Road Trip in Montana
Montana may be called the Big Sky state, but there's no better way to travel through it than on the road.
From the Great Plains to the Rocky Mountains, MT is one of the most varied and beautiful spaces the continental U.S. has to offer. But before taking the time to explore the scenery, it might be helpful to learn the terrain—and the traffic laws that come with it.
Major Montana Roadways
There are just a few interstate highways in Montana, but they can help get you to most of the state's major cities. Smaller county roads will shoulder most of the responsibility of getting you to some of the more out-of-the-way locations loved for outdoor recreation.
Major highways in Montana include:
- Interstate 94.
- This east-west freeway crosses the North Dakota border into Montana at Carlyle Road, before progressing southwest, passing through towns like Glendive and Miles City, until it merges with I-90 near Billings.
- Interstate 90.
- Part of a greater highway connecting Seattle to Boston, the MT portion of I-90—the longest highway in the state—kicks off at in the east the Wyoming border before reaching westward toward Billings. From there, the roadway merges with I-94 and arches northwest into Missoula, eventually leaving the state at the Idaho border, near Lookout Pass on the Coeur d'Alene mountains.
- In between, Interstate 90 runs through many of the more populated areas of the state, and includes exits for a number of different parks. It will even take you over the Continental Divide.
- Interstate 15.
- The state's only major north-south highway, I-15 begins its MT life at the Canadian border, near Sweetgrass, before progressing essentially straight south and exiting the state through the Idaho border at the Lima Reservoir. It offers access to Montana's capital city, Helena, as well as the city Butte, and several major parks, like Great Falls and Clark's Lookout State Park.
MT Traffic Laws
As with every state, Montana's roads come with their own set of rules. Read up on some of the more prominent regulations before planning your trip through the Big Sky State.
Montana Speed Limits
While speed limits vary depending on county or municipality and will almost certainly be slower in more residential areas or school and construction zones, major MT roads typically post the following speeds:
- Interstate highways: 75 MPH.
- Within the Billings, Great Falls, and Missoula areas: 65 MPH.
- Urban area highways: 65 MPH.
- Two-lane highways: 70 MPH.
- At night: 65 MPH.
If you are traveling on a road with 2 lanes, you may drive no more than 10 MPH over the speed limit in order to overtake and pass another vehicle. However, after making the pass, you must immediately and safely return to your own lane.
Again, these numbers only represent some more typical situations, but it is always best to drive at a safe speed for traffic conditions and rely on posted signage.
MT Seatbelt & Car Seat Laws
All vehicle passengers are required by Montana law to wear safety belts. The responsibility falls on the driver, who would get the ticket if someone in the car or truck is not wearing a seatbelt.
Car seats are required for all children up to 6 years old and weighing up to 60 lbs.
Booster seats are recommended for children until they are 4 ft 9 inches, the height at which most people can fit comfortably into seatbelts.
Montana Motorcycle Laws
To ride a motorcycle through the MT mountains, you must have a motorcycle license. Motorcycle drivers or passengers under 18 years old are required to wear a helmet.
School Bus Laws in MT
When sharing the road with a Montana school bus, you must stop at least 30 feet away from the vehicle when its red lights are flashing. You are not legally allowed to proceed until the lights are turned off.
Montana Attractions & Destinations
Montana is not only a gorgeous state, but a huge one, with hundreds of miles of natural beauty and national parks. But the Big Sky State also has some bigger cities and cultural destinations to check out, too.
- The state capital, Helena is home to Montana's capitol building and a number of restaurants, museums, and unique shops. Other attractions include the Cathedral of St. Helena for architecture or history junkies, the “Gates of the Mountains," revealing a beautiful river gap running between two craggy foothills, and a public carousel for those looking for a more lighthearted destination.
- West Yellowstone
- Directly adjacent to one of the country's oldest and largest national parks, this Montana town has some views equally as beautiful as those boasted by its namesake, including Earthquake Lake and the Yellowstone River. Hiking, wildlife watching, and fishing are also big draws, along with more active pursuits like back country skiing and snowmobiling, river rafting, and zip-lining.
- Glacier National Park
- Sometimes called the “crown of the continent," this mountainous national park includes hundreds of miles of trails—which can be traversed on foot, bicycle, or a range of animals, including horses, mules, and even llamas. Backcountry camping is another popular activity, and campsites can be hiked to or reached on a river raft. Those looking to have a less vigorous trip can go on a ranger-led guided tour or pull out the camera—just make sure there's a panorama option to capture the views.
- Going to the Sun Road
- Located within the park but an entire adventure in and of itself, this road is aptly named. As you weave along the mountain pass curves, the sun will peek out at you from behind the peaks. The views are picturesque and the opportunities for picture taking are abundant, as the road is nearly 50 miles long. If you follow it to its end, you'll reach Logan Pass—another pristine area for outdoor recreation.
- Home of the University of Montana, Missoula is mountain town bustling with young energy and creativity. Its educational epicenter brings a spate of museums, theaters, and art galleries with it, as well as an active music and bar scene. But, like the rest of the state, the city is not wanting for natural activities to pursue, such as hiking or skiing on Lolo Peak, checking out Council Grove State Park or climbing Mount Jumbo.
- Big Sky
- A resort for anyone who loves the outdoors, Big Sky offers fun activities in any season—from skiing to hiking to river rafting. Mountain climbing, horseback riding, golfing, fishing, zip-lining, and wildlife tours are also available, but since it is a resort, you'll need to buy passes to participate in some activities.
- Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument
- History buffs shouldn't leave the state without visiting the site of one of the nation's most famous battles. See where Custer made his infamous last stand, read up on history of the fight—and the Sioux and Cheyenne tribes—and view the final resting place of the thousands of soldiers and warriors involved. A poignant day for those with knowledge of the battle and those just learning about it alike.