Drive along the clear waters of Flathead Lake. Mine for Montana sapphires. See bison roaming.
This four-day drive is packed with adventure. Learn to river surf and fly fish. See wild bison roam and mine for genuine Montana sapphires. And, if you dare, take the steep and winding portion of MT-38 over 7,257-foot Skalkaho Pass.
The Route: Missoula > U.S. 93 > MT-35 to Bigfork > MT-83 > MT-200 > MT-141 > MT-271 > Frontage Road East > Front Street through Drummond > MT-1 through Philipsburg to Porters Corner > MT-38 over Skalkaho Pass > U.S. 93 to Missoula
Total Distance: approximately 380 miles
Gateway Airport: Missoula International Airport, Missoula
Slow down to enjoy the scenery in Missoula, a gold-level Bicycle Friendly Community. Rent a bike and ride the Riverfront Trail to the hand-carved Carousel for Missoula. Pedal around the University of Montana campus or along the Missoula Microbrew Tour trail. Park the bike long enough to hike the M, the city’s signature hiking trail, and go surfing Montana-style at Brennan’s Wave, a man-made white-water venue on the Clark Fork River.
Spend the morning at the National Bison Range in Moiese. Bring binoculars to look for bison, bighorn sheep, elk, deer, and black bears. From the range visitor’s center, it’s about ten miles to Charlo and the Ninepipe National Wildlife Refuge. Drive the back roads to see the kettle ponds where waterfowl—including tundra swans, white pelicans, and Canada geese—congregate. While in Charlo, go horseback riding (reservations required) at Cheff Guest Ranch. Continue up Flathead Lake to spend the night in Bigfork before the next day’s adventure.
Plan ahead to play in, on, or around a lake. Base Camp Bigfork offers all-season Flathead Lake activities including summer stand-up paddleboarding (SUP), kayak rentals, and winter Dogsled Adventures. In Seeley Lake, rent a Wave Runner, boat, or bike in summer and a snowmobile, snowshoes, or cross-country skis in winter. Save time to mine for Montana sapphires in Philipsburg, a great place to spend the night.
Choose your route back to Missoula. The best views are from Skalkaho Pass; however, getting there requires driving 54 miles of the narrow Skalkaho Road portion of MT-38. The dirt-and-gravel route is closed in winter. An easier option is backtracking to I-90 near Drummond. In Missoula, take a serene, scenic float trip; wild, white-water rafting excursion; or exhilarating river boarding ride.
This route was published in National Geographic Traveler magazine. To see more about this route—including interactive maps and additional photos—visit nationalgeographic.com/montana/roadtrips.