Glacier National Park to Yellowstone Road Trip

Montana's Flathead Lake at dusk

Montana’s Flathead Lake at dusk

This is a tremendous route. In fact, 40% of Yellowstone Park’s visitors also plan to spend time in Montana’s beautiful Glacier Country, an outdoor hotspot with the perfect splash of arts and culture. Home to Glacier National Park, Flathead Lake, two Indian reservations, endless outdoor recreation, stunning scenery and charming small towns, this corner of Montana is ready to be explored.

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Alternate Starting Point: Seattle

Feeling ambitious? Extend the classic Glacier to Yellowstone road trip by starting in Pacific Northwest. You’ll visit another park, Olympic National Park and visit attractions in Seattle. This alternate start location adds three to four days to your trip.

Seattle to Port Angeles, Wash. WA-104 to US 101 north. Catch a glimpse of this beautiful city’s local color by exploring Pike Place Market, one of the nation’s oldest continuously operating public farmers markets. Grab lunch there before heading down the steps to the Seattle Aquarium. Afterwards, hit the road for a 2.5-hour drive to Port Angeles outside of Olympic National Park.

Olympic National Park. Spend the day at Olympic National Park, home to three rainforests, great mountain hikes and a beautiful coastline. Stroll Rialto Beach, exploring the park’s tidal pools full of sea stars and anemones. Drive to the top of Hurricane Ridge to do a hike with incredible views on clear days before driving farther southwest to explore the Hoh Rain Forest.

Spokane, Wash. I-90 east. Head east toward Spokane, a six-hour drive and a gateway to the American West. Stop by the historic downtown of Ellensburg along the way to peruse its antique shops, restaurants and museums.

Day 1: Glacier National Park

Mountain goat kid jumping on rocks on Lincoln Pass in Glacier National Park. Photo by Steve Muller

Mountain goat kid jumping on rocks on Lincoln Pass in Glacier National Park. Photo by Steve Muller

Start your trip in charming Kalispell, Mont., home of the most convenient airport to Glacier National Park at 30 miles from the west entrance to the park. Take a morning drive past Flathead Lake, a boating and fishing paradise, then backtrack to Whitefish, a lakeside ski town chock-full of outdoor recreation opportunities. Next delve deep into million-acre-plus Glacier National Park with a tour on the 50-mile Going-to-the-Sun Road, a high-mountain twister with stunning views of the Continental Divide. Stop at the Logan Pass Visitor Center to scope for mountain goats or take a quick hike. Grab lunch in East Glacier Village before you head back across the park. US Route 2 skirts the park’s southern border and is a good alternate route from west to east and back.

Day 2: Great Falls, Mont.

US 89 south

Rivers Edge Trail in Great Falls, Montana. Courtesy photo

Rivers Edge Trail in Great Falls, Montana. Courtesy photo

Turn south with a drive through Choteau (worthy stop: Egg Mountain, an important paleontological site) to Great Falls. This town is smack in the middle of Lewis and Clark country (this is the site of the party’s challenging portage over the Great Falls of the Missouri); and hosts the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail Interpretive Center. For more historical fun, head 45 minutes up the road to Fort Benton to see the historic fort of the same name, plus more Lewis and Clark attractions.

Day 3: Bozeman, Mont.

I-15 south to US 287 to I-90 east

Dinosaur at the Museum of the Rockies. Courtesy photo

Dinosaur at the Museum of the Rockies. Courtesy photo

Start the day with a drive to state capital Helena, where hiking, biking and geocaching are big. Continue on to bustling Bozeman, where you can see dinosaur bones at the Museum of the Rockies, tour art galleries, soak in Bozeman Hot Springs and, in winter, go skiing or snowboarding at nearby Bridger Bowl.

Days 4 & 5: Yellowstone National Park

I-90 west to US-89 south

Gardiner, Montana. Rick Landry, Photographer, Corvallis, MT

Gardiner, Montana. Rick Landry, Photographer, Corvallis, MT

Swing through Livingston (home to art galleries, live theater and trails) and down to the gateway town of Gardiner. Just five miles from Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone National Park, this rustic town is a great base for fly fishing and wildlife-watching. (Tip: Try the elk lasagna at the Raven Grill and the ice cream at Yellowstone Perk). In the park, go wildlife watching and geyser gazing.

Day 6: Big Sky, Mont.

US 191 north

Big Sky Resort in Summer

Big Sky Resort in Summer

Venture out of the park through the West Entrance. An hour’s drive will get you to Big Sky, a vacation paradise anchored by Big Sky Resort (which has excellent skiing and snowboarding in winter and an adventure park in summer) and Lone Peak Brewery.

Day 7: Missoula, Mont.

US 191 north to I-90 west to MT 1 north to I-90 west

Sunset on the river in Missoula, Montana

Sunset on the river in Missoula, Montana

Continue north to Butte before veering west to Fairmont Hot Springs Resort for a soak or waterslide session. Go on to peaceful Philipsburg, home to The Sapphire Gallery and Granite County Museum & Cultural Center. Continue to lively Missoula. Tour the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation Visitor Center, catch an opera or play or browse art galleries. Finish the day with a pint from Big Sky Brewery or a cocktail at Montgomery Distillery.

END: Kalispell, Mont.

Close your loop in Seattle if you chose the epic trip.