Some of the most stunning landscapes in the world surround Glacier and Yellowstone national parks. Montana’s open highways, scenic byways and backroads of discovery offer the two-wheeled trip of a lifetime.
The best riding under the big blue sky is found in Western Montana’s Glacier Country and Yellowstone Country Montana, where epic terrain and stunning scenery overflow from the breathtaking national park landscapes that anchor each region. Both areas deliver world-class riding among premier small towns and pull-over-worthy attractions. Exploring two of the country’s most exceptional national parks by bike is altogether unforgettable.
Between St. Mary and West Glacier, ride from one end of Glacier National Park to the other on the 50-mile-long Going-to-the-Sun Road, an engineering marvel and National Historic Landmark. You’ll see jagged mountain peaks, alpine lakes, cascading waterfalls, expansive valley views and, chances are, wildlife. Crest the Continental Divide at Logan Pass, known for wildflowers, mountain goat sightings and the rocky cliffs of the Garden Wall. You’ll find a visitor center and a short 1.5-mile hike to Hidden Lake Overlook here, too. This route—one of the most spectacular in the country—offers plenty of places to pull over and take in the breathtaking vistas or hit the trail. Head up early in the morning when traffic is light. You’ll experience steep elevation changes and some hairpin turns. From Browning, head to St. Mary Lake and take in the incredible 4,500- foot peaks before you begin your “ride to the sun.” Check seasonal road status here: glaciermt.com/gtsr
Ride the exhilarating 655-mile Great Scenic Loop through Western Montana and Idaho along the banks of five rivers and over six scenic byways. Starting in Lolo, travel west on U.S. Highway 12 to Lolo Pass and the Idaho state line. Make sure to take a selfie with the WINDING ROAD NEXT 99 MILES sign. This route takes bikers through a handful of small towns in Idaho, including Kooskia, Grangeville, McCall, Stanley, Challis and Salmon, then north on U.S. Highway 93 back to Montana’s Bitterroot Valley. The craggy Bitterroot Mountains provide a picturesque backdrop to the charming communities of Darby, Hamilton, Victor, Stevensville and Florence before arriving back in Lolo. Be sure to map out a plan in terms of lodging—this is a multiday trip.
Follow the Blackfoot River—made famous by Norman Maclean’s “A River Runs Through It”—on this 50-mile scenic ride from Missoula to Ovando on State Highway 200. This is a popular stretch of river for anglers and a great way to watch recreators float and fish this prized Montana waterway. Thirteen miles before Ovando, look out for the giant cow statue at Clearwater Junction where MT-200 meets State Highway 83. Veer off route onto MT-83 to head up to Seeley Lake on the Seeley-Swan Scenic Drive stopping along the way for good food and lake views, or hit up this detour on your way back from Ovando.
Cruise around the largest freshwater lake west of the Mississippi—Flathead Lake—in either direction. U.S. Highway 93 on the west side offers four lanes and higher speed limits for a nonstop lakeshore cruise and State Highway 35 on the east side is a two- lane, slower-paced ride with a little more character. The views are incredible on this approximately 90-mile ride, and from mid to late summer fruit stands dot the roadside offering Montana’s famous Flathead cherries plus apples and huckleberries.
Gas up at the bustling St. Regis Travel Center (check out the live trout exhibit) on U.S. Interstate Highway 90. This popular roadside stop acts as the starting point for the 24-mile-long St. Regis-Paradise Scenic Byway (State Highway 135), which runs along the Clark Fork River. Stop along the way at Quinn’s Hot Springs Resort. At the junction of State Highway 200 drive the last 2.5 miles of this scenic route, landing in Paradise. If you want to extend your trip up to Flathead Lake, follow MT-200 to Plains then east on State Highway 28 for 48 miles (noting that Symes Hot Springs Resort is about halfway) landing in Elmo, a small town on lakeshore.
