This Montana scenic drive will take you through canyons, mountains, lakes, and rivers. It’s truly one of the best ways to see this beautiful part of the USA.
The first time I visited Austin in Montana (before we both moved here), I was completely in awe of the landscape here. The mountains ranges surrounding you, the rivers that follow the roads, the rolling foothills with Sound of Music vibes. All of it.
I’ve now lived in Bozeman for four months and nothing has changed. I still find myself gawking at the mountains whenever we’re out driving – even just heading to the grocery store.
I think it’s because part of me knows this won’t last forever. We’re likely going to move somewhere else when Austin graduates school. Maybe that’ll be back to the Midwest; maybe it’ll be to the Pacific Northwest. Either way, I know I won’t always have these views, so I’m taking in as much of them as I possibly can while we’re here.
One of my favorite things about this part of the USA is the fact that you don’t have to make it a point to go somewhere for amazing views. Like I said, you can just go to the grocery store and see mountains on every side of you.
BUT you can make it a point to see some even more epic views if you’d like.
That’s exactly what we did this past weekend.
I got the idea of putting together a scenic drive from Only In Bozeman, where I got a few ideas of where to stop along the way.
If you’re in the area, this route has some of the best views I’ve seen since we moved here. So, pack up some snacks and a lunch for the day, grab your camera, and set out on this loop for a day of inevitable “ooo”s and “ahh”s.
Here’s where you’ll go:
Start in Bozeman
You’ll start this Montana scenic drive in Bozeman – wherever you might be staying. If you’re visiting the area, Bozeman is a great homebase for a bustling, but quaint downtown, beautiful hikes, and plenty to see and do. That said, this scenic drive can really start from anywhere in the general Bozeman area. If you live or are visiting Big Sky, Ennis, Norris, or anywhere in Gallatin County, just adjust you’re starting point to be where you’re at!
For this blog post, though, I’m going to assume you’re starting in Bozeman.
First Stop: Gallatin Canyon
You’ll drive about 40-45 minutes south on highway 191 until you get to Gallatin Canyon. When the river starts running next to the road, that’s when you’ll know you’re in the Canyon. This part was my favorite because you’re essentially driving through a mountain range with a flowing river to your left.
There are plenty of pull-out spots along this route if you want to stop to take photos. If you’ve allotted a full day to this Montana scenic drive, you have a ton of time to stop and enjoy the area since the driving portion really only takes about 3-4 hours.
Optional Stop: Big Sky
You’ll continue down highway 191 toward Hebgen Lake. On the way, you’ll pass through Big Sky. If you want to make this Montana scenic drive extend into multiple days (maybe a weekend trip), I’d suggest staying in Big Sky because there’s a lot to do. You’ll notice a bunch of cute, cabin-like places to stay along with small-town cafes and bars.
Big Sky is also a hot spot for outdoor activities! Fly fishing, skiing, snowboarding, snowmobiling, you name it, you can do it in Big Sky! Austin and I are thinking of heading to Big Sky for a weekend staycation at some point. So, when we do that, you’ll get a blog post about exactly what to do in the area!
Second Stop: Hebgen Lake
Like I mentioned above, Big Sky is on your way to Hebgen Lake. If you’re coming from Bozeman (or at least from the North), you’ll actually go through the Northwest corner of Yellowstone National Park! Don’t worry, you don’t have to pay to get in since this road doesn’t actually get you to any of the sites or features, but it’s still cool that you’re in the park for a bit.
–>If you do want to visit Yellowstone while you’re in the area, this post will show you how to see it in a weekend!<–
You’ll eventually turn right onto highway 287 and the lake will be on your left. There will be a day use area to pull off into right when you start seeing the lake. This is where we pulled over to have lunch by the beach.
If you know me well (or follow me on Instagram), you’ll know we recently got a husky puppy named Misha! This was his first trip to the beach and he loved it. We tied him off to the truck, made a couple sandwiches, popped a mini champagne bottle, and had a peaceful, romantic afternoon.
Third Stop: Earthquake Lake
After Hebgen Lake, if you drive just a little further, you’ll start to see Earthquake Lake or “Quake Lake” for short. Right away, you’ll notice that there are eerie looking, dead trees all around the lake. This is because this lake wasn’t always here and there were trees covering the ground. The lake was formed by an earthquake in 1959 that caused a landslide that created Earthquake Lake.
There is an informational pull-over you can stop at to read more about the interesting way this lake was created.
Fourth Stop: Ennis
After Earthquake Lake, you’ll follow highway 287 as it curves back up North. You’ll drive through Madison Valley which will give you some incredible views of the surrounding mountain ranges.
You’ll come to the town of Ennis which feels like an old western town. Shops, restaurants, and bars lining the highway and this is the perfect place to stretch your legs and walk around.
Optional Stop: Norris Hot Springs
As you continue north on 287, you’ll come to the town of Norris. This is another small town similar to Ennis, but you can also find Norris Hot Springs in this area. This isn’t necessarily natural hot springs, but it’s a pool structure filled with hot spring water. They have a bar, a restaurant, and often have live music. You can even camp here if you want to stay overnight!
We had Misha with us, so we couldn’t stop, but this would be an awesome way to end this Montana scenic drive.
End in Bozeman
Right in the town of Norris, you’ll turn right onto highway 87 to make your way back to Bozeman.
If you’re like me and you’re really missing travel right now, a mini road trip or scenic drive (not just in Montana) might be exactly what you need. It’s the perfect way to get out and curb that itch to explore without traveling too far or being around too many people. When we stopped at Hebgen lake for lunch, we saw one person about 100 yards from us the whole time we were there.
Let me know in the comments below if you’re going to do this Montana scenic drive or if you have any other stops you’d add to this list!
–>Haven’t had enough of Montana yet? Why not spend a weekend in Butte?<–