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Best of Montana Vacation

“With over 147,000 square miles to explore … there’s more to discover throughout Montana than most people dream.

Montana Office of Tourism

Montana is big. Heck, we have a dozen different tours on our site and don’t even cover the whole state! So how do you create the Best of Montana Vacation?

In our case, by combining three of our most popular tours – Beartooth Mountains Hiking, Best of Yellowstone, and Glacier National Park Hiking – into one nine-day adventure! For good measure, we throw in our three favorite Montana towns: Red Lodge, Bozeman, and Whitefish.

We meet you in Billings, Montana and head an hour south into the cute small village of Red Lodge, our “world headquarters”, which lies just below the Beartooth Mountains. We spend two days hiking in Montana’s highest (and we think most beautiful) mountain range and enjoying the culture of small-town Montana.

We then travel up and over the amazing Beartooth Pass and into Yellowstone for two more days of fun, this time with the goals of seeing the incredible natural geothermal wonders and viewing as many animals as possible, both from the van and from the trail.

We have an interim evening in Bozeman, Montana’s favorite college town, before heading north to Whitefish and Glacier National Park. En route we take a pitstop to break up the drive and paddle down the beautiful and gentle Clearwater River Canoe Trail into Seeley Lake. Our final days are spent hiking in what we confidently call America’s Best National Park for Hiking.

Montana is an awe-inspiring state and this vacation provides the time and the breadth of scenery to give you a full taste of it. You could not ask for more — at least on one vacation.

Travel Montana is an authorized permittee of Yellowstone National Park
Main Image Credit: Montana Office of Tourism and Business Development

Details

  • Activities: Hiking
  • Duration: 9 days
  • Price Per Person
          4 - 5 people: $5,200
          6 - 7 people: $4,900
          8+ people: $4,600
  • Single Supplement: $1,100
  • Public Tour Date: n/a

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Trip Highlights

  • Experience the wonders of the world's first and best national park - Yellowstone!
  • Wander the trails of Glacier National Park, America's finest park for hiking
  • Experience our three favorite towns in Montana: Red Lodge, Bozeman, and Whitefish
  • Hike in the rugged and untouristed Beartooth Mountains
  • See the scenery that makes the Big Sky State so beautiful!
DAY 1

We meet in Billings this morning, either at the airport or at our designated hotel, and shuttle directly to Red Lodge, about an hour away. Once we've arrived, we'll drop off our luggage at the hotel, discuss our plans and trails for the week, and pack a trail lunch to take with us.  After a short shuttle to the trailhead, we'll begin our introductory hike, a gentle uphill trail along the Lake Fork of Rock Creek, where we commonly see moose along the beautiful rushing waters. Squeezed between Hellroaring and Silver Creek plateaus, the trail offers access to a lake-filled mountain valley, but since this is our first day of hiking, we will turn around at Broadwater Lake (actually just a widening of the river) after stopping at our favorite place on the trail - Snack Rock. We'll then return to our hotel to check in before departing for the fun, local affair of pig races at the saloon in the nearby town of Bear Creek. After cheering on your favorite swine, we will head back to Red Lodge for dinner at our friends' fun, casual tapas restaurant downtown.

Main Hiking Route: 7 miles round trip - with 800 feet of elevation gain

DAY 2

This morning we shuttle to our trailhead in the West Rosebud Valley. Although it is only a few miles as the crow flies, we have to drive around the mountain range along the sky-high ranch country of the Beartooth Front to get to one of the most stunning locations in the area: Mystic Lake, a large lake made even larger by a hydroelectric dam. Because most of the hike is in a protected wilderness area, the power company that controls the dam has had very little impact to the lake itself and it is a nice example of man's progress melding with nature. A steady climb of three miles along West Rosebud Creek and through Custer National Forest will take us past a plethora of huckleberry bushes, through rock fields and stands of Lodgepole Pines and Aspens, to the edge of the lake.  Before reaching the lakeshore, make sure to pause at the overlook to get a glimpse of Montana's uniquely shaped tallest mountain, Granite Peak. You can stop here to enjoy lunch, or continue another 2.7 miles around the lakeshore to Huckleberry Creek before turning around and heading back to the trailhead. We'll stop for dinner on our way home at a local restaurant.

Main Hiking Route: 6 miles round trip to the edge of the lake with 1,200 feet elevation gain (plus an opportunity for an easy extension around the lakeshore trail of almost 6 additional miles).

