Montana is a home to two very popular summertime destinations, Yellowstone Park to Glacier Park. Most of Yellowstone sits in Wyoming, but Montana is home to a few of the entrances so we claim it. A must-do Montana road trip is to drive Yellowstone Park to Glacier Park during the same visit to Montana.
My summer home base is in my RV halfway between Yellowstone Park to Glacier Park. I get to meet a ton of roadies as they are making their way up Montana between the two parks.
Best time to drive Yellowstone Park to Glacier Park?
It’s really hard to pinpoint the best time to visit. Montana has very short summers. Due to snow pack, parts of Glacier Park don’t open until the end of July or early August. By that time Montana also begins fire season. This makes travelling from Yellowstone National Park to Glacier National Park a bit of a challenge and can leave your vacation up in the air. I would suggest visiting Yellowstone first and then making your way to Glacier.
If you are planning your roadtrip between the two parks here are a few tips to make the trip bonkerific.
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Info and photos of the parks:
Start by Exploring Yellowstone
Use this guide from National Geographic to plan your trip while in Yellowstone park. You can hit all the highlights in a few days Mammoth Hot Springs, Grand Prismatic Spring and Old Faithful. If you have time though, pack lunches and pull off the main road for some peace and quite. You can spend a few days in the park just sitting and waiting for wildlife to appear.
The bulk of Yellowstone Park is in the northwest corner of Wyoming, however Montana is home to two of the main entrances/exits. When heading out of the park to drive to Glacier Park, I suggest leaving through the Gardiner exit and making your way through Paradise Valley and then on to Bozeman. Skip Chico Hot Springs but plan to stop at the boiling river on your way out of the park (closed summer 2020 due to COVID). It’s awesome and bizarre. There is nothing like sitting in moving, natural water that is warm and even scalding in places. This is a natural feature, so no lifeguards or towels available. I have a hunch that this may be near where Forrest Fenn’s treasure was hidden (apparently the treasure was found spring of 2020).
Must Stop: Boiling River (closed summer 2020)
After the boiling river, head toward Bozeman, but 20 miles before Bozeman stop at the Montana Grizzly Encounter. You will never (hopefully) be that close to a grizzly bear as you will at this roadside habitat. Then make your way to Bozeman and find a lively downtown atmosphere. This is a great place to grab grub. Google maps is going to then try to send you down the interstate. That’s fine if you are in a hurry, but if you can spare an extra 20 minutes on the road, leave Bozeman and take the road less traveled, west to Norris and then north to Three Forks. Honk and wave to all the river floaters as you drive along the Madison river.
The drive from Norris to Three Forks is so beautiful, have your camera ready – an evening drive will make you fall in love with Montana. You might end up trading in your stocks to move west and buy a wheat farm. You can stop outside of Three Forks to tour the Lewis and Clark Caverns. Once you get to Three Forks you will hit Wheat Montana, you must stop for a pastry. No excuses. Continue north to Townsend.
Jena and family floating the Madison River – August 2019.
Zach and Jena wakesurf on Canyon Ferry Lake by the Silos KOA.
Zach and Jena at Avalanche Lake in Glacier Park
Stop Here: Halfway Between Yellowstone and Glacier
You may be worried as you see the mountains are now in the distance. Don’t stress, you’ll be back in the mountains in no time. Stop seven miles north of Townsend for the night at the Townsend KOA. They have little cabins available if you aren’t travelling by RV. Say hi to Sharon, the owner, and sit on the front porch and meet lots of others folks making your same trek. You will be right on the water of Canyon Ferry Lake.
Choose Your Next Road Wisely
When you drive Yellowstone National Park to Glacier National Park there is a choice to make on which route you want to continue on. Base this decision on what you want to see most. Summer of 2020 the East Entrance to Glacier is closed due to COVID.
Garden of 1,000 Buddhas
If you want to see the Garden of 1,000 Buddhas you want to go by way of Helena to Missoula and North through Kalispell. The Land of 1,000 Buddhas is outside of Arlee (just North of Missoula) and you won’t know it is there unless you know what you are looking for. There is no billboard saying turn here. So be prepared with your map. This is a free garden that you can walk through and discover peace. It’s fascinating. Check out their website to see when they are having special events, like the Peace Festival.
Gates of the Mountains
Here there is a boat tour through Upper Holter Lake through the Gates of the Mountains. It’s breathtaking and serene. To take this route, you will head north from Helena (the Gates tour is 17 miles north of Helena) and then make your way through Choteau. This is a more rural route, but beautiful. The red rock canyon outside of Helena is a must see. Go slow and enjoy the view. I have driven this road endless times and it never gets old. This is the best route if you are heading to the East Entrance of the park (closed 2020).
This is a relaxing little lake town with old fashion goodies, great food and lake amenities. It’s the route I take the most often, but only because I have been to the Garden of Buddhas and Gates of the Mountains multiple times already. It’s a very pretty drive. The fall foliage in the late fall is like nothing you will ever see.
Jena at the Garden of One Thousand Buddhas
Gates of the Mountain
Great hiking and huckleberry picking near Seeley Lake
Based on your journey, you could try to go one way up and another way back. The parks are going to be where you want to spend most of your time, but the journey to the parks can be just as enjoyable.
End by Exploring Glacier
Depending on the route that you decide to take from Yellowstone National Park to Glacier Park, you will either enter Glacier in West Glacier Montana or St. Mary Montana. Either way, you have so much exploring to do. Glacier is one of my favorite places on earth. Here is a great guide to Glacier National Park by National Geographic.
No matter what route you take, you are going to have a blast. Just please be smart while visiting these parks. Yellowstone is home to a lot of wildlife and every year tourists are injured by animals. Many of these injuries could be avoided if people would take the park and its wildlife seriously. If you see a moron standing too close to a bison, he is moron, you don’t need to be a moron too. Do not follow him. He may die.