Ice-capped mountains dominating lush valleys. Aquamarine lakes spilling into gushing waterfalls. Down-home ranchers and honest-to-goodness cowboys. Lumbering bears, moose, bison, and llamas.
Welcome to Montana, where there are two times as many cows as people and miles and miles of gorgeous, rolling wilderness to explore! Montana has so much to offer – including its crown jewel, Glacier National Park – and we’ve designed the perfect 10-day Montana road trip itinerary through Western Montana, complete with details to help you plan each step of your trip.
And yes: there are llamas. You’re welcome.
Buckle up, because this is a detailed AF post!
Psst: Planning a trip to Montana? When it comes to navigating unfamiliar territory – especially unfamiliar wilderness territory, full of legally protected critters and forests and such – it really helps to have a guide. If you happen to be besties with a friendly Park Ranger, you’re covered!
But if not, the next best thing is a guidebook. Moon Travel Guides has a comprehensive guide to Glacier National Park, plus a Moon Yellowstone to Glacier National Park Road Trip guide. While our itinerary includes 2 days in Glacier NP, if you’re planning to spend more time there or you’d like to bookend this trip itinerary with a trip to Yellowstone, these two guides are essential. Bring them along and you’ll be covered with detailed information, maps, and landmarks along the way.
Psst: We’ve also created a free, printable version of this Montana Road Trip Itinerary! Our downloadable itinerary includes a handy map of all the stops, so you can save it to your phone to use even when there’s no cell service and a bunch of bison are blocking the road (likely, tbh).
Montana Road Trip FAQ’s
What is the best time of year to visit Montana?
We recommend visiting in late August/early September. Glacier National Park – the star of both Montana and our itinerary – is crowded and packed with visitors in July.
That said, counterpoint: July is cherry season in Flathead Lake. If you do go in mid-summer, expect crowds.
But if you wait until after school starts, you’ll be able to enjoy a much less crowded park and absolutely perfect weather!
Be careful, though: if you time your trip too late in September, everything in Glacier National Park will begin shutting down because of snow (yes, that early)!
I took my trip in later September, and while the leaves were beginning to turn into lovely golden colors, nearly everything in the park was shutting down, including many of the highlights of this itinerary! Book your trip no later than the 3rd week of September just to be safe, and double-check the seasonal closing dates before you book anything.
Insider Tip: Visiting Montana in the fall is all about flexibility. You don’t want to trust the weather report beyond a couple of days out, and even then, you pack an umbrella and a jacket. The weather can change in an instant and you can experience all 4 seasons in 1 day!
Where should you fly in and out of?
This road trip is focused around western Montana in Glacier Country, so we recommend booking your flights in and out of Missoula. Coming from the West Coast, there are plenty of quick, direct flights to Missoula on the budget airline Allegiant. We recommend using Kayak to price-compare flight deals & dates before you book to save money on your flight.
Since this itinerary is a loop, you can rent a car directly at the airport once you arrive in Missoula. Again, use Kayak to price-compare prices on car rentals for your trip! And be sure to get something comfy: this is a road trip, after all!
You can also turn this road trip into a fantastic RV trip, complete with some of the best RV camping the country has to offer in Glacier National Park. Don’t own an RV? You can rent one from somebody who does on RVShare! If you’re flying in, just pick up and return your RV in Missoula: browse RV rentals in Missoula.
What should you pack for Montana?
Missoula, Montana is an adorable college town and makes a great base to begin and end your trip to Montana!
The weather in Montana is fickle, and it’s not uncommon to experience all 4 seasons in the course of a day during the summer and fall. Here are a few essentials to pack and bring with you on your trip:
- Packable Down Jacket: The weather in Montana is unpredictable, particularly when you’re in/around/near mountains. You can’t trust the forecast in Montana! This lightweight down jacket packs down into a tiny ball of fluff and will keep you warm when you need it. Keep one tucked away in your bag – chances are you’ll forget it’s even in there until you’re suddenly in dire need!
- Rain Jacket: For the same reason you want to bring a just-in-case warm jacket, a just-in-case rain jacket is also an excellent idea. This one also packs down into a tiny, lightweight little ball to tuck into your day bag.
