The Perfect 5 to 7 Day Montana Itinerary

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by Duncan McHenry


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The “Big Sky Country” of Montana is marked by an abundance of Rocky Mountain peaks and richly forested valleys that stand alongside wide-open prairies and ranchlands. For travelers who are planning a 5 to 7-day Montana itinerary, it’s a good idea to chart a route that will take you through a variety of the different landscape types and towns in the Treasure State.

Like other nearby Rocky Mountain states such as Wyoming, Colorado, and Utah, Montana is known as a haven for outdoor adventurers like hunters, anglers, backpackers, mountain bikers, and skiers.

It makes sense to mix in some stops at outdoor attractions such as Yellowstone National Park, Glacier National Park, or Montana’s famed Gallatin River as part of any Montana vacation itinerary, depending on your goals and the time of year.

How Many Days in Montana?

Figuring out how many days you should devote can be a challenge when planning a trip to Montana—especially since things are spread so far apart and there’s so much ground to cover. It’s generally a good strategy to pick a major interstate, such as I-90, and plot your stops accordingly.

The difference between spending 5 days and 7 days in Montana can be significant, as traveling for a full seven days can give you more opportunity to do something like spend a night camping in Glacier NP during the summertime.

Beautiful Glacier NP in Montana
Beautiful Glacier NP in Montana

One advantage of spending 5 days in Montana, on the other hand, is you might dive a bit deeper into exploring a single area if you’re more time-constrained. Skiers visiting Montana in the wintertime might want to focus on a resort like Big Sky, Bridger Bowl, or Whitefish, for example, rather than spending too much time driving.

But if you wanted to have enough time to spend some time in both Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks, for example, then you might be more likely to opt for a 7-day itinerary.

5 to 7-Day Montana Itinerary

Generally speaking, there’s more to see and do in Montana once you get to the central and western parts of the state, so this 5 to 7-day Montana road trip itinerary will assume you’re driving across eastern Montana on Interstate 94 (if not directly into the western part of the state via the same highway) or from the south by way of interstates 25 and 90.

That being said, regardless of how you get into Montana, this itinerary will give you some good ideas on things to do in some of its most picturesque, activity-rich ecological areas and cities.

If you need to rent a car for this trip, you can browse Rentalcars.com which aggregates prices for many different car hire companies. Alternatively, you can consider renting an RV or campervan from Outdoorsy if you’re on a long trip to Montana from Denver or other cities such as Seattle.

Mountain Road in Montana
Mountain Road in Montana

Day 1 – Billings

The Yellowstone River

As you’re coming into the central part of Montana on Interstates 94 and 90, Billings stands between the Bighorn lands surrounding the Yellowstone River and the corridor that eventually leads to the more mountainous areas of Livingston and Bozeman.

The Yellowstone River runs right along the highway around the city of Billings, and convenient access points like the Duck Creek, Bundy Bridge, and Voyagers Rest access areas make for nice rest stops on a road trip.

The Rimrocks

These natural rock formations are a great option for an afternoon hike and offer some of the area’s best views overlooking the city. Locals enjoy coming here for the sunset, but it’s an equally good option for a morning hike before pushing on to the Bozeman area, assuming that’s your next stop.

Yellowstone Cellars & Winery

With some of the best wines you could ever find produced in the Western US, the winery at Yellowstone Cellars is an ideal stop for anyone looking to stay close to the interstate on their trip to Montana. There’s sometimes a live music act on Fridays, as well.

Though the area is known far more for picking wild huckleberries than for cultivating grape vines, you will be surprised my the quality of wines to be found here.

Where to Stay in Billings

Northern Hotel – An excellent option if you’re looking for a bit of luxury during your trip to Montana, this hotel has it all. They offer a range of plush and comfortable rooms, a central location for exploring Billings and its surrounding area as well as an on-site bar and diner for guests to enjoy.

Riversage Billings Inn – This mid-range hotel is a great option in Billings if you’re travelling on a bit of a smaller budget but still want a level of comfort. They have countless lovely rooms available, a fitness centre on-site, a great location and even allow pets.

Private Rental – A private rental is also a great option in Billings. Properties such as this bright 2-bedroom apartment is just one of many options in the city.

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

Hiking around Billings
Hiking around Billings

Day 2 – Bozeman

The Museum of the Rockies

Under the umbrella of Montana State University, the Museum of the Rockies is a world-class natural history museum with one of America’s most highly prized collections of dinosaur fossils.

This is obviously a great stop for kids, featuring exhibits that explore everything from ancient archaeology to cutting-edge advancements in technology and science. Planetarium shows, educational programs, and a museum store with exhibit-inspired souvenirs all add to the museum’s appeal.

Downtown Bozeman

Anyone who appreciates a quintessential college town will enjoy taking a walk around Bozeman. This is arguably your best chance at experiencing a wide array of different restaurants and bars during your travels in Montana.

If you’re craving a burger and beer combo after a day of hiking or sightseeing, local favorites like Backcountry Burger Bar are a great bet; or if you’re in the mood for something a little less American, try Whistle Pig Korean or Dave’s Sushi.

The Gallatin Canyon

The Gallatin River is among the most famous of the great drainages in the Western US and Montana—up there with the Missouri, the Blackfoot, and the Madison Rivers, among others.

This is a great river for rafting, kayaking, tubing (when the water is lower), or fishing, and road trip travelers who are just passing through can find a lot of easy access points for a hike or a picnic and enjoy the beautiful wilderness.

There are plenty of turnouts as you drive along the steeply winding cliffs that line the Gallatin, and even families with kids and travelers with pets will find easy access points for taking a break by the river.

The Gallatin River in autumn
The Gallatin River
Where to Stay in Bozeman

RSVP Hotel – If you’re looking for a luxury option in Bozeman, then this hotel is a great choice. They have a range of lovely rooms available, a wonderful location and a number of other amenities available to help make your time in Bozeman memorable.

The LARK – Another great option in Bozeman is this modern boutique hotel. Located in the downtown area close to all the action, there are plenty of great 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 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!

Day 3 – Helena

State Capitol

Montana’s Capitol building is arguably one of the country’s most stately historic structures, complete with Greek columns, marble accents, painted ceilings, and well-manicured lawns that look out across the valley where this city resides.

It can be fun to tour the inside of the Capitol before wandering down the hill or over toward Helena’s downtown area.

Helena State Capitol
Helena State Capitol

The Montana Historical Society

A stop here makes sense if you’ve decided to visit the Capitol building, as the Montana Historical Society is right next door.

The Society hosts Montana’s Museum, which is home to several permanent exhibits and galleries, including the Charles M. Russell Gallery and its collections detailing Lewis and Clark’s experiences as their expedition passed through Montana.

Last Chance Gulch

Essentially Helena’s historic Main Street area, Last Chance Gulch gives visitors a true sense of the city’s Gold Rush-era origins. This area was the site of the original mining camp upon which Helena was founded, but today it’s also a happening part of town with a great nightlife scene.

Local businesses do very well in the buildings that showcase the sort of Victorian architecture you’ll find in mountain towns all across the American West.

Finally, a nice dinner and an evening on the town in the Last Chance Gulch area is a great way to finish things in Montana’s capital.

Where to Stay in Helena

Best Western Premier Helena Great Northern Hotel – If you’re looking for a great, solid choice in Helena, then this hotel is a fantastic option. There are a number of clean and comfortable rooms available, they have a central location for exploring the Montana capital and there is an on-site bar and swimming pool to enjoy. 

Oddfellow Inn & Farm – If you’re looking for a unique and quaint stay near Helena, then this traditional inn on a working farm is a great option! They have a number of lovely rooms available and there is even a great restaurant on site! 

Private Rental – If you’d rather have your own space in the Montana capital, then a private rental – like this comfortable 1-bedroom suite – is an excellent option. You will find lots of properties available that can suit all kinds of travel styles and needs. 

