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Big Sky Country: Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho

Big Sky Country: Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho
PHOTO: Jesse Wong
Big Sky Country: Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho
The Best Road Trips in America
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Big Sky Country: Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho

Photo: Oomka/Shutterstock
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Circling the northern reaches of the Rocky Mountains, this road trip through Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming is one of the most stunning exhibitions of nature to be found in this world, or the next.

At A Glance

STARTBozeman, MontanaENDBozeman, MontanaMILES
TRAVLED
1,582SUGGESTED
DURATION
10 nightsstates: States
VISITED
Idaho, Montana, Wyoming

Out here, the landscape is dense with national forests and national monuments lauded for their stunning beauty and cultural histories, not to mention three separate national parks: Glacier, Yellowstone and Grand Teton. Over ten days, the itinerary careens over mountain passes, through emerald forests and along the banks of sapphire lakes and rivers. While this route will knock the socks off of just about anyone, for those willing to get out in nature to hike, kayak, and horseback ride the word “epic” doesn’t even begin to describe it. ...Read More

Big Sky Country: Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho
PHOTO: Jesse Wong

At A Glance

STARTBozeman, MontanaENDBozeman, MontanaMILES
TRAVLED
1,582SUGGESTED
DURATION
10 nightsstates: States
VISITED
Idaho, Montana, Wyoming

The Itinerary

Bozeman to Glacier National Park, Montana STOP 1  Bozeman to Glacier National Park
Glacier National Park to Missoula, Montana STOP 2  Glacier National Park to Missoula
Missoula to Stanley, Idaho STOP 3  Missoula to Stanley
Stanley to Sun Valley, Idaho STOP 4  Stanley to Sun Valley
Sun Valley to Jackson, Wyoming STOP 5  Sun Valley to Jackson
Jackson to Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming STOP 6  Jackson to Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone National Park to Cody, Wyoming STOP 7  Yellowstone National Park to Cody
Cody to Eatons' Ranch, Wyoming STOP 8  Cody to Eatons' Ranch
Eatons' Ranch to Red Lodge, Montana STOP 9  Eatons' Ranch to Red Lodge
Red Lodge to Bozeman, Montana STOP 10  Red Lodge to Bozeman
STOP 1

Bozeman to Glacier National Park, Montana

Bozeman
4 h 50 m
289 mi
Glacier National Park
Route: Head northwest out of Bozeman towards the Montana state capital Helena, then north via I-15. By the time you hit Hwy 89, the views of Flathead National Forest and the Rocky Mountains are in full bloom.

Town: Helena, Montana’s Historic District, Last Chance Gulch, has a fascinating history rooted in the city’s early pioneer and mining days. Take a self-guided walking tour through the neighborhood’s 19th-century dry goods stores, hotels, and churches to get the backstory of what was once a remote outpost of the Wild West.

Eat & Drink: Fill up with a ham gobbler sandwich, French dip, or chef salad in Choteau, Montana, at the roadside Outpost Deli.

Do: Glacier National Park has more than 700 miles of hiking trails to do solo or with a Glacier Guide. Fish at the park’s many lakes and rivers (no permit required) and take a drive down the famed Going-to-the-Sun Road, one of the country’s most spectacular National Historic Landmarks.

Eat & Drink: Get a Montana-style home-cooked meal and a sip (or a bottle) of hand-crafted booze from Josephine’s Bar & Kitchen and the Glacier Distilling Company next door in Coram.

Stay: Book a night at the historic Belton Chalet, an iconic early 20th-century lodge, for $145 in the spring/fall and $185 in the summer. There are 13 campgrounds at Glacier National Park but the one at Kintla Lake is a bastion of solitude and beauty ($15/night).

Breakfast: Get your caffeine fix and a breakfast wrap at Montana Coffee Traders in Columbia Falls, a local northwestern Montana chain.

STOP 2

Glacier National Park to Missoula, Montana

Glacier National Park
3 h
160 mi
Missoula
Route: Make a stop in beautiful Whitefish before heading south along the eastern shore of Flathead Lake (Hwy 35) and into the city of Missoula.

Town: Whitefish considers itself Montana’s “outdoor recreation playground,” and for good reason. In winter, skiers flock to Whitefish Mountain Resort while during the warmer seasons locals and visitors alike hit the hiking trails in the Flathead National Forest or the beachfront at Flathead Lake.

Eat & Drink: The Raven, a waterfront restaurant in Big Fork, has an eclectic menu, craft cocktails, live music and unparalleled views.

Nature: Get out on the water at Flathead Lake, the biggest freshwater lake west of the Mississippi. Rent a kayak or SUP in Woods Bay, go for a swim, or fish for trout and perch from shore.

Do: Explore the ghostly remains of Garnet, an early gold mining town, or soak up some culture at the Missoula Art Museum. If you’re visiting in winter, hit the slopes at the Montana Snowbowl. During the summer, they run zip line tours over the chair lifts.

Eat & Drink: Dig into traditional Mexican eats at the stylish restaurant and agave bar, The Camino. At Gild, a brewpub on the Hip Strip, find three separate floors of fun, each with their own bar and atmosphere.

Stay: Spend a night at the C’mon Inn, a Montana lodge with an indoor courtyard and waterfall, for around $120. At Goldsmith’s Bed and Breakfast on the banks of the Clark Fork River, rooms are homey and comfortable (~$100/night)

Breakfast: Have a seat or take your coffee and breakfast to go at Market on Front, a bustling cafe and artisan market downtown.

STOP 3

Missoula to Stanley, Idaho

Missoula
5 h
256 mi
Stanley
Route: Today’s route takes you through hundreds of miles of national forest and across the border into Idaho.

Town: In Salmon, Idaho, take a rigorous hike to the Goldbug Hot Springs for a soak or stop in at the Sacajawea Interpretive, Cultural and Education Center which delves into the history of the Lewis & Clark Expedition and the Agaidika Shoshone-Bannock Nation from which their indigenous guide hailed.

Eat & Drink: Tuck into a massive burger with all the fixin’s at The Savage Grill in Salmon.

Do: Take an epic adventure on the Salmon River with one of Stanley’s many whitewater rafting outfitters or keep your feet planted firmly on the hiking trails around Redfish, Stanley, and Sawtooth Lakes.

Eat & Drink: The log cabin Sawtooth Luce’s serves quality comfort food with solid vegetarian options. At the 90-year old Rod-N-Gun Saloon, get a stiff drink and a game of shuffleboard.

Stay: The suites and private cabins of Stanley High Country Inn have a rustic aesthetic adorned with modern touches. Rates start around $100/night.

Breakfast: Have a traditional breakfast straight from the griddle at Limbert’s in the Redfish Lake Lodge.

STOP 4

Stanley to Sun Valley, Idaho

Stanley
1 h 10 m
62 mi
Sun Valley
Route: Take in the beauty of the Sawtooth National Forest on today’s short drive from Stanley to Sun Valley and the neighboring town of Ketchum.

Eat & Drink: Stretch your legs and grab a cold drink or a bite at the Galena Lodge in Galena, a community-owned homebase for skiers and hikers in the Boulder Mountains.

Nature: Hike one of the Sawtooth National Forest’s two national recreation trails—the Fishhook Creek Boardwalk at Redfish Lake or the Wood River Nature Trail at Wood River Campground—or take a scenic drive along the Ponderosa Pine Scenic Byway (Hwy 21) or the City of Rocks Backcountry Byway.

Do: Sun Valley is a posh, all-season outdoor getaway. At the Resort, ski or snowboard in winter and golf, go for a horseback ride or hike the trails of Bald Mountain in summer.

Eat & Drink: Have an elegant dinner at Sun Valley’s original dining room, The Ram, or indulge in Tuscan favorites at Ketchum’s best Italian restaurant, Cristina’s. At the historic Pioneer Saloon, meat is on the menu, along with plenty of liquor to wet your whistle.

Stay: One of Ketchum’s newer properties, the Limelight Hotel downtown has spacious guest rooms and large indoor and outdoor lounges starting at around $220/night. Art and design are woven into the fabric of Hotel Ketchum, an affordably-priced stay on Main Street that starts at around $120/night.

Breakfast: Breakfast at The Kneadery in Ketchum, a rustic eatery with Rocky Mountain-inspired takes on traditional dishes like benedicts and omelets.

STOP 5

Sun Valley to Jackson, Wyoming

Sun Valley
4 h 30 m
241 mi
Jackson
Route: Drive along the volcanic moonscape of Craters of the Moon National Monument and westward through southern Idaho until you hit Jackson, the southern gateway to Grand Teton National Park.

Town: In Idaho Falls, stroll along the River Walk to see the eponymous waterfall. If you don’t intend to stop at Craters of the Moon, see similar lava formations at the bite-sized Hell’s Half Acre just south of town.

Eat & Drink: Fuel up with “clean” comfort food at Diablas Kitchen in Idaho Falls where everything from the quiche of the day to the mac n’ cheese is made fresh from scratch.