The 67-mile Lake Koocanusa Scenic Byway, aka Montana State Highway 37, cuts through the Kootenai National Forest to connect the towns of Eureka and Libby. From Eureka, ride through Rexford to the shores of Lake Koocanusa, a 90-mile-long reservoir behind Libby Dam that stretches into Canada. The blacktop hugs the reservoir all the way to the dam. Shortly after the dam, the byway turns west to follow the Kootenai River— one of Montana's blue-ribbon trout streams— into Libby. Extend your trip and make it a 134-mile loop tour by driving from Libby to Kalispell and then back north to Eureka.
This 74-mile long corridor along State Highway 83 stretches through the picturesque Swan Valley between Seeley Lake and Swan Lake, ending in the storybook village of Bigfork on Flathead Lake. Follow the Swan River and take in stunning views of the Mission Mountains and the Swan Range, plus dozens of lakes, two rivers, lush forestland, expansive meadows and steep mountain walls just beyond the boundaries of the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex. You’ll find some nice sweepers on this route and only a few tight turns.
If you prefer straight and relatively empty roads with plenty of chances to stop, Montana’s Highway 200 beckons. From Missoula, head north along the Clark Fork River on U.S. Highway 93 for 36 miles to Ravalli where you’ll pick up State Highway 200. The route from Ravalli to Noxon, roughly 102 miles tucked between two mountain ranges, travels by the charming small communities of Thompson Falls (visit the dam) and Trout Creek (famous for huckleberries). When you get to Noxon, ride over the historic Noxon Bridge.
Often referred to as the most beautiful drive in America, the Beartooth Highway is one scenic route to cross off your bucket list. From the destination mountain town of Red Lodge to the small outposts of Cooke City and Silver Gate at the northeast entrance to Yellowstone National Park, travel this National Scenic Byways All-American Road (U.S. Highway 212) west for 68 miles of sublimely picturesque switchbacks through the Absaroka and Beartooth mountain ranges. You’ll find numerous scenic pull-outs and views of 20 peaks towering over 12,000 feet. Pull over and explore alpine plateaus, glacial lakes, lush forested valleys and pristine waterfalls, and climb Beartooth Pass at 10,947 feet—which is the highest drivable point in the state. 38 miles from Red Lodge you’ll reach the “Top of the World” where you can stop to take a breather and fuel up. Just before the park you’ll reach Cooke City (make sure to visit the General Store) and Silver Gate (don’t miss the Stop the Car Trading Post).
The captivating and craggy Gallatin Canyon calls, with cinematic views of the Gallatin River, towering rock formations, deep forests and sweeping valleys. Begin on U.S. Highway 191 in the lively college town of Bozeman and stop halfway (about 44 miles) in Big Sky for great views of Lone Peak. From Big Sky, drive 50 miles to West Yellowstone and you’ll be at the west entrance to Yellowstone National Park. In this popular gateway community you’ll find plenty to eat and drink, from bison and burgers to locally brewed beer. If you’re up for a little off-road exploration en route, you’ll find hiking trails and mountain lakes on either side of Gallatin Canyon. Watch for bighorn sheep—they like to cross the road in this part of the region.
From Bozeman to Norris, take in the snowcapped Tobacco Root Mountains along State Highway 84. Once you hit the beautiful and famous Madison River, you’ll wind through a small canyon and then on to Norris Hot Springs, offering a healing mineral-water soak plus on-site camping. From there, head southeast on U.S. Highway 287 through Ennis to Quake and Hebgen lakes. Once you reach West Yellowstone, head north on U.S. Highway 191 back to Bozeman (the Gallatin Canyon Scenic Drive) for a total of 219 miles of jaw-dropping vistas and stop-worthy points along the way.
On this 45-mile loop, wind your way westward on Montana Secondary Highway 420 (Stillwater River Road) along the wild Stillwater River from Absarokee to Nye through grasslands and a small burn area and into a narrow canyon stretch with jagged Beartooth Mountain peaks. This quiet road turns to gravel at the Nye Basin but stays open year-round. From Nye, take Montana Secondary Highway 419 (Nye Road) along Fishtail Creek right into the town of Fishtail. Fuel up at the Fishtail General Store, founded in 1900, and head back north to Absarokee via State Highway 78. At the junction of MT-78, you could also head south on a highly-recommended 15-minute side trip to Roscoe for a burger at the Grizzly Bar.
