Montana is one of those places I have always mysteriously been drawn to. I'm not sure where this innate attraction to the state comes from but I have always found Montana to be so exotic. The picturesque landscapes I have seen in pictures and the state's location across the country from my east coast nook have pulled me in its direction for years. This road trip has allowed me to ultimately spend eight glorious nights in Big Sky Country turning a lifelong fantasy into a reality.
On our first road trip stretch at the start of the pandemic, we hit Big Sky, MT during ski season. We wanted to get to know the state during the summer months as well and decided to include a three-night visit during this second leg of our USA road trip. What we experienced in Bozeman, Helena, and Glacier National Park has left us wishing we had more time exploring this magical state.
Montana is hands down one of my favorite states in the United States. The scenery is spectacular, the sky transforms into the most beautiful shades of varying color throughout the day, the air is crisp, and the people here exude an aura of serenity and bliss. Although winter yields incredible skiing in a winter wonderland, summer here is a time of carefree wonder, laughter in lakes, bare feet in sprawling grass, s'mores by the firepit, and cocktails underneath the star-studded sky. Below I share with you our three-night itinerary to hopefully enjoy one day too!
1. Walk Around Downtown Bozeman Bozeman is a wonderful, clean, and vibrant city filled with the happiest people I've met across the country. They aren't just friendly, they truly radiate an overall sense of happiness that is contagious. Main Street Historic District is lined with a balance of both chain retailers and mom-and-pop boutiques. There are plenty of coffee shops, bars, and restaurants as well. Bozeman is regarded as one of "the most livable places in America" for good reason. Just outside of the vibrant downtown area locals can enjoy hiking, fishing, magnificent mountain ranges, cycling, and everything outdoors that their hearts desire.
2. Sip a Cocktail at Sky Shed
The rooftop bar at The Armory Hotel is a great spot to enjoy craft cocktails amongst locals while soaking in stunning views of downtown and the encircling mountain ranges. This hip bar attracts a good-looking crowd and drinks are served by servers in their shades. A visit during lower evening temperatures is an ideal time to enjoy the outdoor patio during the summer.
3. Eat Dinner at One of Bozeman's Best
Bozeman has been attracting many talented chefs who have formed a vibrant food scene. Getting reservations at the most-desired restaurants here are as difficult as snatching a table at one of Manhattan's best restaurants. We had so many wonderful options to choose from but only one night in Bozeman. We ultimately picked Urban Kitchen because it was across the street from our hotel and we found their seasonal inspired American menu to be enticing. For appetizers, we started with crispy Brussel sprouts and grilled carrots, crispy calamari and shrimp in spicy Thai chili sauce, and bang bang tuna. For our mains, we dove into blackened salmon with Teriyaki glaze, filet mignon, chicken carbonara with gnocchi pasta, avocado Ceaser salads, and truffled macaroni and cheese. To wash down the delicious dishes we sipped on perfectly balanced old-fashioneds. You're guaranteed to have a memorable meal here.
4. End the Day on a Sweet Note
Located in the historic Baxter Hotel, La Petit Chatelaine has been ranked as Best Chocolatiers and Confectioners in the USA and has deservingly won many awards for their delectable creations. The unique flavors stand out most here. After a difficult time choosing which truffles to try, we went for the "Margarita" which is filled with lime puree, tequila, white chocolate ganache and rolled in dark chocolate topped by sea salt, "Huckleberry" filled with huckleberry pates de fruit and dark chocolate, "Black Lava Sea Salt Caramel" filled with salted butter caramel and organic cream, dipped in white chocolate and topped with Hawaiin sea salt. The chocolates will leave your mouth content for days. Don't leave Bozeman without stopping in.
5. Retreat and Rest Well at a Wonderful Hotel
Spend the night at Bozeman's only four-star hotel. The Armory Hotel has plenty of social gathering areas from a swanky restaurant to a rooftop pool and bar. The hotel also has a gym and lots of other lux amenities like free bikes for guests, a complimentary coffee bar in the lobby, and a superbly friendly staff.
Day Two: 1. Start Your Morning Like a Montanan Folks from Montana take their coffee very seriously. There are several impressive cafes to choose from along Main Street. We headed into Main Street Market for dreamy iced lattes and a pre-breakfast cookie that was fantastic.
