Best of Big Sky Country
Explore the Big Sky Country on a seven day road trip from border to border. Along the way, you'll reflect on western history - cowboys and Indians, miners and soldiers - explore astonishing national parks and relax in towns and trails you'll find along the way. From southeast to northwest Montana, you'll discover unspoiled nature, friendly folk and a way of life forgotten by many.
DESTINATIONS (CITIES) VISITED:Billings, Yellowstone National Park, West Yellowstone, Virginia City, Helena, Ulm, Great Falls, Browning, Glacier National Park, Kalispell, Whitefish
Day 1 - Billings' area
Arrive in Billings via air or automobile by traveling I-90 or I-94. Once there, take a 45-minute drive south on I-90 to visit the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument. This site commemorates the Indian victory led by Sitting Bull over Lt. Col George Custer's 7th Calvary in 1876. Each June, the battle is retold from the Indians perspective during the annual Custer's Last Stand Re-Enactment. If time allows, here are some other considerations for your day. Pompeys Pillar National Monument and the new $6.7 million Interpretive Center, 30 minutes east on I-94, features exhibits which relate to the journey of Captain William Clark and his detachment, including Sacagawea and her son Pomp, down the Yellowstone River Valley in 1806. Pictograph Cave State Park and Chief Plenty Coups State Park, 20 minutes and 45 minutes respectively from Billings, tell from an Indian's perspective, how they lived in Montana's past and present. Return to Billings for your overnight stay. Wander the newly renovated downtown for shopping, dining and lodging or shop Montana's largest mall for those items you forgot to pack.
Overnight in Billings.
Day 2 - Billings - Yellowstone National Park
Depart Billings and travel to Yellowstone National Park via the scenic Beartooth Highway (Highway 212). While only 53-miles (83 km) long, it will take you 3 hours to travel this seasonal National Scenic Byway. The route offers views of snowcapped peaks, glaciers, alpine lakes and plateaus as you descend into the northeast entrance of Yellowstone National Park. Yellowstone, the world's first national park, contains 2 million acres of scenery, hundreds of wildlife species (including bison, elk, bears and wolves) and over 10,000 geothermal features. Overnight in the park in the Old Faithful or Lake areas and enjoy quiet comforts in inspiring surroundings.
Overnight in Yellowstone National Park or surrounding communities of Cooke City, Gardiner or West Yellowstone.
Day 3 - Yellowstone National Park - West Yellowstone - Virginia City - Helena
After watching Old Faithful erupt, depart Yellowstone via the west entrance at West Yellowstone, about an hour's drive. A stop at the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center provides visitors the unique opportunity to learn about, view and ultimately appreciate the grizzly bear and gray wolf in their natural habitat. Continue on to the Madison Earthquake area, for a brief stop the site of a 1959 earthquake and landslide. Ninety minutes from West Yellowstone are the historic towns of Virginia and Nevada City. Spend 1-2 hours touring these late 1800's gold rush towns, which have been authentically restored. Wander the boardwalks peering into history, browse for gifts or enjoy a brew or ice cream cone in Virginia City. If time allows, take the Alder Gulch Short Line, which connects these two towns for step back in time. Each weekend in the summer, see the past come alive during the Living History Days in Nevada City. End your day with a 2-hour drive to Helena to overnight in Montana's Capital City.
Overnight in Helena
Day 4 - Helena - Great Falls
In the morning, take the Last Chance Tour Train, (trolley) which begins across from the capitol for a fascinating glimpse of the 'Queen City," including the historic Mansion District, the Last Chance Gulch and the Cathedral of St. Helena. Depart Helena and travel north on scenic I-15 to the Gates of the Mountains area for a 105-minute excursion boat tour on the Missouri River. Along the route, you might see eagles and ospreys, deer and mountain goats and will witness the towering cliffs, from Captain Meriwether Lewis of the Lewis and Clark Expedition perspective who named the area. Continue on I-15 for about 60-minutes to Ulm, where you'll turn off the interstate for a stop at one of the largest buffalo jumps in the U.S. Located above and below the cliffs that 14 tribes used to hunt buffalo, the First Peoples Buffalo Jump State Park provides walking trails and a Visitor Center that explain the importance of this plains animal to the tribes. From there it is a 20-minute drive to Great Falls for dinner and your overnight stay.
Day 5 - Great Falls - Choteau - Glacier National Park (east side)
Before departing the Electric City for the 2-hour drive to Glacier National Park, there are several attractions you might wish to include in your itinerary. The CM Russell Museum is the site of the famous cowboy artist's home and studio. The Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail Interpretive Center retraces the expedition's route and explores their interaction with the Indian tribes of the Plains and the Pacific Northwest. Nearby, the Giant Springs State Park offers a peaceful setting where you can view one of the largest springs and shortest rivers in the world. Depart Great Falls by early afternoon and travel to Glacier National Park via the scenic Highway 89, along the Rocky Mountain Front where the mountains meet the plains.
Overnight in Glacier National Park's east side or nearby communities of East Glacier, St Mary's or Many Glacier.
Day 6 - Glacier National Park
Take a full-day to explore Glacier National Park, the Crown Jewel of the North American Continent. Set in a rugged section of the northern Rockies, Glacier National Park joins Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta, Canada. Together they create the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park World Heritage Site - an ideal 'two nation vacation" and the world's first peace park. The Going-to-the-Sun Road, a spectacular 52-mile highway through Glacier, crosses the Continental Divide at Logan Pass and traverses the towering Garden Wall. Take the Hidden Lake Trail at the pass, where from the boardwalk trail you'll see mountain goats, wildflowers and picturesque mountain lakes. There are over 700 miles (1,100 km) of hiking trails in the park, including Avalanche Creek or Hidden Lake; as well as scenic boat tours on five lakes and trail rides for those who wish to let others do the walking.
Overnight in Glacier National Park or communities of Kalispell, West Glacier or Whitefish.
Day 7 - Kalispell - Whitefish area
Depart from Glacier International Airport located in the center of the scenic Flathead Valley, within 20 minutes of the communities of Columbia Falls, Kalispell or Whitefish. If you have time to explore these communities here are some suggestions. In Kalispell, a guided tour of the Conrad Mansion in summer, provides a view of this luxurious 19th century living and its 26 rooms, 8 fireplaces, original furniture and landscaped gardens. The Museum at Central School offers a glimpse into valley history including Indian artifacts, pioneer exhibits and historical photos. In Whitefish, take a gondola ride up to the summit of the Whitefish Mountain Resort and hike (or ride down) to the base among wildflowers and huckleberry bushes. For the more adventurous try the zip line or alpine slide. Or stroll the charming downtown for unique gifts or cafes to remember your Montana trip.
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