Scenic Drives in Montana With Jaw-Dropping Views
Montana is the fourth largest state in the U.S.A. and is home to a number of national parks and forests, making it a prime candidate for scenic drive day trips or longer road trips.
From the plains of the east to the Rocky Mountains in the west, Montana has no shortage of beautiful drives, but here are some of the best scenic drives in Montana.
Drive Montana’s Beartooth Highway
Want a gorgeous way to get to Yellowstone from eastern Montana? Hit the Beartooth Highway. This epic highway starts just south of Red Lodge, a resort town located an hour southwest of Billings, and ends right before you reach Cooke City by the northeast entrance of Yellowstone National Park.
You may find the 68-mile Beartooth Highway even overshadows Yellowstone in terms of rugged views under the famous “big sky” of Montana.
One thing that makes the Beartooth Highway so special is the sheer elevation of it. The road takes you 12,000 feet up for views that spread out below you with wild plains, thick forests (including Custer, Gallatin, and Shoshone National Forests) and mountainsides that seem untouched by civilization. You’ll also be able to see waterfalls and rivers along the Beartooth, sometimes from your car or via short hikes.
Wildlife is also prevalent along the Beartooth Highway. Mountain Goats and Bighorn Sheep are especially beloved animals to see along the road.
Paradise Valley Scenic Loop Drive
Paradise Valley is located between the town of Livingston and even smaller town of Gardiner, which is right by the north entrance to Yellowstone National Park.
Paradise Valley is known for its wild vastness spreading out between the Absaroka Range and Gallatin Range of mountains.
Gliding its way through the middle of Paradise Valley is the Yellowstone River, and you can also make your way through the wildflowers and brush covering the stunning valley on the Paradise Valley Scenic Loop. The drive covers 62 miles and shows the river valley side of Montana, though the mountains are never far from thought as they tower in the distance.
Drive Around Montana’s Flathead Lake
Montana isn’t just mountains and rivers. Flathead Lake, located in northwestern Montana, is the largest freshwater lake west of the Mississippi and many would argue it’s also one of the most beautiful thanks to its deep blue hue and the surrounding Rocky mountains. It also has close proximity to the ritzy mountain towns of Kalispell and Whitefish.
Experience all the scenery of Flathead Lake by doing a drive around it. Start in pretty Bigfork on the northeast edge of the lake and head south along Highway 35 to loop the lake before heading north along US-93 to have lunch or dinner in Kalispell. (Whitefish is just 16 miles farther north along US-93.) Be sure to stop at a local fruit stand during your drive and try the famous Flathead Cherries.
Flathead Lake Activities Guide
Montana State Parks Around Flathead Lake
Glacier’s Going-to-the-Sun Road
Travel into that big (hopefully blue) sky and get closer to the sun on the Going-to-the-Sun Road on Glacier National Park. The 50-mile road heads high into the mountains through thick vegetation and along cliff-hugging roads and gravity-defying curves.
Driving Montana’s iconic Going-to-the-Sun Road may result in some white-knuckled driving, but the trade-off is well worth it, especially when you come to Logan Pass, the highest point of the drive. Logan Pass is the starting point for several hiking trails and the mountains framing the pass are often sprinkled with snow, even in summer.
Read More: Top Things to Do in Glacier National Park
Yellowstone Lower Loop Drive
We can’t leave out the other national park that Montana is known for! Yellowstone is the gateway to a wilderness epicenter, where you’re surrounded by mountains in various shades of green, brown and snow white while before you are spacious valleys dotted with colorful wildflowers and buffalo.
Yellowstone is massive and has five entrances, two of which are in Montana, including the northeast entrance, which is the only entrance open in the winter months (Wyoming is home to the other entrances to Yellowstone).
Yellowstone National Park covers nearly 3,500 square miles, making it hard to explore the whole park if you don’t have a ton of time. Make the most of your vacation in Yellowstone by doing the Lower Loop drive.
This scenic stretch of road will take you to Yellowstone’s top sites, including Old Faithful, the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, Norris and Castle Geysers, Yellowstone Lake and more iconic views. It’s a great tour of Yellowstone if you only have one day to spend in the park.
Oh, and technically…this drive is in Wyoming, but shhh…if you get to the Yellow Lower Loop drive via the Montana entrances to Yellowstone National Park, we won’t tell it’s Wyoming if you don’t. 😉
What to Know Before You Visit Yellowstone
Best Things to See in Yellowstone National Park
Montana Scenic Loop Drive
Then there’s the big one when it comes to scenic drives in Montana. For those who have the time and the desire to see as much of the gorgeous Montana landscape as possible, the aptly titled Montana Scenic Loop drive can’t be missed.
The Montana Scenic Loop Drive covers 400 miles of terrain in Western and Central Montana along the Great Northern Rocky Mountains and goes past golden prairies, pine-needled mountains, and river rapids.
From Glacier Park’s West Entrance, you’ll go south on Hwy 83 past Swan Lake and down to Hwy 200, on which you’ll go east through Lincoln and curve back up until you reach Hwighway 287. Go north on Hwy 287 to Choteau. Take a break in the Choteau Hot Springs and then continue up Hwy 89 back toward Glacier National Park. At Browning, you’ll head west along the southern border of the park and end up back at West Glacier (or go on to the east entrance of Glacier and take the Going-to-the-Sun drive back to West Glacier to cross two drives in one off this list).
The drive can be done in a day with minimal stops, but it’s best to spread it out as the Montana Scenic Loop provides many opportunities to stop and learn about the history and culture of the area, such as at the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center and the Seeley Lake Historical Museum.
Read More: 25 of the Best Things to Do in Montana
A Montana Drive is Unforgettable
No matter what drive you choose to do in Montana, you’ll find scenic wonders and impressive vistas, and will leave the drive better understanding why Montana is nicknamed “Big Sky Country.”