Driving Across Montana

Posted on June 7, 2009 by Holly Hayes
Part of: Old West Road Trip

Day 3
Monday, May 11, 2009
Missoula, MT - Miles City, MT
488 miles (7 hours)


Day 3 started out with a unique and tasty breakfast of walnut, mushroom and zucchini quiche at our B&B. The rest of the day was spent driving across Montana - it's a big state! The landscape was beautiful and mountainous most of the way, especially on the west side. And the highway was gloriously empty.

big sky country
Montana state flag against the famously big sky

montana rest stop
The best rest stop in the USA, or so I deemed it. It's brand-new, clean, warm, and has huge individual bathrooms with big heavy doors. It's located near the town of Anaconda. Happily, thought, it turned out that most of the rest stops in Montana are quite nice.

montana landscape
There are also lovely views of the Montana landscape out back.


The highlight of the day was our lunch stop in Bozeman, a pleasant mountain town in SW Montana (population 29,000, elevation 4800 feet). My Fodor's guide says it is full of "cowboys, professors, skiers and celebrities." We didn't see any celebrities, but the town does have a really nice Old-West-meets-university-town vibe.

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We wandered into several western stores and tried on lots of cowboy hats, then got delicious iced drinks at the wonderful Leaf and Bean.

The Leaf and Bean

The sun was shining and it felt very warm despite the elevation, so we had lunch al fresco at Ted's Montana Grill. The food was very good and the setting was fantastic.

David's iced tea

buffalo burger
My bison burger (and Italian soda from the Leaf)

By the end of the meal, the beautiful warm weather had turned cloudy, windy and downright cold. We were the last of the outdoor diners to hold out, but we eventually had to head inside.

Lobby of Ted's Montana Grill

On the way out of town, I stopped to take some pictures of the Montana Ale Works restaurant, because it used to be a warehouse owned by the Northern Pacific Railroad. These are for you, Dad! I like the way they've incorporated the Northern Pacific logo into their sign.

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After Bozeman, very little else happened. We enjoyed the beautiful landscape and saw lots of ranches, cowboys on horses, herds of deer, and even some wild turkeys. Occasionally I entertained myself by taking photos from the car:

montana from the highway montana from the highway

As we approached Miles City, our stopping point for the night, we pulled over for this pretty sunset scene:

sunset rainbow sunset rainbow sunset on the rocks

In Miles City we checked in at the Holiday Inn Express, where they were pretty booked up and only had a huge suite available. Fortunately it wasn't very expensive, but it was more than we needed. It turns out that the suites thing (hotel room with a kitchen) is very big in this part of the country and we stayed in several of them.

holiday inn express

After unloading, we drove into town to find a quick dinner and pick up some things from Wal-Mart (also very popular around these parts). Miles City isn't bad, but it definitely feels like a hick town in the middle of nowhere. Overall, Montana was very enjoyable - we loved the wide open spaces! Quite a change from our European road trips and the crowded drive down I-5 to San Francisco.