overlooking the Terry Badlands in southeast Montana

The Best Montana Road Trip: A Few Favorites

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I’ve lived in Montana since 2001 and love exploring the state. Even though I can go anywhere in the world (and do!) one of my favorite things to do is a Montana road trip.

It wasn’t easy narrowing it down to these Montana road trip routes. A road trip in Montana could go on for years or a lifetime. But you don’t have that much time – these road trips in Montana last seven to 10 days.

These Montana road trip itineraries can be taken separately or combined into one mega-road trip. Choose what works best while you visit Montana.

I’ll show you what I think are the best places to visit in Montana — both the ones you’ve heard of and the ones that are a little farther off the beaten path. Whether you are looking to travel the popular Glacier National Park to Yellowstone National Park route or uncover a hidden gem along the backroads of eastern Montana, you’ll find what you need for planning a trip to Montana.

Any of these road trips can be done in reverse order. Or do the sections that most appeal to you. This is your starting point for creating your ideal Montana road trip.

If you are traveling in winter, you can check out my winter Montana road trip story. We had so much fun on that trip – I highly recommend it! And for a more general Montana travel guide, see  my post on things to do in Montana.

If you want some help planning your Montana road trip, check out my vacation coaching page on my Yellowstone site. I can help create a custom itinerary that goes beyond Yellowstone into the rest of Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, or the Pacific Northwest.


Old Faithful Geyser as seen on Montana road trip

MONTANA ROAD TRIP #1

Grand Teton to Yellowstone to Glacier National Park

mountains, Wonderland, Crown of the Continent

A trip from Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Park to Glacier National Park is an iconic Montana road trip. You’ll really see some of the most spectacular Montana vacation spots and top Montana tourist attractions. (Wyoming, too since Grand Teton and most of Yellowstone are in Wyoming.)

This is one of our favorite trips. Since we live near the north entrance to Yellowstone, we do sections of this trip all the time and love exploring this stretch of our home state.

This route will be more crowded than the other Montana road trip itineraries in this article. The most important logistical concern is getting your lodging nailed down in the National Parks as far ahead of time as possible.

Grand Teton National Park, Yellowstone National Park, and Glacier National Park Itinerary (10 days)

Elk antler arch in Jackson Hole Town Square

Day 1: Jackson, Wyoming (Jackson Hole)

Do: First thing, take a hike up Snow King mountain for awe-inspiring views of the Jackson Hole valley. Explore the town square and make sure you take a picture under the iconic antler arches. Thrill seekers will like the adventure course or Cowboy Coaster at Snow King. Other places we love include, the National Museum for Wildlife Art and other art galleries, Vertical Harvest, white water rafting, and bike riding town trails. Don’t miss the Bar J or Bar T 5 chuckwagon dinner.

Eat: There are a lot of good places to eat: Persephone Bakery,  Nora’s Fish Creek Inn, San Juan Restaurant. Liberty Burgers, and the Snake River Grill are a few favorites.

Stay: There are many hotels in Jackson to choose from, along with RV parks and campgrounds.

I used to live in Jackson and have a ton of ideas for things to do in Jackson Hole.

Day 2: Grand Teton National Park

Do: Visit Mormon Row at sunrise and spend the morning driving the 42-mile scenic loop drive. Stop at Schwabacher Landing, Snake River Overlook, and Oxbow Bend. Take the boat across Jenny Lake and hike to Hidden Falls and Inspiration Point.

Eat: We always stop at Dornan’s in Moose. The food and drinks are good and the view is one of the best in the world.

Stay: Either stay in one of the hotels in Jackson again or at the Jackson Lake Lodge or in Colter Bay to be closer to Yellowstone for the next day.

Day 3: Yellowstone National Park

Do: Explore the Old Faithful area including, Firehole Canyon Drive, Old Faithful, Kepler Cascades, West Thumb (if time allows), Midway Geyser Basin, Fountain Paint Pots

Eat: Bring a picnic lunch and snacks to eat on the road or grab lunch at the Grill at Old Faithful. Dinner in West Yellowstone.

Stay: There are many hotels in West Yellowstone to choose from, along with RV parks and campgrounds.

For more on what to do and where to stay in Yellowstone, grab my three-day Yellowstone itinerary. It provides specific details about what to see at each stop and how long it will take you.

Day 4: Yellowstone National Park

Do: Explore the Norris Geyser Basin and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.

Eat: Bring a picnic lunch and snacks to eat on the road or grab lunch at the Canyon Grill. Dinner in West Yellowstone.

