I’m often asked about the best way to see my home state of Montana and what to do on a Montana road trip. As it becomes more and more popular to tourists, I’ve had to think about how to hit all the highlights in the best way possible. There’s a lot to see in this state (it’s the fourth-largest), so trying to get it done within a few days can be overwhelming if you aren’t sure the best way to go about it.
Also, I know some fellow travel bloggers are headed there for TBEX this year, and a few have asked me what is the best way to get around. Worry no more! Here’s the only guide you’ll need in order to see and do everything in the state.
- The basics
- Day 1—Billings, MT
- Day 2—Bozeman
- Day 3 and 4—Yellowstone National Park
- Day 5—Lewis and Clark Caverns
- Day 6—Butte and Missoula
- Day 7—Polson and Whitefish
- Day 8—Whitefish
- Day 9—Glacier National Park
There’s no question that you will need a car. Renting one is pretty straightforward, and you can do it within a few minutes (or online) at whatever airport you fly into. Depending on your age and what kind of car you choose, you can usually find options for $40 or so a day. Gas is fairly inexpensive, and you should be able to cross the entire state for around $400.
You’ll also need to factor in whether or not you will need to have hotel rooms or if you are planning on camping. Camping might require booking spots well in advance if you are headed to national parks or state parks during the high season (May to September). KOA Campgrounds usually has some deals for a single car and tent at around $25 or $30 a night.
Staying within the national parks is highly recommended if you can, but you usually need to book almost half a year in advance. Here are the camping booking sites for Glacier National Park and Yellowstone National Park. Hotels are a bit more expensive, but can be welcome if you are spending hours in the car (which you will be). You can usually find some roadside options for around $100 a night.
Here’s how you can make the most of your Montana road trip. You can also do this road trip in reverse!
Day 1—Billings, MT
Billings is the largest “city” in the state, but you’re probably not here for the city life! I recommend taking a day hike to the Rimrocks—formations of limestone that have been eroded by the wind of the prairies.
You might also want to visit Moss Mansion, which has some decadent furnishings from the early 1900s. It’s a testament to the amount of wealth some families were able to accumulate after the copper and Yogo sapphire boom.
Where to stay in Billings
You usually have two options of places to stay in Billings. You can stay a little outside of town in order to get some better deals, or you stay in the downtown area and have easy access to the restaurants and bars. Either way, it will mostly be based on your budget.
4863 King Ave E
+1 406 259 9454
This hotel is clean and offers all the amenities you would expect from a higher-class hotel for a reasonable price. It’s very clean and has a great staff, as well as a location right next to the Yellowstone Art Museum that is worth checking out when you get the chance.
19 N Broadway
+1 406 867 6767
In Montana, it’s not abnormal to find a four-star hotel for around the price of $100. If you are willing to splurge a little, this hotel is gorgeous and offers easy access to Billings’ downtown area. You get a rustic feel without the pretentious attitude that normally comes with a hotel of this caliber.
2511 1st Ave N
+1 406 259 5511
It’s rare that you can get around by walking in Montana, but this hotel puts you within easy access to everything there is to see in Billings. You’re also right near most of the best restaurants within the city, and rooms are spacious and beds are soft. You don’t need much more than that!
Where to eat in Billings
Montana’s food scene is exploding, and Billings is one of the best places to explore it. The downtown area is the best place to pull up a table and get a feel for the area’s changing culinary vibes.
2601 Minnesota Ave
+1 406 534 2556
As any local where they would recommend you go in order to get a true taste of Montana, and they will tell you to head to The Fieldhouse. It’s hard to pick just one dish worth tasting here, but the king salmon is a crowd-stopper, as well as the burgers.
1502 Rehberg Ln
+1 406 651 0999
Moroccan-inspired food in Montana? That’s right–Bistro Enzo combines multiple flavors along with American classics in order to make up some of its fabulous dishes. It is only available for dinner, but it’s worth waiting the rest of the day for the beer selection and the amazing pasta.
2515 Montana Ave
+1 406 969 4959
Treat yourself at Lilac, Billings’ sustainable and posh restaurant designed to bring a bit of style to rustic Montana. The service is incredible here, as well as the details that go into making your food taste great. The best part? Everything here is made from local farms.