- Re-Usable Water Bottle: The higher the elevation, the more water you need to drink! Keep Montana’s wilderness pristine and plastic-free by bringing your own re-useable water bottle. We love this one because the insulation will keep water ice-cold or coffee piping hot for hours and hours!
How can you support Montana’s Indigenous communities & Tribal Nations?
Montana has one of the highest American Indian populations in the US, with about 66,000 people of Tribal heritage. The state is home to federally recognized Tribal Nations, as well as many unrecognized communities (the fact that Tribes must be defined by the State or Federal government in order to “exist” is, in and of itself, super problematic). Additionally, this itinerary includes routes that pass through American Indian reservations.
So, how can you help support Indigenous communities during your trip to Montana? The simplest answer I can give you is to seek out Native-owned businesses.
This website, run by the Montana State Government, provides excellent resources. When visiting Reservations or stopping at places that appear to be Indigenous-owned (such as a “trading post”), look for “Native-owned” signage. That will help keep the money you’re spending funneled directly to the Tribal Nations, which supports Indigenous communities. We have included a few excellent options in our itinerary.
It’s also important to keep in mind that American Indian culture is not something that exists in the past – it is still thriving and present, despite centuries of oppression and brutal policies that have pushed out Indigenous peoples and disenfranchised them.
To quote the Essential Understandings, “American Indian individuals and tribes are still here with distinct and intact governments, languages, and cultures that contribute to modern Montana.” The plight of American Indians is quite complex, and relations between US citizens (and the federal government) and Tribal citizens are, in a word, tense.
My trip to Montana, which was hosted by a State tourism bureau, was eye-opening; I realized how little I know about our American Indian neighbors and the ways in which my country (and by extension, myself) are still, today, complicit in oppressing Indigenous culture and communities.
Since my trip, I’ve been reflecting and researching ways that I can better educate myself as well as supporting existing Indigenous activism. I don’t have all the answers, but as someone involved in driving tourism and educating visitors, the least I can do is share what I’ve learned. (Note: if you have any suggestions for resources not included here, or ways I can better present this information, please drop us a comment and let us know!)
Ethical tourism can be a great way to support and grow Indigenous communities while educating others about their culture, but immersive, sustainable Indigenous tourism – such as community homestays or community-led tours of Tribal Nations – doesn’t currently exist in Montana.
During my trip I spoke with a Montana state government employee involved in developing Indigenous tourism, who shared some of the challenges faced at the State level. There is a Department of Indian Affairs as well as a program dedicated to growing Indian tourism (including through grants and other funding) at the state level, and efforts are being made.
One crucial part of the equation is relationship building – understandably, many Tribal Nations aren’t exactly thrilled to work with the same Government who has spent the past several centuries destroying them.
However, some Tribal Nations, including the Confederated Salish and Kootnai Tribes and the Blackfeet Nation, are leading the way on Tribal infrastructure and, in turn, tourism.
If you’re interested in experiencing Indian Country during your visit to Montana, I recommend reading through this booklet or browsing this site! Here are a few more excellent resources for self-education:
- Essential Understandings, produced by Tribal educators along with the Montana Advisory Council for Indian Education. This is basically a primer intended for students in Montana, and it breaks down everything you need to know about Montana’s Tribal communities into easy-to-digest essentials. If you read only one thing on this list, this should be it.
- Montana Indians: Their History and Location, produced by the Division of Indian Education & the Montana Office of Public Instruction in partnership with Tribal authorities and representatives from Tribal Nations. This is an excellent resource for understanding the stories, histories, and complex dynamics of the Tribal Nations of Montana.
- Indian Country Guidebook, produced by the Montana Department of Tourism. This is an excellent resource for determining ways that you can visit & support Indian communities during your trip.
- Montana Tribes Digital Archives, produced in collaboration between The University of Montana and Indian Education at the Office of Public Instruction. The archives include video interviews with Tribal members regarding the Essential Understandings (see resource #1).
