6 Most Magical Scenic Drives in Montana

From the craggy peaks of the Rocky Mountains to Yellowstone National Park, Montana is full of spectacular outdoor scenery.  

For the best chance to see all the wonders underneath the Big Sky, this state was named after, a road trip in Montana is the way to go. Whether you already have an end destination in mind, like Glacier National Park, or you’re trying to map a route for a cross-country family trip, read on to discover some of Montana’s best scenic drives.  

In this guide, we’ll cover the details about what makes each of these Montana scenic byways special, as well as any tips you might need for planning a successful drive.  

1. Montana Scenic Drives: Going-to-the-Sun Road 

  • Distance: 50 miles 
  • Time Needed: 2 hours or 1 day, depending on the stops  

One of the top highlights of Glacier National Park and an absolute must for scenic drives in Montana, Going-to-the-Sun Road gives you a front-row seat to the wonders of Montana.  

USA Scenic Drives in Montana - Lake McDonald

Crossing the Continental Divide at Logan Pass, this winding mountain road brings you past plummeting waterfalls, through valleys covered in wildflowers, and along mountain ridges.  

Since this is one of the most popular scenic drives in Glacier National Park, it’s highly recommended to start out early in the day. Plus, this will give you a better chance to spot some wildlife along the route!  

Some of the top places to stop on Going-to-the-Sun Road are Lake McDonald, a pristine 10-mile long 500-foot-deep clear mountain lake. Nearby are the Sacred Dancing Cascades, a stunning series of waterfalls that certainly live up to their name!  

Keep in mind that this particular Montana scenic drive usually requires reservations (sometimes, this is waived during slow seasons). When planning your trip to Glacier, add this to your travel itinerary to make sure you don’t miss out!  

There are numerous lodges and campsites along Going-to-the-Sun Road for epic places to stay during your Montana road trip. Keep in mind that these are often among the most popular places to stay in the park, so early reservations are a must.  

When to go: Because of the difficult terrain, Going-to-the-Sun Road is only open seasonally, usually between May and October. It’s best to check the park website before driving to make sure there aren’t any road closures from the weather.   

2. Montana Scenic Drives: Beartooth Highway  

  • Distance: 68 miles  
  • Time Needed: 3 hours to several days  

If you’re taking a road trip in Montana and planning on visiting Yellowstone, then the Beartooth Highway is the perfect drive for you.  

Traversing the border between Montana and Wyoming, this scenic highway has been labeled not only as one of the best drives in Montana, but one of the best drives in the United States! Waterfalls, mountain vistas, and alpine lakes are all in store during this drive.  

Portions of the Shoshone, Custer, and Gallatin National Forests are all included in the route. These regions are some of the best places to spot wildlife like bison, antelope, elk, and maybe even a grizzly bear!  

We’d highly recommend setting aside time at least for stops for photographs along the narrow switchbacks along the drive. There are lots of lookout points, such as the Pilot and Index Peaks Overlooks, where you can pull off and park to get out and appreciate the view. However, it’s not a bad idea to plan for a day or two to explore the hiking trails or spend a night at one of the campsites or lodges.   

When to go: The opening and closing dates of the Beartooth Highway vary each year depending on the weather, but typically it’s between May and October. Summer tends to be the busiest season, but also the best for hiking and water activities along the way.  

3. Montana Scenic Drives: Paradise Valley Scenic Loop 

  • Distance: 62 miles 
  • Time Needed: 2 hours to several days  

Paradise Valley is one of the most scenic areas along the Yellowstone River, and this loop is the perfect way to experience all the wonders of the region. With all there is to see and do in the valley, this drive could be your entire vacation in Montana!  

USA Scenic Drives in Montana - Paradise Valley

The drive begins in the town of Livingston and then follows the Yellowstone River south. You can continue on the road to Gardiner and then either keep south toward Yellowstone National Park or loop back north to experience the drive on the opposite side of the river.  

Along the way, you’ll have endless opportunities for fishing, river rafting, horseback riding tours through the mountains, or hiking. Stay at one of the lodges or campsites in the Paradise Valley to really make the most out of your time on this Montana scenic drive! 

When to go: This drive is open year-round, but it’s best to check for road closures, particularly in winter, before setting out.  

4. Montana Scenic Drives: Skalkaho Highway Scenic Drive  

  • Distance: 45 miles 
  • Time Needed: 2 hours to 1 day  

If you’re looking for a more remote and secluded scenic drive in Montana, then the Skalkaho Highway is the route for you.  

Traversing the Sapphire Mountains in the southwestern region of Montana, you can enjoy the peaceful tranquility of mountain valleys, cascading waterfalls, and stunning vistas.  

The narrow switchback roads are mostly gravel, so it’s recommended to have a four-wheel drive when taking this route.  

There are plenty of places to stop along Skalkaho Creek to explore hiking paths, go fishing, or simply get photos of the waterfalls. If you want to spend more time in nature, you can check out the campsites along the Bitterroot Valley, so spend a night or two next to the creek.  

Keep in mind that there aren’t any stores or gas stations along the drive to make sure you’ve got a full tank and snacks and drinks for the trip.  

When to go: This road is only open seasonally, usually between May and November, due to snow accumulation. It’s best to check road conditions before starting this drive.  

5. Montana Scenic Drives: Big Sky Backcountry Byway 

  • Distance: 105 miles  
  • Time Needed: 2 hours to one day 

After driving this scenic byway in Montana there will be no doubt left about how the state got its nickname of the “Big Sky” state. Traversing over 100 miles of the beautiful prairie landscape, the huge expansive blue sky and red rock formations will leave any traveler speechless.  

USA Scenic Drives in Montana - Terry Badlands

Along the way, you can stop to get photos of some of the incredible rock formations, including sand bridges and table-top mesas. In the Terry Badlands, you’ll get to see fascinating layers of colorful sediment in the canyons.  

The area is also known for its wildlife, such as elk, deer, antelope, and numerous species of birds.   

At one end of the drive in Terry, Montana, you’ll be right on the banks of the Yellowstone River. At the opposite end of Wolf Point, you’ll be on the Missouri River, which is well known for its fishing and water activities. 

It’s a great drive to include if you’re on a Yellowstone road trip and looking for a route to travel north in Montana, either to cross into Canada or continue east to the Dakotas.  

When to go: This drive is excellent at any time of year.  

6. Montana Scenic Drives: Lake Koocanusa Scenic Byway  

  • Distance: 67 miles  
  • Time Needed: 2 hours to 1 day 

Connecting the towns of Libby and Eureka, the Lake Koocanusa Scenic Byway follows the Kootenai River and the shores of Lake Koocanusa for a stunning exposition of Montana’s mountainous landscape.  

The drive is well-maintained and open year-round, but if you want a more backcountry experience, you can add the Forest Development Road 228, although this portion is closed during the winter.  

This is one of the best drives in Montana to view the famous big horn sheep, which make their homes in the rocky outcroppings and ledges surrounding the lake. There are plenty of places to pull off to get photos of the wildlife and landscape.  

The drive is short enough that it can be a fun afternoon excursion, or you can turn it into a longer adventure by adding in a hiking trail or even spending a night at one of the campsites on the banks of Lake Koocanusa.  

When to go: The drive is open year-round, but the best time to drive is usually spring to fall.  

More Scenic Driving Inspiration in the Northwest

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