plenty of outdoor excursions to spend the day in nature. The Highland Mountains, Pipestone Pass, and Delmoe Lake are among the most popular day trips for outdoor recreation.
Day 10 – Whitefish
Your intrepid journey through Montana is winding down to a close, and your last stop on this itinerary is just outside your starting point. Whitefish is a friendly resort town that offers an eclectic mix of posh and adventurous activities all seasons of the year. From Butte, it’s roughly a four-hour drive that either takes you through Flathead National Forest or around Flathead Lake. Whitefish sits just outside the West Glacier entrance of Glacier National Park and puts you in the perfect spot to admire Montana’s alpine peaks one more time.
For a serene day on the water, head to Whitefish Lake to gaze at snowy peaks while sitting in the boat or kayak. On the lake’s south shore, City Beach gives you the rare opportunity to sprawl out for a tan in Montana. Head to the Swift Creek Trailhead or Beaver Lakes Trailhead if you’re in the mood for hiking or biking. Although winter isn’t suitable for this itinerary, many people flock to Whitefish Mountain Resort for a skiing or snowboarding getaway.
Downtown Whitefish highlights the tremendous local pride amongst the residents, and unique shops and eateries line the streets. Inside the Great Northern Railway Depot, the Stumptown Historical Museum describes the town’s cherished railroad history.
Glacier Park International Airport is a short 15-minute drive from Whitefish, but make sure to give yourself enough time to drop off the rental car. If you rented the vehicle outside of the airport, arrange a taxi or shuttle to catch your flight.
What are you most looking forward to doing on this 10 day Montana road trip itinerary? Let me know in the comments below.
Written by Daniel G
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