What You Need to Know Before You Visit Darby, MT
Darby, Montana is a sleepy little town in western Montana that’s flanked by two different mountain ranges and has the Bitterroot Valley flowing right through it.
Locals have long sung the beauty of Darby and its surrounding area, which boasts many fun and exciting things to do.
Recently, the town has been put on the map even for out of staters thanks to the hit tv show, Yellowstone, which films at a ranch in Darby (and yes, we’ll go over where that is later in this article!).
In addition to Yellowstone, Darby is known for awe-inspiring views and hikes, excellent fly fishing, scenic drives, and a cute main town area. We get into all that and more below!
Where is Darby, Montana?
First off, where exactly is Darby, MT and how do you get there?
Darby is located in Montana’s gorgeous Bitterroot Valley, 65 miles south of Missoula. We grew up hearing stories about the valley since our great-great-grandparents had a ranch and apple tree farm there before eventually moving to eastern Montana. We love to visit whenever we can.
In this part of Montana, you’ll find small towns dotted down a stunning corridor of mountain peaks and valleys, rivers and lakes, and sprawling ranch land. Darby is located on the southern end of the Bitterroot Valley.
The easiest way to get there is via car. Public transportation to Darby is few and far between. If driving, you can just head south down Hwy 93, which will take you straight to the main street of Darby.
If flying, your closest airport is Missoula (though Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport about four hours to the east will likely be cheaper). From there, rent a car.
If renting a car isn’t an option, sign up for a guided excursion that will escort you to the Bitterroot Valley and Darby.
Where to Stay in Darby
You won’t find any hotels or even motels in Darby, though there are some vacation rentals around Darby such as the highly-rated Hannon House. There are also a few vacation rentals in the Park Place apartment complex, which is located right by Main Street.
If you want a hotel-type stay, your best bet is staying about 20 minutes north in the town of Hamilton at the Bitterroot Hotel and Conference Center.
If you ‘re planning to spend several days (or longer) in the Bitterroot Valley and want some pampering alongside your outdoor pursuits, you can’t go wrong with a stay at the luxury all-inclusive guest ranch, Triple Creek Ranch, located on the outskirts of Darby.
My husband and I stayed at Triple Creek Ranch for our anniversary and had an AMAZING time. I wrote about our stay at Triple Creek Ranch here.
Things to Do in Darby, Montana
Now for all the things to do and see (and eat!) while you’re in Darby!
Old West Antiques & Candy Store
Don’t miss a jaunt through the Old West Antiques & Candy Store right on Main Street in Darby. Browse through the antiques and other souvenirs, including ones made by Montana-based artisans. And definitely don’t leave without some gourmet chocolate!
Fly Fishing Near Darby
The Bitterroot River that flows through Darby is one of the best rivers in Montana for trout fishing. And when in Montana, you gotta do some fly fishing! So, during a trip to Darby, cast your line and try your hand at fishing in one of Montana’s preeminent fly fishing locales.
New to fly fishing? That’s ok, too! The Bitterroot Valley has several fly fishing outfitters that offer guided excursions. They’ll provide the equipment and teach you some tricks of the trade.
Darby is located close to both the West Fork and East Fork parts of the Bitterroot so you’ll likely see those places mentioned when booking.
The Bitterroot Fly Company and the Bitterroot Trout Shop are two local businesses located right on Main Street in Darby that offer guided fly fishing excursions in the area.
Lake Como Near Darby
Gorgeous, serene, and incredibly secluded, Lake Como is one of Montana’s most picturesque lakes. It’s also a great spot for fishing, hiking, stand up paddle boarding, and kayaking.
Lake Como is located roughly 30 minutes from Darby. To get there from Darby, you have to head north on Hwy 93 before going east, so consider visiting on your way down to Darby to save some time if coming from Missoula.
Painted Rocks State Park
Just 24 miles south of Darby is one of Montana’s excellent state parks: Painted Rocks State Park.
Painted Rocks State Park is so named because of the lichens that cover the rock walls in shades of yellow, orange, and green.
In addition to that color, the state park is known for its water beauty since it’s located at the base of Painted Rocks Reservoir.
Popular things to do at Painted Rocks State Park include kayaking, fishing, hiking, and camping.
Best Hikes Around Darby
Darby is close to some great hiking trails, many of which are located in the Bitterroot National Forest. Here are some to check out during your trip to Darby.
Shorter, Easier Hikes:
- Blodgett Canyon Overlook: Great for bird watching and a birds-eye view of the valley; 2.8 miles
- Mill Creek Trail: This is an 11-mile there and back hike, but you can shorten in since it’s only a few miles to a beautiful waterfall along the trail, which you can use as a turn-around spot.
Longer, Harder Hikes:
- Gem Lake: Start at Baker Lake Trailhead and continue on to Gem Lake; 4.6 miles
- Lake Como Loop Trail: Lovely trail that takes you around gorgeous Lake Como; 7.9 miles
- Canyon Lake: Great views, for experienced hikers. Be extra observant so as to not lose the trail, especially when leaving the summit; 10.7 miles
Yellowstone TV Show Filming Location in Darby
A big draw for people making a Montana road trip stop in Darby these days is the show Yellowstone.
That’s because the ranch part of Yellowstone is filmed at Chief Joseph Ranch in the southern region of Darby. As you drive south down Hwy 93 shortly after leaving Darby’s Main Street behind, you can see a hint of the iconic green and white building from the show.