Follow the Yellowstone River along the soaring peaks of the Absaroka Mountains to the east with the picturesque Gallatin Range to the west on U.S. Highway 89. Stop at Mallard's Rest Fishing Access Site (13 miles south of Livingston at mile marker 42) where you’ll find the ultimate in Montana views. This aptly named panoramic river valley boasts the epitome of Big Sky Country vistas. Halfway through this 54-mile ride, stop in Pray at Chico Hot Springs, and then ride on to Gardiner, Montana’s gateway to Yellowstone National Park. This flat, straight ride gives way to sweeping curves.
On the northern front of the Beartooth Mountains, travel State Highway 78 for 46 miles between Columbus and Red Lodge. After you cross the Yellowstone River you'll travel along the Stillwater River and the beartooth foothills. if you're riding to Red Lodge to access the famous Beartooth Highway, this is a more scenic route than U.S. Highway 212. You’ll reach the charming community of Absarokee two thirds of the way through your ride, where you can also pick up the Absarokee Loop.
From the sweeping grasslands of Big Timber on State Highway 289, follow the Boulder River into the heart of the Absaroka Mountains before reaching Livingston. Along with excellent views of the Absaroka Mountains and the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness Area, you’ll pass the Natural Bridge Falls Picnic Area—well worth the stop to see the natural rock tunnels and waterfall. The first 20 miles of the road are paved and the rest is gravel.
Take the long, scenic route from Gardiner to Cooke City through the northwest corner of Yellowstone National Park. From Gardiner, head south on U.S. Highway 89 to U.S. Highway 212 heading east. Pull over in Mammoth Hot Springs and explore steaming hot springs terraces or tour historic Fort Yellowstone and the Albright Visitor Center. After that, you’ll find the hottest thermal area in Yellowstone—the unique rainbow-colored Norris Geyser Basin. From there, head to Canyon Village to witness Yellowstone’s 20-mile-long Grand Canyon. Next up, Yellowstone’s Tower-Roosevelt area to visit Tower Falls, Calcite Springs Overlook, Lamar Buffalo Ranch and the Roosevelt Lodge before reaching Cooke City via the wildlife-filled Lamar Valley.
The weather in Montana has a mind of its own. It’s best to layer up or bring extra clothing, especially on routes that gain elevation quickly where temperatures can drop pretty dramatically.
Also, fuel up when you can, and research routes before you head out. Gas stations can be few and far between and cell service can be patchy—which is part of what makes Montana special.
Both Glacier and Yellowstone national parks require entrance fees. Learn more here: nps.gov/aboutus/entrance-fee-prices.htm
Before you hit the road, it’s important to check road status and road closures. You can find Montana road reports here:
Summer is ideal for multiple reasons, but so are spring and fall. Get even more road to yourself in Montana’s beautiful shoulder seasons. Springtime means wildflowers are blooming and autumn gives you the chance to see Montana in full color. Though the days are shorter and you have to pay closer attention to the weather, spring and fall are excellent times to ride.
One of the highlights of riding through Western Montana’s Glacier Country and Yellowstone Country Montana is the abundance of charming small towns and lively communities along the way, where you’ll find plenty of unique and comfortable lodging options—from luxury to rustic and everything in between. Pitch a tent at a campsite along your route, or book a stay at a guest ranch, bed-and-breakfast, timbered lodge, cabin, hotel or motel. For more on lodging, visit glaciermt.com/stay and visityellowstonecountry.com/places-to-stay.
After a long day behind handlebars, take in the Montana flavor at an authentic steakhouse or local watering hole. Between the two regions you’ll find exceptional food no matter your taste, as well as plenty of places to grab a drink. With 40+ breweries and a number of historic western bars full of authentic Montana character, there’s no shortage of places to pull up a barstool. For more on where to eat, visit glaciermt.com/eat and visityellowstonecountry.com/food-and-drink.