10 Scenic Montana Road Trips with Unforgettable Stops Along the Way

Written by Brandy Stone
Updated: October 31, 2023
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Wilderness, wildlife, and wonderous views — Montana offers a lot for outdoor enthusiasts. In addition to its incredible natural landscape, Montana has urban attractions, Native American heritage sites, cultural events, historical frontier buildings, rich geological features, and dinosaur fossils. Whether you are a state resident or a visitor, you won’t want to miss these 10 scenic Montana road trips.

There are many incredible experiences in Montana where you can walk on foot and immerse yourself in the landscape.

1. Backroad to Yellowstone

Start Ennis — End West Yellowstone

This road trip starts on the east side of Ennis by crossing a bridge that spans the Madison River and gives you a majestic view of Fan Mountain. Madison River feeds into several lakes in this area, making this scenic drive one of the most unforgettable routes in Montana. For 40 miles, the road runs alongside the river, giving you views of water, plains, and rugged mountains in the distance. In winter, bison forage along the many creeks and streams crossing the road. 

West Yellowstone, the destination on this scenic route, offers visitors an array of activities. Outdoor opportunities abound, including biking, hiking, fishing, winter snow sports, wildlife viewing, and night-sky viewing. A visit to the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center puts you in front of Montana’s most iconic wildlife. This non-profit wildlife park is a sanctuary for rescued grizzly bears, wolves, otters, and birds of prey. You are guaranteed an up-close look at wolf packs and grizzly bears year-round — the bears at the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center don’t hibernate! Yellowstone National Park’s entrance in West Yellowstone is the closest park entry point to Old Faithful, one of the park’s most iconic attractions. The geyser is about a 32-mile drive from West Yellowstone, making it a possible extension of this road trip.

Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center

The Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center is one of many attractions on a road trip to West Yellowstone, MT.

©Sesamehoneytart / CC BY-SA 4. – License

2. Breathtaking Scenery on Beartooth Highway

Start Red LodgeEnd Cooke City

Beartooth Highway is a national scenic byway that is just 68 miles long but full of enough overlooks and pullouts to occupy a whole day. Driving this meandering highway immerses you in the quintessential Montana scenery, making it one of the best scenic Montana road trips to take with unforgettable stops. Around every corner, you will see spectacular views, including canyons, mountain lakes, rivers, jagged mountains, glaciers, streams, and meadows.  

Beartooth Highway is one of the best-rated scenic Montana road trips.

©iStock.com/Joseph Tointon

The best time to drive the Beartooth Highway is summer, as it is only open for a few months of the year. The scenic route zigzags over Beartooth Pass, climbing to an elevation of 10,947 feet above sea level. Expect hairpin turns, steep drop-offs, and epic views. Take a picnic lunch and enjoy the incredible stops on what has been called the most beautiful drive in America.   

3. Montana Ghost Town Road Trip

Start GarnetEnd Virginia City

Meander through mountain scenery while experiencing frontier life at several ghost towns along this route. Discover abandoned towns and prospector stories from the gold rush era while visiting these sites. To fully enjoy the 268-mile journey, this trip is best experienced over a three-day period. 

Garnet Ghost Town

Garnet is one of the best non-commercialized ghost towns in Montana. The buildings are well preserved, and some even have furniture that was left behind. Signs throughout the town explain the history of the city and its buildings. A small visitor’s center and self-guided trails make this a fun, educational outing.   

Granite State Park

You must traverse a steep, winding road to get to Granite State Park — part of the adventure that makes this stop exciting! The narrow road may require you to pull over for oncoming cars. At the top, you’ll find an abandoned silver mining town with remnants of brick buildings, making it slightly different from the other ghost towns in the area. Wildlife viewing, photography, and grand vistas are additional features at this location.

Bannack

Bannack is unique among the many old western-themed towns as its buildings have been preserved rather than restored. Visitors can walk through the town, explore the sites independently, or take guided history tours. Open year-round, Bannack offers seasonal events like night tours with a ghost theme in October and ice-skating on the dredge pond in the winter. 

Ghost towns in Montana

Visitors can take guided tours or independently explore Bannack ghost town in Montana.

©iStock.com/Mantas Volungevicius

Crystal Park

You will cross through beautiful countryside and quaint towns getting to this unique recreation site. Crystal Park is peppered with quartz crystals and is a designated rockhounding site. Rockhounds will enjoy getting their hands dirty, cracking open rocks, and digging the day away. 

While it doesn’t fall into the ghost town category, it gives you the chance to experience mining firsthand — the reason for the ghost towns in this region. It is open for day use only, and you are limited to hand tools for finding crystals. Quartz crystals are abundant in various colors at the park, including clear, smokey grey, cloudy white, and purple.  

Virginia City 

The attractions in Virginia City can occupy an entire day. During the summer, there are live music performances and live historical reenactments for visitors. The town has plenty of restaurants and bars, plus an old candy shop, a brewery, a bakery, and 150 historical landmarks. Step back in time while strolling the well-preserved old-west atmosphere of this modern tourist destination. You can take the train to nearby Nevada City for a history-filled day just two miles down the road. 

4. The Montana Dinosaur Trail

Start RudyardEnd Bynum 

For dinosaur enthusiasts, the Montana Dinosaur Trail is an adventure well worth the long drive. It can take up to a week to complete the journey, which combines museums, state parks, and fossil beds into a 14-stop route that covers 1,300 miles. 

Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman

Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman is one of 14 museums included on the Dinosaur Trail.

©Jllm06, Public domain – License

Some unforgettable stops along this route include the Montana Dinosaur Center, the Great Plains Dinosaur Museum, and Makoshika State Park, all of which have exhibits and field dig programs. he Makoshika Dinosaur Museum. Don’t miss the world’s most extensive collection of dinosaur fossils at the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman. For an outdoor adventure, hike the badlands of Makoshika State Park and see fossil remains of Tyrannosaurus rex and Triceratops.

5. Bighorn Country Scenic Loop

Start Billings — End Billings

This four-day drive crosses through Native American Indian nations, over the Lewis and Clarke Corps of Discovery path, and highlights Montana’s cowboy culture. After leaving Billings, head towards Miles, MT. Along the route, you can stop at Pictograph Cave State Park, where a loop trail gives you an up-close look at 100 pictographs. The Range Riders Museum in Miles has historical artifacts and exhibits from the Great Plains area.

The next stop on this road trip takes you to the Crow Reservation, headquartered in the town of Crow Agency. The Crow Reservation is the largest Indian reservation in Montana. In town, you can take a Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument tour with Native American interpretive guides or visit authentic Crow gift shops. Another way to discover the rich heritage of this area is to take a cultural tour with Little Bighorn College. In August, Crow Agency becomes the ‘teepee capital of the world’ during the Crow Fair celebration. 

Welcome sign to Crow Reservation, Montana.

Part of this road trip takes you to the Crow Reservation, headquartered in the town of Crow Agency.

©U.S. Department of Agriculture, Public domain – License

The last stop before returning to Billings is Pryor, MT. In town, you can visit Chief Plenty Coups State Park, where the Chief Plenty Coups’ farmstead, log home, and a sacred spring are preserved for visitors. Plan to spend at least an hour exploring the park and the visitor center commemorating a man’s life that bridged the gap between two cultures. And, if you enjoy fishing, boating, and watching wildlife, you may want to stop at Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area. It is common to see bighorn sheep and mule deer in this area.

Here’s how to take this scenic road trip through Bighorn country — start in Billings and head to Miles City. Then, backtrack to Hardin, from Hardin, head to Crow Agency, then to Pryor. From Pryor, drive back to Billings to complete this loop route.

