Touring Along Montana's North-South Interstate
I-15's scenery and stories invite you to slow down and savor the day
Interstate 1-15 from Alberta to Idaho, through Montana, takes in a variety of landscapes, from the majestic peaks of the Rocky Mountain Front to the west and vast expanses of prairie to the east. As you move further south, I-15 parallels the Missouri River for a long, beautiful stretch, before it winds through the forested mountains. Along Montana's southern corridor, the views encompass sweeping landscapes of ranchland topped by Montana's "big sky".
DESTINATIONS (CITIES) VISITED: Port of Sweet Grass, Shelby, Great Falls, Ulm, Helena, Butte, Dillon, Bannack
Day 1: Sweet Grass Port of Entry - Shelby - Great Falls
Enter Montana on I-15 at Sweet Grass and head south 30 minutes to your first stop, Shelby. At the free Marias Museum of History and Art, get a first-hand look at early pioneer life as well as memorabilia from the 1923 heavyweight fight between Dempsey-Gibbons that took place. Continue an hour south on I-15 to Great Falls and picnic at Giant Springs State Park along the banks of the Missouri River, which is also one of the shortest rivers in the world. After lunch, stop in at the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail Interpretive Center, located adjacent to the park, to discover for yourself how the Corps planned, traveled and lived during their 2 year trek to find the Northwest Passage. Stretch your legs on the River's Edge Trail that follows the Missouri River. Enjoy an afternoon of arts and Old West history at Paris Gibson Square or the CM Russell Museum Complex, featuring original artwork and studio of this famous western artist.
Overnight in Great Falls.
Day 2: Great Falls - Helena
In the morning, continue your journey, heading southwest, with your first stop just 20 minutes from Great Falls. The First Peoples Buffalo Jump State Park is one of the largest buffalo jumps in the U.S. Located above and below the cliffs that 14 tribes used to hunt buffalo, stretch your legs on walking trails and explore a Visitor Center that explains the importance of this plains animal to the tribes.
Follow the Missouri River south to the Gates of the Mountains and board a scenic cruiser for a 105-minute tour of the Missouri River and a picnic lunch. 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. After a short drive to Helena, take a ride on the Last Chance Tour Train (trolley) for a comprehensive tour of Helena, sampling some of her history and beauty. Later, there is time to visit other area attractions such as the Montana Historical Society Museum, the state Capitol, the Original Governor's Mansion, the historic Last Chance Walking Mall, where historic buildings and dining opportunities abound.
Overnight in Helena.
Day 3: Helena - Butte
After a leisurely breakfast, head south on I-15 for an hour and take in the scenic beauty of the Rocky Mountains, crossing the Continental Divide before reaching Butte -"the richest hill on earth." Stretch your legs and explore mining history and the Orphan Girl mine at the World Museum of Mining. For a view of modern mining efforts, a stop at the Berkley Pit viewing area details one of the largest open-pit copper mines in the world. From there, head to lunch in uptown Butte, and sample a 'pasty' (a traditional meal of the Irish miner) than wander the streets or take a guided walking tour with Old Butte Historical Adventures. If time permits, check out the free Mineral Museum on the Montana Tech campus, where over 1,300 specimens from all over the world are displayed. On weekends, take the Copper King Express, a scenic train ride through canyons and along rivers for ride into history.
Overnight in Butte.
Day 4: Butte - Dillon - Bannack - Idaho border
Enjoy a leisurely breakfast or explore some of the mining city before you continue on your final day Montana, where you'll wander the streets of the first gold strike in Montana. Travel south an hour to Dillon, surrounded by fertile ranchland and towering mountains. In Dillon, for over 50 years, the Beaverhead County Museum collects, preserves and interprets local history including an authentic homesteader's cabin.
After lunch downtown, detour from the interstate to head west on Hwy 278 to visit Bannack, a ghost town from the gold rush days and Montana's first territorial capital. Stretch your legs on the easy walking tour and catch a glimpse of the Old West. Later, head back to the interstate and travel south along the Beaverhead River, following, once again, part of Lewis and Clark route. The interstate crosses the Continental Divide at scenic Monida Pass, (Montana-Idaho) Montana's southernmost border crossing, which begins your next adventure.
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