Bucket-List Montana Road Trip Itinerary (2024)

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I have written the perfect Montana road trip itinerary so you can avoid stress when planning!

This itinerary features the best things to do in Montana! You will see iconic landscapes, beautiful mountain towns, bustling cities, and fun hidden gems.

Montana is well known for its wilderness, national parks, and wildlife. This state is a true playground for those who love the outdoors, hiking, and photography.

Some things included on this Montana example itinerary:

  • Glacier National Park
  • Whitefish
  • Yellowstone National Park
  • Big Sky Mountain
  • Helena
  • Missoula

Pick and choose what stops to explore depending on how much time you have. This is truly one of the best road trips in the USA!

Keep reading to learn how to plan a trip to Montana!

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Table of Contents

Montana Road Trip Map

I created this Montana road trip map so those of you who are visual can get an idea of how much driving is involved.

This way, you can see if there is something you want to cut off your itinerary for Montana. For example, you may see Billings is out of the way and decide you don’t have enough time so you choose to skip it!

Save this map as a reference so you can have the best trip to Montana!


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Bucket-List Montana Road Trip Itinerary

Stop 1: Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park is 1,583 miles of wilderness in the Rocky Mountains and features over 700 miles of hiking trails. A Glacier National Park road trip is a must in Montana!

There are seriously so many things to do in Glacier National Park!

The Trail of Cedars is probably one of the easiest hikes here while Grinnell Glacier is the most difficult.

No matter what trail you pick, you’ll see scenery with jagged peaks of the Rocky Mountains and ice-blue lakes contrasted by green meadows.

Lake McDonald is also a great place to check out, especially on a guided Glacier Park Boat Company Tour. Or you can head north of the park to explore the Waterton Lakes National Park!

Apgar Nature Center is the official park visitor center and is fun and interactive for families and all travelers. If you’re really interested, you can check out guided tours that usually base themselves out of the center, such as Private Wildlife Tours!

Don’t forget to drive the Going-to-the-Sun Road! This paved, two-way highway snakes through the park and Logan Pass. It is known as one of the most scenic drives in America!

Visiting Montana in the summer is the best time to see Glacier National Park as some parts are closed in winter.

All the best Montana road trips include Glacier, and you will love it too!

Best Hotels Near Glacier National Park:

Mid-Range: Wonderstone at Glacier. Check Rates: Booking.com

Luxury: Great Northern Resort (Lodge). Check Rates: Booking.com

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Stop 2: Whitefish

The next stop on your Montana road trip is Whitefish. Here you will trade in vast, sweeping views for a classic, small-town USA experience.

Bed and breakfasts, local shops, and fantastic restaurants line the streets of this town.

I recommend visiting the Marina for some activities like jet skilling and swimming especially if you’re visiting during the summer!

There is also a local spa at The Lodge at Whitefish that is well-reviewed if you want to relax with massages and facials.

True to the small-town vibe, the Whitefish Downtown Farmer’s Market is quaint and quiet with lots to explore. It is one of the best places to purchase your travel trinkets!

Although it is a small town, Whitefish is close to Glacier National Park (only 30 minutes). This can be a quick day trip to enjoy the local side of Montana!

You will definitely want to add Whitefish to any unforgettable road trip planner for Montana!

Best Hotels in Whitefish:

Mid-Range: Baymont by Wyndham Whitefish.Check Rates: Booking.com

Luxury: Grouse Mountain Lodge. Check Rates: Booking.com

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Stop 3: Yellowstone National Park

Would you be on a Montana road trip without stopping at another national park? From Whitefish, it is a scenic 6.5-hour road trip to Yellowstone National Park.

This is arguably one of the most famous national parks. There is so much to do here even if a good portion of the park is located in Wyoming!

I have even written a Yellowstone road trip if you want to spend more time here!

Start at the iconicOld Faithful.This legendary geyser erupts on schedule, spraying mist through the air while also spouting water straight up. It is a truly beautiful part of nature.