2. Begin Your Day with a Bountiful Breakfast
A couple of locals recommended breakfast at Jam! Apparently, everyone else in Bozeman planned on eating there too. The restaurant does not accept reservations. We arrived early, at 8:00 am, strategically dodging a long wait but when we left diners were being quoted ninety-minute wait times. Is it worth the wait? Absolutely! Firstly, the service is fantastic. I loved our friendly waiter who shared lots of great tips for our upcoming visit to Glacier National Park. But the real draw here is the menu. I have never seen so many varieties of pancakes! Think Cinnamon Roll, Blueberry Ricotta, Peanut Butter Cup, Bananas Foster, Coconut Banana, and Classic. They even have a Pancake Flight for those who want to sample three pancake flavors. Their crepes are equally creative. Between the menu, trendy atmosphere, and fantastic food, this must be the best breakfast spot in Bozeman.
3. Head Over to Helena
A Walk along Last Chance Gulch, the historic main street in the state's capital, is delightful. Art permeates the sidewalks and murals abound. Quaint shops line the closed-off streets selling artisan products and imported treats. Families gather for outdoor meals and kids ride their bikes up and down the sidewalks. The historic street is extremely well-preserved and immaculate inviting visitors to linger at a leisurely pace.
This little gem in the heart of the Historic Helena district completes a worthy visit to Helena. General Mercantile has been serving coffee to locals since 1971 and has grown into a neighborhood staple selling everything from locally made salsa to artisan soaps. The interior is reminiscent of the town's wild west history - imagine a saloon with a modern facelift. Be prepared to lose yourself in the aisles and leaving with more than you bargained for.
Firetower Coffee is a favorite gathering place in Helena amongst locals. The coffee house roasts its beans and serves both breakfast and lunch in a cozy, relaxed atmosphere. Lots of Beatles memorabilia hang on the walls along with autographed guitars in this chill space. The quesadillas and sandwiches are quite good just expect a longer than usual wait time for them to be prepared. You have no choice but to succumb to the shops' laid-back pace.
4. Check In to Roam Beyond (30 minutes from West Glacier Park)
After refueling in Helena, head on over to the outskirts of Glacier National Park. Make every effort to check in to Roam Beyond around 5:00 pm so that you can take full advantage of the gorgeous campgrounds. Luckily, the sun doesn't set in this part of the country until 10:00 pm in July gifting visitors with an extra-long summer day.
The unique lodging experience at Roam Beyond is one that you'll never forget. Cabins are retrofitted, refurnished RVs complete with every eco-friendly and sustainable detail you can imagine including solar panels. The rooms are brilliantly designed to maximize space and comfort with all the modern touches you'll need during your glamping excursion on the premises. At Roam, you'll find yourself in one of the most stunning landscapes in the country. There are lots of activities spread throughout the grassy property. I felt like a was at summer camp. We absolutely adored this place.
1. Fuel up with a Montana Coffee Roaster Montana Coffee Traders has been roasting and serving coffee for the last forty years. These experts deliver a great cup of joe along with their delicious homemade pastries and breakfast/lunch options. With our coffee and breakfast bites, we ordered lunch to go so that we had freshly made, enjoyable food handy while we were exploring Glacier National Park which has extremely limited food options.
2. Soak in the Stunning Sites in the USA's Most Beautiful National Park
I have no words to explain the intense beauty that permeates every acre of Glacier National Park. A visit here was on my bucket list for years and finally visiting was truly a dream come true.
Some tips for exploring the park:
Regardless of which entrance you take (east or west) start your excursion by driving to the opposite end of the park and working your way back to the side entered from. We embarked on our explorations from the west gate and drove straight across to Goose Island making very few stops. We made all our stops on the way back to the west side. This worked out to be very efficient and well-organized, allowing us to see everything we wanted.
The park has recently changed its entrance rules and limits the number of tickets that are sold per day to drive along Going-to-the-Sun-Road. I was well prepared to purchase tickets on the day that tickets for our arrival date were being released. I set up my account, and my alarm, to ensure I would snatch an entry ticket. Within TWO SECONDS all tickets were sold out. You can't visit Glacier National Park without driving along this epic road so I had to get resourceful and figure out how to get us on that route. You have two options: Arrive before 6:00 am and after 5:00 pm when entry tickets are not required OR you can book a tour that is on the Going-to-the-Sun-Road ensuring you access to the most scenic drive in the country. We booked a boat tour on Lake McDonald at 1:30 pm but gained entrance to the famous road when we arrived at 8:30 am just by showing our tour tickets (see more on tour below).