Western Montana Road Trip Itinerary
Let’s get to the good stuff! Here is a day by day breakdown of our recommended Montana road trip itinerary. Let’s go!
Your trip begins once your plane touches down in Missoula, Montana! Missoula is a charming college town, and by far the most urban place you’ll be during your 10 days in Montana. You might recognize the town as the setting of A River Runs Through It (if not, be sure to watch it – or read the book – before your trip)!
First things first: head immediately to Butterfly Herbs downtown to pick up a huckleberry malt milkshake made with locally made ice cream. Huckleberries are a Montana Thing, and you’ll want to make it a point to eat them in as many different forms as you can while you’re in Montana! (The verdict is still out on whether they are actually their own type of berry, or just wild blueberries, but don’t tell a local that.)
Depending on when your flight arrives, you may or may not be spending the night in Missoula. But if you do have some time in town, we recommend booking a Missoula Back Alleys tour! You’ll learn all about Missoula’s history as a frontier town. The tours run between April and October – note that they are not wheelchair accessible.
Downtown Missoula is quite walkable, so pick a place to eat from this curated list and explore the town on foot! If you’re up for it, wander all the way across the bridge to the other side of town to check out the Hip Strip, Missoula’s coolest neighborhood.
Where to Stay in Missoula
We recommend staying somewhere walkable, so you’ll want to base yourself close to downtown on either side of the river. Here are our picks:
- Vacation Rentals: There are plenty of options for charming, gorgeous little condos and apartments throughout Missoula! We love this chic Hip Strip apartment, in the iconic Corner Building, located directly downtown and just steps away from Higgins Ave, the tree-lined main thoroughfare of downtown. This gorgeous corner condo, located in a historic building, offers stunning views of the mountains and is located right on the waterfront within walking distance of downtown and the Hip Strip. This modern apartment is next to Draught Works Brewery and has a pretty patio overlooking Mount Sentinel and downtown Missoula. It is the cheaper option on our list! We recommend booking directly through VRBO because it has fewer fees and more flexible cancellation policies than Airbnb – also, we’re not fans of Airbnb’s unethical track record and lax security.
- Hotel: We stayed at the Holiday Inn, and it felt less like a Holiday Inn and more like a luxury hotel! The location was excellent, walking distance from everything in downtown and bordering the waterfront and river.
Driving Time: About 2.5 hours
Your first stop after Missoula is the stunning, outdoorsy town of Whitefish, Montana, located just outside of Glacier National Park. We asked our adventurous friends Jen & Ed from Coleman Concierge, who lived in Whitefish for many years, to help us create the best itinerary for your 2 days in Whitefish!
The beautiful thing about visiting Whitefish – particularly in August & September – is that you have easy access to the town, lake, and mountain in one neat little package. You can plan your Whitefish getaway in broad strokes and then fill in the details once you get there. There are lots of great things to do in Whitefish for every season if you know where to look!
Where to Stay in Whitefish, Montana
We recommend staying at Pine Lodge, located right on the Whitefish River and a 3-minute drive to downtown. You’ll have easy access to the boutique specialty shops and galleries in town, and still within reach of all the outdoor activities.
We also love that Pine Lodge is eco-friendly with many sustainability initiatives in place, and offer guests complimentary bike, kayak, or SUP rentals!
Another fantastic option we found is this cute condo, located directly in town. You’ll be walking distance from everything in Whitefish!
Day Two: Exploring the Town of Whitefish
For breakfast and coffee, head to Swift Creek Cafe. Their eggs benedict is LEGENDARY, or if you’re feeling sandwhichy, the Reuben is insanely good.
After breakfast, spend a few hours strolling around downtown Whitefish, taking in all its charm and shopping opportunities. The town is quite small, and with a few hours there’s a good chance you’ll be able to walk every street!
Pine Lodge’s complimentary bike rentals are the perfect way to explore Whitefish. After a (super) hearty lunch, take your bike out to the open road. You can make it almost all the way around Whitefish Lake and not have to share the road with cars!
Start by biking to City Beach and along the River Trail to take in lakeside views – more details & a map can be found here. If you’re feeling up for a few hills, you can continue all the way up the accurately named Big Mountain for sweeping vistas.