DAY 3

Today is a big day!  We depart Red Lodge in the morning to drive up the famous Beartooth Pass, considered one of the most beautiful drives in the country. Up, up, up we go - to almost 11,000 feet - keeping our eyes open to try and spot the mountain goats that are commonly seen in this beautiful high-altitude tundra.  We'll get out for pictures at the top of the pass and do several short walks. Although the walks are mostly flat, we are at 10,000 feet of elevation — either the views or the altitude will take your breath away! After a walk and lunch on your own in the cute town of Cooke City, we continue our shuttle westward and into Yellowstone National Park's Lamar Valley. The Lamar area is home to the largest herds of ungulates (hoofed animals such as bison, elk, and deer) in the park and the predators such as wolves that are often near them. We'll stop as often as needed for wildlife viewing and eventually make our way to our hotel in or just outside the Park.

DAY 4

Today we drive the Grand Loop of Yellowstone and visit all the major hotspots. We'll gaze upon Grand Prismatic Spring, a pool of hot water which has almost every color of the rainbow. Next we'll ditch the van to hike to Mystic Falls, where the Little Firehole River drops down from the Madison Plateau. Lunch will be on your own in the Old Faithful Lodge, after which we will watch Old Faithful erupt and take the boardwalk to visit many of the other smaller nearby geysers. In the afternoon, we'll continue around the loop road to the West Thumb geothermal area, which includes Fishing Cone, a hotspring in Yellowstone Lake in which visitors years ago cooked fish immediately after catching them. We'll continue on the loop drive to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and take a walk to view the impressive Upper and Lower Falls. It is then on to Canyon Lodge for a casual dinner in the eatery, a visit to the museum, and then an evening drive through the Hayden Valley to see if we can spot wildlife. As the sun falls toward the horizon, we'll head back to our hotel after a very long but productive day in the park.

DAY 5

This morning we'll get up early to beat the crowds as we visit a Yellowstone hot spot - literally. We'll drive a short way into the park and walk a half mile to the Boiling River, an actual river heated by underground hot springs. We'll jump in for a morning soak, dry off, and have a picnic breakfast in the area. We'll then get our exercise by hiking the Beaver Ponds Trail, a five-mile loop that not only features beaver (and muskrats) but also is a good location for seeing bears. We'll then pop over the short distance to Mammoth Hot Springs, where we'll spend an hour wandering the boardwalks, admiring the beautiful colors and bubbling mud pots. In the afternoon, we'll transfer just under two hours to Bozeman, Montana's favorite university town, where we'll walk the downtown streets and perhaps visit a brewery or two after dinner.

DAY 6

Today is our longest travel day, a five-hour drive (plus stops) from Bozeman in southcentral Montana to Whitefish in the north. However, we'll definitely make stops along the way, including at the Clearwater River Canoe Trail. That's right, a canoe trail! This designated 3.5-mile paddle on a gentle winding river takes us through beautiful secluded scenery and into Seeley Lake - one of the most popular lake destinations in Montana. It is a perfect break from the driving. We'll continue into Whitefish, one of our top three favorite towns in Montana (and second choice after Red Lodge for our world headquarters) for a fun dinner and walk around town.

DAY 7

Today we head into our second national park of the trip, Glacier National Park, consistently rated America's best national park for hiking. We start by going up the famous Going-to-the-Sun Road, which is not even usually open until July due to heavy snows. Our goal is the Highline Trail, one of the most famous hikes in the park and deservedly so. Our hike takes place high above the Going-to-the-Sun-Road, with sweeping vistas of the western half of of the Park, alpine meadows full of glacier lilies and beargrass, and amazing views of the surrounding peaks. The hike is relatively easy until we reach the final climb up Haystack Pass, our turnaround point. This is a hike that will take your breath away; it is truly astonishing for those not accustomed to hiking in the mountains. We'll stop to explore the area at Lake McDonald Lodge on our way back to Whitefish and a hearty dinner downtown.

Main Hiking Route: 7 miles round trip - mostly flat with some undulations and a short, steep section up to Haystack Pass (which can be skipped). Note: this hike has a short section at the beginning and end that may be intimidating to those with a fear of heights.

DAY 8

Glacier National Park is worth another full day and we have saved the best part for today. Today we rise early to explore the east side of the Park and the Many Glacier area. We'll stop at the historic hotel to soak in a little of the culture of the facility and then head to our trailhead. Today we are hiking to Iceberg Lake, approximately 10 miles with only moderate elevation gain. The trail starts off through the trees before opening up with incredible views of the surrounding mountains. We'll stop at Ptarmigan Falls for a break and then continue to the lake. Beautifully situated at the base of the mountains and with icebergs truly floating in it, this is your fantasy mountain scenery photo come true. This is a full-day excursion and we'll head back to Whitefish in the late afternoon.

DAY 9

On our final morning of this Best of Montana tour, we'll head to the Whitefish Mountain ski resort. You'll have the option of taking the chairlift up and hiking down or, if you are still energetic, doing the reverse. You'll have time to check out and grab lunch in town before shuttling to the airport in nearby Kalispell. What a vacation!