Grand Prismatic Spring is also a geyser, but this geyser is also a hot spring and a volcano! This is the largest hot spring in the US and has striking coloration. Reds, oranges, yellows, and blues will catch your eye!

Some hikes you may want to check out include Mt. Washburn, which runs up an old road and past meadows and gnarled rocks throughout Yellowstone.

The Storm Point Natural Trail is a varied loop trail that is close to a pond and frequently visited by bison. Here you can walk through dense forests and finish your walk/hike at the shore of Yellowstone Lake.

Home to dramatic features and a vast array of animals, the stops of Yellowstone in Montana are something you must add to your itinerary. I hope you see wildlife in Yellowstone!

After you enjoy this natural scenery, make sure to check out nearby communities, such as Livingston and Cooke City!I also suggest staying in West Yellowstone which is a cute town near the park’s entrance.

Best Hotels Near Yellowstone National Park:

Mid-Range: Al’s Westward Ho Motel. Check Rates: Booking.com

Mid-Range: Crosswinds Inn. Check Rates: Booking.com

Luxury: Yellowstone Park Hotel. Check Rates: Booking.com

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Stop 4: Billings

Billings is the perfect stop on your Montana road trip for those who enjoy the outdoors and urban attractions. This is one of the top Montana travel destinations!

I recommend starting at Pictograph Cave State Park. The three caves here (Pictograph, Ghost, and Middle) have rock paintings dating back to prehistoric times, and guided tours help you navigate this rocky region.

Yellowstone River is also a great presence in Billings.

Near the top of the river, at Riverfront Park, you can rent a tube and float down the river while stopping at a variety of parks on the shore. Make sure to look at Josephine Park in particular for a landing spot!

The Yellowstone Wildlife Sanctuary houses many native animals from Montana. All of these animals have been injured and cannot survive in the wild.

You can get up close to see mountain lions, buffalo, and more!If you want a guarantee of seeing wildlife when you road trip Montana, add this to your itinerary!

YellowstoneCellars and Wineryoffers fantastic tours of the local grounds and cellars. You can do a tasting experience as well. The samples of red and white wine and live music call to many tourists!

For one of Montana’s unique attractions, check out the Billings Amusem*nt Park Drive-In!

This old-fashioned, large-screen theatre shows two movies at once while you camp under the Montana sky. You may be distracted from the movie by the stars!

Lastly, you can be adventurous and visit the Madison River, which is a part of the Missouri River. Many tourists come here for white water rafting, but even the stunning views are enough to stop and stare!

Billings is truly one of the best vacations in Montana!

Best Hotels in Billings

Affordable: Baymont by Wyndham Billings. Check Rates: Booking.com

Mid-Range: Northern Hotel. Check Rates: Booking.com

Mid-Range: Boothill Inn and Suites. Check Rates: Booking.com

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Stop 5: Big Sky Mountain and Bozeman

As mentioned earlier, there are many communities near Yellowstone, and two you CANNOT miss and need to add to your Montana itinerary are Big Skyand Bozeman.

Tucked away in the Rocky Mountains of Montana, Big Sky is well-known for its downhill trails that offer hiking in the summers, and skiing in the winters.

In the heart of Big Sky, you must check out Ousel Falls Park, which features waterfalls, picnic areas, and fantastic views. It is fairly close to Yellowstone so you can do both on your Montana road trip!

The Gallatin River cuts through the Gallatin Canyon just a few miles from the town of Big Sky on the northeast side. It offers stunning scenery to witness wildlife in their natural habitats.

Bozeman, which is located at the foot of the Bridger Mountains, is just a short drive from Big Sky.

This town is more suburban but features must-sees such as the Montana State University’s Museum of the Rockies.This museum features a Siebel Dinosaur Complex and a planetarium.

Just on the outskirts of Bozeman itself, are the Spanish Peaks, which offer more trails for skiing, biking, and hiking!

Best Hotels in Bozeman

Mid-Range: Microtel Inn & Suites. Check Rates: Booking.com

Luxury: The LARK. Check Rates: Booking.com

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Stop 6: Helena

Helena has it all: nature, museums, landmarks, and local food. This city is a must-see during your Montana road trip.