Here’s the thing, though. You’ll probably see web articles that say you can pull up to the gates to snap a picture…but you really can’t. There’s a big sign in front saying no stopping or parking in front of the gates.
You can pull off the road a bit before the gates to snap a picture (as I did), but I quickly realized that it’s not safe since the shoulder isn’t very wide and cars are whizzing right by you at 70 mph. Expect to get honked at for looking like a stupid tourist. As I did. 😉
So – I looked like stupid tourist for you to let you know it’s not worth it (or safe!) to snap a picture of the gates and the buildings since the gates aren’t shown in the show and the buildings can barely be seen from the road.
Instead, just drive by, smile at the familiar peek of green and white and be on your way (or have the passenger of your car take a video as you’re driving by).
After all, it’s the land that makes Yellowstone so mesmerizing and as you drive farther down through the Bitterroot and Big Hole Valleys, you’ll see just how vast and wild Montana really is and it will feel more like Yellowstone than those ranch gates ever will.
Which will bring us to our next thing to do in Darby: Montana’s gorgeous Big Hole Valley Scenic Drive.
“But wait! I really do want to see Chief Joseph Ranch!”
If that’s what you’re thinking right now then you’re in luck. There is a way to stay at the ranch and see the Yellowstone ranch sites in all their glory. Chief Joseph Ranch has cabins available to rent and staying in one is the only way to be able to tour the ranch and get up-close pictures and views of the Yellowstone filming set.
Plan on booking well in advance of your trip. With Yellowstone gaining in popularity with each season, these cabins get reserved fast.
You can find out more information about the cabins and make reservations here.
Big Hole Valley Scenic Drive (U.S. 278) via Hwy 43
One of my favorite drives in Montana is heading from Darby over to Highway 43 toward Wisdom and then along the southern part of the Big Hole Valley Scenic Drive onto the small city of Dillon (where you’ll find a Patagonia Outlet! And some neat history).
Hwy 43 is a stunning, rugged mountain highway. You’ll literally feel like you’re driving on top of the world for the last half of it.
Then you reach the top of the pass and slowly begin making your way down into Big Hole Valley (if coming from Darby — the opposite way is also a beautiful way to get to Darby from Central Montana.)
As you pass through this mountain scenery you’ll see open spaces lined by quaint wooden fences — with no signs of civilization.
It makes you wonder who on earth owns this remote piece of land and what a wild land it must be (and for you Yellowstone fans: thinking of John Dutton camping on his land.)
As you leave the mountain behind, you begin driving through the Big Hole Valley, which is truly awe-inspiring in the big sky, open spaces way that only Montana can be.
You’ll drive by acres upon acres of farmland. Cattle roaming free. Haystacks piled high. Mountain peaks in the distance. And barely another car in sight. It’s magical and well worth the drive from Darby.
If you’re heading back to the Bitterroot Valley, you can loop around and drive from Dillon up to Wise River and back south on the northern part of Hwy 43 where you’ll follow it back to Darby instead of continuing south on 278.
Tip: The intersection of Hwy 43 and U.S. 278 comes on fast and is kind of confusing. If you see a “Welcome to Idaho” sign, you’ve gone the wrong way! Pull over at the next pull-out and turn around.
Magruder Corridor Scenic Drive
Another stunning drive to do from Darby is the Magruder Corridor drive.
The Magruder Corridor is a 113-mile stretch of road that connects Darby to Elk City, Idaho. It’s known for its winding curves and expansive views. Plus, it’s the only road that takes you through both the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness and Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness.
However, while the Magruder Corridor may be one of the best scenic drives you can do from Darby, it’s not for the faint of heart. This is due to steep inclines and rough patches of the road. In fact, the one-lane road is mostly unchanged since it was first developed in 1930. Make sure you know your vehicle can handle the road conditions before setting off on the drive. Cell service is also very limited or non-existent along the drive.
Though the Magruder Corridor is not a loop drive, if you drive to Elk City and back, the scenery will still look different as new mountain ranges loom in the horizon of each direction.
This will be a long day, though, as it takes six to eight hours to go one way due to the road conditions causing you to go at low speed. A better bet for a day trip from Darby would be to drive half of it and then turn around to head back so you’re not stuck driving at night.
Find out more about the Magruder Corridor drive and precautions to take here.
Winter Fun in Darby: Downhill Skiing at Lost Trail Ski Area
Darby isn’t just a summer destination. There are also winter thing to do while visiting Darby.
Lost Trail Ski Area is a small downhill skiing area located 37 miles south on Hwy 98 in Sula, MT. It is family owned and is a great spot for skiers young and old at an affordable price.
Where to Eat and Drink in Darby
No, we don’t expect you just to eat candy during your time in Darby! Here are a few prime places to grab a meal or a pint.
Montana Cafe: Get a hearty serving of breakfast or lunch at the family-run Montana Cafe, which inspired a Hank Williams, Jr song. The cafe is short on frills, but big on taste.
406 Saloon / Big Cat Cafe: Located right on Main Street, this eatery includes a saloon, cafe, and a back area that opens onto a large patio and grassy area and often hosts live entertainment.
Bandit Brewing: This is one of Montana’s smallest breweries, but it has some high-quality brews and a convenient tasting rooms just a couple blocks off Darby’s Main Street with a small tasty room with some funky decor (like the vintage truck “crashing” out of the wall above the entrance).
Enjoy your time in Darby, Montana!
Read More: 30 Coolest Towns in Montana