6. Going-to-the-Sun Road Trip

This scenic drive through Glacier National Park is a great way to experience the park in one day. This road trip spotlights soaring mountain peaks, glacial lakes, and abundant wildlife. The drive requires advanced reservations for anyone traveling between 6 a.m. and 3 p.m. Alternatively, if you miss out on making a reservation, you can enter via the St. Mary Entrance without reservation before 6 a.m.

Grinnell Glacier at Glacier National Park, Montana.

Stunning views greet visitors on the Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park.

©iStock.com/JeanMarieBiele

If you enjoy getting out of the car and traveling on foot, you can experience untamed wilderness in Glacier National Park. The Highline Trail is an out-and-back 15-mile hike that rewards you with alpine views and wildlife. It is considered a challenging route, taking the average hiker a little over seven hours to complete. However, the trail has several junction points with other routes. With some research, you can plan a hike that suits your timeframe and desired activity level.

7. Helena to Giant Springs State Park

Start Helena — End Giant Springs State Park

Helena has something for everyone. With deep historical roots and miles of hiking and biking trails, there will surely be a point of interest worth a stop. The Gates of the Mountains is a national historical site along the Lewis and Clark trail. The giant limestone cliffs that rise from the Missouri River loomed large over the explorers who wrote a detailed account of the area. If boating past rugged rock formations while listening to engaging stories about Lewis and Clark, firefighters, and indigenous pictographs sounds like something you would enjoy, check out the educational boat tours from the marina on the Missouri River, just off Interstate 15 between Helena and Great Falls. Are you looking for an interactive activity? Don’t miss out on a treasure-hunting opportunity at the Montana Blue Jewel Mine, where you can mine sapphires.

Sapphire on white background

Sapphires are one of the many treasures visitors can search for in Montana.

©photo-world/Shutterstock.com

From Helena, head north to Giant Springs State Park. The activities in this park make it one of the most visited parks in the state. You can bike on mountain bike trails, fish, hunt, birdwatch, hike, photograph waterfalls, and watch water bubble up from the ground at one of the largest freshwater spring sites in the United States.

8. Madison Valley Loop

Start Bozeman — End Gallatin Canyon back to Bozeman

This scenic road trip takes you west from Bozeman through the Madison River Valley, then up through Gallatin Canyon back to Bozeman. Travel west on Highway 84 to Norris, where you’ll find an old gold-mining town now known for its thermal hot springs. Soaking in Norris Hot Springs pre-dates its development as a commercial soaking center. Native Americans used thermal springs like the ones in Norris for healing and resting. The hot springs are open year-round.  

Traveling south past Ennis on Highway 287, you’ll travel through the scenic river valley, where you might see elk, deer, antelope, and other wildlife. The next picturesque stop along the way is Quake Lake, where fishing and boating are popular. Aptly named, Quake Lake formed in 1959 when an earthquake caused a massive landslide that blocked the Madison River and formed the lake. You can visit the Madison Canyon Earthquake Area and Visitors Center to learn more about the area and the effects of one of the strongest earthquakes in the Rocky Mountain region. 

Yellowstone National Park, Madison River Valley, American Bison Herd, Wyoming

The Madison River Valley stretches 183 miles from Wyoming (pictured here) to Montana, awarding visitors with breathtaking scenery and wildlife viewing.

©Gjeterhund Photography/Shutterstock.com

On the next leg of the Madison Valley Loop, you will wind your way through Gallatin Canyon back to Bozeman. Many scenes in A River Runs Through It, which was filmed in various locations in south-central Montana, were filmed here. You might see fly fishermen and rafters in this narrow canyon, as the whitewater rapids are a favorite amongst kayakers and rafters alike. It is a popular recreation area with hiking, fishing, camping, and river access.   

9. Pintler Scenic Route

Start Anaconda — End Drummond

Sometimes, driving a backroad rewards you — the Pinter Scenic Route is one of those backroads you’ll be glad you took. This 60-mile scenic route is an alternative to driving on the main highway, Interstate 90. It makes the drive longer but offers better views and unique stops. You’ll see fields dotted with large granite boulders, old mining relics, and sage-covered hills. Much of the route follows the shores of Georgetown Lake, a stunning mountain lake that is great for fly fishing.  

