An Unforgettable Road Trip with Kids in Montana
Trying to figure out a route for a family-friendly Montana road trip? If you’ve got kids in tow, you’re no doubt eyeing one of Montana’s famous national parks. Yellowstone National Park is epic and yes, it’s worth taking your kids to at some point. However, if there’s one thing I’ve learned about traveling with kids — and if you’re looking for a stress-free holiday — it’s best to avoid crowds.
It doesn’t get much more crowded than Yellowstone during high season. Therefore, if taking the family on a road trip in Montana during summer break, I suggest focusing on that other national park in Montana: Glacier.
Glacier National Park still gets visitors in the summer, of course, but not quite to the level of Yellowstone National Park. Located in the northwest region of the state, Glacier National Park provides a scenic wonderland of nature and wildlife that is in close proximity to some of Montana’s most alluring cities.
For this road trip, I recommend flying into Billings or Bozeman and then from there heading to Missoula, Whitefish, and Glacier and then back to Billings or Bozeman via Helena. Here’s why this Montana road trip route is great for kids.
Top Stops on a Montana Road Trip with Kids
- Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman
See dinosaur bones and learn more about the archaeological digs of Montana
- Stay Overnight in Missoula
And get dinner at a kid-friendly brewery.
- Visit a Carousel for Missoula and Dragon Hollow
Carousel and playground and river, oh my!
- Explore Flathead Lake
Go boating, hang at the beach, see wild horses, and eat some cherries.
- Glacier National Park
Spend a few days driving around this epic national park.
- Explore Montana’s State Capital
Learn more about the government and see the capitol building in Helena.
- Gates of the Mountains and Holter Lake
If time allows spend a day boating around Holter Lake, home to the incredible Gates of the Mountains.
Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman
For simplicity sake, I’ll start out this road trip itinerary from Bozeman, but just know if you’re flying into Billings, it’s an additional two and a half hours to get to Bozeman.
Dedicate a few hours to spend in Bozeman to check out the Museum of the Rockies.
Kids of all ages (and adults) will be wowed by the dinosaur exhibit at the Museum of the Rockies. Many of the fossils that have taught the world about dinosaurs were unearthed in Montana, and some of those fossils are now housed in the Museum of the Rockies.
There is an incredible Triceratops and Tyrannosaurus Rex created from real dinosaur bones, plus a plethora of information about dinosaurs. You’ll learn tons, your children will no doubt want to grow up to be archaeologists, and you may find yourself wondering why you didn’t grow up to be one!
The Museum of the Rockies also has other exhibits, but the dinosaur one is what draws in the children.
Missoula: Carousel, Dragons, & More
From Bozeman, you’ll travel on to Missoula, which takes about three hours. In Missoula, stay overnight at a kid-friendly hotel like the Comfort Inn & Suites, which has a waterfall in the middle of the hotel, a large pool and kiddie pool, plus numerous hot tubs. I recommend asking for a room on the second floor facing the middle of the hotel. These rooms have a private balcony that is indoors, where the adults can hang out with a local craft beer and enjoy some conversation after the kids go to bed. There’s an added bonus of ambient noise thanks to the waterfall.
If you have older kids who can swim and are comfortable with them having easy access to water, there are also rooms on the bottom floor that open up to the middle common area and are about ten steps (if that) from the hotel room door. You can open the window, get in the hot tub and still hear your kids if they get up!
Also, if you want somewhere to stay that you’ll reach sooner than Missoula from Bozeman, check out the luxe Fairmont Hot Springs Resort just past Butte. (Or just stop there to relax in the hot springs for a bit if you have older kids before continuing on with the drive.)
As for where to find some craft beer in Missoula if traveling with kids, there’s a great kid-friendly brewery just outside of town called Highlander Beer – Missoula Brewing Company. It has a large cordoned off kid area and serves up pizza and beer.
After you get a good night’s rest at your hotel, wake up the next morning, grab some pastries for breakfast or a mid-morning snack at the delicious Bernice’s Bakery, and head to the Carousel for Missoula attraction. You can easily spend an entire morning here as the kids take a ride (or two) on the carousel. If you have a toddler, you can sit on the horse with them, and you’ll want to since this is one carousel that goes fast!
Montana Insider Tip: There is a dragon that dispenses rings hanging above the outside of the carousel next to where the operator sits. Preteens will have fun sitting on one of the outer horses and trying to grab the rings. Whoever gets the only brass ring (usually one of the last rings to get dispensed) gets a free carousel ride!
Right next to the Carousel for Missoula is one of the coolest parks you’ll find in America called Dragon Hollow. It was designed to reflect a dragon and castle and it’s great for kids.
The playground also has picnic tables nearby where you can have an easy lunch. Grab some sandwiches from Tagliare Delicatessen before arriving in order to enjoy one of Missoula’s best sandwiches.
After lunch, take an amble down the river walk, a paved trail that stretches along the river through Missoula and runs right behind the carousel. This will help get the kids tired enough that they’ll hopefully fall asleep and you won’t have to deal with any “are we there yet” questions on your way to your next location: Flathead Lake.
Flathead Lake: Boating, Cherries & Wild Horses
By Flathead Lake, I recommend spending two nights so you can give yourself an entire day to explore this lovely part of Montana.
There are many lake activities you can do with kids, including beach time. You can even take a boat ride to Wild Horse Island. If your kids are like my daughters, they are obsessed with horses and this will be a real treat for them. It’s one of the few places in Montana where you can still find truly wild horses.
Flathead Lake is also known for its cherries and trying some local pie or just getting a bag of cherries to munch on during your road trip is a must if you’re there when they’re in season.
A great place for lunch is in Polson at Cherries BBQ Pit, which has some incredible BBQ sandwiches (the pulled pork is soooo tender) and great kid meals. They even spiral the hot dogs.
Glacier National Park: the Pinnacle of Your Montana Road Trip
After Flathead Lake, you’re onto the pinnacle part of your Montana road trip: Glacier National Park.
See a Glacier on an Epic Drive
A can’t miss drive in Glacier National Park no matter your age is the Going to the Sun Road. It has gorgeous sky-high scenery and also is an opportune way to see glaciers along the way. You’ll want to dedicate a full day to this drive if you plan on stopping a lot (which…you know…kids! So probably plan on that), which is why I recommend staying at least three days in Glacier National Park. You’ll then have one full day for this drive and another full day to do other activities and sightseeing in Glacier National Park.
It’s important to note that this drive usually doesn’t open up until mid-June or beginning of July and closes in October due to snow, but it varies each year depending on snowfall so double check road updates before your trip begins.
And since you’re in Glacier National Park, it makes sense to see a Glacier, right?
Seeing glaciers is so fun to do with kids. I still remember my first time seeing them when at Glacier National Park when I was a kid! For most families, this will be their children’s (and maybe even the adults) first encounter with a glacier, and it’s a pretty awe-inspiring experience. This is especially the case if you take the time to educate the kids on how glaciers are formed and how they affect the world’s nature and climate before your trip, during on of your long stretches of driving on the road trip, or at one of Glacier National Park’s visitor centers.
Become a Junior Ranger
Another way to keep the kids actively involved during your time in Glacier National Park is to do the Junior Ranger program. It’s free to sign up and gives the kids the opportunity to get badges in different areas of the park.
Practice Hiking Safety
If you’re planning to do any hikes in Glacier National Park, bring bear spray. If hiking with kids, it’s probably smart to stick to the main trails (a good one is the Hidden Lake Trail) unless you’re all used to hiking in the backcountry of mountains, but even on the main trails you’ll want to have bear spray with you since you never know whey you might cross path with a Grizzly in the bear country of Montana.
In addition to bear spray, it’s smart to hike in groups and make noise as you hike, such as singing, yelling, talking loudly; this is particularly important to do if you’re coming up to blind spots in the trail. The National Park Service provides good information on being bear aware here.
Helena: Montana’s State Capital
After your three days in Glacier, it’s time to start making your way back to Bozeman or Billings to catch your flight home (or keep on driving to your home if you roadtripped in your own car from home). Instead of backtracking, leave Glacier National Park via Hwy-89 and I-15 and go through Helena before connecting back with I-90.
Helena is a great stop on a family road trip since it’s the capital of Montana. Kids can see the capitol building and you can also tour it. Plus, Helena is just a gorgeous city, situated right within the rocky mountains.
Spend the night in Helena to break up your day of driving, and then finish up your kid-friendly Montana road trip the next day. If you want something action-packed to do first, rent a boat and explore the Gates of the Mountains near Helena first. We have a massive, super-detailed post about how to visit the Gates of the Mountains right here for you!
Save this itinerary to review again later by saving it to your Pinterest account: