West Yellowstone to West Glacier: Small Town Route
Your summer travels are bringing you to Montana to explore, arguably, two of the most beautiful public spaces in the country; you know which campgrounds you plan to stay at, which hikes you will take, and which features you can’t miss, but what about your travel between the Parks? Southwest Montana is your corridor from Yellowstone to Glacier and there are highlights you won’t want to miss as you wind your way through some of the scenic routes of the region. This itinerary will lead you through some of the charming small towns dotted throughout the region, offering you the opportunity to immerse yourself in the day-to-day lifestyle of Montana.
As you leave Yellowstone National Park an array of opportunities await you in Southwest Montana. Your drive out of the park will lead you through the unspoiled nature of Big Sky Country. There're no shortage of places to camp, hike, or fish, even before you make it the 75 miles to Ennis. Quake Lake lies at the halfway point of your drive and offers visitors with a detailed account of the 1959 earthquake. As you pull into Ennis, you will notice that art litters the streets, grab a latte and stroll through town. Finish off a packed day with a soak in the 'Water of the Gods' at Norris Hot Springs.
On August 17, 1959, an earthquake (magnitude of 7.3) devastated the Madison River Canyon area, causing a massive landslide which dammed the river and created Quake Lake. The visitor center is open Memorial Day through midSeptember and provides a detailed account of the aftermath of the quake.
Scattered across the landscape of Ennis, visitors will find a variety of art. From sculptures to murals, the art found across town exemplifies the history and culture of the area, specifically that of the influence of agriculture and fishing. Stop by the Ennis Chamber office to pick up a guide, and enjoy your tour!
The Water of the Gods offers a simple, rustic, yet authentic experience for visitors. With clear and clean hot mineral water bubbling up from the earth at 120 degrees, the historic wooden pool is filled. With a valve installed by miners in the 1880s, the pool is emptied nightly. Food, drink and live music await visitors.
Today you will follow in the footsteps of the Road Agents and Vigilantes of the 1860s. Montana’s second territorial capital, Virginia City, lies just over the hill from Ennis. Throughout the summer, living history events take place on the streets of Virginia and Nevada City providing a packed day for visitors. Take a tour up to Boot Hill to see where the Road Agents were hung, stop by the state’s first brewery, pan for gold and enjoy a show while you’re in town. As you continue on your way pull over at Robber’s Roost, a famous inn with historical significance, and wander down by the river. After a history packed day, continue on to Sheridan, Montana, and share a pint among friends at Ruby Valley Brew. There are several campgrounds and Bed & Breakfasts in the area to call home for the night.
Virginia City offers one of the most fascinating stories of any town in Southwest Montana. At one time the most important city in the Territory and little more than a ghost town at another, today Virginia City provides one of the most well preserved and approachable glimpses into Montana's gold rush days.
In the early 1860s, Henry Plummer and his gang of outlaws terrorized the stage route between Bannack and Virginia City. Robbers roost, sits along the route and is the acclaimed meeting place of the Road Agents. Although this has been proven incorrect, it remains an important landmark today.
Micro-breweries are having a significant impact on the culture of Montana. Their popularity has led to 11 breweries opening in Southwest Montana alone. Ruby Valley Brewery pays tribute to the history of the area through the name of its brews. Stop in to Sheridan’s brewery, and Remain Untamed.
Twin Bridges is a mecca for Fly Fishing. Three valleys come together in this charming small town and you won’t regret a morning on the water. Continuing on toward Butte, you will make your way through Pipestone ATV recreation area and over Homestake Pass. As you drop into Butte, there is no better place to spend your afternoon than exploring its Historic District, possibly by trolley, and then wandering through the shops and restaurants of the area. Finish the afternoon off with a trip to one of the many museums: World Museum of Mining, Mineral Museum, or the Mai Wah Society. As you close in on the evening head west toward Anaconda, from miles away you will see the smoke stack on the hillside, and as you enter town you can take a quick jaunt to Anaconda Smoke Stack State Park before finding a bite to eat and turning in for the evening.
Twin Bridges lies at the confluence of three rivers and corresponding valleys: the Beaverhead, Ruby, and Big Hole. The rivers converge to form the mighty Jefferson, creating ample opportunity and habitat for superb fishing. Twin Bridges is home to many top angler supply stores, the old Montana State Orphanage, and a significant amount of agricultural history.
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.
Anaconda Smoke Stack is one of 10 State Parks in Southwest Montana. This is one of the largest freestanding brick structures in the world, and reminds visitors and locals alike of the legendary Anaconda Copper Company. The stack dominates the Anaconda hillside, and cannot be missed as you enter the area.
This drive will take you through the Beaverhead-Deer Lodge National Forest, winding along Highway 1 toward Philipsburg. The opportunities in this area are endless! Before you make it into town, stop by Crystal Park to let out your inner Rockhound, drive over to Coolidge Ghost Town, and enjoy the picturesque views of Georgetown Lake. When you arrive in Philipsburg, don’t miss the brewery, Sweet Palace, adorable shops that line Broadway, and opportunity to pan for gold or a drive up to Granite Ghost Town. On your way toward the Seeley-Swan, stop in Drummond for an amazing burger at Parker’s Restaurant. Finally take in the scenery as you begin your drive toward Seeley Lake.
Surrounded by the Beaverhead-Deer Lodge National Forest, and settled along the Pintler Veteran’s Memorial Scenic Byway, Philipsburg embodies everything a charming small town should be. A colorful main street is lined with unique shops, restaurants, a candy shop, and of course a brewery.
At Parker’s Restaurant, patrons will be met with genuine Montana hospitality. You will be handed a three-ring binder filled with over 135 different burgers as you take a seat among the classic burger joint decor. Dine with the locals and enjoy some of Montana’s best beef. Open Tuesday through Saturday.
The Seeley-Swan Valley is nestled between the Mission and Swan Mountains. The area is a popular outdoor recreation destination, perfect for camping and hiking. The area also has several State Parks: Salmon and Placid Lakes. Explore Seeley Lake, take a swim, and finish the day off with a stop at The Ice Cream Place.
Continuing on to West Glacier, you will drive around Flathead Lake, the largest fresh water lake west of the Mississippi. 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, make one final detour into the charming town of Columbia Falls. If you are looking for a final stop before you enter the park, this is the perfect place. Glacier is just around the corner, and your Montana adventure is just getting started.
Flathead Lake is the largest freshwater lake west of the Mississippi. Seven State Parks line the shores of Flathead Lake, and there is no shortage of recreational opportunities. The Lake was carved by glaciers, leaving clean, deep, and pristine water for visitors to enjoy. This lake has a beauty that can only be appreciated upon exploration.
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!