After a few hours of biking, you’ve worked up an appetite for Ciao Mambo with Italian dishes big enough to share, and an ‘Italian Nachos’ that will have your cardiologist running for the hills.
If you’re thirsty, The Great Northern Brewing Company, Bonsai Brewing, or Spotted Bear Spirits have you covered. If you’re lusting for more libations (and maybe something a little less … fancy) check out the happy hour at The Bulldog for Huckleberry Wings and cheap beer. Its NSFW bathrooms are just part of the quintessential dive bar charm!
Day Three: Adventures on Big Mountain
Start your day with a pour-over at the Wild Coffee Company, a third wave coffee shop that donates 1% of its profits to local non-profits working on nature and outdoor conservation. Boujie coffee and sustainability – a match made in heaven!
Fuel up at Loula’s Cafe, a beloved local breakfast staple located in an old Masonic temple. Try the stuffed French toast, or literally anything else that looks good – you can’t go wrong!
- Insider Tip: grab a slice of Huckleberry pie to go and bring it up the mountain for a snack. You’ll thank us later.
From the summer season all the way through September, Whitefish Mountain Resort (formerly known as Big Mountain) offers weather permitting outdoor adventure!
Just a short drive outside of Whitefish, the Resort has myriad ways to get your thrill on, like the mountain bike park, alpine slides, zip-lines, and rope courses.
Plus, there are miles of scenic hiking trails up and down the mountain. You can even take the lift up, down, or both ways depending on your preference – something I have wished for on literally every hike I’ve ever done.
Once you’ve made it to the top of the mountain (however it is that you got there), stop in at the Summit House Restaurant on top of the chair lift for amazing views and a cold drink.
Dining on Big Mountain is almost as much fun as mountain biking, with a lot less chance of serious injury. For dinner, don’t miss out on the best food deal in Montana: the small plate menu at the Kandahar Lodge’s Snug Bar. You see, Cafe Kandahar, the fine dining restaurant located in the lodge, is the best food in Whitefish and possibly all of Montana with a price point to match.
But there’s a hidden loophole! The adjacent Snug Bar offers a small plate/tapas menu starting at 5:00 pm, so you can savor the finest of flavors without breaking the bank. Insider tip: the wild forest mushroom and puff pastry tapas will literally change your world!
Glacier National Park
Driving time to West Glacier: About 30 minutes
Ahh, Glacier National Park. Crown jewel of Montana. This stunning park is the highlight of any Montana road trip!
- Psst: For more information about this leg of your trip, check out our 2-day Glacier National Park Itinerary.
But before we jump into all of the amazing things you’ll be doing and seeing, we need to cover a few important basics.
Firstly: be aware during your trip that Glacier National Park – and, in fact, most USA National Parks – was originally inhabited and maintained by Indigenous peoples. The land that is currently Glacier National Park was actually given to the Blackfeet Nation as part of their original reservation.
But before too long, the Blackfeet were forced out of their re-assigned home in order to make way for luxury hotels and trains and wealthy tourists.
Today, they have free admission to visit the park but are not allowed to live on their land despite the original agreement made between the Tribe and the United States Government. It’s a shameful fact that all outdoor enthusiasts and National Park visitors should be aware of, as well as the efforts that are being made by the National Park Service.
It’s important to be aware of your impact in Glacier, like any National Park. To protect visitors and the park, there are a few key pointers to follow:
- Don’t geotag in Glacier National Park!
Geotagging seems natural to many of us millennials–we want to share the cool things we see when we are traveling!
But the problem is that places like Glacier are extremely delicate. They can only handle a few visitors at a time before the landscape and the animals start to feel the impact. And when thousands of people converge on a small number of specific wilderness locations, those locations are negatively impacted – and at risk of being harmed, destroyed, and blocked off to visitors entirely.
So if you want to post some cool pics of the nature you see–go for it! But please don’t post the exact location, particularly on Instagram or other publicly accessible social media platforms.
Within this guide, we’ve kept our suggestions for specific spots within Glacier National Park to a minimum to honor this principle.
