This Montana road trip connects some of the finest features of the Big Sky Country, including a great national park, and evocative historic sites.
Glacier National Park
Begin at Glacier National Park, to explore its ever stimulating landscape. The park is gigantic, covering more than a million square miles. It is right up on the Canadian border. There is so much to see, but be sure you visit Hidden Lake, which offers a glorious foreground to Bearhat Mountain. To see the heights of the Park, follow Going-to-the-Sun Road and then drive over Logan Pass, at the Continental Divide. Follow the Trail of the Cedars for a stroll to a glacier. Other sites to see include Virginia Falls and Saint Mary Lake. Be sure to plan your route ahead since some roads are only open in season, and also check the schedule of ranger-led programs to enhance your visit.
Follow route 2 to route 93 to route 90 to Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site. Your drive will take you to Columbia Falls, home of the Montana Vortex House of Mystery. This funhouse is more than a little off-the-wall. Next, you will enter Flathead National Forest and take a route that follows the shoreline of Flathead Lake, the largest natural freshwater lake west of the Mississippi River in the contiguous United States. Enjoy the view at Flathead Lake Finley Point State Park, and enjoy a meal at Finley Point Grill, located at Mile Marker 6, Hwy 35, in Polson.
Continue to St. Ignatius located on the Flathead Indian Reservation; see the St. Ignatius Mission Church and the Four Winds Treading Post. Then drive on to Missoula, a city known as “the hub of five valleys”. Ride the Carousel, see Garnet Ghost Town and visit the Missoula Art Museum. Dine at Pearl Café for wonderful French food, and choose downstairs for family dining or upstairs for a romantic ambiance. Or try the deliciously exotic menu at The Silk Road. Consider Café Dolce for outstanding food, with everything gluten free, and an Italian villa atmosphere. Finally, Bob Marshall’s is the place for pizza. Continue on I-90 through, Clinton, Drummond, and, Garrison, to Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site.
Take a side trip to Darby for a rare chance to stay in a building designed by famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright. The picturesque Alpine Meadows Ranch preserves all that remains of an ambitious development of the early 1900’s, when a group of University of Chicago professors planned a retreat and orchard called Como Orchards Summer Colony. Today you can stay in the Frank Lloyd Wright Cabin, the Writer’s Cottage or the rustic Cider House, among others.
Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site
Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site preserves and interprets life in the Western cattle industry from the 1850s up to recent times. Visitors can gain an impression of what it would have been like to be part of a cattle drive, or stay in a bunkhouse. Capture the allure of cowboys and cattlemen, consider a special tour where you can learn to brand a cow. Canadian fur trader Johnny Grant first established a trading post here, in the Deer Lodge Valley in the1850-60’s. The ranch remained in one family until the creation of the National Historic Site in 1972. There are 1,500 acres and 90 structures in the Park which is still a working ranch.
Follow 43 to Big Hole National Battlefield Visitors Center, which preserves the site of an historic battle of the Nez Perce War of 1877. The visitor center tells of the events leading up to the battle, and gives the background of the Niimiipu (Nez Perce) people. Take time to see the interpretive film, and the displays, then follow the two trails: one to the native camp site, the other to where the soldiers camped.
Yellowstone National Park
Take US 287 and MT 278 to Yellowstone National Park. Even though it is just across the state border in Wyoming, you will want to visit Yellowstone National Park on this Montana Drive. Yellowstone is not only the United States’ first National Park, it is the first national park anywhere in the world. The park was signed into existence by President U. S. Grant on March 1872. Long-treasured by Native Americans, Yellowstone was first viewed by European trappers and traders. They were spellbound by the geothermal wonders; half of all of the world’s geothermal features are concentrated within the bounds of Yellowstone. For a visit that gives you an experience of the features that most visitors list as their favorites, take a looping drive through the park.
Take I-90 east and Montana 212 to the park entrance for the Battle of the Little Bighorn Site and the Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area. This route will take you through Billings. If you can, take time to see the Rimrocks, spectacular rock formations overlooking the city. ZooMontana and Pictograph State Park are highlights of this lovely city. For a meal in Billings, visit Uberbrew, The Burger Dive, The Field House Café, or Stella’s Kitchen.
Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument
Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument preserves the site of the June 25 and 26, 1876, Battle of the Little Bighorn, near Crow Agency, Montana. The Battle of the Little Bighorn is famously also known as Custer’s Last Stand. This area memorializes the U.S. Army’s 7th Cavalry and the Sioux and Cheyenne in one of the Native American’s final armed efforts to preserve their way of life. On June 25 and 26, 1876, more than 260 soldiers, including Lt. Col. George A. Custer and attached personnel of the U.S. Army, died fighting several thousand Lakota, and Cheyenne warriors, whose casualties were seven Cheyenne and 19 Lakota. View the film, explore the museum and bookstore. Follow the quarter mile Deep Ravine Trail. See the Indian Memorial, which was dedicated in 2003. Because of its location far from city lights, this National Monument is a favorite for night sky viewing.
Consider a side trip to Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area, established in 1966, following the construction of the Yellowtail Dam. From this side of the NRA, you have access to visit the Yellowtail Dam; which is over five hundred feet high. The Visitor Center offers a glass extension overlook to the dam itself. If you are seeking the spectacular views of the Canyon itself, these are not accessible from this entrance. Access to that part of the NRA is via route 37 as it tracks out of Wyoming into Montana.