Exploring Montana: Road Trips through Big Sky Country
By Kimberly Graf. Published on August 18, 2021
Montana is known for many things, among them being the state with the largest land mass while boasting one of the smallest populations. You know what that means: wide open spaces and roads with a handful of other cars, as well as a vast wilderness that is uninhabited.
It's very much a vast green country filled with tall pine trees, mountains, and sparkling clear lakes. You also might have heard of one of Montana's biggest tourist draws: Yellowstone National Park. This long, involved road trip covers the same country that made Yellowstone famous – all from the comfort of your car.
Montana's Scenic Loop
The best scenery in Montana can be seen along this scenic route. It begins and ends in Lincoln, Montana. This trip totals just over 7 hours and about 400 miles – perfect for a weekend trip! We'll start in Lincoln and aim for a complete run of the loop.
There's not much to do in Lincoln besides soak up the small town atmosphere. We're going to hit the road from here and head to Seeley Lake. Seeley Lake is about an hour away, 54 miles through gorgeous Montana countryside that's going to be breathtaking no matter what season it is. You'll pass through the town of Clearwater, a charming community, on your way.
Seeley Lake is a huge recreation area for skiing in the winter, as well as outdoor fun in the spring and summer. It's one of the beautiful mirror-glass lakes that you can only really find in this part of the country. Spend some time absorbing the sights here, before moving on down the road to Bigfork, Montana.
On the way to Bigfork you're going to pass through Flathead National Forest and Flathead Lake, which is a beautiful scenic drive. You're going to want to take loads of pictures! It's an hour and 20 minutes of this road until you get to our next destination. Bigfork is all about Flathead Lake. It's situated right on the water, with hulking pine trees on crystal water. You might want to stay a bit and enjoy!
But from Bigfork, our next destination is Kalispell. This is a town that serves as the gateway to the Glacier National Parks. The Conrad Mansion is here, a building from the 1800s that is now a fully restored museum. This is around the other side of Flathead Lake – and you can take a ferry out to Wild Horse Island here. It's an island completely inhabited by horse and bighorn sheep.
It's about 30 minutes down to Columbia Falls from here. Here, you can actually go into Glacier National Park – Yellowstone's lesser-known sister. There's tons of wildlife here, including lots of black bears and mountains that you can climb all over. It's good for at least a few hours of family fun.
It's an hour and 40 minutes from Columbia Falls to Browning. Browning is the capital of the beautiful Blackfoot Native American reservation. They have the gathering of Nations here every time they do it. It's a great place to stop and look at the scenery, and absorb some of the life of the people here. You're going to need a minute out of the car after the road that takes us here. It's a mountainous, graded, curvy road all the way through Flathead National Forest. It's beautiful, but you're definitely going to want a break afterwards!
From Browning, It's an hour to Bynum. You'll pass through the communities of Piegan and Kingsbury Colony on this road, both charming small towns with historic roots on the reservation. Bynum, Montana is a small town with a lot of character. There are dinosaurs everywhere! You just have to stop and pull off to look at some of these dinosaur paintings and statues. It's great for kids to see!
After tooling through the Jurassic in Bynum, head down to Choteau. It's 15 minutes away, and sits at the foot of the Rocky Mountains. You can get some beautiful pictures of the landscape here. It's a city, but it's characterized by the mountains that it's so close to. This is a beautiful place to come in the fall when the foliage begins to change.
Half an hour from Choteau is Augusta. This is a small town with historic building fronts. This old ranch town has been around since 1893, and it was partially destroyed in 1901. It's certainly a place to drive through on the road, but there's almost nowhere to stop.
From Augusta, it's an hour back to Lincoln to complete the loop. There are plenty of other things to see and do on the way; if you feel like extending your trip for a week, you can take all the little scenic routes and detours and come out all the happier for it. Montana is a big state, but it's characterized by a lot of wilderness, and you can see a huge selection of it on this loop.
This is the most popular and interesting road trip through Montana, though we're sure there are other destinations you're going to want, this is by far the most rewarding road trip in the state!