- Give ALL animals space.
Make sure you give plenty of space to the animals in national parks, even ones that aren’t aggressive! They need plenty of room so they don’t get nervous, just like humans. Even small, “cute” animals like chipmunks have been known to hurt humans who come too close to them. (Which is like … still super cute.)
Rule of thumb: Always keep 25 yards (about 2 school buses) away from a non-aggressive animal, or 100 yards (one football field) away from large/potentially aggressive ones. You can learn more about wildlife respect and safety here.
During our trip, we saw everything from bears to moose, including one moose who kept trying to come uncomfortably close to us (fun fact: moose are some of the most dangerous animals in the parks – give them a wide berth). We stayed safely far away and used our zoom lens to capture photos of them instead!
- Follow Leave No Trace guidelines.
All National Parks utilizes the ethos of “Leave No Trace”. What that means is that we don’t leave anything behind when we visit–even natural or compostable things, like banana peels or apple cores, which can disturb the fragile ecosystems within the park.
Whatever you bring in, you should bring back out again–pack it in pack it out. Don’t dig holes to bury things (including bodily waste), just bring a trash bag or use the park-provided facilities and trash containers!
Day Four: Going to the Sun Road
The primary road through Glacier National Park is a feat of engineering. Running all the way from West Glacier to East Glacier, the road winds through the valleys before suddenly plunging upwards and climbing turn by turn through the mountains of Glacier National Park, with views of sweeping U-shaped valleys and aquamarine lakes around every corner.
It is a must-do. But be sure to time your visit just right: the road opens in June or July and closes for weather-related reasons around late September or early October, so be sure to check that date before you go (and remember: the weather in Montana is unpredictable AF).
There are a few options for exploring Going to the Sun Road.
Option 1: Self-Guided Drive
You can drive Going to the Sun Road yourself in your own vehicle. The road is 50 miles long and takes about 2 hours one-way with no stopping (but you’ll definitely be stopping a few times, so allow yourself extra time).
Note: If you’re planning to stay in Whitefish, we recommend considering stopping your trip through the park mid-way at Logan Pass, going for a lovely day hike – we recommend the 5 mile Hidden Lake hike – using the facilities at the Logan Visitor Center, and then turning around and heading back to West Glacier or Many Glacier.
Option 2: Take a Free Shuttle
There are shuttles running throughout Glacier National Park, and you can take them from the entrance of West Glacier up Going to the Sun Road all the way to Logan Pass and East Glacier (and back again) – for free!
The shuttles are ADA accessible and make several stops, but take about the same amount of time as driving your personal vehicle. Note that shuttles have limited seating and you may find yourself waiting for a seat during high season.
Option 3: Take a Guided Tour
Taking a guided tour is a fantastic option for Going to the Sun Road because it allows you to sit back and take in the views while learning about the history of the park and the flora and fauna that inhabit it.
There are only two tour operators driving this route.
- Tour Option #1: Glacier Sun Tours Operated by a Blackfeet Tribal Member
From the Sun Tours website: “our Guides are life-time residents of the Blackfeet Indian Reservation and possess extensive knowledge in many facets of Tribal History, culture, and lifestyle. They provide an all-encompassing history and experience surrounding the landscape of Glacier National Park’s inhabited areas: Park history; animal species; common plants and roots used for nutrition and medicine; and the Blackfoot spiritual and philosophical perspectives/stories of life in the Buffalo Days as well as modern times.”
Sadly I didn’t have a chance to take this tour myself during my trip, but I’ve heard nothing but good things. Not only will you be learning about the park directly from the people who originally inhabited (and still, technically, own) it, but your tour fee will be directly supporting a Native-owned business.
Ahem: Remember all that stuff from earlier in the post about how you can support Montana’s Indigenous communities? This! This is how!!
- Tour Option #2: Red Bus Tour operated by Xanterra
Your 2nd tour option is a historical icon of Glacier National Park: the Red Buses were the first-ever motorized tour buses in a US National Park, and they have been operating since the early 1900’s! They were designed especially for the inclines and turns of Glacier National Park & Going to the Sun Road, and their unique designs have been a staple of the Park ever since.
If you do opt for the Red Bus Tour, you’ll want to bring a ton of sunscreen (open top means LOTS of sun), plenty of layers as the morning is quite cold and the afternoon is quite hot, sunglasses, loads of water, chapstick, and snacks (just be sure to pack all the snack waste out with you).
Oh, and you’ll also need to book your tour about a year in advance. They’re very popular.
Day Five: Many Glacier
There are several historic railroad lodges located within Glacier National Park, and we had a chance to stay at a few of them during our trip. Most of them are comfortable yet rustic, and we had difficulty justifying their high nightly rates. But one of them stood out above all the rest: Many Glacier Hotel.
The hotel is located on the banks of the glacial blue Swiftcurrent Lake, seated at the base of jaw-dropping glacier-covered mountains. The hotel’s wraparound deck offers the best lakeside sunset view I’ve ever seen! I was lucky enough to have a lakeside room, and that view was everything.
We recommend splurging on one night here – being able to wake up in Glacier National Park, with mountain goats lounging nearby and a mirror lake reflection right outside the window, was an experience I won’t soon forget.
- If you’re in an RV or you brought along camping gear, you can stay at the beautiful Many Glacier Campground instead!
There’s an excellent hike that starts right at the Many Glacier Hotel: Josephine Loop is an easy/moderate 5.8 mile hike with connections to Grinnell Lake or Hidden Falls. The mostly flat loop takes you all the way around Lake Josephine, which is absolutely stunning.
For a shortcut version, you can take the Chief Two Guns shuttle boat across Swiftcurrent Lake, board the Morning Eagle to shuttle across Lake Josephine, and then hike a 3.6-mile hike to Grinnell Glacier. Both boat shuttles are operated by the family-run Glacier Park Boat Company and operate from June through September. Be sure to book your boat shuttles in advance!
After two wonderful days in Glacier National Park, it’s time to continue your journey through Montana.
Bigfork & Flathead Lake, Montana
Driving time: 45 Minutes from Whitefish, or 3 hours from Many Glacier
Your next destination is Flathead Lake, the largest freshwater natural lake west of the Mississippi! It’s larger than Lake Tahoe and 18 bodies have been discovered lurking in its murky depths. Oooh, creepy!
Flathead Lake is also home to its very own resident monster. It’s called Flessie, and locals say it often appears in the shape of a floating stick. So, only slightly less intimidating than the Loch Ness Monster.
You’ll be staying on the banks of the lake in a charming little town called Bigfork, one of many charming little towns located around Flathead Lake.
- It’s important to note that the south side of the lake belongs to the Flathead Reservation, home of the Salish, Pend d’Oreille and Kootenai Tribes. You’ll need to purchase a $10 recreation permit for any outdoor activities you do on the south side of the lake, including fishing or day-hiking (although our itinerary doesn’t include any). That money goes directly to the Tribes.
Where to Stay in Bigfork
This luxury condo in downtown Bigfork has spectacular views of Swan River, you can hear the sounds of rushing white water from the deck, and the loft bedroom has cathedral windows looking across spectacular views. Or this comfortable condo in Marina Cay with a master bedroom that looks SO cosy. Take in the views from the balcony off the spacious living room.
Day Six: Llama Trekking
Today, you’ll be spending the day hiking with a very special friend: a llama! And like, I’m not going to lie: this was probably the best thing I’ve ever done in my entire life. I LOVE LLAMAS SO MUCH.
Swan Mountain Llama Trekking makes llama dreams come true, with a farm full of friendly, well-treated llamas who basically just hang out grazing and being adorable when they aren’t trotting along on a hike.
Our 5-mile hike to Bond Falls was gorgeous and offered me several hours to attempt to befriend my llama, Boxcar: a beautiful, sassy 1-year-old whose respected I needed to earn. We became best friends by the end of the hike and it made my entire life. You can tell we are best friends because we took a series of adorable selfies together and he is CLEARLY SMILING (as opposed to the photo in the middle from the beginning of our hike, where he is super suss and has not yet decided if he likes me.)
Lunch is included – and carried on the llamas, who are excellent pack animals (if you’re a differently-abled hiker, this is a HUGE help, particularly for overnight or multi-day treks which would be far more difficult without the assistance of a pack animal).
I had a lot of questions about llama trekking, and if you do too, here’s what to expect:
- Llamas take a LOT of snack breaks. Like, more snack breaks than me, which is really saying something. Every few feet, Boxcar would find an exciting looking leaf to munch on, which gave me a chance to catch my breath and earn brownie points for letting him snack.
- Llamas take a very long time to go to the bathroom. But, adorably, they step politely off the trail to do it. It’s the cutest, weirdest thing.
- Llamas are very good hikers – they are native to the Andes mountains in South America, and they feel most comfortable trotting around on steep mountain slopes.
- Swan Mountain’s llamas are incredibly gentle! While Boxcar was certainly sassy and took a while to warm up to me enough for us to share a hug and a selfie, the llamas that come along on hikes are perfectly well behaved. The older llamas are very friendly and sociable (and far more willing to befriend humans, which is great but … I prefer a challenge. I’m a cat person).
- Domesticating a llama is not difficult or harmful to the llama. You basically just hug them until they get used to you. Which gives me hope for my future llama-owning self!
The hike was pleasant and easy, and we ate lunch overlooking a beautiful waterfall. But like, there were llamas there. This was probably my personal highlight of my entire Montana road trip!
Once you’re back in Big Fork, head to Raven for a post-hike dinner!
Day Seven: Drive Around Flathead Lake
Today’s your recovery day in between hikes, so you’ll be taking a slow, leisurely drive around scenic Flathead Lake! Fuel up at Pocketstone Cafe, the ultimate American breakfast spot in Big Fork. We recommend trying the bacon waffle – I know it sounds weird, but just trust us. We also love their biscuits and gravy, and the giant, gooey cinnamon rolls
First up on your clockwise drive around the lake is the town of Polson, the largest town on Flathead Lake. It isn’t huge – like most towns in Montana – but it has a cute main drag to explore. And while you’re exploring, if you’re a cheese lover (and really, isn’t everyone), be sure to stop by Flathead Lake Cheese for samples of local Montana deliciousness.
Your next stop on the road will explore the rich Indigenous history of Montana at The People’s Center. The museum & cultural center showcases the traditions and culture of tribes that have traditionally been passed down orally from generation to generation, as well as examples of cultural tribal artifacts from the Salish, Pend d’Oreille and Kootenai tribes like basket weavings, beaded vests and more. The goal of the cultural center is to dispel myths and stereotypes about Native Americans, and it’s well worth a stop!
- Insider Tip: Be sure to pick something up at the gift shop; purchasing handcrafted Native art and jewelry and shopping at American Indian owned businesses directly supports local Indigenous communities.
2021 Update: Unfortunately The People’s Center suffered a devastating fire and has been relocated to St. Ignatius. They also decided to rename the center to honor three of the chiefs that represent the native tribes of CSKT, the Salish, Pend d’Oreille, and Kootenai.
You will pass through St. Ignatius on your road trip so be sure to stop off and check out the new Three Chiefs Culture Centre.
Did you pocket some of those cheese samples for later? You’re gonna wish you had, because Montana actually has a burgeoning wine scene. Your next stop on the lake is the Mission Mountain Winery for lake views and wine tasting. It is a beautiful, scenic spot.
You can continue on from there to Lakeside, where you’ll find lots of food options. We recommend Stageline Pizza, which is a local legend for great pie. Insider tip: try the cheeseburger pizza!
No Practical Wanderlust guide would be complete without a brewery recommendation, so after your pizza hit up Tamarack Brewery. It has a beautiful outdoor seating area, the perfect place to enjoy the brewery’s delicious Amber Ale.
You can loop back from Lakeside to Big Fork. After a long day of driving and exploring, Big Fork Inn is the perfect place for a cozy dinner with a view. Try the Huckleberry Creme Brulee, because there is no such thing as too much huckleberry in Montana.
