National Scenic Byways and Other Recreational Drives
Montana offers visitors the opportunity for drives from one hour to an entire day. Whether you want to view wildlife and panoramic vistas of high peaks and valleys, or fish, camp, picnic or ski, Montana's scenic routes have something for everyone.
Recreation opportunities are abundant in the area traversed by the Beartooth National Scenic Byway. Visitors can cross-country ski on the snowfields in June and July; enjoy playing in the snow, hike across the broad plateaus and on Forest Service trails (some of which are National Recreation Trails), camp, picnic, fish for trout in the streams and lakes adjacent to the Highway, view and photograph wildlife (moose, Rocky Mountain Goats, mule deer, black bear, grizzly bear, marmots, pika), visit a Guest Ranch, take a guided horseback trip from Cooke City, bicycle, downhill ski on the headwalls, and photograph nature at its finest.
Big Sheep Creek
This 50-mile byway cuts through canyons and limestone cliffs in the Bitterroot Range and Tendoy Mountains in southwestern Montana. The byway can be safely traversed from May through October but the road tends to be tough to navigate after it rains and four-wheel drive will come in useful. Motor homes and trailers will have particular difficulty on this road and drivers of such vehicle are advised to seek alternate routes.
Elk, mule deer, antelope and moose can be spotted by the keen sighted and nearby attractions include: Clark Canyon Recreation Area, Beaverhead National Forest, and Bannack State Historic Park. Allow three to four hours driving time and enjoy the scenery.
The Deerlodge National Forest, straddling the Continental Divide and eight separate mountain ranges, provides beautiful drives and an exciting variety of activities. Landscapes vary from low, rolling, semi-arid grasslands to rugged, rocky peaks towering far above timberline. The Forest's diverse habitat is a mix of high alpine zones, bunchgrass range, old-growth forest, streamside willow corridors and wetlands. Noteworthy drives in this are include the Highlands Drive and the Shalkaho Highway.
From Philipsburg head south five miles to Montana Highway 38 (Skalkaho Highway) where the drive will take you to Hamilton, approximately a 65 mile drive one way. The drive is very scenic and will take you over the Skalkaho Pass, passing a waterfall and picnic area The drive provides wildlife viewing and fishing opportunities in many of the Creeks on the way to Hamilton. The highway is open from June to September depending on snow conditions. Contact the District office for road conditions prior to leaving. The road is generally open to two wheel vehicles, without trailers, but has narrow road widths in some places.
Figure Eight Scenic Route
The Figure Eight Scenic Route which winds its way through the Helena National Forest and the Big Belt Mountains offers stunning views of limestone cliffs, pine forests and canyon scenery. The road meanders by old sapphire mines, historical fire lookouts, and mountains. Unfortunately, part of the loop has been closed due to a washout along Trout Creek. Those wishing to continue on can pass on foot or motorbike along a four-mile trail.
It's a don't-look-down-now kind of a road. But do, the views are awesome. And take it slow. Afterall, Going-to-the-Sun Road took eleven years to build, from 1921 to 1932. The road in Glacier National Park is often hailed as an engineering marvel.
Gravelly Range Road
This 40 mile route is unpaved, but offers high-country driving through the Beaverhead National Forest. The views are beautiful and include Lazyman, Red and Monument hills and Black Butte. Passersby will witness the occasional antelope, elk or mule deer, as well as spectacular wildflower displays during midsummer.
Kings Hill Scenic Byway
The two-lane, 70-mile Kings Hill Scenic Byway crosses the Little Belt Mountains and offers views of mountain vistas and limestone outcrops. Kings Hill Pass is the highest pass at 7,393 feet open all winter and the average snowfall is twenty-three feet. Recreation in the area includes downhill skiing at Showdown Winter Sports Area, cross country-skiing at the Silvercrest Cross-Country Ski Trail System, snowmobiling along both sides of the byway, and fishing during the summer in Belt Creek.
Pintler Scenic Byway
The 53-mile Pintler Scenic Byway is the scenic alternate to Interstate 90 between Anaconda and Drummond. The route meanders around the shores of the Georgetown lake, and crosses mountain passes, ghost towns and old mining centers.
One of the pleasures of driving in the Missoula area is watching the changing of the seasons. It's fun to hop in the car for a drive to watch for new plants emerging in the spring or, in the fall, to watch the changing colors of the trees and bushes. And it's fun to catch a glimpse of weak-legged fawns and other young animals exploring their world. Sometimes it's just nice to get out and admire the blue sky, clear waters and flowers in the fields.
This 73-mile loop offers magnificent views of the Missouri River Canyon as well as glimpses of forested mountains, cliffs and badlands in the Missouri Breaks wilderness complex. Allow five to six hours to travel the byway and keep an eye out for such wildlife as elk, mule deer, antelope and moose. The road is usually open between the months of May and October but be careful all roads are impassable by all vehicles when roads are wet.
Wise River-Polaris Road
Wise River-Polaris Road travels 27 miles along the Pioneer Mountain Range of the Beaverhead National Forest and offers spectacular views of stately mountain peaks, magnificent sunrises and sunsets, and abundant wildlife. (Beaverhead National Forest; 610 N. Montana Street; Dillon, MT 59725, 406/683-3900)
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication