Top 10 Scenic Drives in Montana

With a state name derived from the Spanish word for “mountain” (montaña), Montana certainly delivers a plethora of mountain views. Much of its geography owes a debt to the Continental Divide which also divides the state itself with over 100 mountain ranges on the west side and primarily prairie lands on the east, although jagged peaks shape the horizon virtually everywhere. Travel through the state is often difficult with many roads closed through the winter, yet that doesn’t stop hordes of travelers throughout the year coming to see the infamous Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks. There is more, however, to the area, which is why we have compiled a list of our favorite Montana scenic drives to showcase the state not as isolated parts but as a united whole:

No. 10 – National Bison Range

National Bison Range Montana
Flickr user: USFWS Mountain-Prairie

Starting Location: Moiese, MT
Ending Location: Jocko River, MT
Length: 26 miles
Best Season to Drive: Spring, Summer, and Fall
See this drive on Google Maps

This drive through Montana’s National Bison Range, the area with the most free-ranging bison outside of Yellowstone National Park, is restricted to day use only. As the road winds through the mountains and later levels out into agricultural flatlands, keep an eye out for these buffalo herds as well as other wildlife. The picnic area by the Jocko River where this route ends is a good place to rest up before exploring one of the several hiking trails there.

No. 9 – Sweet Grass Hills

Sweet Grass Hills Montana
Flickr user: Luke Detwiler

Starting Location: Sweet Grass, MT
Ending Location: Chester, MT
Length: 106 miles
Best Season to Drive: Spring, Summer, and Fall
See this drive on Google Maps

It’s difficult to go anywhere in Montana without traversing mountainous elevations, but this trip through the Sweet Grass Hills showcases a different side of the state. Although there are still peaks in the distance, the foreground is nothing but vast grasslands over gently rolling hills. Avoid driving this way after intense rains to avoid the risk of getting stuck in the mud, and set aside a little time to tour the historic downtown area of Chester.

No. 8 – Mt. Haggin Scenic Drive

Mt. Haggin Scenic Drive Montana
Flickr user: Forest Service Northern Region

Starting Location: Anaconda, MT
Ending Location: Wise River, MT
Length: 31 miles
Best Season to Drive: Spring, Summer, and Fall
See this drive on Google Maps

This route, known primarily by native elk hunters, is a hidden jewel in the state of Montana and has spectacular camping at the Mt. Haggin WMA, also known as “the bench.” On the way, travelers are treated to views of the sweeping grasslands as well as mountain peaks. Don’t hesitate to stop and hike the trails of the Beaverhead National Forest to forge a more intimate connection with the landscape.

No. 7 – Paradise Valley Scenic Loop

Paradise Valley Scenic Loop Montana
Flickr user: Tim Gage

Starting Location: Livingston, MT
Ending Location: Livingston, MT
Length: 71 miles
Best Season to Drive: Spring, Summer, and Fall
See this drive on Google Maps

A nice choice of route, especially for those either going to or leaving Yellowstone, this drive through the Paradise Valley loops around a portion of the Yellowstone River. This affords plenty of opportunities to pull over and test fishing luck or picnic beside the water. Even non-fisherman will enjoy a stop at Mallard’s Rest Fishing Access Site, where the peaks of the Absaroka Range are clearly visible and entice your inner photographer to emerge.

No. 6 – Yaak Mountain Scenic Drive

Yaak Mountain Scenic Drive Montana
Flickr user: Jim Handcock

Starting Location: Lincoln, MT
Ending Location: Yaak, MT
Length: 30 miles
Best Season to Drive: Spring, Summer, and Fall
See this drive on Google Maps

Adventurous souls may particularly enjoy this trip through the Yaak region, where the people are few and tourists are even fewer. The road passes through dense forests, and it’s easy to get lost in the pristine nature of a region virtually untouched by man. Such remoteness, however, is what lends such an appeal to this drive, and anyone traveling this way won’t want to miss a peek at Yaak Falls and its cascading water.

No. 5 – Lake Koocanusa Scenic Byway

Lake Koocanusa Scenic Byway Montana
Flickr user: Colby Stopa

Starting Location: Eureka, MT
Ending Location: Libby, MT
Length: 69 miles
Best Season to Drive: Spring, Summer, and Fall
See this drive on Google Maps

This route also the eastern shore of Lake Koocanusa affords two scenic views at once – on one side lies a crystalline lake and to the other the sweeping lands of the Tobacco Valley as well as the distant mountains. Stop at Koocanusa Bridge, the tallest and longest bridge in the state, for photos. Anglers will want to make time to see if the rainbow trout are biting at Kootenai River just below Libby Dam.

No. 4 – Glacier to Yellowstone

Glacier to Yellowstone Montana
Flickr user: Tim Gage

Starting Location: Browning, MT
Ending Location: Gardiner, MT
Length: 352 miles
Best Season to Drive: Spring, Summer, and Fall
See this drive on Google Maps

For travelers with ample time to explore – a couple of days at a minimum – it’s hard to beat the array of wondrous sights and things do on this route between Glacier National Park and Yellowstone National Park. Dinosaur enthusiasts will definitely want to stop at The Old Trail Museum in Choteau, where a full Maiasaura skeleton is on display along with the first dinosaur egg discovered. At Sluice Boxes State Park, visitors can stop to enjoy canyon views or drop a hook and line in one of several lakes.

No. 3 – Looking Glass Hill Road

Looking Glass Hill Road Montana
Flickr user: Peter Nyren

Starting Location: East Glacier Village, MT
Ending Location: Browning, MT
Length: 24 miles
Best Season to Drive: Spring, Summer, and Fall
See this drive on Google Maps

The rolling hills go on for miles and seem nearly endless on this lovely drive along the outskirts of Glacier National Park. Take care on the unexpected twists and turns, where it isn’t unusual to spy local wildlife crossing the road or even roaming cattle. Hiking trails and chartered boat tours are prolific at Two Medicine Lake, which is also known for its good fishing.

No. 2 – Beartooth Highway

Beartooth Highway Montana
Flickr user: Tom Kelly

Starting Location: Cooke City-Silver Gate, MT
Ending Location: Red Lodge, MT
Length: 64 miles
Best Season to Drive: Summer and Fall
See this drive on Google Maps

Starting from the picture-perfect area by Cooke City-Silver Gate near Yellowstone National Park and ending in the old mining town of Red Lodge, this route through lush forests and mountains can quiet the busiest of minds. Stop over at Top of the World Resort for canoe or kayak rentals or just to browse the array of wares and stock up on provisions. Take time for photos at the summit of Beartooth Pass, reaching 10,947 feet into the sky, where you can see up to 75 miles into the distance.

No. 1 – Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park Montana
Flickr user: Justin Kern

Starting Location: West Glacier, MT
Ending Location: St. Mary, MT
Length: 50 miles
Best Season to Drive: Spring, Summer, and Fall
See this drive on Google Maps

This scenic drive through Glacier National Park is nothing short of extraordinary with its panoramic views and varied terrain. Water sports like fishing and boating in glacier-formed Lake McDonald and Lake St. Mary can pass the time while soaking up the natural beauty all around. Or, choose one of the many hiking trails through the hardwood forest set against a background of mountain peaks, such as the trail to Sacred Dancing Cascade to see a series of waterfalls amid the raging rapids.

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