The sun sets late in Montana in the summer, so you can still catch the sunset after your dinner; Check it out at Wayfarer’s State Park, a locals’ favorite place to see the sunset over the lake as the sun sinks behind the mountains. Take your camera!
Day Eight: Wild Horse Island
Wild Horse Island is a totally unique Montana destination–and the name says it all. The Island is actually a state park, and home to several wild horses – plus bighorn sheep, mule deer, songbirds, waterfowl, bald eagles, and falcons.
The story of the horses on Wild Horse Island is that the Salish-Kootenai tribe kept their horses on the island to keep them safe from being stolen by other tribes. Today, the Island is part of the Flathead Indian Reservation and is managed by the Montana parks department.
You can pick up the boat to Wild Horse Island right in the heart of downtown Big Fork – just make sure to call and reserve your spot in advance!
If you’re feeling athletic, you can drive around the lake and pick up a canoe, kayak or paddleboard, or SUP. From there – about an hour’s drive from Big Fork – Wild Horse Island is just 45 minutes of athletic activity away! Or, you can charter a boat shuttle.
Before you head out, pack a picnic lunch to keep you fueled up as you hike through the island looking for wild horses!
After a long day of exploring, dinner at Grille 459 is exactly what you need to refuel and get ready for your trip back to the big city in the morning.
Speaking of which: Before you leave Big Fork, stop by the adorably named Grateful Bread Cafe and pick up a slice of one of the top 10 huckleberry pies in Montana!
And because we’re gluttons for … food, we also recommend a mid-drive stop at the adorable, European-themed Windmill Village Bakery for giant, fluffy donuts on your way to Missoula!
Return to Missoula
Driving time: 2 hours
Welcome back to big city life!
Spend your last meal saying goodbye to Montana at PLONK Wine. The food is amazing – literally everything on the menu is incredible – and the drinks are fantastic. It’s the perfect celebration of locally sourced Montana cuisine!
After dinner – but not too late, breweries and distilleries close at 8pm by Montana law – head to Montgomery Distillery for an early nightcap. This craft distillery, set in a stunning 1880’s era saloon, creates spirits from grain grown on the owner’s father’s farm in central Montana. The cocktails are boujie yet surprisingly affordable – be sure to try the smoky grapefruit!
Montana Road Trip Itinerary Summary & Map
Looking for a convenient summary of our Montana itinerary? Here you go! We even included a map to make things extra helpful. Be sure to bookmark this page to refer back to while you’re planning!
Overnight in Missoula, Montana
- Day One: Arrive in Missoula
2 Days in Whitefish, Montana
- Day Two: Exploring Downtown Whitefish
- Day Three: Adventures on Big Mountain
2 Days in Glacier National Park
- Day Four: Going-to-the-Sun Road
- Day Five: Many Glacier
3 Days in Flathead Lake, Montana
- Day Six: Llama Trekking
- Day Seven: Drive Around Flathead Lake
- Day Eight: Wild Horse Island
Return to Missoula
- Day Nine: Missoula
- Day Ten: Fly home!
We’ve also created a free, printable summary of this Montana Road Trip! This will come in handy as you drive and includes the map in case your cell service is awful! We will also send you our favorite tips to help you plan your Montana road trip!
Ready to pack some snacks and hit the road for your Montana road trip? Which stop on our itinerary are you most excited about? Drop us a comment below!
Psst: Looking for more of our favorite outdoorsy destinations? Check out some of our other posts!
- The Best Day Hikes in Zion National Park
- Where to Stay Near Yosemite National Park
- The Ultimate Yellowstone in Winter Guide: Everything You Need to Know
- 9 Awe-Inspiring Things To Do in Zion National Park, Utah: The Ultimate Guide to Zion
Disclaimer: This post includes sponsored content from Moon Travel Guides and RVShare, both of which we have personally tried and vetted (they’re great). Additionally, my trip was hosted by Glacier Country, Montana. All opinions, recommendations, bad jokes, and suggestions that Huckleberries are actually just wild blueberries are 100% my own and absolutely not their fault.