Did you know that a state famed for rivers also features the largest freshwater lake in the western United States? Growers of cherries and other fruits are forever grateful for the fertile soils and moderate climes around Flathead Lake, one of the purest bodies of water of such scope and size in the world.
Did you know that Montana has seven Indian reservations, all on the same wide-open spaces albeit a fraction of their historical lands where indigenous peoples once hunted bison and other wild game? Drive across the reservation lands of the Crow, Northern Cheyenne, Blackfeet, Cree, Assiniboine, Sioux, Salish, Kootenai, and others, and it doesn’t require much imagination to envision Indians on horseback atop coulees and ridges, silhouetted against a cobalt sky.
With a state so huge and diverse, it’s a challenging task to pare down a list of compelling back roads and byways to a mere handful. After all, at 147,000 square miles, Montana is surpassed in size only by Alaska, Texas, and California. It’s at least an 11-hour drive across the state from east to west, and that’s only by going at the maximum speed of 75-mph 80 in some places as of 2015 on I-90.
In Backroads & Byways of Montana, we have detailed a collection of memorable drives that reflect the many geographic, historical, and social faces of Montana. You’ll meander amid towering fir and spruce in the foggy shadows of the northwest corner. You’ll practically touch the stars atop the broad shoulders of the Beartooth Mountains, on a highway once dubbed the most beautiful road in America by CBS newsman Charles Kuralt. You’ll be smitten with the untamed Rocky Mountain Front, where grizzly bears can sometimes still be spotted on the prairie.
You’ll step back 150 years to the unspoiled Centennial Valley, a critical Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem migration route for such iconic wildlife species as wolves, grizzly bears, wolverine, moose, and elk. You’ll watch the sun set beyond the Bitterroot and Beaverhead in the upper Big Hole Valley, where you might hear the wailing ghosts of Nez Perce women and children who perished in a futile 1877 pursuit of freedom You’ll traverse the same Big Blackfoot riverbanks that Norman Maclean made famous in his novella A River Runs Through It, which was so powerful in capturing our imaginations that the movie of the same name changed the face of western Montana almost overnight.
You’ll discover where to enjoy the best dining along these routes, whether it’s savoring local beef, bison, or lamb under the watchful eyes of trophy elk mounts in darkened saloons or harder-to-find vegetarian fare in eclectic settings. You’ll find out where to draw a draft of locally produced microbrews or traditional domestic lager while gazing at century-old backbars hauled up the Missouri on steamships. You’ll have choices of lodging ranging from primitive to cowboy lux. And along the way you’ll find out about things to do and see, and how to enjoy the many faces of Montana’s attractions.
Oh, and we’ll throw in a few trout streams and mountains along the way, too.