After a two-hour drive, you’ll head west to Bozeman. It’s now a college town and home to a number of cool shops, breweries, and nature. For some culture, check out the highly-rated Museum of the Rockies. It’s home to an amazing dinosaur collection and occasionally gets traveling exhibits from New York and Chicago.
Bozeman is also a haven for nature-lovers, and if you have the time, it’s worth checking out the Palisade Falls. It’s a short hike through Hyalite Canyon that offers some beautiful opportunities for photos.
Where to stay in Bozeman
When in Bozeman, you’re likely going to want to stay downtown in order to experience the lively bar scene and to have a chance to check out some of the local shops. There are plenty of hotels in this area that cater to visitors at any price range.
75 Baxter Ln
+1 406 522 8000
This solid, three-star hotel offers a lot for a reasonable price tag. Located close to the Museum of the Rockies, this spot has large rooms and a friendly staff that’s happy to answer any of your questions. You also have easy access to the main drag of bars and restaurants.
1325 N 7th Ave
+1 406 587 5261
If only all four-star hotels cost around $100! The GranTree Inn has a pool and restaurant worth checking out when you have the time, and you also can get around downtown Bozeman easily. If you’re feeling lazy, the food at the restaurant is also quite good, as well.
5997 E Valley Center Rd
+1 406 586 2230
While you might want something a little closer to the downtown depending on what you are planning on doing in your free time, this hotel also offers plenty of amenities to help you feel at home. A pool, gym, and quality breakfast are all available at the Country Inn.
Where to eat in Bozeman
In Montana, there are three cities where you can really explore the exciting culinary innovations that are going on in the state. Bozeman is one of them. If you’re looking for new twists on old favorites, the Bozeman downtown is the place for you.
140 E Main St
+1 406 586 0010
Home to new versions of Italian classics, this spot is one of this small city’s favorite spots. It might even be one of the best places to get wood-fired, classic style pizza in the state. Make sure to call ahead for reservations since they only serve dinner and it can get a bit crowded.
721 S 9th Ave
+1 406 404 1244
Located in a renovated Victorian mansion, South 9th has a number of different items on the menu of note. A few favorites include the Black Truffle Mushroom Risotto and the Steak au Poivre. This is another spot where reservations are highly recommended since it tends to be a favorite for both out-of-towners and locals alike.
443 E Main St
+1 406 587 0436
If you want to experience Montana-style cooking, then the Western Cafe pares things down to just delicious food and great service. Homestyle dishes and unlimited coffee refills make this a great place to hit before you head out on your next adventure.
Day 3 and 4—Yellowstone National Park
It is possible to see most of Yellowstone in one day, however, if you are making the drive to the park from Bozeman, you will have to get up fairly early to avoid lines and finish the loop around the park. Yellowstone is huge—3,468 square miles, in fact. This is why I recommend staying for two days in order to really appreciate the area.
It costs $35 to enter Yellowstone for seven days, but you can also purchase a National Park Pass at $70 that allows you unlimited access to all of America’s national parks for a year. It’s a much better deal in my opinion!
There are a number of highlights you will want to see, including Old Faithful, Yellowstone Lake, and Artist Point. These are all located pretty far away from one another, and you’ll also want to be able to take time for hiking and animal-spotting if you can.
Start out in West Yellowstone first, then make the drive to some of the geothermal wonders that made it the first national park. Be careful not to step off the boardwalks—you’ll be burned! Check out some of the crowd-favorite paint pots and the Grand Prismatic Spring. There’s also a short hike up the nearby mountain for some amazing snaps.
Then head to Yellowstone Lake, where you can stop by and enjoy a picnic or dip your toes in the water. Old Faithful is just around the corner, and there’s a great visitor center you can check out while waiting for it to blow.
Finally, finish off the day with a trip to the Hayden Valley for a chance to see some bison, elk, and maybe a wolf or grizzly bear.
Start out the day at Artist Point, where you can get a view of the country’s largest undammed river and see why the park has its name. The Canyon is 20 miles long and offers some short hikes that lead to some stunning views.