Nature: Explore the cinder cones and underground lava tubes of Craters of the Moon National Monument, an alien landscape formed by fire.

Detour: A disaster at a nuclear power plant in 1961 left Atomic City a virtual ghost town. Get a look at what’s left on this quick six-mile detour (about ten minutes each way) on Hwy 26.

Do: A charming town at the base of the Tetons, Jackson is dense with art galleries and boutiques. The National Museum of Wildlife Art has an impressive collection of artistic renderings of animals from around the world. Get your own look at those that frequent this region of Wyoming at the National Elk Refuge on the edge of town.

Eat & Drink: Dig into plates piled high with mushroom pappardelle and chicken parmesan at Orsetto or order a wood-fired artisan pizza from Hand Fire Pizza. After dinner, belly up to the bar at the Million Dollar Cowboy, an iconic Western dive.

Stay: Get a room in the western-styled Hotel Jackson, once named Wyoming’s most beautiful hotel by Architectural Digest, starting at around $450/night or find a more affordable stay (around $200/night) at the Wyoming Inn, a contemporary hotel styled in leather and wood.

Breakfast: Snag a table inside Cafe Genevieve’s cozy log cabin or on the outdoor patio for a breakfast made with fresh, seasonal ingredients.

STOP 6

Jackson to Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

Jackson
1 h 15 m
57 mi
Yellowstone National Park
Route: Today’s drive is one of the most epic legs of all cruising seamlessly through Grand Teton National Park into Yellowstone National Park.

Eat & Drink: There aren’t a whole lot of options for lunch in Grand Teton National Park but Leek’s Pizzeria in Colter Bay Village is worth a stop for tasty pies and a table with a view of Jackson Lake.

Nature: Natural beauty surrounds you as you drive north through Grand Teton National Park. Some of the most popular sites and trails in the park include Jenny Lake, the Taggart Lake Trail, the Mormon Row Historic District and, of course, Grand Teton, itself.

Photo Op: Grand Teton and Yellowstone are teeming with wildlife. Keep your eyes peeled for bison, elk, moose, bear and other incredible animals. If you plan to pull over for a photo, be sure not to get any closer to them than 75-feet.

Do: Considered one of the most spectacular national parks in the U.S., Yellowstone is festooned with hot springs and geysers, including the granddaddy of them all, Old Faithful. Whether you plan to explore the backcountry on foot or to stick to the roads, you’ll spend your day immersed in an epic natural world.

Eat & Drink: Have an upscale dinner of sustainable fresh fish and wild game at the Lake Yellowstone Hotel Dining Room. In the Bear Pit Lounge at the Old Faithful Inn, sit back and relax with a cocktail and apps.

Stay: For the most authentic Yellowstone experience, spend the night under the stars. The quiet Slough Creek Campground in Lamar Valley is a stone’s throw from some of the best wildlife-watching in the park ($15/night). For more luxurious accommodations, try the historic Lake Yellowstone Hotel where rates start around $150/night.

Breakfast: Get in on a breakfast buffet (individual specialties are also available) at the Obsidian Room in the Old Faithful Snow Lodge.

STOP 7

Yellowstone National Park to Cody, Wyoming

Yellowstone National Park
1 h
52 mi
Cody
Route: Continue through Yellowstone and out its eastern entrance then on towards Cody, a historic town with a Wild West pedigree.

Eat & Drink: There is very little in the way of towns or restaurants between the Yellowstone boundary and Cody but if you happen to be traveling in the evening, the Lost Buffalo Grill in Wapiti is open from 5pm-9pm five days per week in the summer months.

Do: Named for showman Buffalo Bill Cody, the town Cody takes great pride in its Wild West history. Check out authentic cabins and artifacts from Wyoming’s pioneer days at Old Trail Town or stop in at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, a complex of five museums that includes the Buffalo Bill Museum, the Plains Indians Museum, and the Cody Firearms Museum.

Eat & Drink: Get an unlimited chuckwagon dinner and a show at The Cody Cattle Company. After dinner, grab a pint at the WyOld West Brewing Company, which also has a wide-ranging menu of sandwiches, burgers, pasta, and more.

Stay: A former working cattle ranch, K3 Guest Ranch Bed & Breakfast offers Western-themed accommodations and an all-inclusive breakfast cooked over a campfire. Rates start around $180/night.

Breakfast: Get your morning coffee and a light breakfast at the friendly local favorite, Rawhide Coffee.

STOP 8

Cody to Eatons' Ranch, Wyoming

Cody
2 h 30 m
132 mi
Eatons' Ranch
Route: Drift across northern Wyoming and into the pines of Bighorn National Forest. Eatons’ Ranch has been flanking its eastern edge for over 140 years.