Stay: There are many hotels in West Yellowstone to choose from, along with RV parks and campgrounds.

For more on what to do and where to stay in Yellowstone, grab my three-day Yellowstone itinerary. It provides specific details about what to see at each stop and how long it will take you.

Day 5: Yellowstone National Park

Do: Explore the northwest section of the park including, Artists Paintpots, Mammoth Hot Springs, Fort Yellowstone (at Mammoth), Boiling River, and Roosevelt Arch.

Eat: Bring a picnic lunch and snacks to eat on the road or grab lunch at the Mammoth Grill. Dinner in Gardiner.

Stay: There are many hotels in Gardiner to choose from, along with RV parks and campgrounds.

For more on what to do and where to stay in Yellowstone, grab my three-day Yellowstone itinerary. It provides specific details about what to see at each stop and how long it will take you.

Grand Teton to Yellowstone to Glacier National Park

Day 6: Outdoor Adventures and Hot Springs

Do: If you want to add a little adventure to your trip, start the day with a combination of horseback riding and rafting. Wild West Whitewater Rafting and Flying Pig Whitewater both offer a “Paddle and Saddle” package. Stop at Yellowstone Hot Springs or Chico Hot Springs for a relaxing soak before driving to Helena. Or take an early morning wildlife tour into the Lamar Valley.

Eat: Grab some grub in Gardiner or stop in Livingston (about an hour’s drive from Gardiner) at Neptune’s Taphouse and Eatery, the Murray Bar, or the popular Mark’s In and Out.

Stay: Choose a hotel in Livingston or drive on to a hotel in Helena to be closer to Glacier National Park.

Day 7: Glacier National Park

Do: Start at the St. Mary Visitor Center to get your bearings, maps, and junior ranger booklets. Next, take the shuttle (or a boat ride) to St. Mary Falls and Virginia Falls trailhead and walk to the falls. Either continue west on the shuttle to Jackson Glacier Overlook to spot a glacier or take the boat back to the dock. Attend a ranger program in the evening.

Eat: There are restaurants in both St. Mary and East Glacier. Or stop at a grocery store in Helena to stock up on picnic supplies.

Stay: Stay at a hotel in Saint Mary or a hotel in East Glacier.

Get many more details about planning your trip to Glacier National Park in this post.

mountains in Glacier National Park at night

Day 8: Glacier National Park

Do: Explore Many Glacier. Choose one of the hikes, take a boat ride across Swiftcurrent Lake, get ice cream at the historic and Swiss-styled Many Glacier Hotel.

Eat: Stop at the Two Sisters Cafe in Babb on your way to or from Many Glacier and treat yourself to some pie!

Stay: Stay at a hotel in Saint Mary or a hotel in East Glacier.

Day 9: Glacier National Park

Do: Pack up camp or your hotel room and drive the Going-to-the-Sun Road to the west side. Stop at pullouts along the way or plan a longer hike like the Highline Trail from Logan Pass. Be sure to spend some time at Logan Pass in the Visitor Center and/or walking the interpretive trails.

Eat: You’ll find a fast food restaurant in Apgar Village and restaurants in West Glacier, but you should bring a picnic lunch and eat by the lake or a waterfall.

Stay: The Lake McDonald Lodge and Apgar Village Lodge and Cabins are both in the park. You’ll also find hotels in West Glacier and Columbia Falls.

montana road trip to Glacier National PArk

Day 10: Glacier National Park

Do: Start at the Apgar Visitor Center or hop on a shuttle to the Avalanche Shuttle Stop. From here, walk the Trail of the Cedars and on to Avalanche Lake. Shuttle back to Apgar and spend the afternoon kayaking, canoeing, or paddleboarding on Lake McDonald.

Eat: You can eat at Eddie’s Cafe and Gifts in Apgar Village, or several restaurants in West Glacier and Columbia Falls. We like to grocery shop on the way to the park and picnic.

Stay:The Lake McDonald Lodge and Apgar Village Lodge and Cabins are both in the park. You’ll also find hotels in West Glacier and Columbia Falls.

Lake with pier and people in kayaks in Glacier Park


MONTANA ROAD TRIP #2

Southeast Montana Road Trip

small towns, natural wonders, battlefields, dinosaurs

southeast montana dirt road

Even after living in Montana for nearly 20 years, I had not explored a lot of southeastern Montana. I had been to the places best known for Montana tourism — Bighorn Battlefield, downtown Billings, and Bighorn Canyon — and driven through a lot on my travels east.

Thanks to a press tour I participated in with Visit Southeast Montana, I fell in love with this corner of the state.