In the afternoon, head north to Mammoth Springs, where you can see terraces of stone shaped by the calcium in the water. You might also be able to spot some elk—they like to congregate around this area for the warmth.
Where to stay near Yellowstone National Park
Much of where you will want to stay when you are at Yellowstone will depend if you are looking to camp and whether or not you want to be located inside the park itself. These hotels are a few miles away, but if you want some camping options, check out our more comprehensive guide on Yellowstone here.
3200 Old Faithful Inn Rd
+ 307 344 7311
Dating back to 1903, this hotel has plenty of history, a friendly staff, and a great breakfast. Most of all, it allows you easy access to the main parts of the park. When in doubt of places to eat, the restaurant here is great–curl up next to the giant fireplace with a beer in hand.
459 Lake Village Rd
+1 307 344 7311
Built to accommodate the influx of visitors coming to the park in the early part of the 20th century, this hotel is a great option for families located right on Yellowstone Lake. Make sure to book in advance since this place tends to fill up quickly due to its affordable prices and locality.
107 Main St, Gardiner
+1 406 223 7007
Want to get vintage? This hotel offers rooms featuring Montana’s western heritage. The building itself was built in 1902, and its location in Gardiner gives you more access to food options than other location within the park. If you feel like going full out wild west, this is the spot to do it.
Where to eat near Yellowstone National Park
The dining options you are going to find within the park might not be the absolute best, but they are certainly convenient and make it simple for you to eat heartily before you start exploring Yellowstone again the next day.
1095 Grant Marina Rd
+1 307 344 7311
Located right on the water, this spot offers some basic food options with a beautiful view. It can get crowded during the high season so you might want to arrive right around opening hours (5:00 pm) or call for a reservation early in advance.
2 Old Faithful Rd
+1 307 3447311
Prices are a little high for what you get at this restaurant, but you are located right in the park itself and have a chance to see some beautiful reviews. It’s also one of the only restaurants in the area that offers vegan dishes. Breakfast portions are large and you can head straight to the park’s attractions from its location.
Day 5—Lewis and Clark Caverns
Heading away from the park, you have a short drive to the Lewis and Clark Caverns. Lewis and Clark didn’t actually visit, but passed right by. These caverns are estimated to be around 365 million years old, and they were developed for tours in the early 1900s. Make sure to bring your sweatshirt—it gets cold inside the caverns! You might also want to check out the 10 miles of hiking trails the park has to offer.
Entry costs $6 and it is possible to camp overnight there, though you might want to choose to stay at nearby Whitehall for the night.
Where to stay in Whitehall
515 N Whitehall St
+1 406 287 5588
You really only have one choice when it comes to where you want to stay in Whitehall. However, this spot has surprisingly clean rooms (also, extremely large) and serves as a spot to lay your head after a day of exploring.
Day 6—Butte and Missoula
Butte offers some fun history and a giant pit of doom. Once the world’s largest mine for copper, the town now continues to dwindle in size. However, it’s worth a quick stop to check out the Chinatown and to eat the local delicacy of the pasty (also featured on Anthony Bourdain).
Where to eat in Butte
You can’t go to Butte without checking out the infamous pasties that took over this areas during the mining boom. Surprisingly, you’ll find a mix of options including Italian, Chinese, and all-American.
15 W Park St
+1 406 723 5453
Located right downtown, this classic diner has everything you need in order to enjoy a hearty meal before you get back on the road. It’s also the ideal place to enjoy Butte’s claim to fame–the pasty. Affordable and with a great staff, you’ve reached Butte, America right here.
222 E Park St
+1 406 782 2301
You can’t get any more Americana than this diner. Burgers, BBQ, and ice-cold beer is served up Sparky’s along with a Montana smile. If you’re brave, try the cheese curds and commit to some of the fried foods.
After an afternoon in Butte, head to Missoula for the evening. Another college town, there’s a lively brewery scene and some kooky shops for souvenirs. In the summer, you can also find a number of concerts available featuring well-known names.
Where to stay in Missoula
There are a number of decent spots to stay in Missoula, but keep in mind that it might be a bit more expensive than other Montana cities. Regardless, you can still find some decent hotel options for affordable prices.
