Montana Road Trip


Top spring drives.

by Mike England

Finals are coming up and before you know it, you won’t have any time for fun. Time to load up the car and head out for one last adventure before the semester ends. Here are two to consider.

Livingston / Paradise Valley – Out & Back
Just east of the Bozeman Pass (“over the hill,” as it’s called) sits the Windy City of the Rockies: Livingston, Montana. This wind-scoured old railroad town has a vibrant downtown, funky feel, and great music on the weekends. Just past the gap in the mountains south of town begins the sprawling, picturesque (and aptly named) Paradise Valley—30-some miles of rural countryside, enormous cattle ranches, and sweeping mountain views.

Paradise Valley, Montana

The Western Beartooths rise above the Yellowstone River in Paradise Valley.

The Absarokas (aka, Western Beartooths) rise dramatically to the east, while the west side is flanked by the Gallatin Range. Bring a fishing rod and take a few casts at any of the fishing access points along the Yellowstone River, which you’ll follow the entire drive. Chico Hot Springs (look for the sign) on the south end of the valley is a great spot to grab lunch and a soak.

Continue south through Yankee Jim Canyon and into the tiny town of Gardiner; now the wonders of Yellowstone Park await. Take a quick dip in the Boiling River or cruise into Mammoth Hot Springs to see the elk. On your way back through Livingston, feast at the Rib & Chop House or the 2nd Street Bistro, then hit up the Murray Bar for a taste of real Montana—complete with semi-surly bartenders and free-roaming dogs.

Flathead Pass / Shields Valley – Loop
Nothing screams Montana like bumpy old logging roads, and for a fun half- or full-day road trip, Flathead Pass in the Bridger Mountains is your gateway to off-road adventure. You’ll need some clearance, but any 4WD truck or SUV should make it up this road (provided it’s dry; wet roads should be reserved for the well-experienced or moderately suicidal). Take Springhill Road north of Bozeman and turn right at the Flathead Pass sign. A winding, rocky, somewhat sketchy climb and you’re at the top of the pass, with incredible views of the Gallatin and Shields valleys.

Flathead Pass

The west side of the northern Bridgers, just below Flathead Pass.

Continue east to the blacktop and hang a left. After a long drive through sagebrush flats reminiscent of old westerns, you’ll arrive in Wilsall. Grab lunch at the Wilsall Café or the Bank Bar before heading south toward Livingston. The jagged Crazy Mountains rising to the east will capture your attention, as will the Shields River meandering south toward its confluence with the Yellowstone. Pack your rod along for this drive as well—the Shields may not have the huge hogs of the ‘Stone, but it’s a smaller river and fun to fish. Animal and bird life abound along this riparian corridor, so bring some binos too. Stop in Livingston for dinner or continue on back to Bozeman, a mere 25 miles distant.