Yellowstone’s Gardiner / Mammoth Entrance to West Glacier
Southwest Montana lies between the State’s National Parks, with Glacier to the north and Yellowstone to the south. Its central location to these geologic wonders leaves Southwest as the corridor, and therefore perfect summer road trip, between the two. If your planned vacation leaves you wondering how to get from Mammoth to West Glacier, this might be the itinerary for you! As you travel from one Park to the other, why not dig deeper into what Southwest Montana has to offer. Whether you are looking for additional ways to explore the outdoors, be it relaxing or recreating, or to simply enjoy life under that Big Montana Sky, Southwest Montana offers something for everyone!
Leaving the Country’s first National Park is never easy, no goodbye is, but adventure awaits in Southwest Montana. Exiting the park from Gardiner, you will pass through Bozeman, home of Montana State University before making your way into our region. Bozeman offers an incredible array of recreation, a colorful downtown, and of course the Museum of the Rockies, all warranting exploration. As you continue on your way, we recommend stopping at two of Montana’s State Parks: Lewis & Clark Caverns and Elkhorn Ghost Town. From Elkhorn, make your way over to Boulder Hot Springs for a relaxing and rejuvenating evening!
Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park is Montana's first and best-known state park featuring one of the most decorated limestone caverns in the Northwest. These spectacular caves, lined with stalactites, stalagmites, and columns are electrically lighted and safe to visit.
Backcountry roads settle you into a 19th century mining landscape before you reach historic Fraternity Hall and Gillian Hall nestled within the town of Elkhorn. These picturesque structures from the early-day silver-mining town are preserved as outstanding examples of frontier architecture.
A bit of a shorter drive today, but there is no shortage of activities on the docket. As you drive into town look up to the East Ridge and you will see a giant concrete lady overlooking town. Tours of Our Lady of the Rockies are offered throughout the summer departing from their gift shop in the Butte Plaza Mall. When you make it back to town explore Historic Uptown Butte by trolley and then wander through the shops, restaurants, breweries, and distillery. Finish the afternoon off with a trip to one of the many museums: World Museum of Mining, Mineral Museum, or the Mai Wah Society.
Our Lady of the Rockies stands 90-feet tall on the ridge overlooking Butte. This giant statue is the third tallest statue in the United States. She is non-denominational and dedicated to women everywhere. All visitors to Butte will be blessed with her presence whether they take the tour (which leaves from the Mall) or not.
The Richest Hill on Earth and the men that mined that hill put Butte on the map. Butte’s historic district is home to a variety of specialty stores, museums, and restaurants. A walk among the historic buildings lining the streets, remind visitors of the Copper Kings who once called the mansion district home. Butte promises for an afternoon of exploration.
Coming as a surprise to many, Montana is rich in Chinese history. Many Chinese immigrants made their way to Butte to mine the “Richest Hill on Earth,” and many of these miners made Montana their permanent home. The Mai Wah Society in Butte serves to interpret, collect, and educate visitors on the Asian history of the area.
Montana has a rich and diverse history spanning hundreds of years. Today’s itinerary will take you through the cultural, agricultural, and mining history of our state. First on the list is the Old Prison Museum Complex which houses five separate museums. After spending the morning exploring all the museums have to offer, make your way to Grant-Kohrs National Historic Site, a still working ranch, to experience the draw of life on the open range. As you make your way toward Missoula take one final detour to Montana’s most intact ghost town, a town that once bustled with activity at the strike of Silver: Garnet. It’s time to call it a night as you enter Missoula, Montana’s Garden City.
The Old Montana Prison Complex houses five unique museums: The Old Montana Prison, Powell County Museum, Frontier Montana Museum, Yesterday’s Playthings, and the Montana Auto Museum. The museum offers both guided and self-guided tours through the facility. The complex boasts a significant collection, allowing everyone to find something of interest.
Wide open spaces, the hardworking cowboy, his spirited cow pony, and vast herds of cattle are among the strongest symbols of the American West. Once the headquarters of a 10 million-acre cattle empire, Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site preserves these symbols and commemorates the role of cattlemen in American history.
Garnet Ghost Town is the most intact ghost town Montana has to offer. As with any boom town, the inhabitants were primarily interested in the structure built beneath the earth’s surface to extract its riches. In turn, the buildings were built with haste and lacked a solid foundation. Uncover Montana’s rich mining history with a visit to Garnet.
You will have no trouble filling your morning in Missoula, hike the M, explore Fort Missoula, or spend some time in Caras Park and stop by the Carousel. Continuing on to West Glacier, you will drive around Flathead Lake, the largest fresh water lake west of the Mississippi, and make your way into Big Fork. After a few hours in the car, everyone will appreciate a stop in Big Fork for a bit of artisan ice cream at a Montana favorite: Sweet Peaks. As you close in on Glacier National Park you will drive by the Amazing Fun Center just outside of Columbia Falls. If you are looking for a fun way to stretch your legs this is your stop! Glacier is around the corner, and your Montana adventure is just getting started.
Missoula is both a gateway to immense outdoor recreation and a regional destination for unique shopping and dining. Missoula is known as the “Garden City” for its dense trees and lush green landscape. Home to diverse museums, breweries, shops, and more, there is no shortage of ways to spend your day in Missoula.
Sweet Peaks is a chain of Montana Ice Cream Shops that started in Whitefish. Each location scoops 16-18 different flavors, using Montana dairy and a variety of other Montana ingredients. They are committed to providing high quality ice cream for visitors to enjoy! Make your day a little sweeter with ice cream from the mountains.
To residents and visitors, Columbia Falls (15 minutes from West Glacier) is known as the gateway to the park. Although it would be easy to simply drive through town to get to the park. This would be a mistake. Check out the restaurants, water park, and breweries before you head to the entrance of the park!