4559 N Reserve St
+1 406 549 5260
Located by the airport and offering a free shuttle, the Courtyard is a perfectly respectable hotel with clean rooms, a free breakfast, and a pool where you can relax after a long day in the car. It is located a bit from the downtown, which is good to keep in mind if you want to be near the action.
+1 406 830 3900
This suite-based hotel offers reasonable prices and a delicious breakfast in the morning. With comfy beds and a laidback style, it’s a nice place to rest with free parking and a pool. It’s a great spot for families with plenty of space, as well.
200 S Pattee St
+1 406 721 8550
Located right downtown, you’re near all the bars, restaurants, and events going on in Missoula. You’ve also get easy parking and a free breakfast. For those looking to check out a concert at the Wilma, you’ve got an easy walk back to your hotel and a soft bed to look forward to.
Where to eat in Missoula
Missoula is Montana’s fastest-growing town and there’s a lot to see and do here in an evening. The town comes alive at night when the college kids head out to party and bars and restaurants are open late.
222 W Main St
+1 406 549 9903
Surrounded by delightful antiques and offering some fun food options like huckleberry pancakes, the Shack has been around for decades. You’ll also find plenty of vegan and veggies dishes, along with great service and a fun environment. Prices are reasonable, as well.
2305 Brooks St
+1 406 728 9071
Paul’s has been a favorite for college students for years. Cheap, delicious, and unpretentious, you’ve got everything you need to start your day (or afternoon–lunch is served here too) right. Arrive early in order to beat the rush of hungover students on weekends.
2300 W Broadway St
+1 (406) 926-3375
For a Southwest vibe in a northern state, you can’t beat Laughing Grizzly. Burgers and American staples are the best things to order here, along with a healthy side of fries. Whether you are looking for a cheap meal or a spot that makes you feel like home, you’ve got it here.
Day 7—Polson and Whitefish
With an early start, you’ll enjoy a drive near the Mission Mountains (my favorite mountain range in Montana) and Flathead Lake. It’s the largest freshwater lake west of the Mississippi River, and it offers a boater’s and water enthusiast’s heaven. My family has a lake house there, and some of my fondest memories are sitting on the dock and boating.
Polson is a charming village where you can grab some lunch and enjoy some lake views on your way to Whitefish. Once you arrive, make the trip downtown for some amazing food options and plenty of local brewhouses.
Where to eat in Polson
Polson is a small, quaint little town on the water, but it does have a number of good spots to offer lunch on your way into the Flathead Valley.
Lake City Bakery and Eatery
+1 406 883 5667
Fast service and homestyle food make this the perfect place to stop on your way around the lake. If you can, stop on a Friday to order one of their famous bread bowl soups–it’s a local favorite. Other items on the menu are perfectly tasty too.
11 3rd Ave W
+1 406 883 0434
This nautical-themed pizza joint is worth stopping for just for the atmosphere. Inside, you’ll find hand-tossed pies and delicious ice cream available for dessert. If you’re toting your kids along for the ride, this is one place that they won’t stop talking about long after you’ve left.
Where to stay in Whitefish
Whitefish is one of the poshest areas of Montana, so it seems only right that their hotels are equally as snazzy. Be prepared to spend a little more here than you might in other towns.
650 E 3rd St
+1 406 863 1900
This brand-new hotel located in the heart of Whitefish boasts some beautiful rooms and access to the best restaurants in the area. They also have a great restaurant for small plates and a large wine selection, meaning you don’t have to journey far in order to have a great culinary experience, as well.
2 Fairway Dr
+1 406 862 3000
While a little bit fancier than most millennials will go for, Grouse Mountain is worth considering for its spectacular decor and rustic appeal. Breakfast is hearty and the grounds are perfect for an afternoon or evening stroll in the summer. Make sure you book early since this spot fills up fast.
920 Spokane Ave
+1 (406) 204-4519
This perfectly respectable, newly-renovated two-star hotel is great for its access to downtown Whitefish. It also has an excellent outdoor pool and is plenty affordable for those who are trying to save a little cash on their road trip.
