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Need advice for Road trip - Billings, MT - Glacier ending in Rapid City, SD

Need advice for Road trip - Billings, MT - Glacier ending in Rapid City, SD

Old Feb 25th, 2011, 11:22 AM
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Need advice for Road trip - Billings, MT - Glacier ending in Rapid City, SD

After another Fodors member told me Death Valley will be too hot in June, we decided to fly from Vegas to Billings (June 9 - 17th) and then home to NY from Rapid City, SD. I selected Billings based on airfare and car pick up/drop off cost and Rapid City based on having AA miles to get me home (to fly from LV to Grand Falls or Kallispell was twice the price for airfare and car, believe me I tried all combos).

We have always wanted to see Glacier National Park but am wondering if it's too much driving. We have 8 days, the first night we'll stay in Billings, any suggestions as to an itinerary from Billings - GNP - Rapid City, places to stay, see, eat, etc. Thanks in advance for any assistance.
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Old Feb 25th, 2011, 12:13 PM
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Did you look at Allegiant Air for flights to Great Falls or Missoula or Kalispell? They fly direct into these cities (as well as Billings).

It takes about three hours to drive from Billings to Great Falls. From Great Falls you can head to the east entrance to Glacier, and that takes about two hours to 2.5 hours. So you're looking at about a five hour trip between Billings and East Glacier if you go through Great Falls.
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Old Feb 25th, 2011, 12:36 PM
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Allegiant flies from Las Vegas to Kalispell on Thursdays and Sundays in June. You are in luck, June 9th is a Thursday that the fare is $58/pp plus a few fees. allegiantair.com
I have flown on Allegiant Air to and from Las Vegas several times. The fares are reasonable and they fly to the smaller airports.
I have also rented a car in Kalispell when we arrived on the Empire Builder. If you ever have a longer vacation time, consider getting a 15 or 30 day USA Railpass on Amtrak.
tomfuller is online now  
Old Feb 25th, 2011, 12:36 PM
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No, but it wasn't the cost of flights that was a problem, it was the car rental costs between picking up in various cities in MT and dropping off in Rapid City.
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Old Feb 25th, 2011, 05:25 PM
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Don't know what you are doing in Las Vegas but Allegiant flies on Mondays and Fridays from/to Rapid City if you want to fly there and rent a car without paying drop fees.
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Old Feb 28th, 2011, 08:32 AM
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Thanks for the advice, unfortunately, I've already booked my flights, wish I had known about Allegiant earlier. But, I looked at the car rental, p/u Kalispell/drop off Rapid City, it was over $1,000, so the reasonable airfare wouldn't have helped.

Don't have any extra time as we'll have been in Vegas for a week already for a business convention, two weeks away from work is all I can manage.

So, any advice as to where to stay in Billings, Great Falls, etc. or route advice for our little road trip from Montana - South Dakota?
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Old Feb 28th, 2011, 08:15 PM
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If you want to see Montana and not just the interstate take I-90 west to Livingston and turn on to US 89 thougj White Sulpher Springs and Belt into Great Falls.then star on 89 to the east entrance to the Park. If you do nothing else in Glacier drive Going to the Sun road at least as far as Logan Pass. then do a short day hike from the visitor's center. Many Glacier, Lake McDonald.
When you reverse course, take 87 from Great Falls to Billings, the I-90 to 212 and Rapid City, with a short side trip to the Little Big Horn Battlefield.
Have camped when in that country, so don't have any motel suggestions.
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Old Mar 1st, 2011, 05:39 AM
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Thanks boom - that's the advise I am looking for, we are not big interstate people and only take them when we really need to get somewhere in a timely manner....
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Old Mar 1st, 2011, 07:02 AM
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We spent several days in the area west of Billings and then made the drive to Glacier. That was one of the best part of the trip. The suggestions I am making are short drives/time frames spent at each location but we enjoyed all of them.

In Billings we attended a Mustangs game. I don't go to a lot of baseball games but thoroughly enjoyed an evening in the mountains in a beautiful new ballpark surrounded by families and tourists. The park is SMALL. We literally parked on the street, steps away from the entrance and everything was clean and inexpensive and a lot of fun. My favorite memory of that night was watching the "snow" from the cottonwoods drift by - and getting caught in the netting. I realized that I was one of the few even noticing


I know you don't want to take the interstate but if you take a short jaunt from Billings to Big Timber there are two or three stops you may enjoy.


The Pictograph Caves State Park is just outside Billings. Very small. Short hike/walk to the caves with the pictographs. My favorite Tshirt of the trip came from here and was $5 or $10.

Just off the expressway -
Greycliff Prairie Dog Town State Park
When/ if you are out and about you'll probably see plenty of prairie dogs, but you can drive into the day use park and sit in your car and wait. You'll see tens if not hundreds (depending on how long you stay) prairie dogs. We probably stayed 20 minutes. It's great if you have kids.

In the small town of Big Timber is an old hotel that serves great food -

"Offering Beautiful Accommodations, Fine Dining & Spirits

to Cattlemen, Cowboys, Sheepherders, Miners, Railroad Men & Travelers Since 1890"

And they have. It's like walking back in time. At night at the bar you may cross paths with some famous people who call Montana home.

A short detour south of Big Timber takes you along a beautiful drive to Natural Bridge park.

The drive is beautiful and you'll be driving past some of the ranches of those famous people, including Tom Brokaw. There are short walks on either side of the falls.

