10 Best Stops on a Denver to Montana Road Trip

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by Duncan McHenry

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A Denver to Montana road trip is a great option for anyone departing from Colorado since it’s easily doable in a day, depending on where you’re going in Montana, and the drive north and west will take you past all kinds of attractions and diverse Western US landscapes.

Unless you opt for a much longer scenic route from Denver to Yellowstone National Park and the Bridger-Teton National Forest, you’re almost certain to be on the main highways of Interstate 25 and Interstate 90 for most of this drive.

If you’re planning a drive to Montana with some fun stops in the mix, an easy way to break things up is to plan for one or two stops on the way out of Colorado, a handful while passing through Wyoming, and several once you’ve crossed into the Big Sky Country of Montana.

Planning a Denver to Montana Road Trip

The Denver to Bozeman drive is arguably the most popular for motorists who are traveling from Denver to Montana in just one or two days. Once you go beyond the Bozeman area and get farther into Montana to cities like Helena or Missoula, a drive of just over ten hours can easily turn into a 12 or 14-hour drive or more.

Because of this, planning for one or two days of driving with as many as ten stops along the way might be most appropriate for this trip.

If you’re headed farther north to somewhere like Glacier National Park, then you might want to space out your stops differently since you’ll have more time on the road.

Beautiful Two Medicine Lake in Glacier National Park
Beautiful Two Medicine Lake in Glacier National Park

It’s worth mentioning that there’s a significant stretch of the drive north across Wyoming between roughly the Chugwater area to Buffalo where services can be fewer and farther between and weather (especially wind) can be severe.

This section of the drive, along with some more remote parts of Montana before you reach Billings, can take a long time to clear and even be closed to all vehicles if weather is bad enough, so always be sure to check travel conditions and plan your timing accordingly when heading into a Colorado to Montana road trip.

If you need to rent a car for this trip, you can browse Rentalcars.com to find deals across a number of major suppliers.

Alternatively, you can rent an RV or campervan from Outdoorsy which might be a great option if combining this road trip with others in the area such as from Glacier NP to Seattle. It can also be a great option if you want to head west from Wyoming and go on a Yellowstone to Portland road trip.

How Far is Denver to Montana?  

A drive from Colorado to Montana can take between about nine hours at minimum to as many as fifteen hours, depending on your destination.

The Denver to Bozeman drive tends to take just over ten hours, give or take some time depending on traffic, road construction, weather, and so on, whereas if you go to Glacier National Park it will take between fourteen to sixteen hours, depending on conditions.

The road trip will take you across some 700 to 900 miles of scenic Western land features ranging from ranchlands stretching as far as the eye can see to scraggy, snow-capped mountain ranges and crimson sandstone buttes.  

Regardless of where you’re headed, anyone who appreciates the wide-open spaces of the American West is sure to be awestruck by the views of Wyoming’s mountain ranges and protected natural areas like the Bighorn National Forest.

For any backpackers and lovers of the outdoors passing through the Cowboy State on the way to Montana, wilderness areas like the Bighorn and Medicine Bow are beautiful places to escape the Colorado crowds.

Once you’ve crossed into Montana, the highway continues to take you through a mixture of rolling fields, river valleys, and mountain passes.

Winding road near the Wyoming and Montana border.
Winding road near the Wyoming and Montana border

Best Denver to Montana Road Trip Stops  

Most of this itinerary will focus on the primary route headed north from Denver on I-25 and west on I-90 from the Billings area toward Bozeman and Missoula.

But since Glacier National Park is another must-visit Big Sky gem, this list of stops will also include a few possibilities for anyone with the far northern part of the state as their destination.  

Fort Collins, Colorado

Not a whole lot of this drive really passes through Colorado, so the quintessential Front Range college town of Fort Collins is a good first stop on your way north out of the Centennial State.