I recommend starting with the Gates of the Mountains.If you want to add a little history to your Montana itinerary, this is the place!

The Gates of the Mountains were made famous by Lewis and Clark. The river that runs through the foothills of the Rocky Mountains is easily explored, especially through boat tours!

Spend some time exploring the city of Helena and its landmarks and museums!

You can visit the Montana Historical Society Museum, the Montana State Capital, and the Cathedral of St. Helena,all of which are fairly close to one another!

If you’re looking for something interactive and fun, I recommend the Montana Blue Jewel Mine!

If you’re lucky, in between learning about the history of mining, you may be able to find and take home a few sapphires!

Lastly, make sure to wrap up your time in Helena with Mount Helena. The hike to the peak offers sweeping views of the city.

After you finish up, these hiking and biking trails lead to downtown restaurants for some relaxation after an active time on your Montana road trip.

Best Hotels in Helena

Affordable: Days Inn by Wyndham Helena. Check Rates: Booking.com

Mid-Range: Ramada by Wyndham Helena. Check Rates: Booking.com

Mid-Range: Delta Hotels by Marriott Helena Colonial. Check Rates: Booking.com

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Stop 7: Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest

Although I’ve already talked about Helena, I need to emphasize a very important spot near that wonderful city: Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest.This national forest must be on your Montana road trip.

The forest spans over 2,900 miles in two separate zones. The eastern section has a lot of grass and shrublands while the west is designated as an environmental preservation wilderness.

At the park, you must see the Giant Springs State Park. This is one of the top sights in the forest as it is a huge freshwater spring. It is over 200 acres and features activities such as boating, swimming, and more.

The forest spreads across mountain ranges and counties. It is well known for its coniferous streets, tall mountain peaks, and grassy meadows.

The park itself offers vast recreation opportunities from scene drives, hikes, horseback riding, camping, and even skiing in the winter. This is such a beautiful, natural place to explore.

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Stop 8: Finish Your Montana Road Trip in Missoula

The last stop on your Montana road trip is Missoula. Although it once started as a small trading post, this city is now HUGE and is surrounded by the stunning scenery of the Rockies.

The Clark Fork River runs through the center of the city and connects many attractions along its Riverfront Trail, meaning you can walk it and hit all of your mini-adventure stops!

I recommend checking out Mount Sentinel, a 1,958-foot-tall mountain that looks over the city, close to the University of Montana. This is a popular hiking destination and has trails from easy to difficult!

Caras Park hosts hundreds of events every year. Its two large pavilions help contain crowds during celebrations and festivities, such as the annual Pray for Snow Party.

The Clark Fork Market is also hosted at Caras Park every Sunday, and adjacent to the park is the famous and historicWilma Theatre!

Lastly, I think you should check out Rattlesnake National Recreation Area. It is perfect for a Montana on a budget itinerary.

Although this is 4 miles north of Missoula and part of a larger forest, this is a popular spot to explore the wild outskirts of the city. Many people come here to hike, fish, and ride (both horses and bikes).

If you want to include more nature on your Montana road trip guide, this is a great area to visit.

Best Hotels in Missoula

Mid-Range: La Quinta Inn.Check Rates: Booking.com

Mid-Range: StoneCreek Lodge. Check Rates: Booking.com

Luxury: The Wren. Check Rates: Booking.com

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Getting To And Around Montana

I suggest flying into Glacier Park International Airport (FCA). It is the closest airport to Glacier National Park, and many lodgings are located around this airport.

It is 12 miles from popular Whitefish and 30 miles from the West Entrance of the national park itself.

You can also fly into Bozeman if that works better for you. Just rearrange the order of the stops on this route.

Whichever airport you fly into, you can rent a vehicle and set out on the best Montana vacation itinerary. You can also drive to Montana if you live close or want a longer road trip!

Montana driving routes are easy, and it is a safe state to drive in. There are smooth roads, even in the mountains.