Since then, I’ve looked for any excuse to visit on our Montana vacations. The landscape is stunning and surprising, dinosaur fossils seem to be everywhere, and people are so friendly. There is so much to do and see in this unexpected Montana.

When you are thinking about trips to Montana, I encourage you to get off the beaten path and see some of these less popular spots.

This route starts and ends in Billings, Montana.

Southeast Montana Road Trip Itinerary (7 days)

looking at pictographs through binoculars near Billings, Montana

Day 1: Billings, Montana

Do: There are so many fun things to do in Billings and great places to eat. Start the day with a visit to Four Dances Natural Area and Pictograph State Park. Get a hands on history lesson at the Western Heritage Center or enjoy modern western art at the Yellowstone Art Museum. Catch a show at the Alberta Bair Theater.

Eat: Try The Sassy Biscuit Co. for breakfast or lunch and Last Chance Pub and Cider Mill or Commons 1882 for dinner.

Stay: We like the Northern Hotel, the Dude Rancher Lodge, or some of the many other hotels in Billings.

Day 2: Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area

Do: Fly fish on the pristine Bighorn River or take a pontoon cruise on Bighorn Lake in Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area. Kayak below cliffs that tower 1,000 feet above you. Rent a pontoon or kayaks at Ok-A-Beh Marina on the Crow Reservation. The lovely folks at Bighorn River View Lodge will get you set up with a fly fishing trip.

Eat: Get picnic supplies or lunch to go in Billings. Dinner at the Bighorn River View Lodge.

Stay: Bighorn River View Lodge and Cabins

Lake in Bighorn Canyon

Day 3: Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument

Do: Feel history come alive at the place where General Custer led the 7th Cavalry to a stunning demise at the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument. We were moved by both the Native American monument and imaging all the people who died here. Crow tribal member Rose Williamson from Indian Battle Tours leads a wonderful tour that really brings the battlefield to life.

Visit the Chief Two Moons Monument, created in honor of a Northern Cheyenne chief who participated in the Battle of the Little Bighorn and was a model for the famous buffalo nickel. 

Eat: It seems like it will be too cheesy, but Custer Trading Post and Café is a great place for lunch. Get the Indian tacos.

Stay: Sagebrush Inn and Suites in Broadus.

personal tour guide at Little Bighorn Battlefield

Day 4: Broadus and Ekalaka, Montana

Do: Start the day with a visit to the Powder River Historical Museum in Broadus. It’s one of those small town museums that will really surprise you. Ask a docent to give you a little tour and don’t miss Mac’s Museum out back – he was quite the collector.

Drive to Ekalaka and visit the Carter County Museum. We were most enthralled with all the dinosaur stuff. Stop by the Church of Hank Williams on Mormon Avenue for a different sort of cultural experience that you won’t find in your average Montana vacation guide.

Have a picnic dinner (or pizza from Stompin’ Grounds) at Medicine Rocks State Park. Theodore Roosevelt called Medicine Rocks, “As fantastically beautiful a place as I have ever seen.” The sandstone hoodoos are riddled with holes and interesting shapes. They are also covered by graffiti from all the people who have carved their names in them. We like climbing the sandstone rock formations, walking the Sunset Loop and Dalton Trails, and watching the stars. If you have never seen a night totally free from light pollution, you will be blown away by the star gazing here.

Eat: I love Stompin Grounds in Ekalaka for coffee, pastries, pizza, and a bunch of other yummy eats.

Stay: Camp at Medicine Rocks or drive on to Baker and stay at the Red River Inn & Suites.

sunrising over medicine rocks state park on the best montana road trip

 

Day 5: Baker and Terry, Montana

Do: Start the day in Baker. If you are into old cars, check out Prairie Rose Classics private classic car museum. Don’t miss Steer Montana – the world’s largest steer!- at the O’Fallon Historical Museum. Grab a growler or can at Old Skool Brewery to take with you. I love their IPAs.

In Terry, head out into the Terry Badlands Wilderness Study Area to take in some of the most spectacular and uncrowded scenery in Montana. You’ll find colorful, banded cliffs overlooking rolling prairie. Geologic features include sandstone bridges, spires, table tops, and buttes divided by many deep gullies all formed by thousands of years of wind and water erosion. I recommend driving/biking/walking the Calypso Trail. Find visitation information on the BLM website.

Eat: There are a couple diners in Baker and one or two restaurants in Terry. It may be a good idea to shop at the grocery store in Baker and have snacks and picnic supplies.

Stay: Camp in the Terry Badlands or stay at Montana’s oldest hotel, the Kempton Hotel. Sit on the porch with a beverage and watch out for ghosts.

overlooking the Terry Badlands in southeast Montana

Day 6: Terry and Miles City, Montana

Do: Visit Prairie Unique, a great local shop full of Made in Montana products. The owners are super friendly and can share all the information about Terry and the surrounding area. The Evelyn Cameron Gallery across the street displays photographs from the eastern Montana homesteader and photographer. During the late 1800s, she documented life on the prairie with images so technically astute they still resonate today. If the gallery isn’t open, check at the adjacent Prairie County Museum or ask at Prairie Unique – someone will open it for you.

Then head over to the Old Milwaukee Railroad Bridge for photos and walk along the Yellowstone River looking for agates and birds.

Mosey down the road to Miles City, a real cowboy town and home to the Montana Bucking Horse Sale. Visit the Range Riders Museum (it’s huge!) and don’t miss the 150-year-old donut. Next stop is the Tongue River Winery where they make wine with grapes grown exclusively on the northern Plains.

Eat: Lunch at Tilt Würks Brewhouse and dinner at the Black Iron Grill.

Stay: The Sleep Inn hotel or the Bed and Breakfast at the Tongue River Winery.

Day 7: Miles City and Billings, Montana

Do: Start the day wandering around downtown Miles City. Vintage and Rustics in Montana is a curated antique and vendor mall with a soda fountain and bakery and has the best cinnamon rolls. Then drive to WaterWorks Art Museum, housed in the concrete basins of the 1910 Water Works that produced Mile City’s drinking water for over 60 years.

On your way back to Billings, stop at Pompey’s Pillar National Monument and see the see physical evidence of the Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery’s journey to the Pacific Ocean and back.

Eat: Lunch at the Montana Bar in Miles City for real Western atmosphere. It’s family friendly before 8 pm. Dinner in Billings. We like Montana Brewing Company in downtown.

Stay: My favorite place to stay is the Northern Hotel, The Dude Rancher Lodge is also good, as are many of the other hotels in Billings.


MONTANA ROAD TRIP #3

Western Montana Road Trip

Glacier National Park, lakes, huckleberries, and Zoo Town

the best hikes in Glacier National Park have pretty views

One of the best Montana vacations is this road trip starting and ending in Missoula, Montana (aka Zoo Town). You can customize this Montana road trip by doing fewer activities and spending more time relaxing by lakes, or go full bore and see as much as possible.

The Glacier National Park section of this road trip through Montana is the same as the Yellowstone to Glacier road trip above, just in the opposite order, and with the addition of the Two Medicine area.

If you need to make this road trip shorter, skip Day 2 in Seelely Lake or Day 8 or Day 9 in Glacier. I hate to even say that, since I don’t want to you to miss any of this awesome itinerary, but I know not everyone has the time for a road trip like this.

Western Montana Road Trip Itinerary (10 days)

western montana road trip starting in Missoula

Day 1: Missoula, Montana

Do: Eat and shop around downtown, walk along the Clark Fork, ride the carousel (it’s surprisingly fast!). Learn about aerial firefighting at the Smokejumper Visitor Center. The spectrUM Discovery Area science museum and Montana Natural History Museum are top stops for our family.

Eat: Hob Nob on Higgins for breakfast, The Shack for lunch, The Camino for dinner, and Big Dipper ice cream any time.

Stay: The Holiday Inn Missoula is downtown along the Clark Fork River. From there you can walk to almost everything. There are also a lot of other hotels in Missoula – I recommend one close to town so you can ditch your car while you are there.

Day 2: Seeley Lake, Montana

Do: Hike the 4.5 mile roundtrip to beautiful Morrell Falls or spend the day at the lake swimming and sunning at the Big Larch Campground. Rent a canoe, kayak, paddleboard, or pontoon boat at Tamaracks Resort.

Eat: Moose River Bar and Grill or Pop’s Place Family Restaurant. We always grab (huckleberry) ice cream at The Ice Cream Place.

Stay: Spend the night at a Seeley Lake hotel, or a Seeley Lake vacation rental.

Day 3: Seeley Lake to Whitefish, Montana

Do: Wander the historic downtown popping into secondhand bookstores, cafes, art galleries, and boutiques. Learn about the history of the train depot and thee area at the Stumptown Historical Museum. Stroll along the Whitefish River Trail.

If you are looking for an adrenaline rush, try the zip line or adventure corset Whitefish Mountain Resort. Or take a scenic or wild float on a rafting trip.

Eat: Rebel Roots Kitchen or Wich Haus are great for lunch.

Stay: There are a lot of hotels in Whitefish, plus campgrounds and glamping in the area.

morrell falls seeley lake

Day 4: Whitefish, Montana

Do: Spend some time by the lake at Whitefish City Beach or Whitefish Lake State Park. Or try some of the activities listed for yesterday.

Eat: The Farmhouse Inn and Kitchen and Swift Creek Cafe are among the delicious restaurants for breakfast in Whitefish.

Stay: The Lake McDonald Lodge and Apgar Village Lodge and Cabins are both in the park and will get you there for the next day. You can also spend another night in Whitefish or one of the hotels in West Glacier or Columbia Falls.

Day 5: Glacier National Park

Do: Start at the Apgar Visitor Center or hop on a shuttle to the Avalanche Shuttle Stop. From here, walk the Trail of the Cedars and on to Avalanche Lake. Shuttle back to Apgar and spend the afternoon kayaking, canoeing, or paddleboarding on Lake McDonald.

Eat: You can eat at Eddie’s Cafe and Gifts in Apgar Village, or several restaurants in West Glacier and Columbia Falls. We like to grocery shop on the way to the park and picnic.

Stay: The Lake McDonald Lodge and Apgar Village Lodge and Cabins are both in the park and will get you there for the next day. You can also spend another night in Whitefish or one of the hotels in West Glacier or Columbia Falls.

Day 6: Glacier National Park

Do: Pack up camp or your hotel room and drive the Going-to-the-Sun Road to the east side. Stop at pullouts along the way or plan a longer hike like the Highline Trail from Logan Pass. Be sure to spend some time at Logan Pass in the Visitor Center and/or walking the interpretive trails.

Eat: You’ll find restaurants in St. Mary, but bring a picnic lunch and eat along the way.

Stay: Stay at a hotel in Saint Mary or a hotel in East Glacier.

St Mary Lake with mountains in the back and a little island

Day 7: Glacier National Park

Do: Take the shuttle (or a boat ride) to St. Mary Falls and Virginia Falls trailhead and walk to the falls. Either continue west on the shuttle to Jackson Glacier Overlook to spot a glacier or take the boat back to the dock. Attend a ranger program in the evening.

Eat: There are restaurants in both St. Mary and East Glacier.

Stay: Stay at a hotel in Saint Mary or a hotel in East Glacier.

Day 8: Glacier National Park

Do: Explore Many Glacier. Choose one of the hikes, take a boat ride across Swiftcurrent Lake, get ice cream at the historic and Swiss-styled Many Glacier Hotel.

Eat: Stop at the Two Sisters Cafe in Babb on your way to or from Many Glacier and treat yourself to some pie!

Stay: Stay at a hotel in Saint Mary or a hotel in East Glacier.

fun family road trip to Glacier National Park

Day 9: Glacier National Park

Do: Drive into the Two Medicine area of Glacier National Park. Hike the 2.4 miles (round trip) to Aster Falls or just mess around by the lake. At the Izaak Walton Inn relax at the historic Tudor lodge that still functions as a train depot. Or go for a hike.

Eat: Most of the cabins and train cars at the Izaak Walton Inn have small kitchens and there is a great restaurant in the lodge.

Stay: We love staying in one of the caboose cars at the Izaak Walton Inn.

Caboose at Izaak Walton Inn in Glacier National Park

Day 10: Flathead Lake and Missoula

Do: As you drive down the east side of Flathead Lake, there are a lot of activity options, depending on how much time you want to spend on your return to Missoula. Some places we like are: Getman’s Orchard and Vineyard (cherries and wine grapes), Yellow Bay / Flathead Lake State Park (swim, bird watch, fish, eat cherries), Miracle of America Museum, the National Bison Range, and the Garden of One Thousand Buddhas (Buddhist temple, public park, and botanical gardens). 

Eat: If they are in season, just eat Flathead cherries all day. If you need more, there are restaurants in Bigfork and along the way. We like to get huckleberry milkshakes at the Bison Inn Cafe in Ravalli, near the Bison Range (they also serve burgers and fries, etc.).

Stay: The Holiday Inn Missoula is downtown along the Clark Fork River. From there you can walk to almost everything. There are also a lot of other hotels in Missoula – I recommend one close to town so you can ditch your car while you are there.

Picture of lake and mountains with text "three Montana Road Trips you will absolutely love Road and trees with text " A Montana road trip is never a mistake" "

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