Flowers, meadows, forests, Rocky Mountains and Georgetown Lake, Montana

Much of this scenic route follows the shores of Georgetown Lake.

©Claudio Del Luongo/Shutterstock.com

Stopping in Philipsburg, a restored mining town that caters to tourists, is worth the one-mile side trip. You’ll find fine architecture created out of granite — including dramatic semicircular arches and stone walls. You might consider a longer-than-normal pause in Philipsburg to explore their shops, including a nostalgic candy store and the Gem Mountain Sapphire Mine store. After a stop in Philipsburg, the rest of the byway follows creeks and mountain vistas to Drummond.  

10. Big Sheep Creek

Start Dell — End Clark Canyon Reservoir

If you enjoy solitude and backcountry adventures, Big Sheep Creek Backcountry byway might be your perfect off-the-beaten-path trip. The two-lane dirt road twists through Big Sheep Canyon, where you can look up at high rock cliffs and down into deep trout-filled pools. Bighorn sheep and deer are common sights in the late afternoon and evening.

Along the Nez Perce National Historic Trail, Clark Canyon Reservoir south of Dillon, MT. US Forest Service photo, by Roger Peterson

This byway, which ends at the Clark Canyon Reservoir, is an off-the-beaten-path trip that takes you through adventurous backcountry.

©Forest Service Northern Region from Missoula, MT, USA, Public domain – License

The byway passes through several fences that you will need to close after driving through, and it’s common to only pass a couple of cars during the average three-hour drive. There are many pull-outs to explore but no services, so be prepared for a rustic day trip. After passing through the canyon, drivers are rewarded with a remarkable view of the mostly untouched Medicine Lodge Valley.

10 Scenic Montana Road Trips With Unforgettable Stops

NumberRoadtripTotal DistanceAverage Time NeededFeatures
1Montana’s Dinosaur Trail1,300 miles5-7 daysDinosaur museums, fossil exhibits, field dig programs, badlands.
2Beartooth Highway68 miles 1 dayMultiple pullouts for views of mountain lakes, cascading streams, glaciers, 22 mountain peaks, canyons, and meadows.
3Ghost Town Trip268 miles3 daysAbandoned mining towns, frontier museums, mountain scenery, rockhounding.
4Bighorn Country Loop400 miles4 daysCultural tours, Crow Indian reservation, pictographs, fishing, wildlife.
5Going-to-the-Sun Road51 miles1 dayWildlife, glacial lakes, glaciers, hiking, camping.
6Helena to Giant Springs State Park 96 miles1 dayBiking, hiking, birdwatching, photography, waterfalls, natural spring.
7Madison Valley240 miles1-2 daysHot springs, boating, fishing, scenic views of a canyon, and whitewater rafting.
8Backroad to Yellowstone72 miles1 day or moreMountain scenery, up-close viewing of grizzly bears and wolf packs.
9Pintler Scenic Route60 miles1 dayGranite boulder formations, fly fishing, historic architecture.
10Big Sheep Creek50 miles1 dayUncrowded and rustic route, canyon, trout-filled streams, bighorn sheep, and mountain goats.
Summary of the 10 Scenic Montana Road Trips with Unforgettable Stops Along the Way

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Sean Xu/Shutterstock.com


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About the Author

Brandy Stone is a writer, photographer and outdoor educator. She writes nonfiction for children with a special interest in animal adaptations, wildlife conservation, and environmental stewardship. A former owner of a nature-based program for kids, Brandy blogs about STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math) projects for elementary aged kids. Her book, Gardening For Kids, includes 25 garden-based educational projects for kids. When she is not leading outdoor activities for kids, you can find her writing stories, biking, and capturing nature with her camera. She lives in Issaquah, WA.

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