You won’t quite be past the two-hour mark on your drive yet, but downtown Fort Collins has a slew of great coffee shops and eateries where you might choose to fortify yourself for the drive ahead.

As the home of well-known craft beer operations like New Belgium and Odell, Fort Collins is also one of the best places to take a tour of a Colorado craft brewery. Nearby wilderness areas like the Cache la Poudre River Canyon and Horsetooth Reservoir are also great places to enjoy the outdoors.  

Cheyenne, Wyoming

As signs along I-25 will remind you not long after you’ve crossed the border, Cheyenne is home to the annual “Cheyenne Frontier Days” festival and takes its reputation as a classic Wyoming cowboy town seriously.

You’ll notice an immediate transition to Wyoming’s proud Western culture when stopping in the state capital of Cheyenne on your Colorado to Wyoming road trip.

If you’re lucky enough to pass through during the roughly ten-day window when the Frontier Days festival is happening, prepare to see rodeo feats like bronco busting, steer roping, and bull riding.

There are also plenty of other fun things to do year-round in Cheyenne, such as paying a visit to the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens or the Wyoming State Museum.  

Wyoming State Capitol Building in Cheyenne
Wyoming State Capitol Building in Cheyenne

Casper, Wyoming

Casper is another popular Wyoming town for all kinds of hunters, anglers, and outdoor recreators looking for a home base from which to head out on adventures among the pronghorn antelope-filled badlands of Wyoming.

People looking to fish for wild trout enjoy making the less than one-hour drive from Casper to various sections of the North Platte River, including the Grey Reef and the Miracle Mile.

The latter is also popular with bird hunters at certain times of the year, though regulations are tighter where that’s concerned, so be sure to consult Wyoming state game and fish laws and purchase any necessary licenses or permits before hunting or fishing.

Also, consider hiring local outfitters like Crazy Rainbow or Grey Reef Anglers if a guided trip is within your budget. For the less outdoors-inclined, Casper can also be a great mid-drive stop for families since it has several museums, historic sites, and other such attractions.  

Sheridan, Wyoming

Sheridan serves as the de-facto gateway to the Bighorn Mountains and tends to end up at the top of many people’s list of “best Wyoming towns to visit.”

It would be hard not to attribute this to the gorgeous scenery surrounding the town (this whole valley is incredible when bathed in the yellows, reds, and golds of autumn), though the sheer number of things to do in and around Sheridan is equally at play.

Are you looking to spend a day riding some of the best mountain biking trails in the country? That can easily be done. Or maybe you want to visit some scenic buildings and feel like you’ve taken a time machine back to the 19th-century “Old West” days of Wyoming?

Sheridan has the old-time watering holes with big wooden bars and classic Victorian-inspired architecture to take you there.  

Dirt road leading through to the Bighorn Mountains
A dirt road leading through to the Bighorn Mountains

Bozeman, Montana

Whether it’s the final stop on your Denver to Montana road trip or not, Bozeman deserves to be on your list of places to spend some time once you’ve crossed into the Treasure State.

Some have taken to jokingly calling this college town “Boze Angeles,” as its real estate market has exploded in recent years, along with pretty much the entire local economy.

This trend, coupled with the student presence from Montana State University, makes Bozeman probably the most “up-and-coming” city in Montana (though Missoula is not far behind these days).

You’ll find a lot in the way of rave-reviewed restaurants and bars—consider local favorites like Bozeman Spirits and Bacchus Pub—and the Museum of the Rockies is a great option for travelers with kids who might enjoy seeing one of the largest collections of dinosaur remains in the American West.  

It’s impossible to talk about Bozeman without mentioning some of the other outdoor-related activities sprinkled around the area. The Gallatin River Canyon is a big draw for rafters, climbers, and anglers alike during the warmer months, and in the wintertime, the Bridger Bowl offers world-class skiing and snowboarding.

One of the most unique things to do around Bozeman might be stopping by the Montana Grizzly Encounter, which houses up to five native grizzly bears at a given time who were either held in captivity or abandoned.  