Where to eat in Whitefish
Where to eat in Whitefish? That is the question. This small town has ballooned with amazing restaurants and choosing which one to sit down at can be a challenge. Hopefully these narrow down your options a bit.
147 Central Ave
+1 406 863 2323
Nothing is cheap in Whitefish, but Latitude 48 balances fine dining with reasonable prices. When in doubt, order a number of different appetizers for a variety of flavors. That way, you get to sample this delicious Mediterranean fare without having to settle on one item.
10 Central Ave
+1 406 862 7550
Located in the heart of Whitefish, this spot comes alive at night with live music, great brews, and mouth-watering dishes. Make sure to call for a reservation in advance since it tends to be a busy spot in the summer months for tourists and locals alike. Hint: any of their meat dishes are worth a bite.
235 E 1st St
+1 406 862 3290
You can find decent Mexican in Montana! Everything at Pescado Blanco is locally sourced and delicious. They also have some amazing wine options that are worth paring with your food–ask the staff about what they would recommend when it comes to wine and their specials.
Whitefish is a popular destination choice for celebrities, and it’s easy to see why. I recommend heading up to the Whitefish Mountain Resort for some fun activities, including zip lining, mountain biking, and more. You can also take the ski lift or gondola up to the top of Big Mountain to see into Glacier National Park.
In the summer, Whitefish also offers a lively theater scene. You might look into getting tickets for a show performed by former Broadway stars.
Day 9—Glacier National Park
Of course, my favorite area of Montana is “the Park.” There’s no way you can miss it on a Montana road trip! Growing up there was amazing, and it fueled my sense of adventure that would follow me into adulthood. You could spend a lifetime there and still miss something, but if you are short on time, you can still see the highlights in a day.
The cost to enter is the same as Yellowstone at $35. Again, this is why I recommend the park pass! You’ll also want to get up fairly early to avoid lines at the entrance and to get parking spaces at some of the more popular hiking trails.
For a day hike, I recommend either Avalanche or the Highline. Both offer great reward for an easy walk, and they also allow you to explore the rest of the park in the same day. Hurry up to Logan Pass if you would like to find a parking spot for the Highline.
You also can’t miss the stunning Going-to-the-Sun road. Built by workers commissioned by President Franklin Roosevelt for his New Deal, it’s still an impressive work of infrastructure. It’s also a little harrowing—so hopefully you aren’t afraid of heights!
Where to stay near Glacier National Park
If you can, it’s always great to stay in a national park. Whether you choose to camp or book a room, you’ll want to make sure that you do so far enough in advance so you get the permit or the lodging you want. Read more about Glacier in our 3-day itinerary.
+1 855 733 4522
You know you’re out in the middle of nowhere when your hotel doesn’t have a proper address. You’ll have to go backcountry to get to this spot, so don your hiking boots and get ready to work for your room and board. The views are incredible, and if you can land a stay at this hotel, you’re in for a treat.
+1 855 733 4522
For those who want to stay in the park for a few days, the Rising Sun Motor Inn offers clean sheets and a place to relax when you are over on the east side of the park. This is another spot you’ll want to book far enough in advance since it tends to be a favorite among hikers.
288 Lake Mcdonald Lodge Loop
+1 855 733 4522
Another spot that is nice if you can get it is the historic Lake McDonald Lodge. Built in the first days of the park in the 1930s, you have access to the water, a place to dine, and a rustic feel. Its best perk is the roaring fireplace where you can sit and relax after a long day of exploring Montana’s nature.
Where to eat near Glacier National Park
You have some limited options inside the park itself, but there are a few places near West Glacier that serve good, homestyle food.
190 Going-to-the-Sun Rd
+1 406 888 5359
This is one of the few restaurants within the park worth checking out. You have very basic dishes here, but it serves as a good way to eat up before your hike. The bar is also a favorite among locals and they have a number of beers on tap for you to try after a day of sightseeing.
+1 406 888 5000
Hidden away from the main drag is the Belton Chalet, where you can find some fine dining right outside the park. This historic lodge (built in 1910) was one of the first structures to house tourists traveling on the Great Northern Railway. Now, it has a restaurant created to honor that past.
Been on a Montana road trip? Have any tips for those headed there this summer?