Wild Places

Fall in Montana is hard to beat. The weather is cool and crisp, the skies are clear, some of the crowds have cleared out, and the foliage is turning a fiery new palette of colors. It’s a great time to grab the family, get in the car, and go someplace. If you’re interested in exploring some new roads in Montana this fall, check out these seven scenic drives.

 

1) Going-to-the-Sun Road

Of all the must-do scenic drives in Montana, Going-to-the-Sun Road reigns supreme. Considered by many the Crown Jewel of the continent, Going-to-the-Sun Road cuts through the heart of Glacier National Park, straddles the Continental Divide, and offers views of some of the most beautiful lakes, mountains, and valleys the world has to offer. 

Going-to-the-Sun connects the East and West sides of Glacier, and is the only road that runs through the interior of the park. As you cruise along, you’ll enjoy views of crystal-clear Lake McDonald, Logan Pass, the Weeping Wall, and, of course, Going-to-the-Sun Mountain, which towers over the road at an altitude of 9,642 feet. GTS also offers easy access to many of the park’s best seasonal attractions, including the Hidden Lake and Highline Trails. 

The opening and closing dates of the road vary from year to year, but you can generally count on accessing GTS from mid-May to late October. For more information, check out the Parks Service’s list of prior year opening and closing dates. 

Fast Facts

• Road Length  50 Miles

• Paved or Gravel?  Paved

• Do you need 4WD?  No

• Traffic  Moderate to Heavy

• Vehicle Restrictions  To ensure driver safety, GTS prohibits vehicles with trailers, or vehicles that are longer than 21 feet or wider than 8 feet. This restriction applies from Avalanche Campground to Sun Point.

• Access Dates  Seasonal

 


2) The Beartooth Highway

The Beartooth Highway begins on Highway 212 in Red Lodge, Montana. The first few miles of the drive are relatively flat, winding through dense forests and along the banks of scenic Rock Creek. The road quickly gains elevation and begins to wind through the Rock Creek Valley. 

Within about seven miles, the grade increases to about 6%, with lots of sharp switchbacks and stunning views. Don’t worry, though—the highway is well-maintained and offers plenty of turnouts and scenic viewpoints. Be sure to stop at Rock Creek Vista Point (elevation - 9,190 feet) to take a few pictures of the sprawling valley below. The area is home to grizzly bears, gray wolves, and mountain goats, so keep your fingers crossed for a wildlife sighting. 

The Beartooth Highway is open seasonally, generally from Memorial Day weekend to mid-October depending on snowfall. 

Fast Facts

• Road Length  50 Miles

• Paved or Gravel?  Paved

• Do you need 4WD?  No

• Traffic  Moderate to Heavy

• Vehicle Restrictions  Trailers are allowed, although drivers should proceed with caution, as the road includes many sharp switchbacks.

• Access Dates  Seasonal

 


3) Anaconda-Pintler Scenic Route

If you’re headed down I-90 and you want to make things a bit more scenic, hop off on the Anaconda-Pintler Scenic Route. A 55-mile drive, the Pintler Route begins just outside of Drummond and runs to Anaconda. 

Widely considered a “must-do” drive, the Anaconda-Pintler Scenic Route offers some breathtaking scenery. Drivers wind along the shores of Georgetown Lake, which sits at the foot of the Anaconda Range, through the Phillipsburg Valley, and along Flint Creek. One of the biggest perks of this drive is that it offers a wide variety of scenery in a relatively short distance. From the picturesque shoreline of the lake to the vibrant green of Flint Creek Canyon, there’s a lot to love on this gorgeous drive.

Fast Facts

• Road Length  55 Miles

• Paved or Gravel?  Paved

• Do you need 4WD?  No

• Traffic  Moderate 

• Vehicle Restrictions  Trailers are allowed, no vehicle restrictions

• Access Dates  Year-round access, dependent on weather

 


4) The Big Hole Valley & River Scenic Drive 

The Big Hole Valley & River Scenic Drive is an 82-mile road that runs through the stunning Big Hole Valley. Visitors to this area will drive through Wisdom, along the Big Hole River, and around the fringes of the Bitterroot and Pioneer Mountains. The road starts at the junction of Highway 278 and the Pioneer Mountains Scenic Byway. 

