fall colors on the Missouri River at Missouri Headwaters State Park Montana

Mini-Road Trip to Explore 3 Montana State Parks

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Elk are bugling, school kids are back to the classroom, and life is returning to non-summer normalcy. But it doesn’t have to. In September, we try to squeeze in at least one more camping trip, one more hiking and roasting marshmallows adventure, before the snow starts to fall.

And the bonus is September is the perfect time to visit those places that seem a little too hot during the summer months. (opens in a n

In keeping the summer spirit alive, opt for a mini road trip. From Bozeman, you can explore three of Montana’s historical and beautiful state parks with just an hour’s worth of driving each way. Spend your weekend playing outside and exploring the state instead of sitting in a car.

To follow this weekend itinerary, visit Missouri Headwaters State Park on Saturday after having a leisurely morning at home. Then drive on to Lewis and Clark Caverns where you’ll spend the night in the campground, a tipi, or one of their cabins. After a morning exploring the park, head to Madison Buffalo Jump for a quick stop on the way home.

View of Jefferson River from Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park Montana

Missouri Headwaters State Park

At the confluence of the Jefferson, Madison and Gallatin Rivers, Missouri Headwaters offers a history lesson, outdoor interpretive signs, picnic spots, short hiking trails, a small campground, and a rental tipi. Your crew can lunch at the same place Lewis and Clark stayed in 1805 on their historic trip up the Missouri River. Lugging a huge, wooden boat upriver is not required. Four miles northeast of Three Forks, off of Hwy 205, then onto Hwy 286.

Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park

Montana’s first state park is a showstopper. Stalactites, stalagmites, columns, and cave bacon decorate this large limestone cave. A two-hour guided tour takes visitors through two miles of walkable cave trail.

While the cave is the main event, there is more to Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park. There are trails to wander on foot or bike; a new visitor center with interpretive displays to help the whole family learn about the park—both above and below ground; picnic areas, a large campground, showers, and tipi and three cabins.
If it’s a warm day, head down to the Jefferson River to wade and cool down.
Travel 19 miles west of Three Forks on Montana 2 or 15 miles east of Whitehall on Montana 2.

Madison Buffalo Jump

You won’t see bison streaming off the edge of a cliff, but you can imagine how it might have looked and felt when prehistoric people “called” bison to jump to their death below the cliffs. Interpretive displays help visitors understand the dramatic events that took place here for nearly 2,000 years.

This small park has one mile of hiking trail that takes visitors to the top of the jump. It’s just seven miles off Highway 90 at the Logan exit on a gravel road.

Know Before You Go

  • Entrance to all Montana State Parks is free for residents (anyone driving a car with Montana license plates). Nonresidents pay $8 per park entrance or can purchase a $50 annual pass.
  • Pets must be on a leash.
  • Reserve a campsite, tipi, or cabin online.
  • The Lewis and Clark cavern tour is a two-mile, two-hour walk with some stooping and bending required, rising 300 feet and descending 600 stairs. Wear rubber soled walking shoes and a sweater for the 50°F cave temperature.
  • Cave tours are $10 for adults and $5 for children 6-11.
  • Cave tours close for the season on September 30 and water is turned off from October 1-April 30, so flush toilets, showers, drinking water, and the RV dump facilities are available only during the summer.
  • If you want to keep it educational, download lesson plans from the parks’ webpages. You can also download park brochures and maps.

Visit Other Montana State Parks

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