Dig deep into Montana's roots on a four-day drive through the history-rich Bitterroot Valley. The down-and-back route crosses the Nez Perce and Lewis and Clark National Historic Trails, as well as the Continental Divide. Along the way, bunk in a hand-hewn log cabin and camp under the stars. Watch for moose, elk, and deer. Soak in natural hot springs. And, depending on the season, go skiing, skating, hiking, or horseback riding.
The Route: Missoula > U.S. 93 > Lost Trial Pass > MT-43 > Big Hole National Battlefield > MT-43 > U.S. 93 > MT-269 > U.S. 93 > Missoula
Total Distance: approximately 230 miles
Gateway Airport: Missoula International Airport, Missoula
At Missoula's Montana Natural History Center, get a free driving map of the proposed Ice Age Floods National Geologic Trail, and visit some local Glacial Lake Missoula landmarks. Walk in the footsteps of explorers near Lolo at Traveler's Rest State Park, the only site on the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail with a confirmed expedition campsite. Soak and spend the night at Lolo Hot Springs, Lolo.
Continue south to the Historic Darby Ranger Station Visitor's Center and Museum. Inside, find out about Bitterroot Valley activities and see Forest Service historical exhibits. In Darby, buy Montana-made huckleberry treats - including fudge, gummy bears, coffee, and taffy - at the Old West Gallery & Old West Candy Store. Weather permitting, spend the afternoon biking, hiking, or swimming at Lake Como. Spend the night in Darby.
Ski & See
In winter, make this a ski day. There's downhill at Lost Trail Powder Mountain (just before lost Trail Pass) and cross-country loop trials accessible from 7,251-foot Chief Joseph Pass, where you cross the Continental Divide. Or, drive on to hight the trails and tour the exhibits at Big Hole National Battlefield, sacred ground to the Nez Perce people and part of the four-state Nez Perce National Historical Park. Spend the night in nearby Sula.
Where Montana Began
On the return trip to Missoula, stop in Stevensville to tour (April 15 to October 15) the historic St. Mary's Mission & Museum. The complex, established in 1841, includes a Salish encampment and American Indian artifacts. Visit nearby Fort Owen State Park, site of the first permanent white settlement in Montana. Spend the night in Stevensville.
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.