At Jackson, the road meets the Big Hole River. The Pioneer Mountains rise to the East, while the Anaconda Range looms in the North. If you want views, look West toward the stunning Bitterroot Mountains. When you get to Wisdom, stop at The Crossing Bar for a burger and a cold drink before you get back on the road. 

Don’t leave the area without visiting the Big Hole National Battlefield—just 10 miles to the west of Wisdom on Highway 43. 

The battlefield, widely considered one of the most notable in the state, was the scene of a battle between the U.S. Army and the Nez Perce on August 9-10, 1877. 

Fast Facts

• Road Length  82 Miles

• Paved or Gravel?  Paved

• Do you need 4WD?  No

• Traffic  Light 

• Vehicle Restrictions  Trailers are allowed, no vehicle restrictions

• Access Dates  Year-round access 

 


5) The National Bison Range Scenic Byway

Like mountains? Like buffalo? Want to see both at the same time? Then the National Bison Scenic Byway is the drive for you. Offering two separate roads, this scenic byway follows 19-mile Red Sleep Mountain Road or Prairie Drive, which is five miles long.

The drive begins near Polson and runs through the Bison Range, which is home to the largest herd (about 300-500 individual bison) of free-roaming buffalo outside of Yellowstone. As you drive, you’ll enjoy views of the Mission Mountains, the Mission Valley, the Salish Mountains, and the Flathead River. 

Fast Facts

• Road Length  24 Miles

• Paved or Gravel?  Gravel

• Do you need 4WD?  No

• Traffic  Light/Moderate

• Vehicle Restrictions  Trailers are not allowed

• Access Dates  Nineteen miles of the road (the mountain portion) is closed during the winter. The lower route is open year-round, weather permitting.

 


6) Lake Koocanusa Scenic Byway

The Lake Koocanusa Scenic Byway runs from Eureka to Libby, offering 67 miles of forest and lake views. Located in remote Northwest Montana, this is an excellent year-round drive that’s easy to access with a trailer in tow. 

Designated as a National Forest Scenic Byway, Lake Koocanusa Scenic Byway is fully paved and takes drivers along the eastern shoreline of the famous Lake Koocanusa, a long, finger-shaped lake created by the completion of the Libby Dam along the Kootenai River. You’ll also enjoy views of Koocanusa Bridge, which, at 2,437 feet long and 270 feet high, is the longest and tallest bridge in Montana. 

Fast Facts

• Road Length  60 Miles

• Notable Scenery  The Whitefish Mountains, the Libby Dam, the Kootenai River, and Lake Koocanusa

• Paved or Gravel?  Paved

• Do you need 4WD?  No

• Traffic  Light/Moderate

• Vehicle Restrictions  Trailers are allowed, no vehicle restrictions

• Access Dates  Year-round access

 

 


7) The Crazy Mountains Backcountry Drive

While you could stay on the highway and explore the eastern edge of the Crazies between Big Timber and Harlowton, the Crazy Mountain Backcountry Drive offers a view that’s worth going out of your way for. 

Located in Central Montana, the Crazy Mountains Backcountry Drive starts in Two Dot on Highway 12 and connects with Highway 191. Alternating between paved and gravel roadways, this drive takes motorists through expansive grassland and offers stunning views of “The Crazies” as they’re known to locals, which rise from the prairie to an altitude of about 7,000 feet. 

Fast Facts

•    Road Length  40 Miles

•    Paved or Gravel?  Gravel

•    Do you need 4WD?  No, unless the road is muddy or wet

•    Traffic Light

•    Vehicle Restrictions  Trailers are allowed, no vehicle restrictions

•    Access Dates  Year-round access

 

 

See More of Montana This Fall! Of all the states in the nation, Montana is one of the best to explore by car. With more than 150,000 miles of paved road, (according to the Federal Highway Administration) the Big Sky State offers virtually endless scenery. Whether you’re looking for mountain views or a chance to score once-in-a-lifetime views of bison or mountain goats, these seven scenic drives are the perfect choice.