Ennis, Montana

Assuming your road trip is taking you beyond the Bozeman area, Ennis is worth a visit for anyone looking to experience a Big Sky small town that’s not quite as well-known.

Ennis rests right alongside the mighty Madison River as it makes its descent from West Yellowstone. It should be no surprise, then, that the local culture and economy draws heavily on this powerful waterway as a resource.

The sport of fly fishing—eternally enshrined in Montana state culture via the acclaimed novel and film “A River Runs Through It”—is a big part of life here, with a majority of locals probably having caught a trout on a fly at least some time in their lives.

For anyone with a half or full day to spare in their schedule, there are several local lodges and outfitters prepared to link would-be anglers with experienced wade or float-fishing guides.  

Ennis is also a great destination for photographers, as the picturesque surroundings of the Ennis are among Montana’s most majestic, with ranchlands steeply ascending to the three nearby ranges of the Madison, Gravelly, and Tobacco Root mountains.  

Madison River in Montana
Madison River in Montana

Missoula, Montana

Montana’s other main college town is Missoula, home of the University of Montana Grizzlies and a hub for all things “western Montana.”

Once you’re this far west in the state on your Denver to Montana drive, you’ll start to notice that the natural surroundings sometimes feel almost akin to some wilderness areas in Washington state.

This is part of the reason why many Montana residents refer to the nearby Bitterroot Valley as “the Banana Belt of Montana,” since the region experiences relatively mild winter weather and annually warmer temperatures on average, depending on the year.  

Missoula has a lot in common with Bozeman when it comes to opportunities for outdoor recreation and using the city as a basecamp for getting out to the mountains, but it also has arguably a little more to offer when it comes to being able to get off the beaten path and escape other tourists, which is something to keep in mind if you are trying to choose between visiting Missoula or Bozeman.

Downtown Missoula has lots of funky little shops and bars that the college kids love to frequent, and a thriving music scene is likely to feature artists ranging from country and western bands with steel guitar and fiddle players to hip-hop and electronic acts.

Some local favorite venues for live music include The Wilma, The Badlander, Monk’s Bar, and Union Club Bar.  

View of University of Montana in Missoula
View of the University of Montana in Missoula

Great Falls, Montana

If you’re planning on heading even farther north in Montana toward the Blackfeet Indian Reservation and Glacier National Park, then be sure to get the town of Great Falls on your radar.

Like Ennis with the Madison River (only with a whole lot more people), Great Falls is based around the Missouri River, and one of the most notable aspects of its heritage is tied to the Lewis and Clark expedition. The two historical figures were known to have passed through Great Falls on their journey to explore Western US lands acquired in the Louisiana Purchase.

Visitors today have several opportunities around town to learn about this part of Montana’s past, including the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center.  

Great Falls also has a nice network of public parks and outdoor spaces, so it’s a great stop even if you only have a short amount of time to get out of the car and stretch your legs.

The River’s Edge Trail, the city’s main pedestrian corridor, runs for some 60 miles and connects virtually all of the main natural, cultural, and historical attractions.  

Kalispell, Montana

This one might be a bit of a detour to the west as you’re heading north on a Denver to Glacier National Park road trip, but it can be worth making a stop at the town of Kalispell or nearby Flathead Lake, which is known for being the largest natural freshwater lake west of the Mississippi.

If you’re here at the right time of year, be sure to check out Wild Horse Island State Park, which does indeed harbor a population of wild horses, among other wildlife.

Kalispell—along with Whitefish, another northern Montana town near Glacier National Park—is one of those places that wouldn’t make some people’s list of favorite vacation spots in the colder months of the year.

This part of Montana is known for some at-times seriously harsh winter conditions, but for a lot of the year, the town of Kalispell can be a fun stop on a road trip.

Downtown Kalispell has quite a few locally owned retail shops, restaurants, galleries, and more.  

Flathead Lake
Flathead Lake near Kalispell

Glacier National Park, Montana

Glacier National Park is really a Montana hallmark that needs no introduction, as its more than 700 miles of hiking trails, immense diversity of wildlife, and striking vistas of alpine lakes and high peaks have made it iconic among outdoor aficionados.

This (like pretty much all of Montana) is true grizzly bear country, so be sure to do your homework and prepare as much as you can for any outdoor adventures—even if you’re just going on a relatively short day hike.

Similar to Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park, hikes and backpacking routes in Glacier National Park covers the whole spectrum in terms of difficulty level.

You’ll find short one or two-mile loops where travelers with cameras can snap photos without having to venture too far from the car, but you could also choose to embark on a multi-day loop far into the backcountry.

Some favorite, tried-and-true hikes in Glacier include Iceberg Lake, Hidden Lake, the Highline Trail, and Garden Wall, and the Grinnell Glacier, to name just a few.    

Beautiful Glacier National Park
Beautiful Glacier National Park

Where to Stay on a Denver to Montana Drive

The town of Casper, Wyoming makes for a good stopping point and if you’re heading all the way to Glacier National Park, a stopover in Bozeman is a good idea.

Casper, Wyoming

Best Western PLUS Casper Inn & Suites – If you’re looking for a solid option to rest your head in Casper, then this hotel is a great option. Centrally located within a quick drive of everything Casper has to offer, they have a number of great rooms available and great amenities to make your stay a great one.

Holiday Inn Express Casper – Another consistent chain option in Casper, this hotel has a convenient location just off the I-25. They have countess clean and comfortable rooms available, free parking on-site and a buffet breakfast is included in the nightly rate.

Private Rental – If you’re looking for a home away from home on your Denver to Montana road trip, then consider choosing a private vacation rental in Casper — like this beautiful home with mountain views. There are lots of properties to choose from in Casper that will suit all kinds of travellers.

Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Casper hotels!

Bozeman, Montana

RSVP Hotel – If you’re after a luxury option in Bozeman, then this hotel is an excellent choice. They have a range of chic rooms available, a fantastic location and fantastic amenities available to help make your time in Bozeman memorable.

The LARK – This modern boutique hotel is another fantastic option in this Montana student city. Located in downtown Bozeman close to all the action, there are plenty of wonderful rooms to choose from, they offer valet parking, and they even allow pets if you happen to be traveling with a furry friend.

Private Rental – A private vacation rental is also a great option in Bozeman. Properties like this modern condo and many others are available on a variety of platforms and there are lots of options to choose from that will suit your travel style and needs.

Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Bozeman hotels!

Glacier National Park, Montana

The Ridge at Glacier – If you’re looking for a rustic place to stay near the National Park, then these luxury cabins have a large range of suitable rooms to choose from.

Under Canvas Glacier – Another fantastic option in Glacier National Park is glamping, and this place is an excellent option if this suits your fancy. Situated within easy reach of the Park entrance, there are several safari-style canvas tents to choose from.

Private Rental – A private vacation rental such as this mountain view cabin is one of the best options in Glacier National Park if you prefer to cook your own meals or just want some privacy.

Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more hotels near Glacier National Park!

Lake McDonald in Glacier National Park
Lake McDonald in Glacier National Park

Making a trip to Big Sky Country by heading north out of Denver is an excellent way to go about a Colorado to Montana road trip. Since the drive can be done in a single day or two with good planning, it’s a great one for any travelers looking to get acquainted with the rugged yet beautiful state of Montana, as well as its neighbor, Wyoming. 

Are you planning a road trip from Denver to Montana? Have any questions about this route? Let us know in the comments!    

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Duncan is a writer for The World Was Here First. He lives in Colorado and also works as a fly fishing guide and instructor when not editing or writing. He has spent time in Costa Rica and has made numerous trips exploring the Western states of the Rocky Mountains.

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