Route Description: Located just south of Bozeman, the drive to Hyalite Reservoir is one of the most convenient scenic drives you can take from any town, anywhere. This beautiful 200-acre lake sits at an elevation of 6,700’, and is surrounded by several 10,000’+ peaks. The surrounding area’s numerous trailheads and campgrounds serve as access points to Gallatin National Forest, an area ripe for just about any type of outdoor adventure you can imagine.
The route to Hyalite Reservoir takes motorists up Hyalite Canyon Road, a steep and winding, yet well-maintained road that parallels Hyalite Creek for 10 miles. Starting at the valley floor, you’ll pass through deciduous riparian zones, dense sub-alpine forests, and wildflower-filled meadows. You’ll also have various wildlife viewing opportunities including moose, elk, bears, eagles, marmots and more.
Near the main parking lot at the reservoir, you’ll find a boat ramp, picnic tables, outhouses and a newly constructed handicapped-accessible pavilion. The pavilion area is a perfect place to start a short walk, try your luck fishing or to enjoy a picnic with an unbeatable alpine view.
Route Type: Out and Back
Distance: 40 miles
Time to Allow: 2 hours (1.5 hours drive time)
Map Link: http://bit.do/hyalite
Critical Notes: Hyalite Canyon Road is a favorite route for road cycling enthusiasts, and the road’s blind curves and narrow shoulders can make it a dangerous one. Remember to share the road and provide at least 5 feet of buffer distance between you and any cyclists you might encounter.
Route Description: In just two right-hand turns, this perfect half-day road adventure showcases stunning views of the Bridger Mountains, a taste of small town Montana in the Shields River Valley and a look back in history as you cross over Bozeman Pass.
The first leg of the loop begins as you head out of Bozeman on N. Rouse Avenue, where the city street turns into a rural byway, MT-86, in the blink of an eye. Before you know it, you’ll be climbing up Bridger Canyon Road, with the namesake mountains to your left and the Bangtail Range on your right. Just after the road summits, the Northern Bridger and Crazy Mountain ranges come into view, showing off some of the most beautiful high alpine terrain in the Northern Rockies.
Once MT-86 winds down into the Shields River Valley, you’ll come to a “T” in the road; take that first right. Shortly thereafter, you’ll find yourself in the small town of Wilsall, MT. Here, it’s worthwhile to stop into the Bank Bar for a burger, a beer and a glance at genuine Montana culture. After lunch, continue south on US 89 until you hit I-90 west, and you’ll be on your way up Bozeman Pass; the very route that Sacajawea took the Lewis and Clark Expedition into present-day Bozeman.
Route Type: Loop
Distance: 95 miles
Time to Allow: 4 hours (2 hours drive time)
Map Link: http://bit.do/wilsall
Critical Notes: You can make this an all-day event by pulling off of I-90 and stopping in Livingston, Montana, for a walk through its historic downtown area and dinner at one of the town’s many excellent restaurants.
Gallatin Canyon-Hebgen Lake-Madison Valley
Route Description: For anglers and non-fishermen alike, this drive provides sightseers an all-day look at some of America’s greatest trout fisheries and the stunning scenery that surrounds them. From Bozeman, you’ll drive south on US 191, paralleling the Gallatin River all the way up to its headwaters, in Yellowstone National Park.
About a half hour or so after entering the Park, just south of Big Sky, Hebgen Lake comes into view. This reservoir is part of the Madison River system, and by taking a right at the well-marked US 287 junction, you’ll find yourself gazing at the Madison and Centennial mountain ranges as you travel along the lake’s scenic north shore.
Once you pass the dam, the Madison River flows for a few short miles to the inlet of Earthquake Lake—a lake formed by the 1959 Yellowstone Earthquake. This unpredictable force of nature took tolls of great magnitude on the landscape and the humans in the area at the time, both of which can be learned about at the Earthquake Lake Visitor Center and the numerous roadside interpretational exhibits along the way.
Leaving the visitor center, US 287 follows the path of the Madison by making a hard turn to the north, toward the town of Ennis. This stretch of river is the famed-to-fishermen “Upper Madison,” also known as the “100 mile riffle.”
Ennis is a great place to grab a bite to eat, shop for souvenirs or even book a guided fly fishing trip. The leg of the trip from Ennis back to Bozeman goes quickly, but is equally worth doing in the daylight. As you leave Ennis on US 287, the views of the Madison Mountains to the east and the Tobacco Root Mountains to the west are some of the most panoramic alpine vistas one can see from a car.
Route Type: Loop
Distance: 196 Miles
Time to allow: 6 hours (4 hours drive time)
Route Description: For those who have one day to dedicate to seeing it all (or as much as you can), this is the granddaddy of scenic drives. It earns that ranking by providing the most opportunities of any drive to view scenery and wildlife, but also because it’s one heck of a long haul.
From Bozeman, the first leg of this route brings you along US 191 for 90 miles, all the way to the town of West Yellowstone. Although scenic, this is a good stretch to make good time on, as you’ll be traveling between 25-45 mph for the next leg, regardless of your desired pace.
“West,” as it’s known to locals, is your last chance to get fuel, food, maps and whatever else you need to enjoy yourself on this day-long road trip. From town, enter Yellowstone National Park through the gates—you can’t miss or avoid them. If you didn’t already see a Bison along the road into West, this is where it’s time to start keeping your eyes peeled.
Follow signs toward Norris Geyser Basin and stop here to stretch your legs. It’s a quick and easy walk where you’ll see geothermal wonders that exist no place else in the world like they do here. From Norris, push on north to Mammoth Hot Springs, where you can continue your geothermal viewing. From Mammoth, look for the signs indicating the northern entrance/exit of the Park and the town of Gardiner, Montana.
Once you leave the Park and pass through Gardiner, you’ll want to continue the only way you can—toward Livingston, through the appropriately-named area known as Paradise Valley. This leg of the journey follows the Yellowstone River through lush green agricultural fields, underneath the towering peaks of the Absaroka Mountains.
Livingston is a great place to grab a bite to eat, or even a room if you’re feeling drowsy from the day’s adventure. From there, it’s just a quick jaunt over Bozeman Pass and you’re back in Bozeman again.
Route Type: Loop
Distance: 222 Miles
Time to allow: 8 hours (5 hours drive time)
Critical Notes: There is a fee to drive through Yellowstone National Park. Visit the National Park Service’s website for rates and road conditions: https://www.nps.gov/yell/planyourvisit/fees.htm