That drive is #14 on this list of beautiful drives in MT

The complete drive is 50 miles. Just to the falls and back to Big Timber is much shorter.

We left Big Timber to head to Glacier and had a route in mind. Along the way I changed my mind several times and any combo will work. I loved driving through the Crazies (Crazy Mountains) and am glad my unintended route took us through Judith Falls. I wanted to see the windmills and we drove right through a windmill farm.


DEFINITELY spend the night in Great Falls. That's my biggest regret of the trip - rushing through Great Falls.

The Lewis and Clark museum is wonderful -

We had to rush through the C M Russell Museum. I'm going back to spend more time.


Loved his log cabin studio and his home. Loved the rest of the museum, even though we rushed through. My big regret.

I'm weird and love stuff like buffalo jump. One in Canada has been my favorite until...

Again, another small park but very well done. The interpretive center is tiny but excellent. A ranger on duty gave a talk and brought history alive. I think back to that day and realize the difference between tepees of the dog and horse eras. There's a trail to the mesa above, but we drove to the top (again, time was our factor). The views from the mesa were amazing and lots of prairie dogs along the trail from the parking lot to mesa edge/buffalo jump. Just loved every minute spent there.

On to East Glacier. Again, we had a route planned but made some different turns. It all worked out (a little further north before turning west OR a little further west before turning north). My kind of drive.

We loved the tiny town of East Glacier. We stayed nearby and came through each evening. LOVED the Glacier Park Trading Post -

You can get food, drinks, souvenirs, internet time and even a car rental there. Oh, and really great pizza. We placed our order and wandered the little town before taking our food back to the cabin to relax and eat there. Picked up a couple of pieces of pie too and discovered that we really liked blueberry pie better than the famous MT huckleberry pie.

LOVED Glacier. Do you have reservations at Glacier yet?
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Old Mar 1st, 2011, 07:12 AM
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I just looked at the routing on google maps.

Have you been to Yellowstone and Grand Teton NPs? If not, that makes more sense with a departure out of Rapid City - and would be a great trip too.

We did Yellowstone, Grand Teton and Glacier last summer. Lots of good ideas on this board if the Yellowstone/Grand Teton combo if of interest to you.
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Old Mar 1st, 2011, 08:27 AM
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Hi Starrs!!!!

Thanks for the info, I actually went back and re-read your trip report this AM, it's really informative.

No, don't have reservations at Glacier yet, any recommendations? It looks like a vast area.

We've been to Yellowstone/Grand Tetons. We'll head East from Glacier, want to try and see some new things. We might spend a night in Red Lodge and drive some of the Beartooth hwy before heading North to Glacier (with an overnight in Grand Falls).

Then we'll head SE toward S. Dakota to see some of that area before flying home.
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Old Mar 1st, 2011, 09:50 AM
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Great Falls not Grand Falls.

There's a new StayBridge Suites in Great Falls. It's nice and brand new. I don't care for the location, though. Also, the La Quinta is in a good location on the River's Edge Trail with good walking access to MacKenzie River Pizza. MacKenzie River is a local pizza chain with great pizzas and good beer. Bert & Ernies is another good place for food and beer and is located in downtown Great Falls.

Definitely plan on checking out the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center. You can also walk from the Interpretive Center along the River's Edge Trail to Giant Springs State Park. It's worth a quick walk and look around. The Charlie Russell Museum is also great and worth the visit.
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Old Mar 1st, 2011, 09:52 AM
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I also second the recommendation for Starr's trip report! I also wish she had more time in Great Falls (maybe next visit!).

Oh, and Great Falls also has a baseball team (Voyagers). The stadium is above the Missouri River on your way out to the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center. Like Starr's said, the games are a blast and they're cheap!
kureiff is online now  
Old Mar 1st, 2011, 12:46 PM
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I'd also heartily second (third?) the recommendation about stopping at the Little Big Horn battlefield site - quite beautiful and quite moving.

On your way to Glacier NP, see if you can swing through central Helena. There are some fabulous buildings along Last Chance Gulch and around the town center in general, and some very impressive big houses from the late 19th century in the town.

I'd also recommend you try to work your itinerary so as to allow a visit to Badlands NP a little east of Rapid City. It doesn't require a lot of time if your schedule is tight; there's an easy loop road you can take that exposes you to a fair sampling of some of the marvelous scenery. IMO it's truly worth it.

Also don't overlook Deadwood and Lead in the Black Hills. Deadwood is a bit over-done on the casino front, but it's well worth a visit, including the Mt. Moriah cemetery, with its side-by-side graves of Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane. Both towns are relatively convenient to Rapid City, and might be more rewarding as overnight points instead of motel hell near Mt. Rushmore.
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Old Mar 2nd, 2011, 09:03 AM
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Kureiff, sorry about that, sometimes I type too fast and gardyloo, thanks for the SD advice.

I think our trip is shaping up - 1 night Billings, 1 night Red Lodge (drive Beartooth hwy), 2 nights Glacier, then somewhere between Glacier and RC, with Tues-Fri exploring the Rapid City area. We might throw a night in Cody in there too, have to look at a map again and figure out where the best places to stop are without spending 8 hours a day in the car.
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Old Mar 2nd, 2011, 09:08 AM
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owlwoman, I enjoyed Cody MUCH more than I expected - especially the Buffalo Bill museum. Also loved driving to the little town with the cowboy chocolatier.

The drive we took from Cody to Little Bighorn was gorgeous - and I'd not read anything about it before. It was a fabulous surprise.
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