Montana, home to just over a million people, boasts an incredible array of outdoor activities. It is now our new favorite state and if it weren’t for the cold winters, we may have just stayed!
As with all our itineraries, we always wish we had more time. Here is a sample eight day itinerary that traverses southwestern Montana from Bozeman to the northwest corner in Libby.
On our first day, we arrived early to our a boondocking site in the Battle Ridge Gallatin National Forest. It was a prime spot – free and in close proximity to Bozeman!
After setting up camp, we opted to challenge ourselves with one of the toughest hikes in the area, Baldy Peak!. This trail completely kicked our butts, but the views were incredible!
Afterwards, we enjoyed burgers and beers in nearby Bozeman at The Garage. When we mentioned we’d just hiked Baldy Peak, they were very impressed :).
On our second day, we took our tired and sore limbs northwest, stopping first to visit Missouri Headwaters State Park. We’ve crossed and paddled the Missouri so many times on our journey so far that we were excited to see where it all begins – at the confluence of the Jefferson, Madison, and Gallatin rivers. The humble park is small, but packs a punch with a variety of short walking trails and opportunities for fishing.
Next, we drove to see the nearby Bleu Horses, giant metal statues on a hill designed to look like real horses from the road.
Just a bit up the road, we visited the Ringing Rocks outside of Butte, Montana. We were unable to get a complete scientific explanation for these amazing rocks, but when you hit them with a hammer- they actually ring like a bell! Amazingly, if you remove a boulder, it loses it’s ability to chime.
That evening, we intended to head for a free campground near Boulder, Montana but were prevented by some construction, so opted to stay instead at the Merry Widow Health Mine Campground. Apparently people come from all over the world to visit this mine for its health properties. We arrived too late and left too early to partake, but it’s just an old mine and people go and sit in it. Hmm?
On our third day, we continued north to a state run rustic campground on the Missouri called Devil’s Elbow.
We found a lovely nearby FLAT hike (still sore from Baldy Peak) called the Trout Creek Canyon Trail. It was a delightful jaunt on an overgrown forest road along the mostly dried up Trout Creek that afforded spectacular views of the mountains from below.
On our fourth day, we dropped our dog, Chip, at a local kennel so we could kayak the famous Gates of the Mountains, a notable Lewis and Clark expedition locale. When Lewis and Clark were en route to discover the source of the Missouri, they came upon these close cliffs and worried they wouldn’t be able to get through. The rock formations looked like gates, hence the name.
It is a beautiful 10 mile round trip paddle – though the confused girl at the marina who collected the launch fees told us she thought it was 36 miles and we almost fell over!
After picking up Chip, we headed northwest to Seely Lake for the evening, where a lovely Boondockers Welcome host allowed us to camp on their deer filled lot! We also enjoyed ice cream from the parlor right next door!
On our fifth day, we continued our northwestern travels through the Flathead National Forest, where the mountains started to increase in size!
We did have to pit stop in Missoula for a few odds and ends, such as 99 cent propane at Bretz RV and some maintenance supplies for other sundry issues related to full time camper life. Missoula was the first and last “big” town we saw in Montana. If you’re traveling through, it may be worth a stop. They also have some spectacular mountain biking.
En route to Polson, we stopped in at the National Bison Range, a plot of land set aside for bison and elk to roam free. There is a 19 mile drive that we opted out of because we have a trailer, but we did hike along their limited trail system. We didn’t see any bison though…
For the evening, we stayed at another delightful Boondockers Welcome site right on Flathead Lake! The lovely couple were also hosting another camper life family and we all had a delicious meal together on the porch under the stunning Montana sunset.
On our sixth day, we woke early to get some paddling in on the incredible Flathead Lake. The lake is the largest American freshwater body of water west of the Mississippi in the lower 48.
We paddled the southeast corner of the lake near Finley Point. It was serenely peaceful and covered in hoards of black ducks!
After our paddle, we said goodbye to our hosts and headed on northward towards the BIG EXCITING PART: Glacier National Park! We had previously made arrangements to stay at a non-refundable campground on the west side of the park. Unfortunately, the west side of the park was closed due to forest fires, so we spent the remainder of our afternoon making plans and arrangements for enjoying the park the following day.
Glacier National Park, like most national parks, doesn’t allow dogs. Our biggest trick was trying to figure out how to drop him off with a dog sitter and drive the 2.5 hours around the park, hike, drive 2.5 hours back, and pick him up in a timely manner.
On our seventh day, we awoke early to take Chip to a sitter in Columbia Falls at 7:30am. Then we headed around the southern border of the park to the Glacier Grinnell Trailhead. This hike is my mother’s favorite, so we made a beeline knowing it would be tough to hike the 11 miles in our short time frame!
However, we made it! Also, it was SPECTACULARLY BEAUTIFUL!! Honestly, if you’re traveling without a dog, spend a week here. We’re very excited to return in two years as we finish our Continental Divide Trail thru-hike!
On our eighth day, we drove west to Libby for one last hike in this gorgeous state on the Cedar Lakes Trail.
The trail worried us at first because of a posting about a predatory black bear in the area.
However, we continued and the tribulation paid off with spectacular views of crystal clear mountain lakes: upper and lower Cedar Lakes.
That evening, we camped at the trailhead with some local fisherman whose wives all happened to be teachers!
We hope you find this itinerary useful! We write these as supplements to our YouTube videos. If you would like more insight into our Montana journeys, please check out the correlating episode!