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

Day 4 – Missoula

Downtown Missoula

As the home of “the Griz,” Missoula is where you’ll find Montana’s other main college, the University of Montana. The drive to Missoula from Helena takes you along sections of the Blackfoot River and the Clark Fork River before reaching the Bitterroot Valley area.

Downtown Missoula has a unique personality that makes it feel a bit more tight-knit than Bozeman, with funky little music venues including The Wilma, The Badlander, Monk’s Bar, and others.

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

The Sapphire Mountains

If you hook directly back to the southeast from Missoula, the mountainous area that spans across to the small town of Philipsburg and the Rock Creek drainage is a beautiful place to sightsee and car camp.

Crowds tend to be almost non-existent in these alpine National Forest areas, even on weekends, and photographers will love the opportunities for bird- and wildlife-watching.

Be mindful that this is grizzly bear country, so it’s best to have any food or non-smell-proof items sealed in a bear-proof container overnight if you’re camping.

The Bitterroot River

While anyone who is walking or wading along the banks might prefer stopping at a smaller river like the Blackfoot, the Bitterroot River—along with the nearby Clark Fork—is a great chance to work some watersports into your itinerary.

You might even consider floating the Bitterroot and the Clark Fork on separate days if you have the time.

The Bitterroot tends to see more crowds, and the Clark Fork is perhaps even more prized for its fly fishing opportunities these days, but both are incredibly scenic and come with sightings of bald eagles soaring overhead and the at-times snowy peaks that line the Bitterroot Valley in the background.

Clark Fork River
Clark Fork River
Where to Stay in Missoula

C’mon INN Missoula – This hotel is an excellent option if you’re looking for a comfortable and reliable accommodation option Missoula. They have a range of clean and comfortable rooms available, an indoor swimming pool and fitness center on site and a number of other amenities to make your stay a great one.

Private Rental – Another popular option in Missoula is a private rental, like this plush condo in central Missoula. There are lots of properties to choose from in the city that you’re sure to find something that suits your needs.

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

Day 5 – Kalispell

Downtown Kalispell

You might choose to set out on a trajectory for Glacier NP after leaving Missoula on a Montana road trip, and the town of Kalispell is worth a stop on the way.

As the largest city in northwest Montana, Kalispell’s downtown area is very pedestrian-friendly and hosts lots of mom-and-pop businesses selling everything from small-batch ice cream to high-end outdoor gear.

Flathead Lake

The largest freshwater lake west of the Mississippi River is nearly 30 miles long and less than a 20-minute drive from Kalispell.

A tribal recreation pass is needed to access the southern half of the lake, but Montana Fish & Wildlife maintains a number of recreation sites on the other half of the lake—some of which allow for tent camping. Visitors tend to go boating, fishing, and swimming, and pontoon boats are available to rent.

On Flathead Lake, you can also visit Wild Horse Island, which is home to – not surprisingly- wild horses along with bighorn sheep and other wildlife. You can also get excellent views around the lake.

For something smaller, consider visiting nearby Swan Lake and, for more iconic wildlife, consider driving a bit further from Flathead Lake to the CSKT Bison Range where you can see bison roaming in the prairie.

Flathead Lake
Flathead Lake

Whitefish Mountain Resort

If you’re visiting Montana during the winter months, Whitefish Mountain Resort (also known simply as Big Mountain) is renowned for getting some of the best snowfall totals of all the Montana ski resorts.

Eleven chairlifts service the mountain, meaning that the already sparse crowds can disperse, and the glades, groomers, and powder-stashed runs often feel downright secluded. If you’re only planning a 5-day Montana itinerary, this is the best place to end your trip.

Where to Stay Near Kalispell

The Ridge at Glacier – If you’re looking for a rustic but plush place to stay close to Kalispell, Whitefish and Glacier NP, then these luxury cabins are a great option. There are a range of cabins to choose from that can suit all kinds of visitors.