Town: Stop in Greybull, Wyoming, for a look at ancient dinosaur tracks in the painted badlands of Red Gulch and the bizarre rocks that form the geological anomaly, Devil’s Kitchen.

Eat & Drink: Get quesadillas and burritos with a family-touch at Los Gabanes Mexican Restaurant in Greybull.

Do: This dude ranch in northeastern Wyoming is one of America’s first. On the slopes of the Bighorn Mountains, Eatons’ is one of the few ranches where more experienced riders can still take horses out without a guide (guided trail rides also happen twice a day). They also do overnight pack trips in the neighboring national forest.

Eat & Drink: All meals are communal at Eatons’ Ranch and served in their large, cheery dining room (Saturday is outdoor BBQ night). If you’re hankering for an adult beverage, stop in at The Apartment Bar or purchase wine or beer from the ranch store.

Stay: Almost all Eatons’ guests stay in individual cabins on the property, each rustic but comfortable with full bathrooms. Larger cabins have 2-3 bedrooms, fireplaces and porches. There are also three suites in the Main Ranch House. The all-inclusive rates start at $260/night for adults, $225/night for kids under 17.

Breakfast: At breakfast, you’re back at the communal dining room but if you sleep in and miss the meal, stop by the on-site Coffee Shop to fuel up.

STOP 9

Eatons' Ranch to Red Lodge, Montana

Eatons' Ranch
3 h
184 mi
Red Lodge
Route: Sweep up through the Crow Nation, past the site of one of the most infamous battles of the 19th century’s “American Indian Wars,” then west towards Billings, Montana. From there, travel southwest into Red Lodge on the outskirts of the Custer Gallatin National Forest.

Town: In the city of Billings, see the carefully maintained treasures of Moss Mansion or the Yellowstone Art Museum. Just outside town, step into the ancient past at Pictograph Cave State Park which boasts more than 100 rock paintings in three easy-to-access caves.

Eat & Drink: At Parasol in Billings find local takes on global and Montanan cuisine, including falafel, Reuben sandwiches, and tacos.

Roadside Attraction: Follow the battle of Little Bighorn where Custer had his last stand on a self-guided driving tour of the battlefield.

Do: In the winter, the town of Red Lodge draws thousands to its well-loved ski resort, Red Lodge Mountain. In warmer months, there are plenty of outdoor activities to be had, including hiking along the Lake Fork Trail and visiting the rehabilitated and rescued animals at the Yellowstone Wildlife Sanctuary.

Eat & Drink: Dig into the flavors and aromas of Sicilian cuisine at the upscale Ox Pasture or find a more laid-back meal on the wide-ranging menu at Prerogative Kitchen.

Stay: Cozy up in a suite, apartment or townhouse on the banks of a picturesque river at Rock Creek Resort, starting at around $130/night. In town, find a great night’s sleep within the wood-paneled rooms at the Alpine Lodge (~$150/night).

Breakfast: Wake up with traditional and international breakfast favorites from The Wild Table.

STOP 10

Red Lodge to Bozeman, Montana

Red Lodge
2 h 30 mi
149 mi
Bozeman
Route: The last leg of your journey, Red Lodge to Bozeman, is also one of its least eventful. Follow Hwy 212 to Hwy 421 and onto I-90 west through Livingston and on to Bozeman.

Town: Take a break with a history lesson in Livingston, Montana’s railroad museum, the Depot Center, or the Yellowstone Gateway Museum, which has exhibitions on the region’s natural and cultural past.

Eat & Drink: Stop for a meal and a brew in Livingston at the charming, colorful Neptune’s which specializes in coastal cuisine and sushi.

Do: There is much to do in the university town of Bozeman. See an impressive collection of dinosaur fossils at the Museum of the Rockies or browse the shops and galleries downtown. If you’re traveling in winter, hit the slopes at Bridger Bowl Ski Area.

Eat & Drink: Grab dinner at the Blackbird Kitchen, a cute Italian spot with a wood-fired oven, or splurge on the last dinner of your road trip at Open Range, a classic Montana steakhouse. End your night on the town at the Bozeman institutions Rockin’ R Bar and The Haufbrau House.

Stay: Bed down at the stylish RSVP Hotel (around $150/night) or The Lark, a sunny downtown hotel with an outdoor wood-burning fireplace and a patio overlooking Main Street (~$260/night).

Breakfast: The Nova Cafe in downtown Bozeman has a menu packed with both savory and sweet morning treats.

THE END

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