 

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Trip Accommodations

NIGHTS 1 - 2 >> POLLARD HOTEL / RED LODGE

Our first two nights are spent in comfortable historic accommodations in the heart of downtown Red Lodge. The hotel was the first brick building in town (built in 1893) and features a great pub and dining room.  You can walk anywhere in town from here!

NIGHTS 3 - 4 >> YELLOWSTONE PARK

Your lodging will be determined by your tour dates and when you reserve. Availability is tight during the summer; the more advance time you give us, the more availability there will be. If possible and you prefer, we will spend both nights in Yellowstone at one or more of the lodges. Please note the lodges are rustic and not inexpensive but they offer the benefit of overnighting in the park. Another option is to stay in a nearby gateway town such as Gardiner or West Yellowstone, which have more varied lodging choices, often with more availability.

NIGHT 5 >> THE LARK / BOZEMAN

The LARK is one of our favorite hotels anywhere! Carefully crafted to provide a distinctly Montana feel, it has oversized sitting areas, funky modern decor, an outdoor wood-burning fireplace, easy access to Bozeman's walkable Main Street, and fun local artwork in each guestroom.

NIGHTS 6 - 8 >> GROUSE MOUNTAIN LODGE / WHITEFISH

Located just outside downtown Whitefish, our lodge offers mountain views and expansive grounds.  You'll love the cozy lobby and large comfortable rooms after your days exploring Glacier National Park!

 

 

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Arrival & Departure

We’ll meet you in Billings, Montana (airport code BIL).  We finish our trip in Whitefish at noon, allowing time for you to shower after our morning activity before checking out, stopping to let you grab a quick lunch downtown and bringing you to the airport.  You can safely book flights for 3:00 PM or later. Upon booking, we will send you a Pre-Departure Packet with complete travel information and suggestions for extending your trip.

What's Included?
  • One local Travel Montana guide will accompany each trip. Additional guides added depending on group size.
  • Double occupancy lodging is included. If your private group has an odd number of people, you have the choice to put three people in one room or have one person pay the single supplement to have a room of his/her own.
  • All of your dinners (except one night in Bozeman) and breakfasts are included. Gratuity for these meals is also included. We provide trail lunches four of the days and four lunches are on your own.
  • All your transportation is included once you meet your guides on the first day.
  • All group activities, permits and entry fees are included.
  • NOT INCLUDED Beverages, desserts, lunches, gratuities to your guides, personal expenses and travel to and from the destination.
When To Travel

In general, Montana's best outdoors weather for summer sports is from May to October. However, on this tour we are limited because of two of our roads: the Beartooth Pass opens Memorial Day weekend and closes after the first substantial snowfall or early October (whichever comes first); the Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park is usually only open from early July through the third Monday in October. Given it can easily snow in the park in October, the best months for this tour are July, August, and September with the fewest crowds being after Labor Day. However, if you are looking to avoid the crowds and can be flexible, the months of June, and early October can be excellent too.

Shuttle Time

We get to explore a big chunk of Montana (the fourth largest state in the U.S. by area) and will necessarily have to spend time in our vehicle to get from place to place.  This is a reality of this tour, where we visit many of the highlights! However, we do our best to break up any long drives and there is definitely no lack of beautiful scenery to keep your eyes occupied!

Food and Lodging in Yellowstone

Spending time inside the park is a top priority – you get to explore and experience so much more by staying in or very near the heart of Yellowstone. Since it is a national park, the accommodations and food options are not going to be equal to a five-star hotel. But, if your group is lucky enough to secure reservations inside the Park, we think the rustic experience just adds to the overall adventure!

Delays in Yellowstone

It is not uncommon to get stuck by one of Yellowstone's famous "Bison Jams".  This is when a herd of bison has decided to cross one of the roads within the park and causes a traffic jam.  Though they can be inconvenient while trying to stay on time, it is a one-of-a-kind experience that you won't find anywhere else. Additionally, July and August are Yellowstone's busiest months so the park will be crowded if you choose these months for your private vacation. Your guides try to manage this by timing the tour schedule appropriately as well as showing you lesser known (and frankly better!) vantage points for some of the biggest attractions.

Changes to Your Itinerary

While everything under “What is Included” will remain the same, the actual restaurants, hotels, and activities listed in our itineraries are subject to modifications. Changes that are out of our control are common – a restaurant closes or loses its awesome chef, a winery changes its visiting hours, a hotel gets remodeled, a road or trail undergoes construction. You are entrusting us to create an outstanding vacation for you and so it is possible we may take the liberty of making necessary changes (even at the last minute, during the guides’ scout trip) to the itinerary that will improve your overall trip experience. If there is any one experience that is going to make or break your trip, please discuss this with us in advance! We will attempt to keep our website itinerary as current as possible and communicate any major changes with you in the weeks prior to the tour.

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