We have enjoyed some pretty spectacular drives during our ten-month-long road trip and I can confidently say that the Going-to-the-Sun-Road is hands down the most breathtaking drive; the most heart-stopping one too. The road is dangerous and ridiculously narrow at extremely high altitudes. The treacherous path spans fifty miles and reaches its highest point at Logan's Pass, which peaks at 6,650 feet. Drive really slow for safety measures and to allow full absorption of the mindblowing scenery for the duration of the drive (which takes about two hours to complete).
It was almost impossible to resist stopping at lookout points as we made our way to the west side of the park. But we stuck to our strategy which ultimately allowed us to view vistas at every opportunity on the drive back west. Our first stop was at the Goose Island viewpoint overlooking Saint Mary Lake, the park's (and the state's) second largest lake. Incidentally, it happens to be a popular spot for bear sightings and we were lucky enough to watch a grizzly bear grazing its shore. It is hard to grasp the sheer beauty of the aqua waters encircled by mammoth mountains that are colored with green pine trees. We found true Paradise here.
As we slowly made our way back west our next stop was at Hidden Lake / Logan Pass which is located on the continental divide, thus the proud waving of both an American and Canadian flag. This is the most populated part of the park and parking is literally impossible. We tried to source a parking spot three times and eventually decided that its best for me to take the kids out on the three-mile in and out Hidden Lake Trail while my husband waited in the car. As we walked the heavily trafficked path the scenery was mindboggling. Neverending vistas of snow-capped mountains, wildflowers, and the greenest fields. There is a lot of climbing, you will be out of breath at some points. A group of people on their way out mentioned encountering a bear with her cubs who walked just thirty feet away from the hikers. We had our bear spray and horn with us at all times but luckily had no use for it. I had a Julie Andrews moment and wanted to sing out long as I twirled through the fields but my kids made me stop.
Half a mile east of Logan Pass is a small parking lot with no name that offers magnificent views of the valley, waterfalls, and even some sightings of elk and bighorn sheep.
Red Rock Point You'll find another unforgettable viewpoint at Red Rock Point. Pristine, aqua waters, and small waterfalls overwhelm the senses here. Surprisingly it wasn't as crowded here and we mostly had this magical site to ourselves.
Sacred Dancing Cascade is a fairly new footbridge allowing revelers to admire the river from a higher vantage point. For those who prefer to hike there are also trailheads to embark on deeper hikes into the mountains.
McDonald Falls are easy to view from the roadside or you can opt for an easy, family-friendly hike. The water is crystal blue and strikingly beautiful.
Glacier Park Boat Company in the historic Lake McDonald Lodge offers a one-hour tour around Lake McDonald, the park's largest glacier lake, on a century-old boat. We enjoyed the views and learning about the park's history. Mostly, this was an excellent booking to get us into the park and on to the Going-to-the-Sun-Road.
The rainbow rocks in Glacier National Park are quite famous. You can spot them in many spots along the river and lakeshores. For a never-ending perspective of these colorful rocks, you can spend some time admiring them approximately half a mile into Apgar Village.
Glacier National Park deserves a high spot on your bucket list. The awe-inspiring scenery is remarkable. This is truly the most incredible national park in the United States. If you are an avid hiker, you can easily spend a week here exploring all the trails. My family spent eight hours in the park, which made for an extremely gratifying, inspiring, and breathtaking experience as we fell in love with our planet all over again.
3. Head back to ROAM for Sunset and S'Mores
I can't imagine a better way to wrap up the day than heading back to the campgrounds at Roam Beyond. Grab a table and grill, snatch a bike to ride around the property, gather the family for a game of volleyball, and then huddle around the fire pit to roast some marshmallows and watch the sun paint the sky in the wonderful shades that Big Sky is known for.
It was hard to leave Montana but I have a strong hunch that we will return for another visit. Our three-night itinerary truly gave us a delicious taste of the state, its people, and its unsurpassable landscapes. We've barely left, yet we find ourselves already longing for more of it.