Under Canvas Glacier – Glamping is another great option for your visit, and this place located near Kalispell is a good choice if this is an accommodation that intrigues you. Well located close to all the area has to offer, there are a number of safari-style canvas tents to choose from and plenty of great amenities to ensure you have a great stay.

Private Rental – A private vacation rental is one of the best options in Kalispell or near the national park. You’re sure to find something that suits your travel style and budget and a place like this historic home in Kalispell or this mountain view cabin within the Park are just some of countless options.

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

Beautiful Glacier National Park
Beautiful Glacier National Park

Day 6 – Butte

World Museum of Mining

If you’re not proceeding north from the Missoula area toward Glacier NP, then looping back to Butte after having driven the length of the Bitterroot Valley could be a good option. The World Museum of Mining, known for its witty and informative tour guides, is perfect for anyone looking for a short diversion.

Copper King Mansion

The Copper King can double as an option for lodgings, as there’s a year-round bed & breakfast available, but it’s also worth working into any Montana vacation itinerary simply for its remarkable Victorian-era architecture. If you stay here for a night, be sure to book one of the guided tours to learn about the building’s history that dates back to the early days of Butte.

Day 7 – Glacier National Park

Avalanche Lake

If your final destination on your visit to Montana is the Glacier National Park area, then it’s hard to find a better day hike than the Avalanche Lake Trail.

Other hikes such as the Highline Trail might offer more in the way of views stretching out as far as the eye can see, but Avalanche Lake strikes a nice balance as a moderate hike of about five miles in total. This glacial cirque is full of healthy pines and features some memorable waterfall views.

Avalanche Lake
Avalanche Lake

Logan Pass Visitor Center

Even if you’re not looking to get out of the car and venture into the backcountry, a visit to Glacier isn’t complete without stopping in the Logan Pass Visitor Center, which rests at the highest point of the Park’s Going-to-the-Sun Road.

You’ll get great information and an opportunity to use facilities here before driving on to other iconic Glacier NP destinations like Wild Goose Island.

Have More Time?

Book a guided float fishing trip

Montana’s popular angling ideal of “A River Runs Through It” is definitely accurate in its portrayal of fly fishing culture as gospel in the state of Montana.

Rivers like the Blackfoot (featured in the Norman McLean novel and the movie it inspired starring Brad Pitt), the Madison, the Missouri, the Gallatin, and the Bighorn are excellent options for booking a guided float fishing trip.

Lodges and outfitters like renowned angler and fly-tier Kelly Galloup’s Slide Inn have experienced guides ready to take clients out in search of wild trout practically year-round.

Head south toward Yellowstone by way of Big Sky

If you’re not planning a trip to Montana that trends toward the northwestern part of the state, then you can always veer south toward the town of Big Sky and Yellowstone National Park.

This area is known for outstanding downhill skiing and mountain biking, so outdoor adventurers will find it worth spending a day here on their way to Yellowstone.

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone
Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

Montana’s many natural areas, its abundance of wildlife, and its classic mountain towns make it another Rocky Mountain state that’s perfect for road-trippers. No matter how you structure your 5 to 7-day Montana itinerary, the Treasure State has something for travelers of all kinds.

Are you planning to visit 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.

Comments

  1. Wow, you completely left out a day to visit Kootenai Falls west of Libby, just east of Troy. It’s a 2 hour drive West on Highway 2 from Kalispell. McGregor Lake, Thompson Lakes Upper, Middle and Lower, Happy’s Inn is 1/2 way. Kootenai Falls is where they filmed the waterfall scenes in The River Wild and The Revenant. There is a swinging bridge over the Kootenai River just west of the falls. A trip a few miles south gets you to Bull Lake where the movie Always was filmed and just a couple miles from there are the Ross Creek Cedars. The Kootenai River is a blue ribbon trout fishery with summertime opportunities for paddle boarding or just floating on a tube or Kayak. Seventeen miles north of Libby is Libby Dam which is I believe the 3rd or 4th largest dam in the U.S.A. You can get in all of this within a days time.

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