Wander up and down the charming main streets of Great Falls, White Sulphur Springs and Helena.
THIS FIVE-DAY loop through central and southwest Montana travels in and on the edge of the Rockies. Celebrate Western art, explore state parks and the state capital, soak in hot springs, and take a magical boat ride down the Missouri River.
The Route: Great Falls > U.S. 87 > U.S. 89 to White Sulphur Springs > U.S. 89 > U.S. 12 to Townsend > backtrack to MT-284 to Helena > I-15 > U.S. 287 > U.S. 89 to Bynum > U.S. 89 to Great Falls
Total Distance: approximately 380 miles Gateway
Airport: Great Falls International, Great Falls
Begin in Great Falls, home to the C.M. Russell Museum, a tribute to legendary Western artist Charlie Russell. Before leaving town, see mermaids swimming at the Sip ‘n Dip Lounge. In Ulm, visit the First Peoples Buffalo Jump State Park, a sandstone cliff with nearly 18 feet of compacted bison remains below. Spend the night in nearby Great Falls.
Southeast of Great Falls, hop on the Kings Hill Scenic Byway. The 71-mile drive crosses the highest pass in Montana that’s open all year and runs through the Lewis and Clark National Forest. See the Big Belt Mountains to the west and the Castle Mountains to the east, and stop to hike the easy Memorial Falls Trail. Continue on to spend the night in White Sulphur Springs.
Detour to Martinsdale (population 92), about 72 miles round-trip from White Sulphur Springs. Tour the Bair Museum here to see Edward Curtis photogravures, and original Charlie Russell and Joseph Henry Sharp paintings, among other items. Buy an original glass piece at Goose Bay Handblown Glass in Townsend. Spend your night in Helena to prepare for another day of adventure.
Spend the day exploring the state capital, Helena, on foot or by bike. The city is known for its network of classic single-track mountain biking trails and its self-guided walking tours. Or, use your phone or rent a GPS to see the sights on one of Helena’s 38 geocaching tours.
Book a two-hour boat tour down the Missouri through the Gates of the Mountains. The route appears to be blocked by 1,200-foot-tall cliffs. Only those making the journey can see the “gates” magically open up to reveal a path down the river. Continue up the Missouri River for a night in Craig.
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.