When navigating roads at nearly 80 mph, I recommend renting a car that is comfortable but also has good gas mileage. Rent a car that is large enough to navigate roads and many miles well.

At the Glacier National Park Airport, you can rent cars in the terminal through businesses such as Avis, Budget, Hertz, and International.

Don’t forget to check out my detailed road trip packing list so you don’t forget any essentials!

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How Long to Spend on Your Road Trip in Montana

I suggest about 7-10 days when planning a trip to Montana by car. This will give you plenty of time at each stop without feeling rushed or needing to drive long distances each day.

Of course, I understand not everyone can take so much time off for a vacation. Even if you only have a few days in Montana to explore the top sites, a road trip is worth it!

Below, I will provide some Montana road trip itineraries for different timelines.

Sample 5-Day Montana Itinerary:

Day 1: Start in Missoula
– Explore the University of Montana and Mount Sentinel.
– Drive to Helena: Approx. 2 hours.

Day 2: Explore Helena
– Visit the Montana State Capitol, the Cathedral of St. Helena.
– Hike up Mount Helena for panoramic city views.

Day 3: Helena to Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest
– Spend the day in the national forest, visit Giant Springs State Park.
– Drive to Billings: Approx. 4.5 hours.

Day 4: Billings Exploration
– Visit Pictograph Cave State Park and the Yellowstone Wildlife Sanctuary.

Day 5: Return to Missoula
– Drive back to Missoula for departure.
– Drive time: Approx. 5 hours.

Sample 7-Day Montana Itinerary:

Day 1: Whitefish Arrival
– Arrive in Whitefish, explore downtown and the Marina.
– Drive to Glacier National Park: Approx. 30 minutes.

Day 2 & 3: Glacier National Park
– Explore Glacier National Park: Trail of Cedars, Lake McDonald.
– Drive the Going-to-the-Sun Road.
– Drive to Missoula: Approx. 3.5 hours.

Day 4: Missoula
– Explore Missoula, including Mount Sentinel and downtown.

Day 5: Drive to Helena
– Visit Helena’s state landmarks and museums.
– Drive time: Approx. 2 hours.

Day 6: Helena to Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest
– Explore the national forest and Giant Springs State Park.

Day 7: Billings
– Drive to Billings, explore local attractions.
– Drive time from Helena: Approx. 4.5 hours.

Sample 10-Day Montana Itinerary:

Day 1: Missoula
– Begin in Missoula with downtown exploration and Mount Sentinel.
– Drive to Helena: Approx. 2 hours.

Day 2: Helena
– Explore Helena, including city landmarks and museums.

Day 3: Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest
– Visit the national forest and Giant Springs State Park.
– Drive to Billings: Approx. 4.5 hours.

Day 4: Explore Billings
– Visit Pictograph Cave State Park, Yellowstone Wildlife Sanctuary.

Day 5 & 6: Yellowstone National Park
– Explore Old Faithful, Grand Prismatic Spring.
– Drive from Billings to Yellowstone: Approx. 2.5 hours.

Day 7: Big Sky and Bozeman
– Explore Big Sky: Ousel Falls Park.
– Visit Bozeman: Museum of the Rockies.
– Drive times: Yellowstone to Big Sky: Approx. 1 hour, Big Sky to Bozeman: Approx. 1 hour.

Day 8 & 9: Glacier National Park
– Explore trails, Lake McDonald, and drive the Going-to-the-Sun Road.
– Drive from Bozeman to Glacier National Park: Approx. 5.5 hours.

Day 10: Return to Whitefish
– Enjoy leisure time or prepare for departure.
– Drive from Glacier National Park to Whitefish: Approx. 30 minutes.

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When you’re finished in Missoula, you’ll return to the FCA airport and then fly home to complete your Montana road trip!

I know you’ll have a wonderful time exploring Montana by car with all its natural wonders and fun towns. Enjoy your trip and safe travels!

Bucket-List Montana Road Trip Itinerary (2024)


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