Seven can’t miss fall drives in Montana
Travelers taking a road trip through Big Sky Country are sure to come face-to-face with miles of unspoiled beauty and plenty of reasons to pull over and take the perfect nature shot. Fall is a particularly great time to take a scenic drive through Montana, as western larches and aspens turn a beautiful shade of gold and mountain highways curve their way to spectacular vistas. These seven breathtaking drives are great for a fall getaway or weekend road trip. To see these one-of-a-kind sights, all that’s needed is a full tank of gas, a camera, and a desire to explore the rugged beauty of some of the nation’s greatest scenic highways, byways, and roads.
Designated as an All-American Road by the United States Department of Transportation in 2002, the Beartooth Highway is known as one of the most beautiful and iconic drives in America. Located in Yellowstone Country, this 68-mile road reaches nearly 11,000 feet in elevation, making it the highest elevation highway in the Northern Rockies. With plenty of photograph-friendly vistas, visitors will experience breathtaking views of the Absaroka and Beartooth Mountains, valleys, and glacial lakes. Make sure to stop at the Vista Point Rest Area for a scenic view and snap a photo of the Bear’s Tooth rock formation. Travelers interested in taking a drive on Beartooth Highway this fall should go early in the season and check on the highway’s website for road conditions before leaving, because weather can change quickly and the road closes in October.
After the summer rush ends and the fall colors arrive, travelers are treated to a unique time in the Crown of the Continent. This is sure to be a jaw-dropping drive, as visitors will see western larches painting towering mountainsides gold and miles of clear blue skies. The park is well-known a one of the best places in the country to view western larches, as miles of unspoiled beauty come alive in vibrant colors of fall. In 2016, Fodor’s Travel named Glacier National Park one of the 10 best fall foliage trips in the United States.
For another look at Glacier, drive along Looking Glass Road (Highway 49). This winding mountain route runs completely within the Blackfeet Reservation on the east side of the park, and offers picturesque views of Two Medicine Lake and local wildlife. No matter which route you take, Glacier National Park is a must-see destination for those looking for the perfect fall picture.
A drive on Lake Koocanusa Scenic Byway offers beautiful sights on both sides of the road – on one side the crystal waters of Lake Koocanusa and on the other the sweeping Tobacco Valley and mountains in the distance. This 67-mile drive, which connects the northwest towns of Eureka and Libby, offers much more than a pretty view. Visitors can stretch their legs by taking a mountain hike or casting a line on the Kootenai River, which is known for its blue-ribbon trout fishing. Looking for a spot to take a photo? Walk along Koocanusa Bridge, the longest and tallest bridge in Montana, and snap a photo of the lake below.
For a fall drive with a little bit of everything, there is the Pintler Veterans’ Memorial Scenic Highway. This 64-mile route passes a number of charming small towns and historic attractions. The highway follows along the base of the Anaconda mountain range and the shoreline of Georgetown Lake, a popular destination for fishing and boating. Travelers can spend a fun afternoon panning for sapphires at Philipsburg’s Sapphire Gallery, hiking through Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest near Anaconda, or exploring the abandoned remains of the Granite Ghost Town State Park. Pintler Veterans’ Memorial Scenic Highway truly is the “scenic route,” offering countless ways to discover Montana’s many memorable sights.
Seeley-Swan Scenic Drive, a 90-mile stretch along Highway 83, is nestled in some of the most scenic areas in Montana. This exciting drive offers incredible views at every curve in the road, including the picture perfect Mission Mountains and Swan Mountain Range, the vast and rugged beauty of the Bob Marshall Wilderness, and hundreds of natural lakes. Take a pit stop with a short hike on the Holland Falls National Recreation Trail, which follows the shoreline of Holland Lake and leads to a cascading waterfall in the mountains. Other great photo-worthy stops include the charming town of Seeley Lake and the Clearwater Canoe Trail.
In Montana, it pays to take the back roads. Big Sky Back Country Byway travels across the plains of eastern Montana, connecting the mighty Yellowstone and Missouri Rivers and 105 miles of beautiful backcountry. This route passes rolling prairie grasslands, colorful buttes, and the sweeping landscapes of the Terry Badlands, proving that the scenic route is well worth the drive.
Sometimes the best road trips aren’t on the road at all. The Amtrak Empire Builder is a sprawling 2,200 mile rail line from the Midwest to the Pacific Coast, with 12 stops in Montana. The train travels through a wide range of landscape in Montana, from the rolling plains of the eastern cities of Glasgow and Wolf Point to the snowcapped mountains in the western cities of Whitefish, Libby, and Essex. Travelers can take a seat in the observation car and watch as the train climbs its way through Glacier National Park. Travelers can sit back and enjoy the ride from Wolf Point to Libby. This is one of the most scenic routes in the country and a one-of-a-kind way to experience the beauty of Montana.